Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Some Additional Thoughts on Evenness

I want to add to something I said in yesterday's post on evenness. I was talking about clarity and wrote, "I soon realized that clarity had to do with the synchronization of air, lip vibration and tongue, coming together for an immediate impact of sound, not the hardness of the attack or the note length."

It is about definition of sound. The immediate impact of of sound needs to have its synchrony focused on a specific pitch center. When this happens, clarity is the result no matter how short or long, soft or hard the actual length or attack is.

Of course there is the consideration on the subject of release at the end of the note and what impact that has on evenness. Plus another interesting consideration is how a person thinks when they articulate a note. Many brass players sound like they play with lots of 'down bows'. This can get very labored and horizontal sounding to the listener. It also does not do much to the phrasing in general. 'Up bows' in our articulation add to the movement of the line just as it does to string players. In fact, a teacher of mine told me once that all fine wind players 'bow' and all fine string players 'breathe'.

So when considering the topic of evenness, I find it very useful to examine and experiment with it in the light of the following:

1. Musical context
2. Fundamental command
3. Working on stability

Also, when I do my 'evenness' exercises I listen to the three basic parts of each note:

1. Beginning or 'head' of the note
2. The middle or 'body' of the note
3. The end, release or 'tail' of the note

We also can get into the shape of the note which was hinted at in the subject of bowing, but one needs to find a mental concept for their basic note shape. 'Bricks' is a popular shape but I have found it a stumbling 'block' for some people. I often think of a tubular shape, and again this can change according to the nature of the music or an aspect of articulation I could be working on.

My last paragraph on yesterday's post ended with the thought of if a brass or wind player played with as much sound and articulation variations as some string soloist do what would that do to most listeners of the 'classic' kind and would it be practical to work on lots of variation if we have not 'mastered' the one even color yet. Well, the way I have had to solve this in my mind, dealing with it from a very young age, was from the stand point of realizing that the one even basic sound is just one kind of tone color. It is one of many colors in the timber spectrum. In most orchestral settings there is not a great need for a huge diversity of tone flavors and colors. Yes, of course you need to play with a large volume contrast and to blend with others and different instruments. This requires sensitivity to balance and nuance. But in my experience with what most people want, is subtle variations on a basic acceptable color. Which takes its own kind of skill to do well.

For me, it is fun, broadening and musically necessary to venture outside of that realm. It is important at some point, at least it was for me, to not care to, to much on only that which is looked upon by a majority to be the only valid way. If that were the case, how could anything new ever have a chance to appear?


Gabe Langfur said...

I remember you commented about down bows at my very first lesson :)

Norman, I'm interested to hear what you think about this: I still practice bricks pretty often, and I still recommend them to students, but I am adamant that they be done in a very challenging way, with a firm, marcato articulation, but fully sustained with no space between notes and therefore no time to reset or adjust between notes.

I find that this requires the player to do two things: articulate very cleanly and clearly and - most importantly - efficiently, with no wasted motion; and also produce the vibration at the lips the same way, with pitch changes coordinated with the tongue motion. I find it useful to practice double- and triple-tonguing this way also.

My thinking is that this method of developing efficiency of motion for the beginnings and ends of notes frees us to do any variation. In other words, it's an extreme and not very musical way of practicing, but it opens up a world of musical long as we remember that it is a practice method, not a universal performance method!

Norman Bolter said...

What you describe as an exercise that you do and one you have your students do sounds very beneficial. I do something different as my 'base' articulation. I play with a solid beginning to each note and call it a defined attack but not hard, and the note lengths are long but have some daylight in between them. I find this takes, (at least for me and many others that I have seen), more control then the exercise you describe. This is because of the amount of support it takes between the notes and to re-articulate after the space. I think of the note shape as a tube or sausage link (in this exercise) and the space between the notes is maintained by the support systems not collapsing or letting down.

Playing in the way you suggested Gabe is certainly its own type of exercise with its own benefits. My experience is that the type of exercise you describe does not necessarily give someone the control to do all types of articulation including very short staccato or what I would call fluid legato, as opposed to the tenuto type of legato I often hear.

And to comment on your last sentence, many times what we practice over and over again does become our 'knee jerk' fall back situation and hence a performance method. Unless of course we have in our technical repertoire a variety of articulations and tone colors that have been born from an interest in expressing the music as fully as we can.

Gabe Langfur said...

One of the reasons I ask students to do this is to change an ingrained default habit of closing down the ends of notes - sometimes with the tongue, sometimes by letting the support drop. It usually goes along with a discussion of different ways and shapes of ending notes, as well as a demonstration of a tenuto marcato style I think is important to develop for orchestral playing. The best example I can think of is the theme from Tchaikovsky's 4th last movt: F F F F Eb Db Db C Bb. Even if it's not fully sustained, I think it sounds much better with the ends of notes open rather than closed.

Also, technically fast passages can be much more difficult when the tongue is involved with the beginning and end of each note, yes?

The sausage link image is great (if a little greasy ;) ) and one I will think about further, because it brings equal attention to the beginnings, middles and ends of notes.

Norman Bolter said...

Makes good sense about the exercise Gabe. I would be interested to know if that exercise helps them in the long note with space in between (as I was describing in the exercise do). It makes sense that your exercise helps with getting the tongue out of the way at the end of the note but I wonder if it comes into action again if they have to make a space in between the notes. This is where the bi-structural-support-systems of the embouchure and air support shows its strength or weakness. Let me know what you find out. By the way, my sausage links are boiled. :-)