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Topic: out of breath!

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  1. #1

    out of breath!

    I hope this is the right part of the forum to ask this question. The question is 'how long would you expect a brass or woodwind player to sustain a note before needing to take a breath' or would a second player take over the sustain in a seamless continuation if it was a particularly long piece.

    I suspect there isn't a 'written in stone' answer to this as i would think a brass instrument takes more 'puff' than a woodwind instrument to play. I just wondered if there is a general rule when writing music to address this situation.

    I hope i've explained the query clearly enough, as it's something I've often wondered about.


  2. #2

    Re: out of breath!

    Quote Originally Posted by musoatten View Post
    I hope this is the right part of the forum to ask this question. The question is 'how long would you expect a brass or woodwind player to sustain a note before needing to take a breath' or would a second player take over the sustain in a seamless continuation if it was a particularly long piece.

    I suspect there isn't a 'written in stone' answer to this as i would think a brass instrument takes more 'puff' than a woodwind instrument to play. I just wondered if there is a general rule when writing music to address this situation.

    I hope i've explained the query clearly enough, as it's something I've often wondered about.

    In orchestration manuals you may find a summary of the avarage max duration of notes, because it is anyway depending on the instrument (trumpet horn and tuba are quite different), the register (low or high pitch is different) and dynamic (pianissimo or fortissimo are quite different).

    But if you have 2 players, yes the assumption is they will agree on shift, and the conductor can give his recommendation for better effect: so you may use ever-lasting notes.

  3. #3

    Re: out of breath!

    Hello, musoatten

    I don't know if you're concerned about having the breathing seem natural in the recordings of your work - but in case you are, here are a couple of common sense, non-technical tips:

    --Once I have my MIDI compositions almost finished, I go back and study each line that involves a wind driven instrument. I solo each track and just listen to see if it seems possible for a live player to do what I've asked. Generally I can find phrases that naturally indicate a breath at their conclusions. But there are other times when a phrase in the piece is just obviously too long for a player, so I insert a small breath break as soon as it seems necessary, always managing to find a spot where it's not hurting the flow of the music.

    --In some cases, I'll find I need to trade off the line between instruments, just as is being said here on this thread - I do that in the MIDI realm.

    --Recordings that pay some attention to breathing like this end up sounding more natural, more believable. A lot of people will notice when lines seem to go on and on forever in the way only our MIDI robots can - and it spoils some of the recording's effectiveness.

    Randy

  4. #4

    Re: out of breath!

    Many thanks Fabio, it's a query i've often wondered about. I can now compose longer passages using woodwind and brass, feeling more confident about it. I will also look into an orchestration manual as you suggested to understand it further.

  5. #5

    Re: out of breath!

    " A lot of people will notice when lines seem to go on and on forever in the way only our MIDI robots can - and it spoils some of the recording's effectiveness."

    Many thanks Randy.
    It is because of the above mentioned paragraph that it does concern me about the breath problem. When i listen to a piece i've put together i sometimes do feel it needs a breath break.

    I will take up your tip of soloing instruments to check on breath breaks, i generally listen to the combined sound, but doing it your way i can see it would stand out more prominently.

    Many thanks, Peter.

  6. #6

    Re: out of breath!

    Breathing in winds is a function of phrasing. Beethoven would walk his pieces (literally walk while reviewing them) and many composers have done the same ever since. I have found that walking helps pace, phrasing and "liveliness."

    It's a bit more difficult with ostinatos - especially in minimalist pieces after the style of Steve Reich, but there are tricks (staggering breathing among players - write two- or four-bar trade offs between two players) that can produce seamless repetitive lines.

    Let em breathe!
    In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

    http://reberclark.blogspot.com http://reberclark.bandcamp.com http://www.youtube.com/reberclark

  7. #7

    Re: out of breath!

    Quote Originally Posted by reberclark View Post
    Breathing in winds is a function of phrasing. Beethoven would walk his pieces (literally walk while reviewing them) and many composers have done the same ever since. I have found that walking helps pace, phrasing and "liveliness."

    It's a bit more difficult with ostinatos - especially in minimalist pieces after the style of Steve Reich, but there are tricks (staggering breathing among players - write two- or four-bar trade offs between two players) that can produce seamless repetitive lines.

    Let em breathe!

    Thanks for that Reberclark, i can appreciate staggering the breathing between players, it would keep the piece moving with no apparent breaks.

    When you say two or four bar 'trade offs' do you mean two or four bar rests for 'main' player with a couple of bars 'fill in' by the second player, till first player resumes the piece?

  8. #8

    Re: out of breath!

    Try singing the wind parts and use that as a rough guide.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  9. #9

    Re: out of breath!

    One of my roomies in college was a clarinetist. I am forever indebted to him for teaching me a few necessary rules about phrasing. Brass and woodwind players love a composer who takes lung capacity into account. ejr's suggestion to sing the melody is an excellent idea. Also, consider tempo and dynamics. A faster tempo gets you through the passage a lot quicker, but louder dynamics (f to ffff) call for more forceful expulsion of air from the lungs, thus the player's face turns purple much sooner. Just a thought.
    "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." -Steven Wright, comedian

  10. #10

    Re: out of breath!

    Quote Originally Posted by musoatten View Post
    When you say two or four bar 'trade offs' do you mean two or four bar rests for 'main' player with a couple of bars 'fill in' by the second player, till first player resumes the piece?
    If the figure is repetitive and repeats for awhile, let's say a series of sixteenths in 4/4 time - and the pattern completes itself after one bar (for example) - the first player could play one bar and one sixteenth with the second player entering on the second bar, playing the figure plus one sixteenth (while the first player rests) etc - back and forth.

    I like to overlap the ends of figures like this by a note or two - it helps the listener overcome any apparent "abruptness" in the transition between players.

    Hope this helped!

    EDIT: even if the figure is not repetitive this can be used to provide a "seamless" sort of performance.
    In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

    http://reberclark.blogspot.com http://reberclark.bandcamp.com http://www.youtube.com/reberclark

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