Improving Our Quiet Playing

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by David Mann, Jan 30, 2009.

  1. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    One of the things I'm working on is to widen our band's dynamic range, especially softer dynamics. I've been in (probably too) many bands and although nearly all the MDs have tried to get the respective bands to play quietly, only a couple have really achieved a hushed yet full sound (many have basically just shouted, "play quietly, won't you!"). I've been using hymn tunes and arrangements and asking the players to play as quietly as they dare, in order to find our current pp, then taking that as a starting point to get even quieter.
    Does anyone have any constructive advice or exercises we could use?
  2. Daisy Duck

    Daisy Duck Member

    I've found dynamics at both ends of the spectrum have widened just with experience and lots of playing opportunities. I am a proper member of one brass band (Battle) and play fairly regularly with another. I also dep with loads and loads of brass bands in Sussex especially over the summer.

    The same air needs to travel through the instrument, it still needs lots of air to play quietly, it just travels with less velocity and force! As I've got better at playing quietly, I've also got better at playing loudly. I work at improving my dynamics at both ends of the scale.

    Two years ago, I didn't have anything like the dynamic range I have now and it used to frustrate me that I couldn't play quiet enough (or loud enough). It's still something I'm working on. In my daily practice, I play scales very loudly and then very quietly. I do the same with lip flexibilities.

    I have been in too many rehearsals where I've been shouted at (never at Battle by the way) for not playing quietly enough during hymns etc. It doesn't help confidence and just made me dread piano or pianissimo markings - it becomes tempting just to mime rather than be shouted at, which in the long run won't help.

    I truly believe dynamic range is all about experience. Improvement won't happen overnight.
  3. andyh

    andyh Supporting Member

    How about getting the band to play a hymn tune on the diaphragm, ie FFF and without tounging. Do that a couple of times then get them to play it normally, but as quietly as possible. When we've tried that the results have been very noticeable - if only we could be consistent ;)

  4. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    Thanks for the ideas so far, any more?
  5. themusicalrentboy

    themusicalrentboy Active Member

    our MD uses hymn tunes extensively to broaden our sound and extend our dynamic range.

    that's the best way I think.....
  6. floppymute

    floppymute Member

    Back 'em into a corner! At (their) pp level begin by making them play every 4 bars in one breath. Next verse, every 6 bars in one breath, next verse every 8 etc.. When they're near their limit consider going up in one-bar increments.
    8 bars in one breath may not seem much but with this method there is the cumulative effect to consider. It almost forces the players to use the diaphragm to control the exhalation, and thereby the sound level, plus it has the added bonus of being measurable rehearsal to rehearsal. If they can can manage 9 bar breaths, next time aim to build up to 10 and so on.
    This also trains players to tap into their reserve lung capacity wthout having to think about it, so it helps both ends of the dynamic range.
    You can't make a player's lungs any bigger, but you can teach and physically train them to use what they've got.
  7. davidquinlan

    davidquinlan Member

    Do some exercies focused on attack, i.e. the start of each note. If players have poor attack or poor production, playing quiet will be even more difficult. Again, with everything else playingwise, it takes a lot of practice. Breath control is also important, but if production / attack is poor it won't really help.
  8. emziesonic

    emziesonic Member

    Nice to know im not alone then :D I find it really hard to play pianissimo especially in the higher register and need to learn to play quietly quite quick tbh!
  9. animal.22

    animal.22 Member

    Tell your percutionist/drummer not to hit it so hard. :biggrin: :biggrin: :biggrin:
  10. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    He's versatile so for hymn tune practice he'll play cornet. He can be a bit "animal" like in louder pieces though.
  11. Mike Saville

    Mike Saville Member

    David, I think it is a question of time and priorities. Any band only has so much time and a lot of different areas to practice. Think about this - how many minutes each rehearsal do you spend playing as quietly as you can? I would imagine not many in the overall scheme. So to improve it you need to spend time and make it a priority.

    My approach to dealing with this would be 3-fold.
    1. I would dedicate 10 minutes each rehearsal exclusively to playing very, very quietly AND importantly get the band to focus on the listening rather than the volume. Tell them to make sure they are not the loudest player in the band. Check the listening by asking random players what other sections were playing, which instruments were loudest. This focused listening will really help.

    2. Be really strick on each and every pp or ppp you get in your regular music. Don't settle for anything other than whisper quiet. It's no good to play quietly at the start of rehearsal only to ignore this when it apears in actual music. Make a point of stopping everytime to correct the volume - the band will soon get the message. The more you let this slip the longer it will take to fix the problem.

    3. Make sure your players remain relaxed, the last thing you want is for players to become tense or bottled up with air - this will lead to non-speakers and exploding productions. So whilst you want to be serious about addressing the problem also be understanding and relaxed about mistakes (which I welcome as tell you what needs to be corrected).

    Hope this helps.

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