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Brass Quintet

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Joined: 15 Mar 2012
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 20, 2021 4:28 am    Post subject: Brass Quintet Reply with quote

The members of this site have been much help in other forums so I thought I'd go for some more help.

Back in May 4 friends and I formed a brass quintet. None of us are pros, just enthusiastic amateurs. One of the problems we can't seem to get a handle on is how the tempi of our faster pieces tend to bog down. This seems to happen in all acoustical environments, some worse than others. Does anyone have any prescriptions for treating this malady?
Barry Wilson
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Joined: 24 Mar 2013
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Location: USA

PostPosted: Wed Oct 20, 2021 4:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's a common challenge, and is at least as much related to listening as it is to having an internal sense of timing. If the tuba is playing "rhythm" then make sure everyone is keeping pace with him/her. That requires listening as you play, which will also help with intonation, balance, etc.

Otherwise, appoint someone to be in charge of maintaining the tempo. We usually use the first trumpet or whomever has the melody. Not a perfect system, but it works reasonably well.

Edit: If you already do those things but are still struggling as a group have someone tap their foot loudly while you rehearse whatever piece is proving to be challenging. Everyone should be able to hear that in a small group. It has the added advantage of being annoying, so that should motivate everyone to get better so that the loud tapping will stop!

Good luck!
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Location: NY's Capital Region

PostPosted: Wed Oct 20, 2021 4:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This might be obvious but individual practice with a metronome will help make sure you are all able to play the piece at the desired tempo. If any of you are struggling on your own, it won't work as a group.

If you have a metronome loud enough for you all to hear, use that when playing together. One thing the quintet I play in has done in these situations is to all sing our parts together with the metronome. It can be eye (ear?) opening.
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Joined: 09 Feb 2021
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 20, 2021 5:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I know of one high level brass quintet that would often have a drum track of some sort playing during some rehearsals. If some of the pieces have regular enough meters that is a great way to find and maintain a groove.
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 20, 2021 5:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Work with a click track - there are numerous ways to go about this but if you are in a room with a computer and decent speakers, you can pull up click track apps online and use that.

BQ is an interesting animal - intimidating because everyone has to do their part and pull their weight, and there's no hiding or hedging; either you play your part correctly, or it's clearly audible that you aren't quite making it.

It could be that you guys are new enough at doing this that a bit of timidity in general is causing the tempos to slow up. I was in one quintet situation where there were frequent sub-ins and tempos always seemed to drag down when we were working with one specific tuba player - not everyone has a great sense of time or tempo.

Good luck and keep us posted - this is probably a temporary thing with an easy fix of working a bit with a click track.
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 20, 2021 7:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A few other thoughts:
1. I have noticed that, usually when the tempo bogs down, the primary source of the problem is that the one or more (possibly the entire group) are too reactive regarding pulse. This is a huge problem when the part writing has strong off beats. The oom-pah pulse will bog down. The easy solution is a drum track and or strong metronome, though I feel the drum track provides a distinct “pocket” to play, whereas the metronome can cause the same problem of waiting to long to react to the sound.
2. Almost all the less experienced groups I have coached (early college) will almost always lose time on any melodic entrance that occurs on the off beat. Usually coaching the person with the melodic line to play with the pulse they have in their head and ignoring the background things the rest of the group are doing will help prevent the drag that tends to occur. It’s not that they aren’t listening (which they aren’t) but that they turn their focus to laying down a strong melody that while it can feel awkward to the person playing the melody, the rest of the group latches on to the predictable tempo set by the player that they can then play off of.
3. When it tends to bog down, usually lightening up the dynamic and the articulation tends to help keep the tempo up. Maybe the solution is as simple as relaxing.
4. Usually in quintets I have coached, I will assign specific roles to players. Who brings the backup music, who coordinates with performance space and time. I always give the tuba player or the bass trombone the responsibility of having a tuner and a metronome on on their stand during rehearsal. Since they are usually the foundational pitch and usually have the parts with the strongest pulse, I want them to know they are dead on with both. Assuming they are also nice people (I.e. not jerks to their fellow musicians) this also gives them a stronger leadership role that would often go to the higher voices. In this case I prefer to have the tuba player use a metronome with a good light pulse so independence can be achieved.
5. Along this line, when rehearsing the sections that slow down, plan on running it 5 times. Each time, put the metronome on a different players stand. They will notice things that are occurring. They may point out what they hear others are doing wrong, but the added benefit is that they will also see and hear what they may be doing that affects the tempo. Without having to say it, each person will point out what they hear and also self correct what they personally catch. I find this a great way to build trust and respect within the group. Each person will get to observe and critique and will also have to be critiqued. The important thing to remember is that you are all in the room trying to get better. Offering solutions as opposed to pointing out problems will be the way to go. But also, thinking about what you can personally do to help is just as important. I’ve seen many groups where all the players can play their parts with a metronome but struggle when the metronome is gone because of the confusion. Being respectful of one another and excited for each success as you work through the confusion of putting the parts together is more important than being right , or even the one with the solution.
6. Regarding the drum track, this is a great way to work through the initial tempo confusion of putting parts together without anyone feeling singled out. As you get it solid, turn it down, move to metronome, alternate drum track then no click, etc… Drum beats by Ninebuzz is a good app. And you can adjust the tempo to each specific beat.

Enjoy the process. Change up the drum beat you use as backup.
I hole these ideas help.
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