Um-Chucks - and getting simple stuff RIGHT

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

  1. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    As Peter mentioned above, the effect can be both visually and aurally distracting to others in the band. I remember playing on a brass band course many years ago where the principal cornet player had a pronounced foot tap - sitting on a stage raised up from the audience, the front end of his enormous boot flapped up and down the whole time, right in the audience's eyeline, and the noise it made on impacting the floor was clearly audible. That's an extreme example, but any motion readily observed by others suffers from the same potential problems.

    And as Peter also mentioned, if that seems distracting, consider how much more so when the tapping is out of time - perhaps a consistent fraction of a second behind the beat (I've seen that...), perhaps pretty close to random (I've seen that too...).

    I take the view that, in our brass band idiom at least, the best way to feel time is to rigidly subdivide in the head, to develop a real intuitive sense of the structure and flow of musical time without depending on the crutch of a beating body part. But, if one really feels that one must, tapping one's toes inside one's shoes (as again, Peter recommended) risks nothing musically.
    Note though that this is not a truth for all musical idioms. There are highly-respected jazz teachers that will advocate the use of foot-tapping in their chosen idiom as a method to develop one's sense of time. It has its place. But that place has to be carefully chosen, and tends not to be within brass banding.
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  2. BrianT

    BrianT Member

    Clown band? :)
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  3. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Thank you for that clear explanation, Peter - actually, I did write in one of my earlier posts that I do, in fact, just flick my toes up and down inside my boots, but the possible visual distraction to other players hadn't crossed my mind, and it's certainly a point I'll bear in mind.

    With best regards,

  4. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Re. the clapping exercise you describe above; the band I'm learning with uses a different method - but with the same goal, I think - as taught to them by Russell Gray. It goes like this:-

    The conductor sets the tempo at 8/8 with his baton, but stops as soon as the band plays the first note. They play a staccato quaver on each beat shown in bold, and have to silently keep the time in their heads:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 and so on.

    If any of the players are a bit wobbly on their rhythm, they'll either play their quaver too late or too soon, and it sticks out like a sore thumb - let alone if they lose count altogether . . . :oops:

    With best regards,

  5. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Please, Brian! :eek:

    I still bear the musical scars of having been taken to see a circus, and hearing their band playing with a cavalier distain for such bourgeois constraints as key signatures, tempo and tonality . . . :mad: . . . I wonder if they were, in fact, followers of the atonal school?

    On a quiet day, I can still hear the discordant echoes. :( ;)

    With best regards,

  6. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    As I've pointed out in my earlier posts, it's precisely because I'm aware of the MD calling for such subtle variations that I'm working on getting the start and end of each note and rest just where it's called for - whether that is exactly on the beat, or slightly away from it. If I don't have that control, then whatever the MD or the music calls for, I'll be unable to deliver.

    I don't see the control described above as 'the minutiae'; as pointed out by Moomin Dave, above, it's one of the key differences between a top class band and a mediocre one. I've done my best to explain, repeatedly, that I see this practise as a stepping stone towards having the ability to deliver those subtle variations which give any music its full expression - but I see no point in continuing this discussion, which seems to be just going round in circles.
  7. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    I think this may be a matter of perspective - a little like those joke pictures you see of two little cartoon people standing either side of a number and arguing over whether its a 6 or a 9.

    I think what's going on here (not that anyone needs me to speak for them) is very similar to something I said earlier on in the thread - just be careful not to get hyper focused on just one element that makes a good player/band to the exclusion of other skills and development... although it's possible you're not already, it never hurts to reaffirm.

    In truth, I think the chances are we may well be looking at the same thing - without wanting to sound like top section snobbery (although I'm sure it will) when you're looking at something from the perspective of a player who is experienced/acclimatised to championship or first section, what we'd consider acceptable or even "perfect" control over something like offbeats is way tighter than almost any 4th section or training band player is going to get to grips with straight away (and to some extent, it sometimes requires the experience of playing at those higher levels and really experiencing for yourself exactly what the whole band playing more tightly together really feels like before this perspective even comes into focus for you)...
    What I'm trying to say here is there's every chance that what you're aiming for is to be able to play them well enough to be top of the class at the level you're playing at, whereas it's easy for us to read the same words and perceive the expected outcome differently... and this all goes in cycles to some extent - we find something wrong (or just unsatisfactory), we work on it, we get better at it and just as we're reaching the crest of that wave, another crashes down and we find ourselves working on something new (with the previous achievement often underacknowledged - it's easy to get quite a lot better without realising it in this way).

    To come at all this from another angle - I don't see practicing umchucks as necessarily wrong, but I'd make the focus on general control (as I described earlier in the thread - use longer notes and focus on starting notes cleanly and consistently on time, hold them long enough to settle and then focus on ending them cleanly on time, leave longer breaks and breathe in time and then bring the next one in on time... etc) moreso, once you have this down then umchucks will come more naturally as long as you avoid the obvious pitfalls (don't breathe between every note and end up panting like a dog!).

    This is where practice routines come in - keep yourself working on multiple different things by practicing a sensible amount of each, each day... and you'll make good, steady progress all-round.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2017
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  8. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Just as an aside, when Billy Smarts circus used to set up on Clapham Common the augmented band often included several Guards musicians, so I hope it wasn't them you heard!
  9. midlandman

    midlandman Member

    I think the main reason for not tapping your foot has been mentioned earlier. If you always expect a regular beat from the conductor then he/she has no room for any nuance they may wish to include in the performance.
    Out of a matter of interest do you continue to tap your foot during a rall or accel?
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  10. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Nope; definitely not - it's "eyeballs on the conductor" when I see one of them coming up (and the same applies to a pause).
  11. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Oh, no - nothing so grand, Peter; it was definitely an 'also-ran' circus, that I'd never heard of.
  12. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Okay - this is my LAST attempt to make it clear.

    As I pointed out in my OP, the reason I am practising um-chucks is very simple; two of the pieces I'm currently rehearsing to play in a forthcoming concert contain bars and bars of um-chucks - so it impossible for me to practise them without playing lots of um-chucks.

    Aside from when I'm practising those pieces, I do NOT obsessively sit in my flat practising um-chucks to the exclusion of everything else.

    If you read my OP, as far as I'm concerned it makes my point very clearly. Whilst rehearsing those two pieces, I realised that I could use them to improve the accuracy of starting and finishing each note and rest. And that is all.

    If you cannot grasp that, I give up. And I wish I'd never bothered writing that OP, as this thread is just doing my head in, so I'm off.
  13. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    It has been a bit of a festival of misunderstandings, hasn't it? Funny how some conversations go that way.
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  14. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    I’m glad that you started the thread and think that a lot of good has come out of it. Sometimes we take offence when none was intended and sometimes we (understandably) become frustrated when a thread drifts off in some other direction or expands beyond what was intended. With the greatest of respect I suggest that you should feel very complimented at the support that your thread has received and the words (all intended to be kind) directed towards you - others would rightly envy you there. That’s not to in any way be intentionally antagonist but more to encourage a recognition of the (much) positive and a settting aside other things - if anyone thinks that that’s a case of the ‘kettle calling the pot black’ then they just might be right, but who’s perfect?

    You’ve started many very good threads and I look forward to the next.

    All the best, 2T.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2017
  15. Euphonium Lite

    Euphonium Lite Active Member

    TBH Jack note lengths are part of what the Adjudicators Association refer to as "The Basics" - including intonation, pitch (not just playing in tune, but hitting the note cleanly) and note lengths. Too many players - and I would include many in the upper sections in this - don't practice the basics (for various reasons) and therefore struggle with them. If your practice helps you with this then you've shared something that others could learn from.....
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  16. pbirch

    pbirch Active Member

    I don't know if you have thought of it in this way - in a band of 28 players 5 (tubas and bass trombone) will be playing the um and between 9 and 11 (horns baritones, back row cornets and trombones) will be playing the chucks, now that is over half the band and to get them right is a team effort not an individual one. team time in rehearsal in needed to get them right with drills so that everyone knows accents, note length etc, all the things spoken of above, It doesn't take too many of the 16 to get out of sync for the effectiveness to be lost. You can work on your note production as an individual but all the rest is teamwork and should be addressed as such. not forgetting that the um chucks are not just rhythm, but also the harmonic foundation of the piece
  17. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    Very true. However, an arrangement with those proportions should be left in the cupboard IMHO. A smart arranger is able to create an um-chuck effect without needing to write it for all those parts.
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