Expected Range of a Baritone Player

Jack E

Well-Known Member
I'm having real trouble getting up to the top of the stave; I don't always hit the E on the top space, and when I do, I sometimes split it, plus it sounds a bit forced and squeaky; F on the top line is the same, only worse - and G above the stave is a real lottery, and when I do hit it, it sounds horrible - like somebody strangling a cat.

If I blow really hard, that improves the number of times I hit those notes, but they still sound dire - and an appalling contrast with the musicality of what I can play up to C on the third space - and I also find that when I come down off the top notes, those lower down sound horrible, too - even though normally I can get a really pleasant sound from them (not just my opinion; that's what my band tutors have been saying to me from very early on). The other problem is that, if I blow a lot harder to hit those notes, by the time I get to the end of a piece with 40 bars at 136 crotchets a minute, my lungs are totally knackered - and I don't just mean 'very tired'.

Even allowing for the fact that I lost a good year out from heart surgery and ensuing complications, I've been working on trying to extend my range upwards for a good two years, and have now reached a point where I don't feel I'm making any progress at all. It's no good to me if I can just hit that top G - even if I get the pitch right, and do it every time; if it sounds bloody awful, what's the point?

Just out of interest, I re-wrote the arrangement dropping it down a full octave, so it covers the range from G on the second line to G below the stave - and it was easy-peasy.

At one point, when I was having real breathing problems, I had to stop playing baritone, as I just couldn't get enough air out to fill it, and even 5 minutes playing left me shot. A friend suggested trying a tenor horn instead; he said it would take more air pressure to play it, but a smaller volume of air (and he also made the point that it would keep my sight reading skills up, and stop me sitting around moping because I couldn't play!). I wasn't sure this would work, but gave it a try and found I could play it, and keep going. So I played tenor for about 5 months until the docs got my lungs sorted, before reverting to baritone.

Has anyone else had a similar problem, and found a way round it? Is it worth me trying tenor again? I don't recall having problems with the higher notes on that (though, in fairness, the material I was playing was fairly simple); the only problems that come to mind was adapting to the sound of Eb. I'd use 1st and 2nd valve for a written E on the bottom line, and instead of hearing a concert D, I'd hear a concert G - which did flummox me on occasion, as I wasn't sure if I'd muffed the fingering, or whether it was supposed to sound like that! But the 2nd horn told me that she had the same problem when she switched from cornet to tenor, and said that was a common experience.

Constructive suggestions would be much appreciated, as I'm now getting to a point where I'd sooner go to the dentist for a filling than continue busting a gut trying to work up to those high notes.

Best regards,

Jack
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
It’s a fairly long post so I won’t try and answer it in detail but rather give some general observations which I hope might help.

In the bigger picture of things you haven’t been playing very long at all so, realistically, why expect a great deal of yourself or rather don’t expect too much of yourself. It’s better to strive and be content with what you can do than to get upset with what still evades you. These days I bang out a top C without too much thought but when I restarted playing it took many years (much longer than you have been playing) before I could do that. As they say “patience is a virtual seldom possessed by women and never possessed by men”, but whether man or woman we all need to have it at times.

What’s the range of a First Baritone? Well that’s tricky but I’d say near enough the same as the Euphonium players, sorry. However what is asked of one will depend on the MD and the music that he or she puts before the Band. I recon that if you work towards being able to play G above the Stave then all will be well. Oh, and remember that you’re in a training band, no one should be expecting great things of you.

I’m not of the school that thinks a different mouthpiece solves all ills - that’s a poor philosophy with a distracting ounce of truth in it - but the right one for the job does help. I like Wick’s 6BS but some might say that it’s a bit too big for notes above the stave, a slightly smaller and/or shallower piece is likely to give marginal help - but marginal help might be enough to alter things for you. Chat to your Teacher and perhaps try a 7cs or 12c, it’s a trade off between tone and range but pragmatism is good.

High range playing is definitely an area outside of my expertise. However I’ve found that warming up well in the lower ranges first and playing scales helps, basically build towards being able to play the scales that include the higher notes and don’t force the high notes when you get towards the top of any scale.
Edit. Instrument contact time is good too, the more that you play (in the range that you can manage) the more chance you have of improving your chops (including strengthening the muscles and control of ) and eventually (but slowly and progressively) improving your range.
Edit. In a private conversation with another member here I solved a mouthpiece size problem, they gave me a couple of pointers that I took up and I’ve been delighted with the results. For me it was a matter of discovering where the boundary between slightly too big and still OK was; now I’m just the right side of that boundary, think that what I now use is optimal and am getting better every time I play.

I’m sure others will have more useful comments but perhaps mine are a start and hopefully an encouragement.

All the best,

2T.
 
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pbirch

Active Member
it is quite difficult to give you any meaningful advice without actually hearing and seeing you play, the usual things people say, like "more air", "more practice" "play in the range you want to improve" are great soundbites, but of little help to you, and so my usual advice is to seek out a teacher, talk to them your problem and work together to find a solution. you would also have to be sure that the problem is with you and not the instrument, even a small air leak would produce the problem you describe, and training band instruments may not be the best maintained. I would say this to you though, if you have a lovely C, work on getting a lovely D, then Eb and so on until the higher notes get within your range, and , good luck
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
it is quite difficult to give you any meaningful advice without actually hearing and seeing you play, the usual things people say, like "more air", "more practice" "play in the range you want to improve" are great soundbites, but of little help to you, and so my usual advice is to seek out a teacher, talk to them your problem and work together to find a solution. you would also have to be sure that the problem is with you and not the instrument, even a small air leak would produce the problem you describe, and training band instruments may not be the best maintained. I would say this to you though, if you have a lovely C, work on getting a lovely D, then Eb and so on until the higher notes get within your range, and , good luck
Thank you for your reply.

I can honestly say that I have followed all of the usual advice, without significant improvement. I'm physically incapable of giving those high notes any more air than I'm doing now; I was told about 'warm up on the lower notes, then practise in the range you want to improve', 'work on getting a lovely C, then work on the D', and so on, and that's what I've done - yet the only progress I've made in the last year is to reach those high notes by giving myself a right battering every time I do manage them, and they still sound horrible. I have been going to a private tutor, and my playing lower down the scale has really progressed, in terms of the quality of the sound, dynamic range, articulation, and so on - but in terms of extending upwards, no. As regards the possibility of a leak in the instrument, I've played on two different baritones, and found no difference between the two in terms of the upper range I can reach.

It feels to me as though I've reached the limit of what I'm physically capable of doing. Having had my chest well hacked around during the cardiac by-pass surgery, and taking my age into account, I can't honestly see myself raising the bar in the future, no matter how hard I work at it.

When I'm playing with the training band on a piece that doesn't go above a D, I can enjoy it - and I pick out pieces to play at home, such as some of Hoagy Carmichael's work, and work on polishing that. The complexity of Carmichael's compositions really gives me a work out on getting articulation right, in particular - and I get a real buzz out of making them swing, too.

But trying to crack those high notes just takes every bit of enjoyment out of it - it feels like a combination of wading through deep, soft sand and revising for a chemistry exam.

With best regards,

Jack
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
In the bigger picture of things you haven’t been playing very long at all so, realistically, why expect a great deal of yourself or rather don’t expect too much of yourself. It’s better to strive and be content with what you can do than to get upset with what still evades you.
I take your point - but I'm all too aware of the fact that time is not on my side. And I do enjoy finding music for myself, such as 'Skylark', and 'Lazy Bones' (Hoagy Carmichael) which I enjoy playing, and working on improving my standard of playing them - really polishing the details which make all the difference to the overall sound.

These days I bang out a top C without too much thought but when I restarted playing it took many years (much longer than you have been playing) before I could do that.
But there's the rub; I don't know how many years I have left until I have to quit - but it isn't that many.

However what is asked of one will depend on the MD and the music that he or she puts before the Band. I reckon that if you work towards being able to play G above the Stave then all will be well. Oh, and remember that you’re in a training band, no one should be expecting great things of you.
I fairness to myself, I have been working towards that G above the stave, but I reached the point where I am now quite a while back, and stalled. And in fairness to my MD, the pieces he gives us to work with are written for junior bands - but this one in particular, which we were due to play next month, is beyond me (though it's been decided that we won't be playing that).

One we will be doing is 'White Christmas' - and that is quite a tricky one, in many respects; but the difference is that the challenges in it are in terms of articulation, changes in dynamics and tempo, getting the rests and slurs right, allowing for the fact that I'm not playing the melody line (so what I play sounds quite different from the melody I know!), and so on. I found it quite tricky at first, but I enjoyed cracking it, one phrase at a time, and it's coming together nicely. And I enjoy doing that - which is, after all, why I started playing in the first place!

I’m not of the school that thinks a different mouthpiece solves all ills - that’s a poor philosophy with a distracting ounce of truth in it - but the right one for the job does help. I like Wick’s 6BS but some might say that it’s a bit too big for notes above the stave, a slightly smaller and/or shallower piece is likely to give marginal help - but marginal help might be enough to alter things for you. Chat to your Teacher and perhaps try a 7cs or 12c, it’s a trade off between tone and range but pragmatism is good.
I have been playing for the last couple of years with a Wick 6BS - but I do have a Besson 7, and a Bach 7C; I'll give those a try this evening, see if one or the other seems to help, and stick with it for a month - and I'll let you know how it goes.

High range playing is definitely an area outside of my expertise. However I’ve found that warming up well in the lower ranges first and playing scales helps, basically build towards being able to play the scales that include the higher notes and don’t force the high notes when you get towards the top of any scale.
(my emphasis, JE)
Playing scales up towards the top of the stave has definitely helped, but I think I tend to push a bit too hard at the boundary, rather than taking it a little bit at a time. I will bear that in mind from now on. The difficulty, of course, is when I'm given a piece to work on for the training band which calls for the high E, F and G.

Instrument contact time is good too, the more that you play (in the range that you can manage) the more chance you have of improving your chops (including strengthening the muscles and control of ) and eventually (but slowly and progressively) improving your range.
That's another problem; I do have more time to practise than I use; my difficulty has been that I've found this problem with high notes has robbed me of the enjoyment I used to have out of playing - so I feel I have to drag myself into practising with the same feeling I had doing Latin homework when I was at school! :( That doesn't help, either.

In a private conversation with another member here I solved a mouthpiece size problem, they gave me a couple of pointers that I took up and I’ve been delighted with the results. For me it was a matter of discovering where the boundary between slightly too big and still OK was; now I’m just the right side of that boundary, think that what I now use is optimal and am getting better every time I play.
I'll bear that point in mind, with my comparison of the 6BS, Besson 7 and Back 7C - though I'll avoid chopping and changing from one day to the next, as I've found (as I've been told) that it takes a little while to get the feel of a different mouthpiece, even if it turns out to be the best one for you.

I’m sure others will have more useful comments but perhaps mine are a start and hopefully an encouragement.
All the best,
2T.
Many thanks for your advice and suggestions, 2T, and for you taking the time to write such a detailed reply - I will let you know how I get on.

With best regards,

Jack
 

Euphonium Lite

Active Member
Interesting thread Mr E, and something many players - especially in the lower sections - will empathise with

I am going to start my response by giving you a little telling off however - NEVER EVER become obsessed with what you cant do on a brass instrument - and I get the feeling you either are, or have started to head that way. Focus instead on the positives you can do, and look to make small gains initially - I know I'm not your MD (from what Ive seen in previous posts you're based in either the N Midlands or Yorkshire? - and I'm in East Anglia) however if I was, I would much rather have a player that had put work into mastering playing "in range" - note production clean, good range of dynamics, centred in-tune pitching with little or no splits, and a nice sound, rather than a painful sounding attempt at a note just out of reach that is either split, very out of tune, and sounding harsh. Most parts - even solos - can be rewritten to cope with what you can do comfortably (for example my Missus cant hit the top D on Donegal Bay - but worked out that an A is in the chord and doesnt sound "wrong" in the general scheme of the piece). Playing is probably 50% physical and 50% mental and the bigger the mental block you get over something, the more physical effort has to be put in to overcome it - and the more physical effort you put into playing brass makes the instrument far harder to control. By all means focus on areas that you cant manage and try and overcome the issues with practice, but always go back to something you know you can play well - otherwise playing becomes one long list of failures and thats demoralising for anyone

Brass playing is such that you will also reach "plateaus" from time to time in improvement - where things just dont seem to keep going forward very quickly, and sometimes even backward, as you work on other things. But keep plugging away - at some point you will get over the issue and it will be an issue no longer.

Range isnt everything - to be honest in a lot of bands a nice sound is more important. I'm going to share a bit of my own experience here - I play on a large bore Prestige, and had been playing on a gold SM2U mouthpiece. Pretty mouthpiece, and I had a reasonably good range - solid up to the F/G above high C - however I listened to a recording of myself playing Blaydon Races with my local community band earlier this year and I didnt like my sound - it was too brassy. Almost (forgive me here) Baritone like. To me - a Euph should be big, wide all encompssing in its sound. So I swapped. To a 00AL (Bass Trom) mouthpiece. Had that not worked it would have been a converted Tuba mouthpiece. I've had to recalibrate a lot of my intonation, and I've had to sacrifice some of my range, but the sound is lovely. I can now only get up to a D and just about an E above high C - usually good enough for most items, but Im working to get back to my old level. I'm lucky I guess that I have a strong embouchure, and know the techniques of blowing properly, but I would have still made the change if I was struggling to get to high C - it would have just meant more work (and possibly swapping mouthpieces for certain tasks) until I had got the range back to a reasonable level

I know youre into the horse riding thing and that provides a good anaology. Some people are able to get on a horse and ride it in such a way that they can compete in the Grand National going over the Aintree fences. Other people never go further than a gentle hack down to the local woods. But those that do hack probably get just as much pleasure from what they do and can develop their riding so that they are in full control of the horse at all times. Put them on the back of a thoroughbred at Aintree and its a whole different kettle of fish. Little control and its all panic. If I tried it, chances are I'd fall off as soon as the horse went into a gallop. Likewise with playing - you may never get beyond the E or F at the top of the stave, but if you can control your instrument up to that note, you can get just as much pleasure.

Finally a bit of practical advice. So many people when they see something out of their comfort zone over compensate. Even if you know the basics around breathing etc, the mind still takes over and the body panics. For some its something like semiquavers - many people actually rush semis (either by starting them late or finishing them early, or both) thus making them harder than they actually are. Semis are NOT "Quick notes" (although they can be quick) - they are a quarter of a crotchet. Thats all.
Likewise high notes - many people see high notes and screw their body up (as well as their face) - they look a bit like photos of old American Jazz trumpeters hitting a "Super C" or the majority of people sitting on the loo for the first time of the day (I wont elaborate but Im sure you can picture it). All screwed up, hunched over, eyes screwed shut. Your body doesnt have a chance especially if youre struggling to get there anyway.
Try the following - you said you can get to an E? So do half a G major scale - G to D and back down again - in quavers at around crotchet =120. Focus on getting the notes cleanly, try and hear each one as you play it and put a slight crescendo in as you go up and dim as you go down, with a long note (minim to finish). 2 beats rest to breathe and go again.
Once youve mastered this go to the E - still in range but getting towards the top. Then rest - the idea at this stage is muscle memory in lips and fingers, not knackering yourself
Go back a bit later and do 2 scales to D, 2 to E and then try either the F or F# (the latter is more correct for a major scale, but it doesnt really matter here). Slighly bigger crescendo as you go up, but not a huge amount. Do it twice. Rest again. Then go to the G. It may take you a few goes at this and dont overdo it - no more than two attempts before taking a rest. Youre training your lip to go up, not trying to kill it. Once you get it, try going up to the A and so on.
Alternatively go G-D, then A-E, Bb to F, C to G. If needs be practice them down the octave to hear what they sound like 1st - so you only play 5 notes up, always with a crescendo, and get quieter on the way down

What youre doing is fooling your mind. Quavers dont give you time to think about the high note - youre only playing 5 notes and they go past reasonably quickly. So you are at the highest note before youve had chance to think about it and tense yourself up. In all likelihood you'll split them the 1st few times you try - but just crescendo a little more initially and try and centre the other notes. With no time to panic, your body does the bits its meant to do, without tightening itself up.

Give it a go and let me know how you get on

Cheers

Paul
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
. . . NEVER EVER become obsessed with what you cant do on a brass instrument - and I get the feeling you either are, or have started to head that way. Focus instead on the positives you can do, and look to make small gains initially - I know I'm not your MD . . . I was, I would much rather have a player that had put work into mastering playing "in range" - note production clean, good range of dynamics, centred in-tune pitching with little or no splits, and a nice sound, rather than a painful sounding attempt at a note just out of reach that is either split, very out of tune, and sounding harsh.
In fairness to my MD and the band tutors, they have always (and still do) made it clear to that they see the points you've mentioned as the priorities - and that extending my range comes last.

By all means focus on areas that you cant manage and try and overcome the issues with practice, but always go back to something you know you can play well - otherwise playing becomes one long list of failures and thats demoralising for anyone.
Thank you for that, Paul - it took me a long time to realise that playing something I'm comfortable with is not a waste of time, or self-indulgence, but just as important on working on material that I haven't yet mastered (and I STILL tend to forget!).

Range isnt everything - to be honest in a lot of bands a nice sound is more important.
That is certainly the case in both our training and main bands, where the MD stresses the importance of it at every rehearsal.

I've printed off your advice; I'll work through the steps, and certainly let you know how it goes. And many thanks for taking the trouble to write such a detailed response.

With best regards,

Jack
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
I listened to a recording of myself playing Blaydon Races with my local community band earlier this year and I didnt like my sound - it was too brassy. Almost (forgive me here) Baritone like. To me - a Euph should be big, wide all encompassing in its sound.
Sorry, Paul - I meant to put this in my previous post. No apologies needed - I know exactly what you mean about 'baritone sound'; it is intrinsically different from that of a euph, and it's supposed to be. Just as with cornets and flugelhorns - they have different sounds because they are meant to do different jobs within the band, and both are necessary. Allowing for the fact that really skilled players can make a euph sound almost like a baritone, and vice versa, it's in the nature of the beasts that if the music calls for a gutsy sound with a lot of punch, you give it to the baritones (or the bones!); if, in contrast, you need a sound that's as rich as dark chocolate - you cannot beat a well-played euph.

As an aside, I saw a post on an American forum once, about the difference between euphs and baritones; I was astoinished to see the numbers of experienced brass players on there who honestly believed that the two were the same, and it was just "those Brits who persist in calling a euph a baritone". One poster who appreciated that the two were different said that he REALLY preferred the sound of a euph to a baritone (I had no problem with that), but then he went on to say that he thought baritones should be built so that they sounded almost identical to a euph! I replied to the effect that, in that case, why bother having baritones in the band at all? Why not just have four euphs and have done with it? And I then asked if he also thought that cornets ought to be made to sound almost like flugelhorns! My comment didn't go down well . . .

Much as I appreciate the work that the euphs do, I've never had any inclination to even try one; the first time I got a decent note out of a baritone, I was totally hooked - "THAT'S the sound I want to make!"; but that's just me, and purely down to personal taste.

With best regards,

Jack
 

Slider1

Active Member
Sorry, Paul - I meant to put this in my previous post. No apologies needed - I know exactly what you mean about 'baritone sound'; it is intrinsically different from that of a euph, and it's supposed to be. Just as with cornets and flugelhorns - they have different sounds because they are meant to do different jobs within the band, and both are necessary. Allowing for the fact that really skilled players can make a euph sound almost like a baritone, and vice versa, it's in the nature of the beasts that if the music calls for a gutsy sound with a lot of punch, you give it to the baritones (or the bones!); if, in contrast, you need a sound that's as rich as dark chocolate - you cannot beat a well-played euph.

As an aside, I saw a post on an American forum once, about the difference between euphs and baritones; I was astoinished to see the numbers of experienced brass players on there who honestly believed that the two were the same, and it was just "those Brits who persist in calling a euph a baritone". One poster who appreciated that the two were different said that he REALLY preferred the sound of a euph to a baritone (I had no problem with that), but then he went on to say that he thought baritones should be built so that they sounded almost identical to a euph! I replied to the effect that, in that case, why bother having baritones in the band at all? Why not just have four euphs and have done with it? And I then asked if he also thought that cornets ought to be made to sound almost like flugelhorns! My comment didn't go down well . . .

Much as I appreciate the work that the euphs do, I've never had any inclination to even try one; the first time I got a decent note out of a baritone, I was totally hooked - "THAT'S the sound I want to make!"; but that's just me, and purely down to personal taste.

With best regards,

Jack
I might be wrong here, but a Baritone is part of the Horn family while the Euph is a Tuba
Carry on practicing and good luck
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
@Euphonium Lite
Update. The first of your suggestions that I tried was this one:-
"Do half a G major scale - G to D and back down again - in quavers at around crotchet =120. Focus on getting the notes cleanly, try and hear each one as you play it and put a slight crescendo in as you go up and dim as you go down, with a long note (minim to finish). 2 beats rest to breathe and go again."

I set my metronome to give me quaver beats, with the tempo set to 120 crotchets / min - and that sounded impossible! But, weirdly enough, I found it easier to do than when I tried playing G to D to G slowly. This matched what I found when working on one of our Christmas pieces; I kept making mistakes on it, playing at 108 crotchets/min, and the tempo on the score (136-144 crotchets/min) looked beyond me. Yet, when I set the metronome to that tempo and played it, I made almost no mistakes in my first attempts, and by the third and fourth goes I got every note right.

The idea that 'playing something slower is easier than playing it faster' might be in accordance with the Alf Garnett School of Philosophy Precept - "Werllll, it stands ter reason, dunnit?" - but it seems that, in at least some instances, it ain't necessarily so. Certainly, judging by what I've found so far, your suggestion that doing it quickly doesn't give your mind time to get in the way seems to work. So far, I've only gone up to the D (I'll go for the E tomorrow), but within a few goes, I could hear that improvement in the D; it was noticeably clearer and more confident.

This exercise reminds me of something that happened a while back, when our training band was playing the theme from 'Wallace & Gromit'. The last couple of bars in my part were what looked a right old muddle of notes - and every time I tried to play it on my own, I got in a tangle. One evening, we had a rehearsal for the training band, and we were playing quite fast. When we got to the last two bars, my brain thought "Aaaaaaaargghh!!" - and froze; and I got every note dead right. Thinking about it afterwards, I realised that I knew what that run of notes was supposed to sound like - and I decided that once my over-active mind got out of the damn way, my lip muscles and fingers knew exactly how to translate that sound that was playing in my head into correct embouchure and fingering.

There's another parallel for this effect; learning Morse Code. Once upon a time, people who wanted to take out an Amateur Radio Licence trained by listening to Morse Code very slowly - 5 words per minute - which meant that each dash was nearly a second long! Once they got the hang of that, the speed was gradually increased to 10WPM - and that was when the learners hit a brick wall. No matter how much they practised, they made no progress - and at that point, very many learners gave up, and just opted for a (short range) VHF licence, instead. If, though, the learner persisted for long enough, all of a sudden they had a breakthrough, and made rapid progress up to 20WPM.

The man who worked out the solution was a Mr Farnsworth. He realised that, if you started people with really slow Morse, they learnt by counting the dots and dashes; D was one dash and two dots; B was one dash and three dots, and so on - but Farnsworth realised that you could only work to that system up to about 10WPM - beyond that, it was too fast for you to count.

As for the breakthrough; Farnsworth realised that, if you kept pegging away at it for long enough, your brain started hearing each character as a little one note melody - so instead of V being three dots and two dashes, it became 'diddly-dah'; you learnt it and read it in the same way that you memorise a piece of music. If we use the opening phrase of Beethoven's Fifth, that's taken at a fairly steady tempo; but, once you know the melody, you would still recognise it, even if it was played at prestissimo instead.

And Farnsworth then realised that learning Morse by listening to really slow sending was the worst way of doing it! What that meant was that you learnt by counting dots and dashes, then you had to unlearn that system, and learn all over again by listening to it as though it was music. What a waste of time and effort! So he developed the Farnsworth System, in which each letter of the code is played to a learner at the same speed it would be sent if the whole passage of code was being transmitted at 20WPM - but with big gaps in between each letter. The benefit is that you learn the sound of each character as you will hear it in 20WPM Morse, right from the start; and, as you get quicker at recognising the melody of each character, the gaps between each one are reduced, until the entire sequence is running at 20WPM. Once you've cracked that, you go on to the next stage, where you stop hearing the Morse as individual letters, and hear it as complete words:
So instead of hearing: "dah, diddle-iddle, dit, da-dah" as "t, h, e, m", you hear it as "them".

If you play each Morse character at 20WPM whilst learning, but still get in a muddle, Mr Farnsworth's advice is the opposite of what you might expect - "Don't play each character slower - play it faster!" And millions of radio ops around the world can testify that it works. Who knows? I might even manage an Arban exercise yet . . . ;)

Thanks again, EL! And best regards,

Jack

PS - Further bulletins will be issued as and when the situation develops . . .
 

pbirch

Active Member
Thank you for your reply.

I can honestly say that I have followed all of the usual advice, without significant improvement. I'm physically incapable of giving those high notes any more air than I'm doing now; I was told about 'warm up on the lower notes, then practise in the range you want to improve', 'work on getting a lovely C, then work on the D', and so on, and that's what I've done - yet the only progress I've made in the last year is to reach those high notes by giving myself a right battering every time I do manage them, and they still sound horrible. I have been going to a private tutor, and my playing lower down the scale has really progressed, in terms of the quality of the sound, dynamic range, articulation, and so on - but in terms of extending upwards, no. As regards the possibility of a leak in the instrument, I've played on two different baritones, and found no difference between the two in terms of the upper range I can reach.

It feels to me as though I've reached the limit of what I'm physically capable of doing. Having had my chest well hacked around during the cardiac by-pass surgery, and taking my age into account, I can't honestly see myself raising the bar in the future, no matter how hard I work at it.

When I'm playing with the training band on a piece that doesn't go above a D, I can enjoy it - and I pick out pieces to play at home, such as some of Hoagy Carmichael's work, and work on polishing that. The complexity of Carmichael's compositions really gives me a work out on getting articulation right, in particular - and I get a real buzz out of making them swing, too.

But trying to crack those high notes just takes every bit of enjoyment out of it - it feels like a combination of wading through deep, soft sand and revising for a chemistry exam.

With best regards,

Jack
i sense there frustration you feel in your situation, and many players do experience the kind of plateau-ing you describe, and looking back over my playing career, I can remember them happening, and the real unhappiness they caused, and the feeling of defeat as I moved to bigger instruments. And there it is is really, you tried a smaller instrument and it didn't solve the problem, have you thought about or tried the tuba? it might present other issues for you, but it doesn't require the high range that you are having difficulties with (not that you can't play high on the tuba) and it can be really musical to play, as to your chest problems, you don't have to play a big tuba to enjoy it, and contrary to the macho stuff we sometimes hear, it doesn't require a huge breathing effort. I think you would have the same issue with a euphonium, and that is why I offer you this suggestion, again, Best wishes,
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
@pbirch - actually, the only reason I switched from tenor horn back to baritone when my breathing improved was not because I couldn't play the tenor (once I'd adapted to the different key, I got on well with it) but because I'm just so taken with the sound of baritone horns, as I was from the first time I got my first note - a low C - out of it!

But I have discussed this matter with my MD, with a view to trying out some other instruments (both higher and lower) after we've got the Christmas concert out of the way, and he was totally supportive.

With best regards,

Jack
 

Tom-King

Well-Known Member
There's a difference between "expected range" (ie: what's printed on your parts) and "achievable/reliable range" - you'll find players of all kinds of different abilities panicking about high notes on their parts, so you can atleast take solace in the fact you're far from alone.


Bear in mind that "more air" isn't necessarily helpful - for many players, it's all that's needed... for some, it can result in everything shutting down on you and no further progress being made.

What you need is to use the tongue to dictate pitch (whistle an arpeggio - you feel what the tongue does? that's what it SHOULD be doing when you're playing) and don't try to force it to come faster than it wants to.... you might find it helpful to think of more focused air, narrower air or similar.

This is one of the unfortunate things about brass playing - the same line given to different people can illicit different actions (eg: where some hear "more air" and support better and focus it more, others open the chops up and overblow), sometimes a different perspective is simply an attempt to get the same concept (correct playing) over in a different way that might get through to a different person.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
I take your point about adjusting the tongue position, Tom - and I've just tried whistling an arpeggio, noting it's position from high to low. But I also tried licking my fingertip, and holding it just in front of my mouth whilst I played two Cs, and octave apart. I could really feel the difference in airspeed, from how much cooler my fingertip felt when I played the higher note - but I'm really not sure how much of that extra speed was coming from 1. diaphragm; 2. change in the size and shape of mouth cavity; 3. change in embouchure.

I do know that the size of mouth cavity has a definite effect on pitch. For one thing, blues harmonica players use that to bend a note downwards in pitch, by slightly lowering the jaw, and letting the tongue flatten; for another, builders of scale model steam locos fit the loco with a scale size whistle, but prevent it from emitting an incredibly high pitched note by attaching a large airtight chamber to the base of the whistle. This is so effective that they can build a whistle one eighth of full size, and yet make it sound like a full size whistle.

Between the two of you, you and euphonium lite really give my brain a work out, don't you? ;)

With best regards,

Jack
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
You remind me of my corporal drill instructor at RAF Swinderby, Tom - he was all heart, too!
 

Louise Finch

New Member
Hi Jack

I haven't had time to read the whole thread yet, so I apologise if I have said anything which has already been said, but these are my thoughts:

I fully appreciate your health issues, but the difference in tone on the lower notes as you descend from the upper register, makes me think that this may be a technique issue, maybe not a technique issue per sec, but one brought on by tension. I suggest being careful to not use excessive mouthpiece pressure, to not over tighten (thinking of the top space E as being only one note above the D, may encourage you to use the same technique as the lower notes), to use the tongue as already suggested (I'm not great at describing tongue positions, so will leave this to others), and most importantly use the diaphragm to support the air. Maybe it is only a perception, but when the air is properly supported, to me it feels like the notes are held up there and are riding on the air.

I have a feeling that this is very much a mind over matter issue, and that because you are thinking of these notes as high, you are effectively making them difficult.

Good luck with improving this.

All the best

Lou
 

4th Cornet

Well-Known Member
There's a good video by James Morrison online somewhere discussing how to hit (very) high notes. Might be worth seeking that out. From memory, he demonstrates the ill-effects of the natural tendency to apply more pressure.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
. . . the difference in tone on the lower notes as you descend from the upper register, makes me think that this may be a technique issue, maybe not a technique issue per se, but one brought on by tension. I suggest being careful to not use excessive mouthpiece pressure, to not over tighten . . . and most importantly use the diaphragm to support the air. I have a feeling that this is very much a mind over matter issue, and that because you are thinking of these notes as high, you are effectively making them difficult.
All the best,
Lou
I think you could well be right on this, Lou - certainly, some suggestions offered to me by Euphonium Lite certainly appear to be making a difference. And thank you for your encouragement.

Jack
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
There's a good video by James Morrison online somewhere discussing how to hit (very) high notes. Might be worth seeking that out. From memory, he demonstrates the ill-effects of the natural tendency to apply more pressure.
Funnily enough, I was talking about this problem a couple of days back with a friend of 40 years, who plays low brass - and he suggested the same video! So I poked around on YouTube, and found Morrison has actually uploaded twelve of them. In case this may be of help to ayone else reading this thread, this is a link to the video you have in mind - "James Morrison's trumpet tutorial: Part 3 - Range"

And this is the link to the first of them:

As my friend Pete said, even though Morrison is referring to trumpets, what he says applies just as much to any other brass instrument. Certainly, I've found a great deal to think about and work on, myself.

And many thanks for the suggestion, 4th Cornet!

Jack

PS - is there such a position in the band as 4th cornet? Or are you just being very modest about your abilities? ;)

 
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