Sunday, June 17, 2007

Persistence and instrumental technique

In the last post I wrote about the Psychological concept of
Persistence... keeping a mental image of something after the
"something" is no longer seen or heard. The idea was that when we
play a note, then a different note, and come back to the first one
that the pitch must sound the same. (Notice I said sound the same,
not be the same, because listener perception of good tuning is
relative to the other notes being played at the same time.) We want
our listeners to "hear" us being in tune.

Now some things about keeping the pitch the same. There are certain
inherent problems "built in" to your arm, fingers, lip, brain and
instrument that you can easily overcome if you are aware of them.

Instrument by instrument:

Flute: Octave jumps can be tricky to tune. First the head joint has
to be tuned properly using the end cork so that octaves are in tune.
There is a mark on the cleaning rod that is supposed to be equal to
the diameter of the head joint at the embouchure hole. This is the
distance that the cork should be from the center of the hole, AS A
STARTING POINT. Real tuning is done by ear. Play just on the head
joint and then go up an octave. Do this 4 or 5 times and listen to
see if the octaves are in tune. Pulling out on the cork will widen
the octaves and pushing in will shorten them. There will be a point
where the octaves are in tune and the tone will be much clearer and
stronger. That's where you want the cork. After you have tuned the
cork, be aware of head position and air direction. Low notes--raise
the head and pull the chin back so as to blow down into the hole.
High notes, dip the head and push the lower jaw forward. Some
practice on octaves on your instrument will have you in tune in no time.

Trombone: The trick is in muscle control of your "slide arm." The
general tendency is to mis-play 2nd, 3rd and 4th position a little
too far out when coming from first position, and a little too far in
when coming up from 6th or 5th position. It's important to "land" at
the right place, no matter which direction you are coming from...
don't over shoot or land short. Play F,G,A,G,F,A,F a bunch of times
and you'll learn to nail 2nd position. You can make up your own
exercises for other positions if you think about it.

Clarinet and saxophone: The trick is to push the reed halfway closed
with your lower lip, so that the reed vibrates the same distance in
each direction... toward your mouth and toward the mouthpiece. To
figure this out, look at the mouthpiece from the side and see where
the mouthpiece curve away from the reed tip ends and the reed is
touching the mouthpiece. Look at your reed off the mouthpiece and
find the "heart." With the reed on the mouthpiece, looking at it
from the side, put your thumb on the heart of the reed and press
lightly and figure out how far you have to move the reed to move the
tip halfway to the mouthpiece. Then do the same thing with the
mouthpiece in your mouth. This is the starting point for good
control and will generally allow the instrument to play in tune.

Additional clarinet trick: If your high notes go flat just push up
on the thumb rest when you go higher. This will tip your head back
and create a bit more pressure on the reed, pushing the tip closer to
the mouthpiece. To get a faster vibration, the distance should be a
bit shorter for the vibration. This is the same principle as a
pendulum... longer=slower, shorter=faster.

Brasses: The key to good tuning is training your lip to play all the
notes. Try this: Start a buzz without your mouthpiece, starting
with as high a pitch as you can manage. Slowly let it "glissando" or
sweep downward to lower and lower pitches. If you hit a "dead spot"
these are notes where your lip really isn't trained to vibrate and
are notes that will have a fuzzy tone and be out of tune. Do this
exercise at a different time than when you play your horn. You can
even do it while driving your car (alone is better.) Start as high
as you can and slide down to a really "floppy lip" sound as low as
you can go. In a very short time you will find that your tone has
improved and so has your tuning.

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