The way we think about 'upper' notes

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Mike Saville, Jun 25, 2003.

  1. Mike Saville

    Mike Saville Member

    One thing I've noticed is how players (especially less experienced and those in the BB world) refer to notes as 'Top C' or 'Top A'. This is not really the case as there is another C above this which may players can reach and certainly A's etc. I believe it is this perception of 'Top C' which goes a long way to preventing players reaching other notes above this. I myself can play double top this and double pedal that but do not give the notes these names and therefore reduce the pressure on myself to play them.

    You find that more experienced and professional players simply refer to the note by its name and miss the 'Top' out completely.

    With my students I do not teach 'High' notes or 'Top' notes instead they are upper of lower and are no more difficult than each other. Another thing I do is to start them playing C (Bb Concert) In the stave, not below it and extend the range from there. It is then only an octave to ('Top') C and and octave to ('Bottom') C. I find it gives students ability to play all the range more easily. For example I have a Grade V student who can play D/Eb and octave above middle C (Top D/Eb).

    I therefore put it to all of you that we should stop calling notes 'Top' this or that and simply refer to them by thier name.
     
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  3. blondie

    blondie Member

    Do you know Mike I've never thought about it at all before.Your statement makes a hack of a lot of sense. I think your right that this is another of the BB world quirks. How you've explained you teaching to your pupils also makes alot of sense as you have immeadiately removed all the barriers that appear whe learning upper and lower registers.

    I know that i do refer to 'TOP something' and 'PEDAL that', and I think that this trait is present from the moment that you embark up on playing a brass instrument in the BB world.

    Good Point
     
  4. neiltwist

    neiltwist Active Member

    there is definately a barrier there, but with me it was because i wasn't suited to the instrument, and now my mouthpiece is too big and i never need to play up there. I definately agree there is a mental block though. Curiously I think of pedal notes as easy. but maybe that's just me.
     
  5. Jo Elson

    Jo Elson Member

    I can't say that I have ever thought about it really but that is probably because when I was taught to play it was always refer to as 'Top C' etc, and at the time when I was just starting out in the BB world it seemed like quite a high note to reach.
    Now I refer to the next C in the octave as Top C and not the one below it in the stave etc, it's just something that has stuck with me.
    _________________________________
    Jo
    :D
     
  6. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Although I can see Mike's point, I have never thought of the terms given to the notes as being limiting at all. It seems sensible for me, on a transposing brass instrument, to think of bottom C, C in the stave, top C and super C, with pedal C below them. It is then up to me to try to develop my playing until I can cover as much as possible of that range, or more if I can. If traditional scoring of parts has led people to think of "top C" as a ceiling, then it is up to composers and arrangers to deal with that by writing music that will continue to stretch us accordingly.
     
  7. Maestro

    Maestro Active Member

    All notes are the same, and are not 'limiting'.
    They are all there to be hit, split or splattered. :lol: :shock:

    On a serious note though (no pun intended), I was always taught that there are no 'high notes'.
    My teacher once asked me that if there was something that was 4ft above me, would I try and reach it. I said "No way, it's far too high"
    He then asked me if I saw something that was 4ft in front of me, would I try to reach out for it. I said "Of course I would".
    Then it hit me what he was trying to say. If I reached out for a 'high' note instead of thinking it was high, then I wouldn't have so much trouble with it.
    It's something that has stayed with me for years, and is a way I teach my pupils to think as well now.
     
  8. Highams

    Highams Member

    It is certainly the fault of traditional brass band scoring, you only have to look at older scores to see how limiting the second cornets, horns, baritone & trombone are most of the time.

    Gilbert Vinter broke away from that and often put the B flat bass in the middle - high stave, see Salute to Youth for instance. It's a great sound there as well, though these days everything is chucked down 3 octaves when it comes to basses.

    This scoring may also be the reason why so many soprano players 'I know' have poor low registers. Yet if you play E flat trumpet in a brass quintet you use the full range of the instrument.

    www.euph9.freeserve.co.uk
     
  9. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

    Mike, although you seem to have thought about this real well, I must say that I disagree with you.

    If a note is refered to as 'Top C' it exactly that, a refrence. At the end of the day, no matter what note is is 'Super C' for example, if you don't have the technique, then you'll not get the note, it's as simple as that.

    I hear what you're saying Mike but I in my opinion it's a weak argument with little point, but that's only my opinon.

    Cheers.
     
  10. Mike Saville

    Mike Saville Member

    I'd agree that technique is needed, but its not a simple as that. The way a player perceives a note can hinder thier technique - for example - a player has to pick a quiet B natural, they put more pressure and tension on themselves by saying to themselves "it's a Top B". This tension manifests in tight neck muscles, not breathing properly etc which can lead to missing the note. Contrast this to the player who thinks "this is a B" stays relaxed and is therefore more likely to play the required note.

    The point is that I would love for people I play with not to think of notes as "Top A". You can actually hear them thinking it and the notes are strangled and out of tune. By doing away with these naming conventions and getting players to thing of all notes as equal we are more likely to have consistency across the range of the instrument.


    Thanks for your view anyway :wink:
     
  11. James McFadyen

    James McFadyen New Member

    Mike, don't think I'm getting at you or anything. :)

    I think what your saying is valid to a point and brass playing is quite largly psychlogical, and I think your suggestion is on the whole acceptable, but perhaps it should be looked upon as a product of being a beginner.

    As an ex-soprano player, the higher the notes are, the more you think oh damn, i've got to play this real high. The true fact of the matter that all notes are not equal and upper-register playing is a technique in it's own right and no brass player should really worry about range at the beginning anyway, increased range will come with practice and technique and by then the player will (hopefully) have sufficent practice and experience.

    I dont want it to seem as if I'm apposing you, just disagreeing with you, buy hey thats the music industry for you, tons of opinions but no bloddy facts :D
     
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  13. Mike Saville

    Mike Saville Member

    Hey James, no problem - there's no point being on a forum like this if you are not interested in opinions.

    You are correct when you say this is most prevalent in beginners due to lack of technique but, again I feel that even some better players could be helped by a change in perception. Also a change in the way it is explained when people learn I think helps.

    As for all notes being equal - that is the goal that we struggle to acheive (not there myself yet) but thinking differently in my opinion helps.
     
  14. JessopSmythe

    JessopSmythe Active Member

    There's no such thing as a mouthpiece that's too big, it's all down to practice. In another topic you suggested bass trombonists should practice hymns down an octave. In this age of more and more demanding arrangements, perhaps it's equally important to practice them up one or two now and then.
     
  15. geordiecolin

    geordiecolin Active Member

    alternatively to starting higher, you can do what my teacher did. teach the notes as orthodox and then introduce to Maynard Ferguson Trumpet/Piano books. When you are threatened with playing Gospel John (intro et al) in a school concert, you learn your high notes pretty damn fast.

    Because a lot of my early teaching was jazz based, we were always encouraged and taught when was appropiate to put things up an octave, so in County Youth Jazz Orchestra there was always a lot of screaming trumpets!!

    We used to have "kettleboiling" contests where we used to compete to see who could go highest and still sound a true note without sounding a "kettleboiler". I always lost. perhaps thats why i now play bass and my lessonmate plays sop!!

    It all seems so strange that now when as a bass player i have to think when it's appropiate to DROP things an octave.
     
  16. EIBB_Ray

    EIBB_Ray Member

    I certainly see both sides of the discussion (top c is mentally limiting vs. it's just a label.) I think the more vaulable notion is starting players "higher" and expanding ranges in both directions. I think the biggest reason most of us can't play "high" is the we (and yes, I'm very much including myself) don't do it enough. It's a scary, hard to control place that we think is going to hurt so we avoid it. So de-stimatizing it, whether that's by removing labels, changing the starting point of lessons or by incorporating more high playing in our daily practice, are all good ideas, not everything clicks with every player, and some need more mental advantages than others. Personally, I'm concentrating on playing beautiful notes, whether they are high low fast slow loud or soft. I'm trying to give a lot of concentration to sound and intonation, I want a C above the staff to be as full, in tune and beautiful as a second line G or an f# below the staff, getting rid of excuses about them being high, low, 3 valve combination or bad harmonics, we have to learn to make all of the notes we need to play beautiful, otherwise what's the point of playing them?
     
  17. andywooler

    andywooler Supporting Member

    "dubba c"

    Another expression for super C that you hear in the US is "dubba C"

    and if you haven't heard them, the "Tastee Bros" (Scott Englebright, ex Ferguson and Donny Dyess) have an outrageous site at:

    http://www.tasteebros.com/

    They do this stuff because they can! - check out the sound clips!
     
  18. bladder

    bladder Member

    I think there is another side to this 'psychological' limiting affect, and that's how the music notation actually looks on the page. Notes outside the staff take on a 'different' appearance, they 'look' low or they 'look' high. But they aren't necessarily more difficult to play than notes on the staff.
    Take for example C desending to the F# (3rd l.line) below the treble clef staff for Bb instruments. In essence all the notes in this range are on the same harmonic (1st.), i.e. you're simply changing the tube length but staying on the same harmonic. So really these notes should almost be played the same, i.e. F# is a C but with all the valves pressed down. Granted, there has to be a slight oral adjustment but not much. So why do most players lose any playing finesse at around Ab? They change their playing, dropping their chins to get low notes, like singing, and start tongueing slowly and all sorts of mad stuff.
    Perhaps brass teachers can do some good here in dispelling any high/low note myths. Instead of "Come on little Jimmy, squeeze, really try hard for that top G", which can only be obtained with immature embouchures by pressing like buggery, we should be getting pupils to train, strenghen and prepare their embouchures properly rather than sending them down the slippery slopes of the 'non-pleasure' technique.
    We also need to break the association of out-of-staff notes being low/high. If pupils are trained young to play music from 'musical' memory, or by ear, as well as read music they'll soon realise that 'that note's not that high'. A case in point is a youngster I was teaching was struggling at around 'D' while reading. I then stopped him and asked him to play the 'flintstones'. Atfer I'd demonstrated the tune, he preceded not only to play it note perfect but also nailed all the (top) 'G's!
    Another 'strand' to this ability limiting effect is when playing in 'difficult' keys of >4 sharps & flats. Why is it more difficult to play in C# than it is in C? You don't need any extra valves or cunnning techniques that need to mastered. There's any a slight mechanical difference, i.e. more frequent deployment of the 3rd valve. You don't have change your playing, it's all mental. I'm used to remembering and thinking which key I'm playing, I'm a jazzer, that's what jazzer's do. I'm comfortable playing in any key, that's what I practice, chords & keys, but I am more familiar with some keys than others when improvising. So when I 'see' a key signature I mentally change key, i.e. we're in Ab. At this point I should point out that I do suffer from 'key blindness' and sometimes passages 'look' to me like they're in different key, so I do (frequently) make 'meaty' mistakes. But when I'm in F#, I'm reading in F#. NOT as I suspect most people do, reading in C and 'adding 6 sharps'. Do you think this is what happens or is it simply familiarity with a certain key, i.e. if you played in C# all the time would it become easier?
     
  19. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Two very good points there. With the clef, have you ever seen the look of horror when a brass band player more used to treble clef parts suddenly comes across dance band trombone parts in bass, or euphonium parts in a concert band? With the extra leger lines it suddenly seems impossibly high, whereas the notes themselves are the same.

    I agree as well about the key issue. As a sax player, and alto at that, I think nothing of playing in 4, 5 or 6 sharps, and feel equally comfortable in sharp keys on brass - again, I'm sure it's to do with what you've been used to, and how you perceive things. In fact, many passages are technically easier to play in sharp keys as the 2nd valve tends to stay down, so you've only got two to worry about.
     
  20. neiltwist

    neiltwist Active Member

    a lot of it is mental yes, but you have to think about back pressure, the vibrations don't just go through the instrument! But you have to pivot, if you just drop your chin, it won't work, you have to point the instrument up at the same time, and you have to practice doing this on it's own. my trom slide probably moves by 10 degrees when I go from Bb to F on the bottom of the bass clef, otherwise the sound isn't there, or even worse the note!
     
  21. Mike Saville

    Mike Saville Member


    I'm sorry Neal - I can't agree with this at all :(

    In my opinion pivoting is bad technique and we should try to avoid it (although I think most people do it a bit). If you develop too much of a pivot this will hinder you technique when needing to jum between upper and lower notes!
     
  22. neiltwist

    neiltwist Active Member

    you can't play pedal notes without pivoting. Well, you can sound them, but you can't give it a good sound. Over a normal range it's mostly negligable though.
     

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