Um-Chucks - and getting simple stuff RIGHT

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Jack E, Nov 27, 2017.

  1. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    Yes, it is a bit tangential. I hadn’t read sliders comment as (Edit. you being) being pedantic, but the same text can easily mean different things to different people. I think that your proposed Facebook conversation is a good way to go. :) .” To be clear - I'm happy with that post”; h’mm, IIRC Bb Mad made many posts that he was completely happy with too whilst you were (often rightly) much less than happy.

    Talking about interpretion being variable it seems to me that Dave Broad got rather a lot of adverse comment. His message might have been in-correct for some or un-clear to others (by their judgement) but he will have taken some time and effort to try to contribute to the thread. To me some of the the responses to his post seems rather harsh and ungrateful, just the type of stuff that encourages folk not to bother again or not to add something in the first place. I won’t give examples but rather let responders consider whether they are guilty or not.

    To my mind this site has much improved over recent years, let’s hope it continues to do so.
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2017
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  2. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    And nor did I! I'd like to be able to stop issuing clarifications now... Have I suddenly become completely unable to deploy English in ways that people understand?
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  3. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Can you say that in English, please? :p
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  4. Euphonium Lite

    Euphonium Lite Active Member

    Back on topic – ish

    One of the hardest pieces I’ve ever had to play in my entire banding career was the 3rd cornet part in Elgar Howarths “Fireworks” (for those that don’t know it, it’s a brass band equivalent to Brittens “Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra” – complete with commentary. Its – in my opinion anyway – a great piece that’s very underplayed nowadays).

    Why difficult? As per most third cornet parts there were no HemiDemiSemiquaver runs that are not quite chromatic, no notes squeaking above TopC (Birtwhistle’s Salford Toccata on the other hand….) no ppp to fff crescendo’s, no 3/16 time signatures……in comparison I found all of the above a lot easier than Fireworks

    The section I’m referring to is (for those that know the piece) the start of the Tenor Horn feature section. Its 10 notes – all “on the beat” quavers, from memory staccato. It wasn’t high – I think it was a first space f. Sounds basic enough

    What the killer was is that there are (from memory) 4 players playing – again its 30 years since I played it so I may have the instrumentation wrong but seem to recall it was 1x 3rd cornet, 1 x Bari (poss 2nd), 1 x bass (Eb I think) and snare drum. At pp or ppp (cant remember). Playing in 2/4 - quaver (rest of the bar off), quaver (rest of the bar off), quaver (quaver rest) quaver (quaver rest), quaver (rest of the bar off). And repeat.
    The notes were set up as a chord.

    The reason why it was so difficult? Because the odds are someone would be playing so quietly at least one of the notes wouldn’t sound, thus destroying the balance. Or slightly too loud, thus destroying the balance. Or slightly too long (or too short). Or the intonation would go slightly out. Or (ultimate crime) slightly too early or too late. In ISOLATION it was fine – I could play it no issues. In a band situation – where note lengths can vary even in very good bands by a few fractions of a second, and dynamics can change ever so slightly week on week – it was a nightmare. And it only took 1 error from one player somewhere in those 10 notes for the MD to make us do it again. And again. And again……and once we got it right, we'd do it 2 or 3 more times to make sure it wasn't a fluke. It still makes me shiver now…..and we were ALL playing for Championship section bands at the time, so we were all reasonable standard players (we did Fireworks with my college band)

    So the moral of the story – Jack as you say Um-Chucks (or Chuck-ums) deserve as much respect as any other part. Get them wrong and you throw the band out (potentially). Practicing in a band is the only way you can all get them together (although one wonders how many players especially in lower sections practice offbeats in between times) but I remember a post on here which may be of help. I cant remember who posted it (I’m thinking 2T but I could be wrong) – or the exact text but it went something like this

    If you have a metronome (or app) that can subdivide (or can change the pitch of some beats, or better still remain silent on some beats) it will help. Set it to a standard steady 4 beats 1st, and play as rest/play/rest/play in time with the beats. Once youre steady on that, get the metronome to play 1 & 3 (so you play “on your own” on 2 & 4) – which means that you have to ensure your note doesn’t overlap the metronome.

    Once you manage THAT, set it to play beat 1 only (so you have to play the rest of the bar on your own and keep your own time). Chances are early days you’ll rush slightly (so you have a long gap after 4) or will slow up (so the metronome overlaps you). But keep at it until EVERY bar is even

    Ultimately you cant account for the MD changing the tempo, the basses or percussion going off too fast or a neighbouring player blurting in the wrong place to potentially put you off. But if you can master the last part above, then you are fully in control of your own situation, and can adapt accordingly to your surroundings
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2017
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  5. Euphonium Lite

    Euphonium Lite Active Member

    In fairness Dave, you did refer to Mello's actual first name in the part you wrote, although to be honest I found out who Mello was quite a while ago thanks to another poster; a very simple search on Google also tells you the author of the book and as Mello has already owned up to writing it, it's probably not rocket science to work out who he is even if you didn't know before

    TMPs problems in the past have always been centered over certain characters posting "controversial" comments whilst hiding behind anonymity. Whilst Mello has never used his ID on here to batter others nor has he used his real name to reinforce a point - if he wanted to be truly anonymous I'm pretty sure he would have referred to the book without saying he'd written it or would have kept out of the thread altogether. Personally I'm pleased a player of that calibre who was very much a role model in my foundation years for what a decent brass player should sound like is able to post on a forum like this amongst us
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  6. KMJ Recordings

    KMJ Recordings Supporting Member

    Apologies for the 'snipping' but there are some, er, interesting 'snippets' in here from an alternative perspective.

    I listen to a lot of bands and individual players and one of the frequent comments from my producer - or me when I've got that hat on rather than just engineering - is how much less thought is generally put into the ending of notes and phrases.

    From an early age, we're taught to (at least try) and start together...and hopefully with some sense of intonation...but my recollection of my early lessons only leads me to things like "that's a semibreve at the end of that exercise...hold it for 4"....

    It matters not whether the intention is metronomic or 'musical'...if you've got a bunch of players playing different note lengths in an ensemble it sounds scruffy...and Tom-King is's endemic across all sections. It's a difficult skill to master - but it is encapsulated by the phrase "play together" if you take it to its logical endpoint.
  7. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Not a problem at all, fully in the spirit of the original but with the fluff trimmed away

    Indeed - and (although not so clearly articulated in my earlier post) practicing the control over ends of notes improves your performance immensely, as well as helping in the chase for the perfect umchuck.
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  8. Slider1

    Slider1 Active Member

    I'm sorry if my flippant comment has upset you, It wasn't meant as anything more than a humorous aside to a book Title and an author and musician who I have a lot of admiration for.
    Once again I apologize if I have caused offence to anybody.

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  9. Slider1

    Slider1 Active Member

    Sorry but here we go off topic - ish again, Fireworks brings back memories of a King's Hall and Belle-vue long gone. It was a piece not received well by the majority of the paying public, The hall was packed for the Ist. band and almost empty
    for the 2nd. Personally I Liked the Trombone feature section but joined the majority in the Bar and the Zoo ( where I'd never seen so many dejected older members of our movement eating their sandwiches). God knows what they would of made
    of some of today's pieces.
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  10. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    The Perfect Um-Chuck - my goal for which to strive!!


    (had a good session with the training band tonight, and my um-chucks are coming on nicely - so still on a bit of a high!)
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  11. Mello

    Mello Active Member

    I appear to have unwittingly been drawn into a deep discussion, which certainly was not my intention. PLEASE ALLOW ME TO EXPLAIN.
    The sole purpose of my post was to pass on a very valuable tip on playing umchucks. that served me well for many years ....and many of my students.
    I merely mentioned my book title ( which I now regret ) , because by pure coincidence, I had just given the all clear for it to be finally published . and had to (A) explain to the publisher what Umchucks were and (B) explain that I had the same difficulties playing umchucks in my early years .

    It was never meant to be a sales pitch . and I certainly wasnt trying to mislead anyone... my book title was actually thought up some two years ago when the late David Horsfield persuaded me to write a book about my musical career.
    It is NOT a tutor book on Umchucks , it is merely about my experiences as a player , which took me from Pakistan to Mexico , America to Australia playing with top bands , small groups , big band to Orchestra.Film /TV Radio music etc.
    I apologise if anyone was mislead... for my part it never entered my head it could be misinterpreted . However it is now too late to change as it has just been published..
    However I hope its sub title ( The Highs & Blows of Higgy ) will prevent any miconceptions . That was thought up by my daughter.
    Please dont write and complain that I have just tried to get away with a cheap ad. In fact I am not even selling the thing , that is down to someone else .
    As a matter of interest , I actually pulled out of the project a few months ago , and it was due to the persuasions of some very kind people that it has even seen the light of day.
    Anyway , again Lesson learned . Apologies all round ....I am only an ex player of sorts not a literary expert. Mello
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  12. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Re. the above post from Mello; it didn't take me too long to realise that his book was an autobiography, rather than a tutorial - but I'm still buying it, as I'm sure it will be a very fascinating read :)

    Yeesssss . . . lurking in the internals of my computer is the basis of a book of stories of my time with horses; if it ever gets published, I would like it to have the title "Kick-Alongs, Push-Button Rides, and Dopes on Ropes" :D

    I can well believe that any publisher's eyes will take on that "Why me, God?" look - but I'm sure that Mesmerist will know just the sort of animals I'm talking about . . . :cool:

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  13. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    I think (or atleast, the way I read it) the discussion was around whether you'd accidentally "outed" your psuedonym by providing an easy way for everyone to look up your real name... well, that and whether by posting a link to somewhere the book was available, Dave had accidentally helped that along also.

    Atleast as far as I'm concerned (and I can't imagine anyone disagreeing much) the thought hadn't even occurred that it came off as opportunistically inserting a free advert (not that I'd have had a problem with it even if you had, to be honest).
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  14. second_horn

    second_horn Member

    Ah, um chucks, the horn players best friend, but can't imagine practicing with a metronome, you've just got to feel them! :)
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  15. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Well, I can only say that when I tried out me new electronic metronome today, it certainly showed up just how sloppy I was with getting the ums and chucks in balance - as it clearly showed that instead of playing:

    crotchet, crotchet rest, crotchet, crotchet rest, in 4/4

    I tend to veer slightly towards dotted crotchet, quaver rest, dotted crotchet, quaver rest. TBH, it surprised me just how clearly that relatively small error showed up. I don't intend to practise with it all the time, but I think it will be very useful - even on something as 'simple' as um-chucks - as a reality check every once in a while.

    I do take your point, that you need to be able to work without it ('cos you can't have a metronome playing in a concert!), but it does appear to be helping me to get to grips with accuracy on the length of notes and rests, which is all I hoped for. I think it will also be helpful when I move on to more complex stuff, as you can set it up to do such things as triplets played in a 4/4 time signature, and the more awkward combinations of crotchets and quavers, and quavers played on off-beats - as in;

    "One AND two AND three AND four AND" in 4/4 time.

    It also has a tone generator, and a tuning meter which can be set to Bb, C, Eb and F, with a remote pickup so I can clip it on my bell and see the scale - amazing what they can pack into a box smaller than a pack of 20 ciggies, these days, eh? And all for less than 15 quid!
  16. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    I'm currently working with a very young - but quite precocious young lady horn player. For reasons that escape me, she has started putting a huge effort into tonguing every note resulting in a very staccato style of playing. I'm getting her to calm it down by making her count subdivisions of beats while playing phrases in a single breath. While that doesn't help you with um-chucks, the same technique could be adapted. Perhaps start by playing constant quavers in one breath and at a slow, steady speed, using only your tongue to interrupt the air flow, counting the beats and half beats in your head.
    Don't tap your feet!
    Then practice only playing the first (on-beat) quavers using the same technique. You need a constant "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and" going on in your head. When you are confident that you can do this, try playing only the off-beat quavers with the same constant counting in your head. Obviously, play only on the 'and's.

    Initially the speed needs to be slow. but as you practice more you will be able to speed it up.

    Don't over-think it and don't tap your feet.

    Try different combinations of on and off. PLAY with it. Make patterns. Challenge yourself a little and, most of all, be confident!

    Oh - and don't tap your feet! :-D

    Looking at your latest reply, I am wondering how it is that you are obsessing over the length of a crotchet? Why are your crotchets different lengths in the first place? The technique above should help with that, especially subdividing the beat. A crotchet is of variable length (depending on the tempo) but it is always equal to two quavers at the same tempo. Ditto quavers and semiquavers (and minims and crotchets.)

    Avoid playing to a metronome unless you are trying to play something that is currently too fast for you. Nobody ever plays a piece of music metronomically for its entire length. A musical director will adjust the tempo throughout a piece to bring out the shape of the music and its expressive beauty. If you can only play something metronomically you will never play musically. The dots on the page are only a guide.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2017
  17. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Why not? Frankly, I find it a bit irritating that you keep repeating "Don't tap your feet!", with out bothering to explain why not? What is the negative effect if I do tap my feet?

    I am not "obsessing over the length of a crotchet"! I've found that my timing is not as accurate as it ought to be, so I am doing my level best to sort it out! What do you expect me to do - ignore it?

    If you're trying to patronise me to the point of offensiveness, you're doing really well, Mike.

    Yes - I HAVE come across rit., rall., accel. and fermata by now. Even our training band is expected to understand and follow those.

    When and where did I say that I only wanted to play like that?

    On the contrary, I made my long-term goal perfectly clear, several posts back. I quote:

    "It may be that the music (or the MD) calls for a note to start bang on the beat, or . . to start a split second before the beat and end a tad early to make it swing - as demonstrated by Oscar Peterson in (his) performance of C Jam Blues. Whatever treatment is required, though, if you can't start and finish each note precisely where it's called for, you can't deliver the goods."

    "Listen to some brass bands playing a rock or jazz number, and the way they make it sound lumbering and plodding, and then listen to the same piece played by musicians who have the control - as well as the feel - as described by Moomin Dave, above. What I can't help but notice when I hear that contrast, is how tiny the adjustments need to be, in order to give that music the most dramatic change of feel."

    And, in response to a post by 4th Cornet re. the use of metronomes, I replied:

    "I do take your point, that you need to be able to work without it ('cos you can't have a metronome playing in a concert!), but it does appear to be helping me to get to grips with accuracy on the length of notes and rests, which is all I hoped for."

    Now, you tell me; does that sound as though I want to play like a machine, without the slightest attempt at the interpretation called for by the composer or by the MD?

    And going right back to my OP, I wrote:

    "I realised that the often-scorned um-chuck sequence is actually a damn good learning tool for practising getting the duration of both notes and rests absolutely precise - every single time."

    I then went on to explain why I believed that to be an essential skill which I needed to master in order to play well in a band:

    "And it only takes a quick glance through more complex pieces to see that many of them are littered with rests - and the duration of each one is vital for the overall sound to be right, as I've grasped the fact that when the band is playing, they're playing a succession of chords, with different sections playing the various notes which make up the chord. So if I get the duration of either a note or a rest wrong, either my note will be missing from a chord for split second, or I'll play my note a split second before the rest of the chord is played by other players. Either way, it will mess up the chord as a whole - and even though it might only be for a split second, it will be heard."

    As I said to 4th Cornet, I see this as a stepping stone on my way to improvement. Sure, nobody in their right mind wants to listen to (or to play) endless um-chucks, but you could say exactly the same about long notes, or pianists' five finger exercises. They're a means to an end - and the end is being able to play whatever the piece calls for, whether the requirement is to play precisely on tempo, or to make slight adjustments to the lengths of notes and rests to bring out the soul and feeling of that piece.

    If my posts above have not made that clear to you, I can only point out that plenty of other posters seem to think I'm working on the right lines - as does my MD - and I will continue to work in this way.
  18. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Other players tapping their feet is one of the most distracting things when playing, and many's the time I've had to set myself in quite an awkward playing position to keep such a distraction out of my eyeline. UIf they are in tempo it is bad enough, but often their perception of being in time is not the same as mine. If you dio feeling the need of some sort of outside stimulus, then just move your toes within your shoes, so that it does not disturb those around you.
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  19. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    The "Don't tap your feet" was really just a (failed) attempt at a throw-away line because in my experience most people do not tap their feet in accurate time and it's a distraction from the counting and watching you are supposed to be doing. I honestly meant no offense and I'm surprised that you took it that way.

    I'm not on about written tempo changes, but the more subtle ones that a good MD will introduce as their musicality directs them to.

    I didn't actually say that you <b>wanted</b> to play metronomically all the time (though some people do seem to find that satisfying for some reason) but that by obsessing about playing to a metronome you were in danger of missing the larger picture. Your main need if you are playing in a band is to play in time with the people around you.

    There's nothing wrong with practising um-chucks (I'm doing that at the moment because were playing the Festive Overture). There is nothing intrinsically wrong with practising with a metronome. I admire your determination to play to the best of your ability and I am really admiring of your passion and determination. I just worry that in your concentration on the minutiae you may miss the larger aim. Again, no offence intended.
  20. Mello

    Mello Active Member

    If I may interject at this point with a suggestion which almost always seemed a successful tack to follow not just with youth bands but also adults. A band is comprised of various individuals ..with various pulse rates . But the impact of that can de so easily and clearly demonstrated by the following method . May seem silly , BUT if the MD sticks to his guns , it works.
    It may seem a childish thing to do but ask the band to just go with him

    1 Every player in front of him MUST put their instrument down on the floor,

    2 Next EVERY player MUST close their eyes.

    3 The MD has to be very diligent and stop the experiment if any single player opens them OR tell the offender to close them and add an extra bar onto the experiment.

    4 The MD then tells the band to join him in clapping as he begins to clap a simple steady 4/4 rhythmic beat. with him until all are in unison for a couple of bars until the unison is satisfactory. ALWAYS KEEPING THEIR EYES CLOSED... MD must keep watching COS someone always tries to peep.

    5 When it is....keep clapping whilst saying loudly over it . " Keep clapping the beats, ..I am going to count audibly 4 bars......and after I reach 4, Eveyone MUST CEASE clapping BUT continue to count SILENTLY in their head, for 5 extra silent bars .and CLAP the first beat of the 6th bar . ( ie 5 silent bars then a single clap signifyimg the 1st beat of the 6th )

    I guarantee they will be all over the place.

    The reason they close their eyes is simple. They are on their own ... some may be afraid to be the one who is early.....others will stick to their guns and believe they are correct an are probably the last to clap.
    This little demonstration clearly indicates they ALL have different ideas so they NEED a Conductor to keep the ship steady.
    Further...if on a contest , players with nerves usually increase speed in line with their pulse rate. Which obviously makes things worse.
    Obviously the MD may go a little faster ( dont forget he is looking after 20 parts or so NOT just one !)
    But if he does , and you are watching the beat ......then you will still be together at least.

    As I said it may seem childish , but if it can be done with a pro band , then it can be done with any.

    YOU ONLY NEED TO TRY IT ONCE and they will be convinced, At the same time if it is explained that following your own beat (foot tap) may not be precisely in sync with the MD ....specially on a contest stage.Foot tapping may be discontinued.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2017

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