Thoughts on Switching from Baritone to Tenor

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Jack E, Aug 13, 2017 at 1:15 AM.

  1. Jack E

    Jack E Active Member

    I started on baritone getting on for two years ago, but had a long lay-off due to heart surgery, followed by breathing problems - so total time playing is probably just over a year. Last winter, the breathing problems returned with a vengeance, and the docs were taking a while to sort out my meds to fix them, so at the end of April I switched to tenor horn - harder to blow, but seemingly needing less air.

    Tricky . . . the first mouthpiece I tried was a Yamaha 38D4 - which felt like spitting through a pea-shooter!! But, soon after the switch, I spotted a Wick 3 going cheap on E-bay; bought it, and found it much easier to use - though I'm sure that a good part of the problem was that I'd had to stop playing the baritone for a while before borrowing the tenor from my band, so my embouchure would have definitely weakened.

    The other difficulty was adapting to the change of key from Bb to Eb - :confused: . . .

    I'd see a low E on the music; 1st and 2nd valves - no problem - but I had to adapt my embouchure, as well as my ear, as the note I was supposed to lip and hear was no longer a concert pitch D, but a concert pitch G!


    Just pour me a four-shot espresso, and back away, slooooowly . . .

    But last week, I accidentally left my Wick mouthpiece in the band room when I went for a group practise, so tried using the Yamaha mouthpiece, rather than not practising till I could get it back. Whether it's that I've just adapted to the smaller mouthpiece, or my embouchure has got stronger, or a combination of both, I've found that I can now play with it.

    (Mind, it STILL feels like a pea-shooter . . . :rolleyes: )

  2. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    In my experience moving between Bb and Eb pitches is an extra problem on top of the change of mouthpiece size. However, long term Bandsmen/women seem to take it all in their stride and just cover whatever missing part is most needed. I admire that skill and maybe after another decade of two of playing might be able to attempt some of what they do. My method, when occasionally needed, is not to think of notes as being a particular (or absolute) Concert pitch but rather as intervals (second, third .... fifth, etc) from the instrument's fundamental tone (played peddle C) and harmonics of it (C, G, C, E, G, etc upwards from C just below the stave). That works for me - surely that's what transposed treble clef is about too - but it's probably not absolutely best practice or that well explained; I find expressions of Concert pitch confusing and misleading, but I'm sure that they have a value to other and better players.

    IMHO getting a mouthpiece that matches you and the particular instrument is a big factor in advancing your playing (things sound better and are easier to do) but the more skilled you get the less important equipment sometimes seems to be, as they say: 'a pro sounds better in a student instrument than a student sounds on a pro instrument'. You must have built some skill to now be able to get along with a mouthpiece that you once found the need to replace.

    I'm a low brass player so when I had a go at playing a Cornet, just for a bit of fun and a challenge, the mouthpiece felt really tiny and whilst practice did help I still struggled to get the D and E above middle C. That lack of range did concern me but I'm not sure that it should have done, and particularly so when playing on a 'seat' low down in the section; play what you can, learn what you can and improve as you go along. Being there and constructively adding (what you can) to what's going on is all that matters; 'excellence' comes next week or, in may case, some later time.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2017 at 12:41 PM
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  3. Jack E

    Jack E Active Member

    I was talking about this with one of the third horn players, who started on a Bb cornet - and she said she had exactly the same problem at first; more so with the change of key than with the change of mouthpiece.

    Even with my limited experience, I've certainly found that to be the case.

    Yep - I remember reading an article in New Musical Express, yonks ago, about some scruffy looking oik who was wandering round a guitar shop. Overhearing the owner of a cheap guitar telling the guitar techie what a useless heap of junk it was, and how much it was holding him back, the bloke asked if he could try it - and brought the entire shop to a stunned standstill. When the young lad who owned the guitar recovered enough to ask, the guitar techie told him who the oik was - Eric Clapton!!

    I think so - that and more strength in my embouchure. I think it also comes down to getting better at sight reading, now reaching a point where I'm learning runs of quavers as a complete phrase, rather than individual notes, and where my eyes see the black dots in such and such a place, and my fingers work the right valves at the right time without me consciously thinking "that dot is low E, so that's 1st and 2nd, that one is F#, so that's 2nd . . . " and so on - a bit like learning to read, when you reach a point where you're seeing the text as phrases and sentences, rather than one word at a time. That gives me a lot more time and attention to think about other stuff, like getting my embouchure exact enough to play a clear note, on pitch, rather than 'pretty near it', and to think about the dynamics, accents, where to take a breath, getting note lengths exact, and so on.

    Excellence may take a while for me to reach - but I'm happy to say that enjoyment is already here! :)

    With best regards,

  4. David Broad

    David Broad New Member

    I sympathise, I started playing (on Tenor Horn) because I had breathing difficulties 50 odd years ago, I later played principal Cornet and Sop, and now after 20 years conducting and filling in on Euph and Baritone Carol playing I have quite serious problems playing cornet. I simply can't get enough air down the damned things and keel over after about 32 bars though I had no problem when I borrowed as new 928 Sovereign.... However.
    You don't mention which Horn part you play or which type of horn.
    The lowest Horn part 2nd/3rd/4th depending on who did the arrangement is the most awkward as all valve combinations, especially 1/2/3 and 1st and 3rd valve combinations are sharp on modern Horns and 2nd Horn spends considerable time down there which means bending "Lipping" lots of notes into tune and that is very tiring. If you tune 3rd valve for a good "G" (Concert Bb) on 1st and 3rd valves as well as open (probably 1/2" out as a ball park) before tuning to a good C (Concert Eb) on open with the rest of the band it evens out the amount you have to "lip" notes albeit some now have to be sharpened a tad.
    "Lipping" notes up or down is tiring. Makes playing hard work. Its why we tune up. To make playing easier.
    1920s Horns (and Cornets) were tuned for a good "D" at the expense of a flat "Eb" with over length 1st and 3rd valve tubing.
    When I tune up I get someone to play while someone else reads the tuner to tell you them up (push in) or down. You are tuning the INSTRUMENT. It is dead easy to lip up the tuning note when tuning to a tone or needle which is completely pointless (Counter productive in fact)
    In my experience every different mouthpiece goes through a phase of being horrible, then brilliant, then back to mediocrity as the facial muscles adjust, a good middle of the road Dennis Wick and not a cheap nasty Ch*****se copy is a good start. Again you will probably need a larger mouthpiece for 2nd Horn than Solo as 2nd seldom gets above about middle line B unless its a Wally Pratt arrangement.....
    Jack E likes this.
  5. merv

    merv New Member

    As a recent contributor to this forum I'm most impressed by the friendly nature of those I've met and by the personal and real issues being bared to all. I had previously used the Trombone Forum for advice when I took up trombone a year or so ago but I saw nothing like what I'm seeing here. Ican relate in a big way to this grouping. I'm a Tuba player of about 30 years standing but due to developing a right hand problem known as Dupuytren's Contracture I took up bass trombone a year ago as my third finger is no longer usable. I have to use 'pinky' instead. That was a mountain to climb, not only due to having to learn bass clef but the jump from a BB tuba mouthpiece to a trombone one was massive. I tried tenor trombone for two weeks but that was a bridge too far as the mouthpiece was even smaller so I traded in and got a bass bone. I still play tuba weekly yet also weekly I have to switch to the bone mouthpiece and this is quite a hurdle. The tuba is probably holding me back getting totally used to the bone mouthpiece but for the meantime I'll have to persevere as I play in three bands and only one allows me to play bone!
    I'm glad you got used to the smaller mouthpiece as you had no other choice as the Wick was unavailable.
    Now that you're used to the smaller piece stick with it.
    About 6 months ago I switched from EE to BB flat bass but luckily I was able to do this with few problems so that was not an issue for me.
    Good luck in your playing
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  6. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Merv, just a thought.

    I noticed that you used to be an Eb Bass player, before recently changing to BBb, and wondered whether a change back might help with mouthpiece size issues. An Eb Bass can be played with a (larger size) Bass Trombone mouthpiece and, though you will know already, the note pitches between the bass clef and Eb transposed treble clef are the same - just add three sharps to the bass clef first - so swapping between the two becomes simpler.

    Perhaps you've already tried a three valve Eb and borrowed fingers (thumb might work) from the other hand for the third valve, etc., but if not then perhaps that's an Avenue to explore - there's not that much written that you can't cover without the fourth valve and you can pull some slides to not be too sharp ..... How does a Trombone player know these things? I had a 'mis-spent' youth on Eb Bass.

    The Trombone Forum is a mine of information which I found to be both friendly and unfriendly, the hidden gap between British English and culture and American English and culture doesn't help. This forum is, I believe, a better place to be but it has had some difficult times too.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2017 at 1:54 PM
  7. merv

    merv New Member

    Thanks 2nd Tenor
    At the moment I use 1,2 and 4th fingers pretty efficiently on the three valves plus the 4th. The third is bent down out of the way so I'm coping well at the moment although flexibility on quavers is reduced.
    I reckoned I would ultimately have to pack the tuba in and that's why I'm transitioning at the moment onto bass bone as a replacement string to my bow.
    After the current string of concerts and contests peters out in the autumn I'm going to make the jump to bass bone only - and stick to my guns - if people will let me!!!!
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  8. Jack E

    Jack E Active Member

    The part is 3rd tenor in the training band; instrument is a John Packer JP172S Mk.IV. I don't know how old it is, but the serial number is 17210855.

    Yes . . . I've been picking random pieces out of the Wright & Round Red Book to improve my sight-reading (as suggested by my tutors - and it is coming on well), and had a go at 44 ('Lobe den Herren') yesterday. Oh, boy . . . :( . . . and the third and second from the end bars of 97 ('Sandon') are giving me a hard time, too - the run from A, F#, D#, E, C# is one I'm finding very awkward to get right.

    I don't have a tuner, but tried adjusting the slides yesterday against an electronic keyboard. The third valve slide is about 1/2" out - but I adjusted the main slide for an open C (Concert Bb) first - so I'll go through them again today in the order you advise.

    Yes - I see what you're driving at; I'll try and arrange to do that at my next practise session on Thursday.

    The Wick mouthpiece I have is a 4883 - 3; is that the size you mean?

    Actually, that was the first thing I noticed when I got the 2nd Tenor Red Book, and compared it with my previous 2nd Baritone Red Book; the working range is much lower. The downside is, as pointed out to me by my tutor, is that the line played by 3rd tenors is probably further away from the main melody than any other part in the band; some pieces in the Red Book sound so bizarre when I first play them that I have to check through some bars, note by note, to make sure that I'm actually playing it as written! And I'm not alone in that. The 3rd tenor in the main band that I was discussing this with said when she switched from cornet to 3rd tenor, she looked at the music and thought "What have I let myself in for?"

    Me, too - me, too . . . :eek: !!

    Many thanks for your helpful advice and suggestions, David; it's very much appreciated on my part. :)

    With best regards,

  9. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Merv, I don't think that Jack will mind me diverting his thread slightly.

    Good luck with the Bass Trombone, I think you will find a lot to like about them and having played large Tubas you've probably got the lungs to work one well. I find filling a large bore Tenor hard enough never mind an even larger bore Bass Trombone.

    BBb players are hard to find so don't be surprised if you come under pressure to 'soldier on'. I don't know but guess that a left handed or adapted instrument might change the (valve use) situation for you, if so then that's an expensive option to offer to whoever might apply pressure to you - they need to recognise your disability and supply you with a suitably modified instrument or stop asking, etc. Should some Band need you that badly, and be prepared to both fund it all and wait whilst you get used to working left handed, then I guess that a three valver would be cheapest to source, rework or adapt.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2017 at 11:33 PM
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  10. Jack E

    Jack E Active Member

    Not at all, 2T. I like to think of forums like this as conversations between friends, so that a certain flexibility is allowed - just as it would be if we were talking face to face. In any case, I've often found helpful ideas amongst the slight 'deviations' in threads - both my own and those of other people.

    With best regards,

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  11. merv

    merv New Member

    Thanks 2T for that philosophy. My wife thinks that's a very useful contribution from you
  12. David Broad

    David Broad New Member

  13. Jack E

    Jack E Active Member

    According to Yamaha's website, the 38D4 that I've been using this week is their equivalent of a Wick 5883-2, so I'll stick with it for a month, and see how I get on.

    That's true - but if you keep your eye on E-bay, you can sometimes spot a bargain; I picked up my Wick 4883 for £30, and it only had a few tiny marks on the outside of the rim (none where my mouth touches it).

    Thank you again for your helpful advice, David, and best regards,


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