Thursday, November 24, 2011

Guacamole Tone

Food has a lot to do with Thanksgiving so here's a food-related concept.

One of my students had a nice tone but not right at the start of the note. In the past, I once described this as Frisbee tone.

So I asked him, "What's your favorite food?"
Answer: chocolate cake.

"What's your least favorite food?"
Answer: Guacamole

"Imagine being offered a big, delicious slice of chocolate cake with a thin outer layer of guacamole. You want to get to that cake but you have to pass through that layer first."

"When you don't start notes with your best tone right away that's what it's like listening to your sound."

So let's thin out that guacamole layer. Or, better yet, get straight to the chocolate cake!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Figure Skating and You

As I look back on players I've known (on all instruments) I seem to have run across a sort of duality. Maybe you can call it a musical "two-party" system.

Party A: very expressive but not super consistent
Party B: very consistent but not super expressive

As players we must all work to maintain that foundation of good sound but always strive make our music compelling as well.

In some lessons I grill students about ...
  • accuracy of the slide in runs
  • starting the note with an immediate solid tone
  • steady time and accurate subdivisions
As I watch them focus on these things, I often see the phrasing go out the window.

In other lessons, I am more focused on...
  • clear arrival points in the phrase
  • compelling dynamic contrasts
  • more connection in long phrases
As I watch them focus on *these* things, you guessed it, some of those technical consistency things go out the window.

Anybody who's read this blog for a while knows that I often draw parallels with the world of sports. I especially like the Olympics.

Take figure skating for example. I'm largely ignorant on the sport so, when I watch, I can only get a rudimentary sense of how the routine is flowing. Are they wobbly? Did he drop her?..etc.

You know, the obvious stuff. The commentators are often talking about the expressive qualities of their skating and how there is (or isn't) so much joy in what they do. I can sort of see this.

Yet I have a sense of the long grueling hours of repetition, the stretching, the weight-lifting to arrive at that point of apparent spontaneous joy.

Below, watch a beautiful performance of Ferro's Daybreak performed by Joe Alessi. I've used this many times in lessons to point out such things as relaxed posture, great slide technique and solid embouchure.

And yet, I doubt he was consciously thinking of those things at that moment. He had built that solid foundation so that the music could flow forth.

Just like those spectacular lifts in figure skating where the one partner must provide a solid foundation for the artistic radiance of the other.

Of course it's all about balance...(in more ways than one!)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Here I Come to Save the Day!!

For years, I've taught students to aid their high range by pulling in the gut as they leap up to a high note. I believe this works because it serves to compress the air in the lung, generating higher air pressure.

Try this: blow out with a steady stream of air against your hand. Then, suck in your gut. Notice how the air stream accelerates?

This past week, I ran across a corollary to this: lifting the chest. As you tuck in that gut, think of slightly elevating the chest. For me, the two seem to go together. I believe this is something singers do.

And so I search my mind for a visual image of that chest lift and arrive at our old friend, Mighty Mouse!

I'll bet that little dude had a killer high range.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Operation Tuner

SmartMusic's tuner has a clever feature: it plays back the note it thinks you are trying to play.
If you want a laugh, turn it on and try speaking to it. It will try to detect pitches in your voice. (a distant cousin to auto-tuning I guess).

How about a tuner playback that remains silent as long as you are within certain parameters?
You can set how "narrow the goalposts" should be...5 cents, 15 cents, 20 cents, etc.
One of my students pointed out that this could be turned into a game sort of like that old classic, Operation. As long as you're in tune, the patient doesn't suffer!

No pressure.

Yes, I posted something similar in 2005.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Windy Pitch

I'm returning to a topic I've hit before...distance and pitch. Here's my older post, Speaking of the Devil.

There seems to be this misconception out there that, the farther away the instrument, the flatter the pitch.

Not true.

I've even debunked years ago by going outside with a trombone, two tuners and some observers. At one spot, the trombonist played an in-tune B-flat while watching a tuner.

About 20 yards away, some observers also held a tuner and guess what, IN TUNE!

OK, let me address some of the comments in advance:
  • Neither party is moving so there is no Doppler effect.
  • Some have pointed out that maybe the higher overtones of the note don't project as far, causing the perception of a lower pitch. Hmm, maybe but it seems like a stretch to me.
  • What about the wind?
Ah, now that last one is interesting.

Let's say a trombonist plays an in-tune A=22o. That means 220 vibrations per second are leaving the bell and travelling out for all the world to hear.

What if there is a strong wind blowing from behind the player. Does the wind accelerate those sound waves, creating a higher pitch?
What if the opposite is true: wind blowing in the player's face, lowering the pitch from a distance.

After all, that wave is using air as its medium and now the air is moving.

So, the next time we have an intrepid reporter talking about all the winds and rain and storm surge, hand 'em a trombone and let's check some pitch!