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Thread: Pulse and Tempo help

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2017
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    Pulse and Tempo help

    Hi,
    I'm Ethan Lenczycki, currently a music education student at the University of South Florida. I am looking in the future to enter in competitions such as IET, or Falcone.
    One of my biggest weaknesses is maintaining a steady pulse throughout a piece and I have been working with my professor on it for over a year. It's certainly improved over the past year but it's getting to the point where it's not where it's supposed to be. It's been quite a frustrating time as I'm really trying to get better at it.

    My professor told me that this weakness is the only thing holding me back. We came to the conclusion that I may be overthinking it far too much and not focusing on feeling the beat instead. Currently he has me listening to recordings alongside piano accompaniment parts for my pieces. With a focus on feeling the tempo internally and keeping it all throughout. Alongside that, I often record myself with and without a metronome. I also verbally count my parts with the subdivisions.

    I forgot to mention that I play Euphonium.

    Any help or other advice is much appreciated!

  2. #2
    Welcome to the forum!

    It strikes that there are two types of tempo problems possible

    1) an inherent weakness at hearing/feeling/recognizing a steady beat.

    2) technical problems getting in the way.

    In the case of #1, there may be some practice techniques that can help. Pick a tempo from some long passage or piece where you have trouble. Set your metronome to the tempo where you want to be. Count the number of beats that go by in 15 seconds and in 30 seconds and make a note of those numbers. Then listen to the metronome for a few seconds and try to feel that beat. Hearing the song in your head might help. Use a stopwatch for the following test. Alternately, use the seconds display on your watch and pick a starting point you can remember (like when it hits "10"). Turn off the metronome. Then count out loud up to the number of beats you earlier counted for 15 seconds. As soon as you hit 15, look at the watch. Use that test until you get within one second of the correct number. Then try it at 30. This might take a lot of practice, but it might help you.

    In the case of #2, you need to work differently with your metronome. As it ticks away, play the passage/piece and NOTICE how it feels to play. Do you have to work hard to keep up? Or do you have to hold back in some places? Isolate those places and work on them separately. A twisty passage may cause you to work hard - notice this extra stress in your fingers and/or tongue, even if you can keep up with the metronome. It's a risk point. The first step is to practice until this comes easily and dependably. But there may be other passages that are easy, so you tend to rush. Pay attention to not just the feel of the music (which is the most important part) but also to the feel of your mental/physical adjustments. The more you notice, the less dependent you will be on the metronome.

    Regardless, your practice must include working with and without the metronome.

    I remember working up a particular piece that had a twisty passage. It tied up my fingers a bit and had intervals that were a little tough in context. I would always drag there. But I practiced it a great deal without the metronome, so I could move the tempo around and become more adept at playing the notes. Then at some point much later, I went through this part of the piece with the metronome again. By then I was actually playing it too quickly! It's important to keep checking along the way.
    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
    Hi Ethan,

    Welcome! How do you do singing something instead of playing it? Or, how do you do playing something extremely simple with a metronome?
    Adrian L. Quince
    Composer, Conductor, Euphoniumist
    www.adrianquince.com

    Kanstul 976 - SM4U

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2017
    Location
    Florida, United States
    Posts
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    Thank you for the wonderful response. I'll definitely try both of those things for those two Cases.

    I don't have too much trouble playing with a metronome. My singing voice isn't great but I do try every now and then. Perhaps I should sing more?

    I always do my fundamental exercises with a metronome such as long tones, lip slurs and articulations. It's just when there's no metronome I feel like I lose the feeling of the pulse.

  5. #5
    I see you live in Florida (nice weather for this suggestion). As a person who played in the Army and marched while playing a lot, you might try taking walks and singing or thinking tunes to the beat of your steps. Try marches first at about 120 beats per minute. Think or hum Stars and Stripes. Or any other march that comes to mind. Then when you practice, play those marches while thinking of you marching along. Start your metronome on 120, then listen for a few beats, then turn it off, play a march, and turn it back on at the end. See how close you are to 120. Or if you have a metronome that has a light blinking the beat with no sound, start it while looking at it, then start playing your march, and then turn away a bit so you don't see it, while playing. Look back every so often to see where you are.

    I used to play for Full Honor Funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. At certain points, we would march much slower than 120, maybe more like 80. When you walk, try also walking much slower than 120 to about 80. Think of a tune or melody that goes well at that tempo. Sing or hum it to yourself while walking along. Or if you can walk somewhere sort of secluded, bring your horn along and play at different tempos.

    When I think of a march, I can always sort of visualize or see myself marching along right at 120, so the tempo just sort of pops out at me. I know what 120 sounds and feels like. I guess what I am suggesting is learn to feel what various tempos are. Marches are the easiest because they are mostly all right around 120. But pick out a bunch of tunes that have different tempos, but familiar tempos when you hear them. Play them to learn the feel of those tempos.

    Then when you play a piece of music, try to decide what the tempo should be (based on what it says, or the words like Largo, Allegro, etc.). Get that tempo fixed in your mind before you play any notes. If hard spots slow you down, know that that is happening, and practice those spots by themselves until you can play through those spots at the tempo you have chosen. Every few measures in the tune, think to yourself if you are staying on the tempo you decided on before starting. This is important, because you can definitely slow down progressively throughout a piece and hardly know you are doing it because it is so gradual, and before you know it, you are playing 20-30 beats slower than when you started. So mentally check yourself throughout the piece. Learn what 60, 80, 100, 120, 160, 180 beats per minute feels like.

    Try this simple test/game: Think of a tempo and and beat it out with your finger or pencil on a desk. Then turn your metronome on to that tempo and see how close you are. Over time you will get good at knowing what all the various tempos sound and feel like. Then when you pick a tempo for a piece, checking it throughout will be more meaningful as you will have a good idea what it should be.

    You are not alone in keeping a steady tempo. I play in a band of seniors who are mostly amateurs, some play pretty good, some not so good. But invariably, the thing that always happens, is they slow down. And the conductor, who is 85, also slows down, particularly when he is trying to get a section to figure something out or when he is prodding a section along. So, it is not unusual for the band to start a piece at 120 and end it at 90 or 100. I don't have the slow down problem (not yet), so it is very obvious to me.

    If you know a good, or preferably very good, drummer (percussionist), ask him/her sometime how they keep a steady beat. Particularly a drummer in a big band, where he has a huge role in tempo of the group. A drummer may very well be able to give you some good tips on keeping a steady tempo.
    Last edited by John Morgan; 10-17-2019 at 03:55 PM.
    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)

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by EthanL View Post
    …. Alongside that, I often record myself with and without a metronome. I also verbally count my parts with the subdivisions....
    Another thought. You say you verbally count your parts with the subdivisions. Are you saying that you count like "1 and a 2 e and a", etc. where you have a syllable for every note? This can be somewhat useful to figure out the rhythms, particularly when you slow the tempo down while figuring it out, however, in real situations when you are zooming along on a piece with complex rhythms and many notes, that can definitely bog you down. At some point, you need to be able to visualize, internalize, and hear the rhythm and notes you see without "counting", while keeping the right tempo as well.

    Another thing that might help is to do a lot of sight reading. And when you do, try playing each new piece/exercise from start to finish without stopping. If you make mistakes, just keep going. And stay in time. Don't go back and replay mistakes. Play as if a conductor is conducting and you must stay with him. This gets you used to playing in tempo. Record yourself when you play new pieces. And then when listening, get your metronome out and see how steady a tempo you keep.
    Last edited by John Morgan; 10-17-2019 at 07:15 PM.
    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)

  7. #7
    Join Date
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    Location
    Florida, United States
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    Ah for the counting I do exactly like you said. 1 e and a 2 e and a etc. I do that more as another way to try and feel the pulse than for actually learning the rhythms as I don't struggle all that much with reading notes and such. I don't know if that makes sense? But I am definitely go to through that mental process of checking myself for tempo all throughout the piece more. I do also love the idea of tapping a tempo then turning on a metronome to see how close I am. I'll be doing that a whole lot more and trying get a feel for various tempo's. So far, recording myself has made me more aware of when I drag or rush certain phrases and I try to tap along to my own recordings to see how consistent it is.

    I'll continue on with the sight reading! I'll talk to my professor for more excerpts and materials that I can sight read on my own.

    Thank you for the help!

  8. #8
    John's suggestions are fantastic. Definitely worth trying.

    The reason I brought up singing is that it's a way to take out the technical aspect of the euphonium. If you do better with the pulse singing than you do with the instrument, it's a sign that you're getting distracted by trying to manage the horn instead of the music. Not a bad thing, it happens to all of us.

    I'd also like to build on a suggestion of John's:

    Another thing that might help is to do a lot of sight reading. And when you do, try playing each new piece/exercise from start to finish without stopping. If you make mistakes, just keep going. And stay in time. Don't go back and replay mistakes. Play as if a conductor is conducting and you must stay with him. This gets you used to playing in tempo. Record yourself when you play new pieces. And then when listening, get your metronome out and see how steady a tempo you keep.
    With anything that you're working on, after you've got it under your fingers, give yourself permission to play wrong notes, rhythms, dynamics, articulations, anything. Focus entirely on the pulse of the music. See how you do without pressuring yourself to be perfect on every aspect of the music.

    One other tip: At extremes of tempo, find either a subdivision (for very slow things) or a multiple (for very fast things) that is between 80 and 120 bpm. That allows you to maintain a pulse that is in the range of walking speed. One piece I'm currently playing with a wind ensemble has an ending that goes q = 172 in 2/4. The pulse going in my head is h = 86, which allows me to approach the fast technical figures in a much calmer state of mind.
    Adrian L. Quince
    Composer, Conductor, Euphoniumist
    www.adrianquince.com

    Kanstul 976 - SM4U

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2017
    Location
    Florida, United States
    Posts
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    I never thought about approaching it that way so I definitely have some work to do on this and understanding the extreme's of tempos as well. Thank you!

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by adrian_quince View Post
    ….One other tip: At extremes of tempo, find either a subdivision (for very slow things) or a multiple (for very fast things) that is between 80 and 120 bpm. That allows you to maintain a pulse that is in the range of walking speed. One piece I'm currently playing with a wind ensemble has an ending that goes q = 172 in 2/4. The pulse going in my head is h = 86, which allows me to approach the fast technical figures in a much calmer state of mind.
    This is an excellent suggestion. I know that sometimes when playing some challenging music in orchestra, the conductor may take a section that is fast by beating each note rather than perhaps going in cut time. It "seems" much, much more "frantic" when it is conducted that way.
    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)

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