Monday, August 29, 2011

THE VALVELESS TUBA

Arnold Jacobs

“I don’t fill the instrument with air. I fill it with vibrations (sound).”

Adolph Herseth

“When encountering problems technically or musically, first sing (vocally) then buzz. Transfer the singing and buzzing to the instrument.”

“Practice entire sessions on the mouthpiece alone to avoid having problems creep into your playing.”

Roccoisms

“I gave tuba playing a long time ago. Now, I play an 18ft. mouthpiece with valves.”

“Play the mouthpiece not the instrument.”

For many years I have demonstrated in master classes and lessons, that I play the mouthpiece inside the tuba rather than play the tuba. The tuba is just a very selective amplifier of the sound that I create in the mouthpiece. I call the demonstration, “The Valveless Tuba” or “Tuba Gymnastics” I tell the listeners that it looks and sound like I’m playing the tuba but I’m not.

I perform very rapid scales and chords, or a technical etude without using valves. I play the three octave “gymnastics” very fast to disguise the fact that many of the notes are inaccurate or out of tune. As I play, I remove the mouthpiece from the leadpipe so the audience can hear that I am sending the same sound to the mouthpiece that they hear coming from the bell.

Recently, I cleaned one of my piston valve tubas and began the process of reassembling the instrument. Before inserting the valves, I decided to play it. The buzzing sound did not come out the bell but emerged from the first valve casing. I buzzed fairly loudly and fingered all the empty valve casings for about 30 minutes before placing my mouthpiece in an instrument with valves. I was careful to be sure that I was on pitch by playing familiar music.

After my extended practice session playing the valveless tuba, the resonance that came from the bell of the tuba with valves sounded as though Jake was playing! I immediately knew that I had discovered a valuable tool. It was a real valveless tuba rather than the fake one that I had been using in my “tuba gymnastics” demonstrations. Playing the valveless tuba was very similar but yet somewhat different from playing the mouthpiece alone, using a BERP, or buzzing into a megaphone (tubaphone).

I was more willing and able to commit to sending a resonant and accurate sound directly into the leadpipe of the real instrument rather than just the mouthpiece alone or an external device. I suspect that the reason is I have a much longer history of playing the mouthpiece inside the leadpipe than outside somewhere. Also, the valveless instrument accepts inaccurate frequencies.

Since the valveless tuba did not provide any amplification of my mouthpiece playing, I provided it myself by buzzing fairly loudly. When I sent the same level of tone production to the tuba with valves, the effortless sound coming from the bell was very full and resonant. I was surprised and somewhat distracted because it sounded like someone else playing!

I soon realized that I was not fully transferring the same mouthpiece playing from the valveless tuba to the one with valves because the frequencies were not quite accurate. I was not transferring the same commitment to mental singing that was being achieved playing the valveless instrument.

I REMINDED MYSELF THAT I ONLY NEEDED TO TRANSFER THE SINGING BECAUSE MENTAL SINGING, NOT FEEL, MOTIVATES THE PRODUCTION OF SOUND THAT CAN BE ACCEPTED BY THE VALVE TUBA!

LIBERATION

My experience playing the valveless tuba completely freed me from the paralyzing negative influence of the instrument. There are no consequences of failure because the leadpipe accepts just about any frequency. It’s very forgiving of inaccuracy because no single harmonic series is defined by one column of air. There are infinite air columns.

THE ULTIMATE GOAL PLAYING THE VALVE TUBA IS FOR IT TO BECOME A VALVELESS TUBA!

Arnold Jacobs

“There are acoustical laws that must be obeyed. We must send in frequencies that the instrument can accept. To do this, we must mentally sing the notes as we play them.”

“I sing the notes in my head as I play them. I don’t care how my lip feels or how I feel.”

I have frequently thought that maybe having valves on a brass instrument is not a good thing, That’s not true! Valves are wonderful tools.

HOWEVER, WE MUST FULLY UNDERSTAND THEIR LIMITATIONS! VALVES DO NOT PRODUCE SOUND!

The primary function of valves is to aid technical facility playing in various keys, extend lower range using less tubing, and to improve intonation. Because valves allow the brass tubing to be shorter, there is room for larger bore sizes which provide greater amplification with varied timbres.

I frequently coach brass players before a professional audition. I ask, “How would you feel (confidence level) about the audition if it was to be played on the mouthpiece alone?” They always reply, “Great” or “No Problem” My immediate response is always, “GUESS WHAT? IT IS A MOUTHPIECE AUDITION!”

It is very important to understand that what motivates tone production when playing the mouthpiece, no matter where it is located, is to mentally sing the music as you create it. This is not difficult to accomplish! I have seen pre-school children buzz melodies on a trumpet mouthpiece without instruction if they imitate what they see and hear someone else doing.

The primary mental focus of mouthpiece playing outside the leadpipe is mentally singing the notes (melody) that you want to produce.

THE BRASS PLAYER’S STATE OF MIND (COMMITMENT TO SINGING!) MUST BE THE SAME REGARDLESS WHERE THE MOUTHPIECE IS LOCATED.

THE HOT STOVE SYNDROME

If an instrumentalist develops a history of failure, the resulting emotional pain and physical discomfort will become closely associated with and influenced by their instrument. The instrument reinforces the player’s expectation of failure. The subconscious mind will respond to the player’s expectation of failure by creating physical conditions that cause even more failure.
Eventually, the instrument becomes a “hot stove” that triggers a paralyzing reaction in the subconscious mind.

We become sabotaged by a subconscious response that is supposed to protect us from physical and emotional harm rather than cause it.

Roccoism

“We always realize our expectations whether they are positive or negative.”

I have only seen the Hot Stove Syndrome, when someone played the mouthpiece outside the instrument, one time. I have had hundreds of people come to me for help when their instrument was negatively influencing them to the point of paralysis. However, they always can play the mouthpiece beautifully when it’s outside the instrument.

When a brass player comes to me for help, I always ask to hear their mouthpiece playing first. After briefly listening, my response is always, “Wonderful, there’s nothing wrong with your playing.” Usually, they are startled by my evaluation. Sometimes their body language tells me that they think I’m lying. I immediately ask, “How do I know there is nothing wrong?” The obvious answer is because, “Your playing sounds good!"

Arnold Jacobs

“I don’t care if what you are doing (physically) is all wrong if it sounds good.”

Sometimes, a player will respond, “It may sound okay but it feels lousy.” I remind them that Jake tells us that it doesn’t matter how it feels. I also tell them that if they want their playing to feel better they must commit to the sound by mentally singing first.

Roccoisms

“Feeling good is a by-product of correct playing. You cannot motivate correct playing by trying to feel good first.”

“Sound motivates function, not the reverse.”

“Feel and Fail are four letter words to a brass player.”

Yes, playing the mouthpiece somewhere other than in the leadpipe of an instrument, feels different. SO WHAT!!! To be truly liberated from the paralyzing influence of the instrument, we must transcend our physical feedback by committing to the production of sound in the mouthpiece.

Are we mentally singing when we play the mouthpiece outside the leadpipe? The answer is absolutely, positively, YES! There’s no other way to make it happen!

It’s not difficult to do unless we are more committed to the feel of playing, or physical mechanics rather than sound we want to come from the bell.

Roccoism

“The instrument has no sound of it’s own. The only sound that will emerge from the bell is the sound that you produce in the mouthpiece which originates in your conscious mind.”

Arnold Jacobs

“What you feel like (while playing) is not important. You should focus only on what you want to sound like.”

“There are two instruments. One in your hands and one in your head. The one in your hands is a mirror reflecting the one in your head.”

Alolph Herseth

“Think sound not mechanics.”

Roccoisms

“Sound motivates function.”

“There is no reason for your success or failure other than your state of mind.”

IT’S JUST THE SINGING!

The highest level of awareness of sound is achieved when we mentally sing the music as we play it. Our subconscious mind responds to the musical awareness by executing all the highly complex mechanics required play the instrument. The mechanics of playing are much too complex to be motivated by the conscious mind. This is the same process that we use for speaking. Our subconscious mind responds beautifully to our conscious thoughts of words without any intellectual understanding of how it’s done.

IN THE ABSENCE OF A CONSCIOUS AWARENESS OF SOUND, THE SUBCONSCIOUS BRAIN WILL ATTEMPT TO CREATE SOUND AWARENESS BY USING THE SENSE OF FEEL. IT WILL TRY TO CONVERT LIPS INTO EARS. THAT'S LIKE TRYING TO DRAIN THE WATER FROM A SWIMMING POOL WITH A STRAW.

Adolph Herseth

"It’s amazing what we can achieve if we don’t allow the (conscious) brain to interfer.”

“There’s nothing wrong with your chops. Your mind is messing them up.”

THE VALVELESS TUBA

The most important aspect of the valvesless tuba is not the transfer of imprecise resonance to the instrument with valves. We must transfer precisely tuned resonance. That can only be achieved by mentally singing. It we are only interested in transferring imprecise resonance, the instrument will reject the sound no matter how hard we work to impose it.

The real benefit of the valveless tuba is realized only when we are totally committed to the transfer of our mental singing. The valveless tuba reminds us of what that commitment is without the negative influence of the instrument. The motivation of that negative influence is our history of failure.

WE MUST TRANSCEND THE INSTRUMENT AND ALL OTHER DISTRACTIONS WITH OUR COMMITMENT TO THE SINGING OF THE MUSIC WE WANT TO CREATE. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!!!

Alolph Herseth

“No greatness can be achieved if the brass player is paralyzed by fear.”

Roccoism

“Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s the will to function in spite of it.”

IT’S JUST THE SINGING!

IT’S JUST THE SINGING!!!

IT’S JUST THE SINGING............

I recently made a wonderful discovery about my four tubas. None of them have valves anymore!











2 comments:

  1. Roger, this is your most powerful post yet! Perhaps you might be able to film a brief video with a student's iPhone and post it on this site, demonstrating what you do with the valveless tuba.

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  2. Hey.

    Awesome post!! Wonderful description of the state of mind necessary! I'm coming back to it regularly as a reminder to myself.

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