Do Instruments Change With Use?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by 2nd tenor, Jan 12, 2019.

  1. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

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    Most importantly, you've changed. Playing an instrument regularly adapts your muscle memories most precisely to its individual response. Not playing that particular instrument for a while means that you have to take some dedicated practice hours to remind your face etc. how to play it.

    A personal example:
    I play bass trombone regularly; I play large bore tenor trombone irregularly. Every time I have to play large bore tenor, I pull my 88H out of the loft for the task. Doesn't matter if it's winter or summer (making for a 20-30 deg C temperature difference in storage temperature), the same thing's occurred - my face has forgotten what to precisely do with an 88H; it remembers the basic outlines, and the playing results sound acceptable, but it feels unresponsive and uncomfortable until I've put a few hours in on it. To pick a computing metaphor, I need to take the time to compile the code for it to run efficiently; it's running interpretively i.e. inefficiently until I've done that.

    We don't need to take a position on whether some hypothesised metal effect has occurred in the (short? long?) time the instrument's been put away; you wouldn't be able to tell because of this human effect, which would completely mask any but the most enormous difference (and we certainly aren't seeing anything so obvious). As a (usually) wise man was fond of saying on a trombone forum far away and long ago - "The soft machine is more flexible than the hard machine". If a brass player has asked what has changed in their playing, or what needs to change, the answer is near 100% of the time: "you, the player".
     
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  2. Mello

    Mello Active Member

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  3. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

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    You're picking it up expecting it to not be as good (because you've convinced yourself that it matters that it hasn't been played for a while) - that's going to have an effect in itself.

    And naturally if it's not warmed up then it's not going to play as well until it is, that much goes without saying but there's no need for this woo about stored energy or memory in the brass.

    I've played a line of brand new instrument next to my own (same instrument, just mine has had a lot more use ;) ). Any difference would far more likely be down to tiny differences in the instruments (due to manufacturing tolerances, etc) but the brand new ones were near enough identical and there was no appreciable difference with mine either.
    (As I've said before, I'm notoriously fussy - if there was a difference and I couldn't feel it, I'd be willing to wager that 99% of players couldn't feel it either.)

    As @MoominDave completely correctly, states - the soft part is orders of magnitude more likely to be the difference here.
     
  4. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the comments Dave, good thoughts and I can see elements of validity to your stance. However a few things don’t quite match for me.

    In your case the move between Bass Trombone and Large Bore Tenor almost certainly involves a change in mouthpiece cup too. If that were the case then your mouth would need to get used to the different cup, a certain amount of relearning. In contrast I did not change my mouthpiece between instruments (my old three valve Tuba and the Band’s super doopa four valve one) so no learning curve there, though the same piece in different instruments does seem to have a minor effect compared to the larger one of changing cups.

    The Conn 88H is a top rate instrument, not to the point that it plays itself but I recall having a toot on a Shires and being simply amazed at the wonderful response. That Shires almost seemed to almost know what I was thinking and just delivered it, perhaps the Conn is similar. My own old Tuba isn’t of such quality, but when (figuratively) given a good poke it works as well as much more expensive instruments that I’ve played (including the top rate one my band have lent me).

    There was a control check in the ’experiment’ in that I briefly played a second instrument that is near identical to the one that had been stored. I noted a marked difference in performance between the two, but after playing it for a while mine is getting back to its former self.

    Tubas have a large mass and a different bore type compared to Trombones - in some respects they’re dissimilar to Cornets too - so the degree to which they can be compared is always going to be questionable. Of course they are comparable but so are oranges and tomatoes, both are types of fruit.

    Whatever, thanks for your comments Dave. All thoughts are welcome, really I’m just reporting my experience here and as such it might well not match that of others. Just noticed you’ve commented too Tom (whilst I was responding to Dave) thanks for your input too.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2019
  5. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

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    So in this experiment... we know that the two played identically (or near enough) before storage? And you were able to tell which was which without knowing in advance?

    Honestly, I suspect mindgames are at the root of this - it's very, very difficult to resist.

    There's enough to think about without throwing in variables that are (almost certainly) imaginary, this could be really unhelpful to you.

    -- My (blunter than usual) 2p.
     
  6. Mello

    Mello Active Member

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    Dave is again spot on re muscle memory. But I have to add fuel ,,in that the mm factor certainly isn't confined to the chops. Over the yrs ,I have encountered many students who have been affected after an injury ,or condition which has caused the player the hold the instrument differently ( notably in Upward bell instruments. ).
    The leadpipe angle to lips being changed as a result. This condition can also affect forward facing bells , as I remember the great sop player Brian Evans having this experienced this problem.

    Take a simple lip injury, it is common to move the m/pce slightly to alleviate the pain when playing.
    If the injury takes a long time to heal (perhaps a stitch or two ) the lips develop muscle memory of a place where it works best ..likewise so do the arms when placing the m/p into the new position.
    When the injury is no longer, one has to return to the original position ...and this is not as easy as you would think due to Mm being duplicated just millimeters apart.
    So when a player is used to a set of embouchure and holding position, changes to another ..perhaps a different model of instrument, for a period.- should that player return to his original inst. It is very possible he will be playing on a different set of mm's than he used prior to changing.
    It will feel different + probably sound different..
    I had a case last year with an army musician who had a serious mm problem caused when having to do a
    few passing out parades on a set of lips that were damaged.
    Just thought I would mention it as a matter of interest.
     
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  7. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

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    I could as well have used the example of the Conn 73H bass trombone which was for many years my back-up bass trombone (which I just sold last week). Same mouthpiece, same bore size - not the same response. Exactly the same as the above I-have-to-get-used-to-this-again every time I picked it up after a long time off it on different bass trombones. Or I could have talked about any of the four KCB tubas, all of which I've had multiple occasions to pick up after long breaks from them over the years, sometimes after getting familiar on another tuba instrument. It's a general brass instrument thing.

    Some top instruments respond very easily. Others actually respond quite resistively - and are designed that way as some people like that. Most are in between. My 88H is an old and battered one (though not old enough to be prized) that can feel stuffy to blow until you acclimatise to playing it. Don't think this has anything to do with the question though - see previous para.

    Or rather, you've got familiar with its response quirks again.

    See first para.

    By the by, you seemed to suggest at the top of the thread that you washed the instrument out before putting it away? Did I read that correctly? That would also result in a changed response.
     
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