Asheville Jazz Orchestra plays Our World Festival August 1, 2015

AJO-Logo-Transparent copyFor anyone down in the Greenville, SC area I’ll be performing a free set with the Asheville Jazz Orchestra at the Our World Festival on August 1, 2015. There is a lineup of a number of jazz bands and world music throughout the day. You can hear the AJO play at 3:40-4:40 at the main stage tent (1272 Pendleton Street, The Village of West Greenville). If you are able to come check it out please be sure to say hello to me afterwards while I’m listening to the Greenville Jazz Collective Big Band right after we play.

Air Pressure, Pitch Range, and Dynamics

A recent discussion over at the Trumpet Herald forum got me thinking a bit more about the relationship between the pitch and dynamic being played by a brass player and how the breathing functions. Many brass players and teachers talk about using “faster air” for high notes, “blow harder” for loud notes, or “hot, wet, breath” for getting a rich, dark sound. These sorts of descriptions are fairly common, although many variations exist and not everyone feels similarly about their effectiveness in playing and teaching.

It is, of course, necessary to consider that playing sensations are a pretty unreliable way of talking about what exactly is happening in the player’s physiology or in the acoustics of the instrument. What to one player might feel like “blowing harder” might seem more like “faster air.” Furthermore, what works for a brass student and one stage of his or her development may become counterproductive later. This is why it’s important to have a good teacher who can watch you play and make corrections as needed. Teasing out those corrections often will take the form of analogies such as the ones I described, but we have to fall back on trial and error.

All that said, I find the science behind playing mechanics and instrument acoustics fascinating. Regardless of how you feel like you play, there may be some insights we can glean as players and teachers into breathing by taking the time to learn more. This can be a controversial topic, as reading through the Trumpet Herald topic can show. It’s even been a topic I’ve blogged about here that inspired some heated debate in the comments. In part this is due to differences in opinion about whether knowing this can be helpful or is a waste of time. My thought here is that trying to learn more about the way things work is never a waste of time, provided you are aware of the risks of going down the wrong path for a bit and recognize that you might just need to backtrack. Better still is to learn from those who have already done the research and had something to say about it.

One group of researchers, Jonathan Kruger, James McClean, and Mark Kruger, replicated a famous informal experiment that Arnold Jacobs supposedly did measuring the air pressure of brass players on different instruments and comparing how much blowing pressure and airflow were used for pitches. Jacobs noted that as the blowing pressure increased as the player ascended in range while the airflow decreased. He also claimed that players of different instruments would use a similar intra-oral pressure for the same pitch, so that a trombonist playing a “high Bb” would be blowing with about the same amount of pressure as a trumpet player playing the “middle C” (both pitches would be Bb4). Kruger, et al, found some of this to be true, but some of it to be different.

Intra-oral compression does increase as pitch increases and airflow decreases as pitch increases in each of the four members of the brass family. Both measures are also sensi- tive to changes in loudness (dynamic). Figure 2 shows changes in airflow and internal air pressure for a trumpet performer ascending the open pitches from the G below middle C upward while playing as close as possible to 85 decibels. As Jacobs observed, the larger bore instruments require less intra-oral compression and produce more air- flow when playing in their normal ranges than the higher instruments. Contrary to Jacob’s assertion about the simi- larity of instruments playing the same pitch, we observed measurable differences.

Other researchers have done similar experiments and found similar results. Kenneth Berger’s article in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Respiratory and articulatory factors in wind instrument performance (full article behind a paywall, abstract only), notes that the trumpet requires more intraoral pressure that other wind instruments studied.

A third paper published by 10éme Congres Fancaise d’Acoustique is thankfully written in English here. Freour, Causse, and Cosette noted similar results. In their article, Simultaneous Measurement of Pressure, Flow and Sound during Trumpet Playing, they wrote, “…it appears that pressure increases with both pitch and loudness, that flow increases with pitch and tends to decrease with dynamic.” They also note that the results of their study open up new questions that can now be addressed, such as the influence of air compressibility and even blood distribution in the respiratory system while playing.

So what are the implications for teaching and practicing brass instruments? At the very least I think we understand that blowing pressure and air volume do depend on the pitch range and dynamic being played. Knowing this, we might want to practice and teach being more aware of how we’re blowing while playing and changing those factors. Through this awareness we can learn our personal playing sensations in such a way as to memorize the feeling of when things are sounding and feeling good as well as better troubleshoot for those times when they are not.

Low-Down Sires at The Process – July 18, 2015

Low-Down Sires LogoIf you’re around Richmond, VA this weekend, I’ll be performing at The Process, a lindy hop event held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. The Low-Down Sires will be performing at the dance there from 9 PM to midnight on  Saturday, July 18, 2015.

I won’t have a lot of down time while we’re there, but if anyone is interested in meeting up for a lesson or just to hangout over coffee or other beverages drop me a line and let’s see if we can get our schedules to align. If you happen to be into swing dancing come on out to the dance and be sure to say hello to me during one of our set breaks.

Guess the Embouchure Type – Brad Edwards

Brad Edwards, who teaches trombone at the University of South Carolina, has started up at the Trombone Embouchure Video Project where he is challenging many trombonists to video record their embouchures and post them so that others may make use of them. Here is Brad’s chops. Take a look and see if you can guess his embouchure type. I’ll hide my guess after the break.

Continue reading Guess the Embouchure Type – Brad Edwards

Weekend Picks

Here are a handful of random music-related links for your browsing this weekend.

Can you shatter a wine glass with your voice?

A human voice can shatter a glass. Every object has a resonant frequency – the natural frequency at which something vibrates. Wine glasses, because of their hollow shape, are particularly resonant. If you run a damp finger along the rim of a glass, you might hear a faint, ghostly hum – the resonant frequency of the glass. Or you can simply tap the glass and hear the same frequency. To shatter the glass, a singer’s voice has to match that frequency, or pitch, and the glass must have microscopic defects.

Mirror DuetThe Mirror Duet is usually attributed to Mozart, although there is some question about that. If you’re not familiar, it’s a duet where the two players stand facing each other, reading the same page of sheet music. And it works.

 

CsárdásI have no idea who Helen Amvroseva and George Shakhnin are/were, and no way to embed this video of them performing Csárdás on trumpet, trombone, and piano. It’s both impressive and funny.

 

Reinhardt Forum Restrictions

The Trumpet Herald sub-forum dedicated to discussing Donald Reinhardt has gotten more restrictive recently. This appears to be a response from a post from former Reinhardt student, Doug Elliott, who stated that he feels Reinhardt’s tongue-types are largely unnecessary. Forum moderator, Rich Willey, deleted the ensuing discussion and apparently Doug is now banned from posting there. Rich posted Our stated purpose on the Reinhardt Forum.

This is not an open forum where you can just post anything you please.

If it’s not a question about what Reinhardt taught, or if it’s not a direct statement of something that Reinhardt wrote or taught you, or maybe a short report how something Reinhardt taught made a big difference in your playing, then it serves no useful purpose here if we’re sticking to the mission of our stated purpose.

I understand Rich’s basic concern here. He wants the forum to be on topic, and it’s his prerogative to run the forum this way. It is, however, a very narrow restriction. This is a good way to design a library site or FAQ, but not very encouraging for vibrant discussion.

Reinhardt’s writings and opinions did, in fact, change, but we are left with a large body of work exactly the way Reinhardt left it, not as we interpret it all these years later.

Rich acknowledges that Reinhardt was open to changing his ideas, and from what I’ve heard from other former students he continued to do so as long as he was teaching. I prefer to honor Reinhardt’s legacy by following his model, rather than pin down what he said into something static.

I have had many requests through the years to keep on doing the job of “keeping this forum pure Reinhardt,” and some people have gone away with their feelings hurt. Some of the most notable posters on this forum have called (or PM’ed) and thanked me for doing the dirty work of cleaning out the “riff raff” or those who are not interested in the stated purpose of this forum.

The disgruntled few who are no longer with us are usually not missed, and those who continue to look to this forum for real answers that Reinhardt discovered all those years ago ought to be greeted with answers à la Reinhardt, not the way we think his teaching might have evolved all these years later.

I do believe that there are some who feel similarly to Rich about how to restrict discussion there. My guess is that there are some others who tolerate it because they are genuinely interested in learning about Reinhardt. I’m not certain that the “disgruntled few” are so few and aren’t missed, but maybe I’m projecting my own bias here.

Thank you for understanding and helping to keep this forum “Pure” Reinhardt.

I don’t have the time or inclination to create and moderate a public forum these days, but Facebook makes it easy to start a discussion group. If folks want a another place to discuss Donald Reinhardt’s pedagogy and how we can better teach it ourselves go here and send me a request to join.

Developing Perfect Pitch (or not)

Tuning ForkA very small part of the population has what is commonly called “perfect pitch.” More properly known as “absolute pitch,” individuals who possess it inherently know what pitch is being played and can sing any give pitch without a point of reference at any time. It offers an advantage to musicians, however our current understanding strongly suggests that this is a skill that needs to be developed before the age of 9 and can’t be learned as an adult.

That hasn’t stopped a lot of folks from trying to train adults to acquire perfect pitch. A lot of these are probably scams, although some may be good ways to teach ear training. One common approach is to train your sense of pitch memory so that you always have a point of pitch reference.

A recent study investigated this by training subjects to their working memory for pitch recognition. After going through a training program that offered corrections and reinforcements, subjects scored significantly better on tests where they were asked to recreate and label pitches. Lead researcher Howard Nusbaum said:

This is the first significant demonstration that the ability to identify notes by hearing them may well be something that individuals can be trained to do. It’s an ability that is teachable, and it appears to depend on a general cognitive ability of holding sounds in one’s mind.

I agree with what Richard Moss wrote in the same article. There is a pretty vast difference between the perfect pitch abilities of someone who acquired it in childhood compared with those of individuals who have developed it in adulthood. Nusbaum, et al, seemed to acknowledge this in their article abstract, noting that “the performance typically achieved by this population [acquired at adulthood] is below the performance of a ‘true’ AP possessor.”

Take a look at the following graph, from Absolute pitch: perception, coding, and controversies, by Daniel J. Leviton and Susan E. Rogers.

Age of first music training

It would also appear that developing true absolute pitch as an adult is extremely rare, in spite of all the courses and effort folks often take in developing it. That’s not to say that working on your pitch memory is bad, any ear training is good for your musicianship. I would recommend, however, that you focus your ear training practice on skills that are practical for what you want to do. I would argue that it’s more important to focus your effort on pitch relationships, that is to say, relative pitch. Even folks with perfect pitch have to practice this and spend time on it, and this skill is much more critical than being able to recognize a pitch without a point of reference.

Upcoming Gigs, Independence Day Weekend 2015

18461977735_51e17e6dfd_zI’ve got some public performances this weekend, if you’re in western North Carolina and looking for some live music.

Tomorrow night (Friday, July 3, 2015) the Asheville Jazz Orchestra will present a patriotic concert. We’ll be performing big band arrangements of American patriotic music, as well as some music from the WWII era of big bands. The performance is at Trinity United Methodist Church, in Asheville, NC and starts at 7 PM. We’ll be collecting donations for the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministries (ABCCM) and the Asheville Jazz Council’s jazz education fund.

On Independence Day I have two shows. The first will be riding around on the Lazoom Bus tour with the Low-Down Sires, playing early jazz for the riders. I’ve taken one of their comedy tours with visiting family recently, so it will be interesting to be playing on the bus this time.

Afterwards I will be conducting the Land of the Sky Symphonic Band in our Independence Day concert at the White Horse Black Mountain. As you can imagine, we’ll be playing a very American focused program, although we will be performing one piece by a Russian, excerpts from 1812 Overture.

If you make it out to one of my shows, please come up and say hello during one of my breaks or after the performance. Every once in a while someone introduces themselves to me at a gig and mentions this blog. It’s neat to meet my readers in person, when it’s possible.