Jun 9, 2013

Organize!

In the old days before electricity, organs were powered by human labor. There were bellows that had to be pumped by hand to provide the air pressure needed to fill those organ pipes. If the person working the bellows was strong and energetic the organ
sound was full, and full of life. Every register from the highest to the lowest pedals spoke immediately with a clear, focused, full resonance. If the person pumping the bellows was weak, lazy or had a hangover from a night of carousing, the sound was dull, lifeless, unfocused and when a key was depressed it took some time for a note to even be audible. As the pipes got bigger and lower they took longer and longer for the note to emerge. Lack of air flow made each note start with a sound like "bwaaah."
See where I'm going with this?

In many ways we are like organs in that we run on air and to make a musical tone we must release that air in a certain manner to produce a full, resonant sound. If there is not enough air flow in the bellows the pipes can't vibrate and the organ will sound weak and undernourished. When the bellows are full and a key is depressed the sound jumps out of the instrument and projects it in a clear and distinct manner. Whether the note length is long or short the sound speaks instantly because the bellows are full of air. When the keys are not depressed the pipe is sealed until the moment of release and the sound emerges full and clear. This will only happen if the person pumping the bellows has done their job.

Unfortunately there is a widespread habit in wind and brass playing of timing the release of the sound with the duration of the note. Notes short in length speak quickly because if they don't there is no sound at all! As the length of notes increase many players slow down the release of the air and sound according to the duration of that note until the longest notes take forever to speak, causing the sound to get duller and duller. If the object is always to get the best sound possible on an instrument, which is the only real constant in music, then the release of sound cannot be tied to the duration of a note. In other words, to get the best sound possible the sound should speak instantly no matter whether the note is a 16th or a long tone over 8 bars. In fact matching the speed of notes speaking between very short notes and long ones is a valuable tool in making sure the sound is consistent no matter the note length.


This article has been translated into Polish by Lukasz Michalski.

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