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False Tones in the Low Register

Rating: 10 votes, 4.60 average.
We all know how brass instruments work, right? Without using any valves, our instruments are like a Boy Scout bugle - there are a bunch of relatively fixed notes available over the range of the horn (the partial series). We can bend each one a little flatter or sharper to match pitch with other players on the same note, but most of us can't bend as much as a half step dependably.

While I was in high school I discovered an exception to that limitation. I learned that I could start on a pedal Bb and lip it up a full 3rd (or a 4th on a good day). It was approximately as smooth as a slide trombone's gliss, but it was a little hard to control.

Because the upper range of this "gliss zone" is about a D concert, and because that is a fairly firm ceiling, I find it workable to get a chromatic scale down from the pushed-up D by using the same fingerings I would use two octaves higher (0, 2, 1, 12). Or if you can push the top of the false tones up to Eb, then play the D with 2nd, and continue down with 1, 12, and 23.

Back in high school I got to be pretty good at producing these pitches. However, I would not say I had perfected the technique, and I certainly would not have wanted to use them in a solo.

Many years later I heard this technique demonstrated by a professional. During some of my Coast Guard Band years I played trombone in our jazz ensemble. For one concert we had as our guest artist the great studio/jazz trombonist Bill Watrous. I always knew he had a terrific lyrical style, terrific ad-libbing abilities and technique, and a very terrific high register. But during one of his cadenzas he showed me a slightly different side of his playing. He was somewhere up in the stratosphere and then did a diatonic scale down to a pedal Eb. This was on a "straight" trombone (no F attachment) so he had to cover the no-mans-land between low E and pedal Bb using false tones. The thing was, though, it didn't sound like he was using false tones. He just played a scale, and it sounded fine.

Try it yourself. Play the pedal Bb, let your tone close (pinch) a little, and try to move the pitch up. It seems to be easier on a small-bore euphonium than a large-bore horn, but I can still get the effect on my Adams with a .592" bore. I haven't tried it on tuba, but I assume it is about as easy to do.

I have not figured out a good use for this skill on a 4-valve instrument, but I think working on this can contribute to flexibility in general, and may make one more comfortable lipping down the dreaded low B-natural (concert, played with 1234). Of course, on a 3-valve instrument it can be useful. And tuba players tell me it is absolutely essential on a 3-valve EEb tuba.

Also, I believe the technique works differently on trombone. At least today, at this point in my non-trombone-inclusive practice habits, I can't push the pedal Bb up. If I remember correctly from my earlier days, one needs to lip downward from the general area of Low F/E. But if your experience has been different, please comment.

If you just decided to try this technique (or have in the past) please post a comment about it.

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  1. WillsonEuph2900's Avatar
    Hi Dave. I'm a college player on my Willson 2900. On the request of my professor who said I needed to "beef up" my lower register I started to work at it hard and heavy. The farthest I have succeeded is a pedal D (played 1,2,4) in the open position. Not as a gliss but as an actual tone. I can bend the pitch to a C or even a sharp B natural on the best day. I recall Harold Brasch writing in his book that there were no tones past the open pedal Bb. I wonder if he neglected false tones as extensions.
  2. Baritonist's Avatar
    Hi Dave, I am a middle school player on a Andreas Eastman non-compensating 3 valve baritone. I just tried this and found i could do it with ease. I have also been able to go down to a pedal G. I dont know how to get a pedal E flat though. Is it just lipping up? If not can you give me the fingering for it?
  3. davewerden's Avatar
    It's hard to suggest a fingering. When you're dealing with false tone, things are kind of, um, false! Because I have a 4-valve compensating horn, my first false tone would be a B-flat below my pedal B (that would be the lowest B-flat on the piano). I've used it in recital now and then, but I find that the fingering can be open, 2nd, or 1st, depending on the state of my chops, temperature of the hall, and even what mouthpiece I use. So just experiment and see what works! And don't be afraid to try a different fingering if your original choice doesn't seem to work as well after a time.
  4. Baritonist's Avatar
    It is very strange. I have been trying to get this note for awhile, and I still cannot get it. I can play any other note in the pedal scale though.
  5. JoCologne's Avatar
    Hi Dave, I used to bring out the Low D concert with false tones and - using 1-2 during this - the Low B natural on my YEP-321. It was the only chance to play Low B natural on this Euph. It sounded a little bit weaker than the "standard" tones.