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Thread: Imitating a cello's timbre in the low range

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2018
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    Imitating a cello's timbre in the low range

    Hello!

    I'm selecting 8 pieces to record this year (4 per semester), and the the first I've chosen is Brahm's Sonata for Cello and Piano. It's pitched relatively low throughout the piece (although it jumps up to the E5-F5 range a few times), and the big draw for this piece to me was the gorgeous sound that a good cellist can produce in the Bb2-D2 range of the instrument. It's so rich and resonant. I consider myself to be pretty good (for a high school senior), and I think I have a pretty good tone, but my tone starts to dull around D2 or so, and gets progressively worse until it opens back up at a pedal Bb. What can I do to enrich my tone below the staff? I've started doing daily long tones and lip bends in the low register, and have been playing some etudes out of a tuba studies book. It's improving, but not as quickly as I'd like.

    I play on a W. Nirschl I-800. Not a great horn, but it's gotten me through nearly a decade of playing. It's got it's issues, but it plays fine, and the tone issues in the low range persist on other horns.

    I also play bass trombone whenever the Wind Ensemble needs it (we don't have a dedicated bass), and the issue is present there, although to a much lesser degree.

    I'm recording these pieces for college auditions, as well as various honor bands. I got into the Honor Band of America last year, and couldn't have had more fun! Can't wait to explore more honor bands.

  2. #2
    What mouthpiece are you using? That would make a difference. You need one large enough to allow for a rich, warm sound, yet not so big that it diffused your tone and gets into the tuba-like realm of sound.

    The challenge is more than just tone color. Listen to a cello in that register. They move easily from note to note - there is your first goal.

    Also notice the vibrato on cello. It is approximately as easy to produce cello vibrato in the low range as in the middle range, but for euphonium it is much more challenging. You need to work on vibrato in that range. It should not distort your tone and pitch too much, but it should be pretty fast and strong.

    This is a range that is not comfortable for my embouchure. In most of my adult life I was not happy with the tone I got there. But lately I've been happier. Part of that is the horn I play, I think, because the range is easier to produce. No doubt part of it is also the chicken/egg thing - the range is easier so I practice more often down there; and the more I practice down there the easier it gets.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2018
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    I'm using a Schilke 52E2, and have tried a few others, with poor results. I'm open to suggestions, though. I've tried the SM4, the SM4 Ultra, a Bach 5G, and a Pickett (I don't remember the model) for extended periods of time, and haven't gotten better results than I've gotten with a Schilke.

    So, would you suggest scales to improve smoothness in that register? There is definitely a "bump" in the sound, as I descend, especially going from a D to a C, or a Db to a B. I've always been taught to blow through the valve changes to smooth that out, but it's much more difficult down there. I suppose that I could begin with long tones on a scale, and slowly up the tempo until I can move quickly without any hiccups.

    As for vibrato, I hadn't even considered that. But, you're correct, my vibrato does begin to get ragged, slow, and pitchy the farther I go down. I'll go back to how I learned to vibrato in the middle and high ranges - subdividing the beat with each vibration on a scale, and working the number of vibrations up to my target. What would suggest as a target speed, for a tempo of say, 80? I'm thinking 5-6 vibrations per beat might be in the ballpark.

    Practicing things you aren't good at definitely isn't always fun, especially when you don't see improvements quickly. But, I'm glad to hear that someone like yourself deals with those same issues, and I'll definitely stick with it!

  4. #4
    One thing I have done over the years to improve my low range is to play melodies that I know down an octave. That usually gets most of the notes from the low Bb on the staff down an octave or so. Watch your intonation as well, however, by playing familiar melodies, you already know what it "should" sound like pitch wise.

    Another exercise I do just to "impress my fellow band mates" and because I like to use this as part of my warm up, is to play a Bb octave jump chromatic scale, starting on tuning Bb on the top of the staff, then low Bb an octave down, then back up to A below the tuning Bb, then down to low A, etc. I try to do this all the way down a full Bb chromatic scale. The impressive part I suppose, is that I can play this pretty fast with 16th notes at about quarter note = 90. Of course I have done this more than a bazillion times, so I suppose I should be able to do it quickly. I do this tonguing the notes and slurring the notes. I am not totally sure of the usefulness of this maneuver, but it does seem to give me more stability and richness in tone for the real low range, and it sounds pretty cool.

    Low notes on a euphonium, especially below low F under the staff, used to be, way back when, notes that I never tried to play or could play very well. I always went for the higher range notes. But low notes are my friends now. I enjoy playing melodies and solos that are below tuning Bb and lower. I agree with Dave that the particular horn can make low notes play and sound easier. My Adams just resonates to beat the band on low notes. There is a baritone/euphonium solo in a piece of music that is a medley of tunes from musicals. The solo is "Some Enchanted Evening" from the musical South Pacific. The solo has the melody going to a low Bb on the line "Some Enchanted Evening". The Adams just sings that note beautifully.

    I also am a believer that as you improve your low range, your upper range will improve, and vice-versa. I used to think that was hogwash, but I have come to believe it over the years.

    Good luck with your practice, recordings and auditions. All notes on a euphonium should be your friends (with the possible exception of the high B natural which is a friend to very few).
    Last edited by John Morgan; 08-12-2018 at 12:50 AM.
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Adams TB1 Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

  5. #5
    Yes, what John said! Practicing melodies down an octave is a great way to make your low range sound better. You (should) instinctively try play the melodies the way you do in the normal octave, and that forces your to work towards the right techniques. Your normal scales and arpeggios should also go to/through that range daily.

    Connecting notes is inherently tougher down there, as you mention. You need to balance airflow, embouchure, and timing. You also need to make your finger motions precise and smooth - the physical "bounce" from slapping a valve down disrupts your chops more easily in that register, and mis-timing the interactions of your fingers is more troublesome there.

    Your current mouthpiece is among those I would think are OK for this goal. Mostly I just wanted to see if you have a too-small mouthpiece like a 6-1/2 or something.

    I don't think of metronomic cadence with my vibrato, so I don't have a suggestion for you there. I do work to make my available vibrato speed quicker so I can use that greater density when I wish. I use different speeds in different passages.
    Last edited by davewerden; 08-12-2018 at 07:51 PM.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  6. #6
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    I don't know if this applies to cello imitation (or so much), but one of the real challenges in making a tuba sound like a string bass (at least in plucking mode) is to is to mimic the "degradation" of the sound at the end of the note. This is why some tubists can really sound like a string bass and others can't. Not sure if there's anything comparable in playing cello music, but strings do have a distinctive sound (or sound "profile", or whatever).
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  7. #7
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    Thank you very much! I'll definitely begin to include excerpts and etudes down the octave in my daily routine. My grandmother used to watch South Pacific almost weekly - they did an amazing job with the score!

    Dave, thanks for the tip on the smoothness. I'll work on it, and see if my band director has anything to add, seeing as he's a pretty great tubist. As for the use of the metronome with vibrato, I was actually taught how to vibrato with the use of a flute studies book. My band director bought it at the state convention with me in mind, and it taught me something that I had failed to learn quite a few times.

    Merrill, are you referring to the "tail" of a pizzicato? If so, I think I've got a pretty good idea of how to work on it. I should strive for a strong, pure front, with a quick, resonant tail to the note right after. I'm sure there are passages in cello music that use that technique, but none of the music I've selected use it. Thanks!

  8. #8
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    Right -- what's usually referred to as the "string decay". It has to "fade away" quickly, or just noticeably tail off. Todd Burdick (Tuba Skinny) does an amazing job of it on some of their recordings.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  9. And since the cello in the low range is so smooth, in addition to the practice on your low range scales, slurs, etudes, etc., be extra mindful of breath support and the application of the air properly so you can be as smooth, since the horn by definition, as mentioned above, wants to have valve burbles, especially since the notes are low enough we are talking about multi-valve combinations, and even possibly alternate fingerings to minimize the valve burbles.

  10. #10
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    Location
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    Thanks for tips, guys!

    I've been working on note transitions daily, and they've been getting steadily better. I think a lot of it comes down to simply knowing what it feels like to play a lyrical line in that range. The more and more I play the Brahms Sonata and the more and more I practice in that range, the easier it gets. It's definitely not perfect, but it's getting there.

    The Brahms piece has some time to get there, since I think I may choose this one to be a year-long project. I truly enjoy the piece, and want to play it how it deserves to be played - hopefully I'll get it down and get a good recording of it with a pianist by the end of the year!

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