Tune or Tone

trumpetb

Member
What do you see and play as most important.

I am a tone player I care little for the tune other than as a vehicle for playing tones.

It is all about the tone.

A famous man wisely said "All we have is our tone"

Another famous man wisely said "Play a hundred notes perfectly and with great skill and the people will appreciate your skills, but play three beautiful notes and the people will love you and adore you"

I have for many years - decades almost, concentrated all my efforts on developing beautiful tone such that even when playing just a simple scale I have many times been applauded and asked if that was jazz.

People love beautiful tone and I personally have heard too much of poor tone from players who should be skilled enough to have wrestled that monster into submission long ago.

Of course I play melodies it is very difficult to play any instrument without melody of some kind and must be cohesive and carry the music and not be disjointed or poorly presented, and some instruments have a strongly supporting role within a band or ensemble that we cannot escape from.

But that should never be an excuse for playing with a poor tone.

We are all learning of course and I know my weakpoints but we choose where we place our efforts and I have made my choice long ago.

So, where do you stand.
 

pbirch

Active Member
I think you have something here, but in reducing it to tune or tone you might be missing quite a lot. I think you are talking about musicianship and artistry that comes with experience and practice.
One of my friends, a trombonist, can dazzle the audience with his technique and high notes, but then move them to tears with the simplest of hymn tunes.
You can learn the first, and many people do, getting to their grade 8 and into music college quite young, but the second takes time, more time than many are prepared to give.
I would add that many players confuse simple with easy, and in doing so miss something of the essence of music, which might be what you are getting at
 

trumpetb

Member
Agreed and I plead guilty to using tune or tone as a convenient short clickbait title that holds the promise of something deeper.

I see musicians who ten years after sounding poor and unmusical, sound today just as poor and unmusical as that day 10 years ago when I looked forward to the day when they would be seen to have improved....... alas no.

I see musicians who spend much time learning to play well in the ensemble but seem to be robbed of the time to pause and listen and to work on their tone.

And then I see musicians from other locales in the world who move people to tears not with a melody or a phrase or anything familiar to them but with a few seemingly unrelated tones. Surely here is a master at work.

In this time of soundbites and fast food we sadly seem to be forcing talented musicians to offer the fast food of music, quick snippets and beats to entertain a public for whom 9 seconds of playing is just too long and who want to be off at a run to their next musical "fix".

And then there are the players who take their time and give their soul in their music. And I think many are in this place, alongside us, and unrevealed to us, just getting on with long days of studying and then at length delighting audiences along the way.

Respect to all the talent present in here.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Tune or tone? That’s a difficult choice and, to my mind at least, not really a choice that I’d entertain making. As far as I’m concerned the two are interlinked and without them both, and in good measure, you don’t really have music and what you do have is hardly worth listening to.

Back when I re-started to play my tone was weak. I put some blame for that on the instrument and mouthpiece, and indeed a different mouthpiece and a different instrument did help; however a more experienced player made the original trombone and its mouthpiece sing so the fundamental problem was my lack of skill. Again I played a tune and it didn’t sparkle but the more expert player made music with it, even if very well he didn’t make music by just playing random tones.

These days I have two Tubas of my own (bought with my money). The smaller one sounds lovely - the more years I play it the better it sounds - I am very pleased with it, I can bang out a good tune on it and I plan to keep it until I can no longer play. The bigger one was significantly more expensive and has the edge on tone, it’s slightly better again and that improved tone just gives something extra, an enhancement, to the same music played on the smaller instrument. Now here’s the thing, without playing the tune well first neither instrument would have any real value in terms of musical sound, one just has the edge on the other because of a slightly better tone.

Where does tone come from? It starts with the player and is shaped by the mouthpiece and the instrument, well that’s my experience. Where does music come from? Music comes from the player as he, or she, uses tones in tunes. Water is H2O, it’s made of two different things and without them and them in balance you don’t have water. Both elements are equally essential and therefore equally important. To my reckoning similar is true of music, tune and tone.
 
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Jack E

Well-Known Member
I remember from one of the earliest lessons I had on baritone, the tutor (solo cornet) said to me, "The most important thing is, can you make a beautiful sound with your instrument? If you can, you can play 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star', and make it a lovely piece of music. If your sound is 'blerrgghh!', then it doesn't matter if you can play every one of the Arban exercises, your range of dynamics is off the clock, your sight reading is laser accurate - whatever you play will still sound 'blerrgghh!'."
It's worth pointing out that when he played a note for the rest of the band to check their intonation, just that one . . . single . . . note, was pure magic. Enough to make me sit back in my chair and think "Wow. Just, wow."

So, right from the off, that's what I focused on first. Not, please note, to the exclusion of everything else; but I took on board his point that clarity and musicality of sound is the one skill you cannot do without, no matter how good you are in every other respect. And, from what other players (who I admire) have said to me, I'm pretty sure that setting my priorities that way has paid off.
. . . many players confuse simple with easy, and in doing so miss something of the essence of music, which might be what you are getting at.
I couldn't agree more! Listen to the opening bars of the Largo from Antonín Dvořák's Largo (from Symphony No. 9 in E Minor - 'From the New World'); it starts at 10:43. Just seven notes, played very slowly; so simple, you could teach a novice to play it - but to play it as Dvořák meant it to be heard by the audience? Without a single fluff or wobble or error of intonation or dynamics? That takes real talent, backed up by years and years of practise and study and more practise (repeat ad infinitum!).




And then what? The Cor Anglais takes the lead at 11:23, head and shoulders above the rest of the orchestra. Again, the melody line is so simple - but the slightest mistake will stick out like a sore thumb.

It reminds me of a quote I heard from an RAF flying instructor, re. why the RAF stuck with the De Havilland Tiger Moth as their initial flight training aircraft for so long. He said:
"The Tiger Moth was a very easy and safe aircraft to fly. Even if the pilot made a complete muck of something, the Moth would probably get him out of trouble with no more than a fright. But the Moth was an extremely difficult aircraft to fly really well. Once you started on even the simplest aerobatics, or formation flying, even tiny errors or misjudgements would show up all too clearly. So we used the Moth, firstly, to teach people how to fly without killing too many of them, and then, with the same aircraft, we could sort out who would make fighter pilots - and who wouldn't."

With best regards,
Jack
 
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trumpetb

Member
I am going to throw down the concepts and conceptions we have grown up with as so much wheat falls before the scythe.

I have long been captivated by the sound of the Shakuhachi the japanese flute

This instrument - a bamboo flute, came from china to japan a millenium ago and long ago became the solo instrument of choice of zen masters to aid the student in contemplation introspection and meditation.

What interests me about it is the lack of melody and lack of a tune, inefficient "dirty" sounding playing with audible breaths in and audible breaths out with disjointed almost unrelated tones in phrases that are only somewhat melodious. This is clearly poor playing and would be frowned upon in conservatories world wide.

The description of the aspirations of Shakuhachin players and students is curious to us westerners. Attempts to cultivate perfect tone are seen as poor and impoverished playing and the sign of a beginner. Anyone who attempts to play beautifully is described as someone who has no understanding of the instrument and how to play it.

And yet the playing is beautiful insightful melodic atmospheric and reaches into our very soul as only the very best western music can do.

I have recently reached a stage where I can play in a style reminiscent of shakuhachi and the effect on audiences when I do so is electric, audiences are astounded by what they hear and exclaim that it was very atmospheric and they love it. This was quite unexpected to me the first time it happened.

I am not claiming any ability to sound like a shakuhachi master but what I am saying is the abandonment of tuneful playing in favour of unmelodic groups of tones played very inefficiently with audible breath, while being wrong on so many levels according to western musical teachings, is loved by all audiences who hear it, and is loved as much as any western music I have managed to play, whether that be in orchestral, popular, folk, jazz, or blues style, in all my 20 years of playing and study. And I am told I play well so I am no slouch at puffing into a brass instrument.

Our tonal palette in brass instruments is almost limitless and stretches all the way from orchestral precision and perfection through high efficiency jazz and trad to low efficiency smooth jazz of Miles Davis and Chet Baker. Shakuhachi I place way beyond Chet for inefficiency.



hear the exhaling, hear the intakes of breath, hear the disjointed unmelodic phrasing, hear the notes played singly and unrelated separated by immense pauses, and hear the upper harmonics, hear the sounding of two notes -base note and upper harmonic both at the same time and appearing like phantoms reminiscent of throat singing, and yes the upper harmonics really can and do appear, - fragile and delicate like ghosts, when playing in this manner and style on a brass instrument with nothing more than a regular mouthpiece.

I see no more powerful argument in favour of tone than these pieces which let us face it simply consist of a collection of loosely connected tones played by a master in total control of his breath his embouchure and his instrument.

Do I expect to hear shakuhachi playing in brass band - absolutely no, in jazz clubs - no, in RAH or the RNCM - no.

But in the question of what are we trying to achieve with an instrument, it has to be communication, it has to be the gathering of the hearts and souls of the audience, and it has to be making the audience feel they have found great beauty and been transported to a new place they have not visited before.

We can achieve this with tone alone, in a way and to a depth that a popular melody simply cannot.

And if I were to be honest learning to emulate and replicate the Shakuhachi has I am convinced greatly benefited my development and my ability to play jazz blues and popular melodies.
 
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Jack E

Well-Known Member
the playing is beautiful insightful melodic atmospheric and reaches into our very soul as only the very best western music can do.

I can only say, that recording went right past me, and didn't come within long cannon-shot of reaching my soul. After about a minute and a half, I'd had enough - a combination of boredom and irritation. Much the same as my reaction to the atonal music which came in during the early 20th century, which sounds as 'musical' to me as a pile of scaffolding falling down an iron staircase.

With best regards,
Jack
 

trumpetb

Member
I quite understand and thanks for commenting Jack

I too had some difficulty with atonal music.

we all hear differently and appreciate things differently.

I recall that synesthesia sufferers see colours when they hear sounds

Sibelius, Liszt, Duke Ellington, among many others were synesthetes and saw colours when they heard sounds.

Leonard Bernstein another synesthete who famously at a rehearsal of west side story called for the musicians to make it more blue (the colour)

I have no doubt that you hear and can appreciate more than I do in other areas of music.

Audiences are very varied in what they can appreciate I have seen many hundreds of people in audiences who detest classical music, band music, jazz music, blues music, and music from any and all broadway shows and movies, it is to them all worthless drivel and they can only appreciate techno garage and rap. So we all are different with quite different preferences.

I believe that your not appreciating the shakuhachi could be explained by the fact that you are a more formal and more classically trained musician than I am with tastes firmly rooted in formal music and perhaps the shakuhachi goes against your training and expectations of a good performance.

I would suggest that if you have not done so you could perhaps paste that link in your browser and mute the sound then read the comments , they show there is much appreciation for this music.

One comment is " Well ain't this something special. I'm listening to this on the West Coast of Ireland looking at a beautiful mountain. Pure bliss. Helps me to just get away from the chaos of life"

another is " Maybe it's typical, but there's no other culture more fascinating me than the Japanese one... And the shakuhachi sound... So beautiful, it helps me focusing so much... Thanks for sharing this"

Clearly this music does touch the soul in many people. I would expect this, the shakuhachi being the principle instrument of zen buddhist meditation for several hundred years something deeper than simply playing a flute is going on here.

What I am also experiencing more and more each day is that the further I move my playing beyond the inefficient playing of Chet into even more inefficient playing areas towards shakuhachi sounds and tones the more audiences love what they hear.

This convinces me that it is in tone and not in melody where the route to hearts and souls lies.

As for what we hear when we listen to music I recall that there are two camps on Chet Baker one claims he played like a beginner with poor tone, the other claim he was a fabulous player with great musicality great finesse and great control of pitch. I am in the latter camp but some very good musicians are in the former camp.

It must be simply that they hear things differently as we both clearly do, and I think you are in good company with your opinion.

respect to you Jack
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
"I believe that your not appreciating the shakuhachi could be explained by the fact that you are a more formal and more classically trained musician than I am with tastes firmly rooted in formal music and perhaps the shakuhachi goes against your training and expectations of a good performance."
On the contrary; my musical background started with listening to skiffle and trad jazz in the 1950s, went on through rock, the Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, then via the British blues revival into Chicago and then Mississippi blues - with a side order of traditional American Indian and African music, including such giants as Ladysmith Black Mambazo - and my formal musical training (brass band) didn't start until I was 68.
With best regards,
Jack
 

trumpetb

Member
That is still more formal training than I have had Jack.

The one eyed man in the land of the blind is king and between us you are the one with the eyesight perhaps and I am just fumbling around in the dark.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
That is still more formal training than I have had Jack.

The one eyed man in the land of the blind is king and between us you are the one with the eyesight perhaps and I am just fumbling around in the dark.
TBH, I think that's giving me more credit than I deserve, and yourself less credit than you deserve. But wouldn't it be a dull world if we were all the same?
With best regards,
Jack
 

trumpetb

Member
The human condition means we do not recognise our own worth.

From where I am sitting you look pretty damn fine as a musician Jack and worthy of my respect as is everyone in this place, and yes it would be a dull world if we were all the same.

Personally I regard myself as a hack and unworthy of the respect I am afforded in the community but I aint complaining. The downside is I am easily spotted when chatting to real musicians.

I think it is simply because the community at large are not musicians so they have not really got a clue which musician is good and who is less than competent. So they think I am great because I can trot out a few rehearsed phrases.

Dont tell anyone
 

John Brooks

Well-Known Member
I remember from one of the earliest lessons I had on baritone, the tutor (solo cornet) said to me, "The most important thing is, can you make a beautiful sound with your instrument? If you can, you can play 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star', and make it a lovely piece of music. If your sound is 'blerrgghh!', then it doesn't matter if you can play every one of the Arban exercises, your range of dynamics is off the clock, your sight reading is laser accurate - whatever you play will still sound 'blerrgghh!'."
It's worth pointing out that when he played a note for the rest of the band to check their intonation, just that one . . . single . . . note, was pure magic. Enough to make me sit back in my chair and think "Wow. Just, wow."

So, right from the off, that's what I focused on first. Not, please note, to the exclusion of everything else; but I took on board his point that clarity and musicality of sound is the one skill you cannot do without, no matter how good you are in every other respect. And, from what other players (who I admire) have said to me, I'm pretty sure that setting my priorities that way has paid off.

I couldn't agree more! Listen to the opening bars of the Largo from Antonín Dvořák's Largo (from Symphony No. 9 in E Minor - 'From the New World'); it starts at 10:43. Just seven notes, played very slowly; so simple, you could teach a novice to play it - but to play it as Dvořák meant it to be heard by the audience? Without a single fluff or wobble or error of intonation or dynamics? That takes real talent, backed up by years and years of practise and study and more practise (repeat ad infinitum!).




And then what? The Cor Anglais takes the lead at 11:23, head and shoulders above the rest of the orchestra. Again, the melody line is so simple - but the slightest mistake will stick out like a sore thumb.

It reminds me of a quote I heard from an RAF flying instructor, re. why the RAF stuck with the De Havilland Tiger Moth as their initial flight training aircraft for so long. He said:
"The Tiger Moth was a very easy and safe aircraft to fly. Even if the pilot made a complete muck of something, the Moth would probably get him out of trouble with no more than a fright. But the Moth was an extremely difficult aircraft to fly really well. Once you started on even the simplest aerobatics, or formation flying, even tiny errors or misjudgements would show up all too clearly. So we used the Moth, firstly, to teach people how to fly without killing too many of them, and then, with the same aircraft, we could sort out who would make fighter pilots - and who wouldn't."

With best regards,
Jack

Hi Jack, IMO you provided a great example, seven chords played to individual perfection. But what really made the short hairs stand up on my neck was the basses right before the Cor Anglais....for me a real "Oh my!" moment. I need to and plan to listen to the entire performance. Thanks.
 

trumpetb

Member
I do love this work and I learned to play it upon a request from a friend who loves it too, and I do solo it upon occasion to my everlasting shame. ( It loses a great deal of its power beauty and majesty when one single instrument has to fill in for an entire orchestra). But then it is also "Going Home" - a Hymn of great beauty and a single brass instrument such as a trumpet or cornet sounds both lyrical and poignant.

On the other hand, very recently when walking through the city while carrying my instrument I was stopped by a concert goer and asked if I do requests. I replied, that depends.

He then as bold as brass said - can you play Dvojaks Largo from symphony number 9 "New World".

I guess he was expecting nothing from me or an "eh?"

He was astounded when I immediately played it and he walked on with a huge grin on his face almost as large as mine.

I must admit that I had to cut it short because neither of us had the time for the full piece and I had places to be, but as they say less is more and in this case the less he got from me was definitely more than he had expected to receive.

The world is truly a stage and you never know what is around the corner. The life of the wandering minstrel is full of golden moments such as this and I am enrichened by them.
 

David Broad

Active Member
To my untrained ear it sounds like the difference is the Japanese Flute is not playing in equal temperament, so it has beautiful intervals between notes, hairs on the back of the neck stuff. The Orchestra, apart from doing their own thing often half a beat in front of or behind the conductor make some horrible noises where the woodwind attempt harmonies and the interval played and a perfect 3rd or 4th are notably different. There is no consistency of attack and even some of the solo tuning is questionable, I guess it comes with the territory of woodwind, and we in the Brass Band world can avoid it by using our ears to seek out the sweet spot a few cents above or below the exact even temerament tuning and turn a piece of average music into something great. On the other hand I bet a whole Band of Japanese flutes sounds reet queer especially the sound or the BBb Bass one.
 

trumpetb

Member
I think as a technical analysis of the two you are totally nailng it David.

The japanese flute is unstructured and is an expression of feeling and cannot be played exactly the same by two musicians at the same time although of course the flute can be played in a more structured way in a different musical style in an ensemble if the player chooses to do so.

The timing, the upbeat, or downbeat, the tones, and tonality, and what might be called the drops the falls and the squeezes although they are present in a rudimentary form in japanese flute are not really drops falls and squeezes they are just expressions of the musicians feelings at the instant of playing them and they defy writing and recording as the next time the player plays they will not be the same.

This could be said to be music of the moment appearing in the players consciousness at the time of playing and then ceasing to exist a moment later.

Miles Davis had this same feeling that his improvs while being recorded, were of the moment and lived in the moment of expression and the next time he played he would express himself differently and different improv would appear. Of course during recording sessions he was acutely aware of the need to present a polished performance.

The orchestra and band in western music are playing largely as written and the total sound is often majestic, take for example Handels Sarabande, no finer work has ever been written and this work evokes deep feelings within the listener and is written notated and performed as written. On the other hand the japanese flute is intended to be played as a totally free improvisation unwritten and un-notated.

Similarly in jazz / blues Red Nichols was taught by his father who was a music teacher and Red later demanded that all musicians in his ensembles write down their improvisations and play them exactly the same every time. Many musicians would not work with Red due to this demand. Bix Beiderbecke was untutored and received no formal music education, he was unable to read beyond a rudimentary level and yet his improvs which were always unprepared and unwritten took him to the top.

Shortly before his death Bix played in a Big Band and when his solo came he had nothing and no inspiration and nothing rehearsed and stood unable to play. This tells how much he was living and playing in the moment exactly the same as a japanese flute player might do.

The similarities with Jazz and Japanese flute are profound and the similarities with Orchestral music and japanese flute are also profound, and while the differences stand revealed stark and obvious, the core and the the soul of all three are in reality no different. All speak to the listener and they all tread a different path to do so and they all achieve this goal of reaching into the heart and soul of the audience and moving them to a better place.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
Personally I regard myself as a hack and unworthy of the respect I am afforded in the community but I aint complaining. The downside is I am easily spotted when chatting to real musicians. I think it is simply because the community at large are not musicians so they have not really got a clue which musician is good and who is less than competent. So they think I am great because I can trot out a few rehearsed phrases.

Dont tell anyone
Don't worry, mate - I won't snitch on you if you won't snitch on me!
:cool:

With best regards,
Jack
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
The Orchestra . . . make some horrible noises where the woodwind attempt harmonies and the interval played and a perfect 3rd or 4th are notably different. There is no consistency of attack and even some of the solo tuning is questionable, I guess it comes with the territory of woodwind, and we in the Brass Band world can avoid it by using our ears to seek out the sweet spot a few cents above or below the exact even temerament tuning and turn a piece of average music into something great.

Actually, at least some woodwind instruments can be tuned, David. Last November, I started learning clarinet, as my lungs are starting to go (exposed to a toxic gas when I was 19), and clarinets take a heck of a lot less air than a baritone. Clarinets are built in five sections; at the top is the mouthpiece, with the reed clamped to it, and this plugs into a short section (around 65mm long) called the barrel. A decent make of clarinet comes with two barrels, maybe 65mm and 67mm - but other lengths are available. But, in the same way that you can adjust the tuning slides on a brass instrument, you can adjust how far the barrel is plugged into the next section down (the upper joint). Even more, my teacher explained how I can shift the pitch of a note to a significant extent by changing my embouchure and the internal shape of my mouth and the position of my tongue.

This also applies to oboes and cor anglais, whose pitch can be adjusted in the same way - and I'd be surprised me if the same didn't hold good for bassoons, flute and piccoloes. Judging from waht I've learnt so far from studying the clarinet, I think if the woodwind in an orchestra sounds off in their intonation, it's more likely to be down to the players rather than the instruments.

With best regards,
Jack
 

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