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Author Topic: Playing high notes  (Read 18208 times)
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kevinR
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« on: Nov 14, 2012, 02:14PM »

I have always had what could be described as high note "performance anxiety".  Had the issue 30 years ago, and seem to still have it.  If I am relaxed, I can pick up my horn and plan  an octave above middle C..  However, when I am playing anything written, I kind of blow it if I go above high f.  A high g which I can play most of the time unless my chops are really tired, become hit or  miss when it sits on a page of music.  If I stop, think, get my breath support, out it comes.  But as soon as I seen a G A B or C coming up in a piece of music, I lose it.

Any advice?

Kevin
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« Reply #1 on: Nov 14, 2012, 03:32PM »

You might change your mental concept when approaching or playing these notes. I like to think in terms of distance instead of height. So, for higher pitches, think of hitting an imaginary target that is far away with your air. More often than not I've found this mental concept to not only eliminate the 'reaching for the stars' struggle when playing high notes, but also makes you follow through with your air. Following through with your air helps stabilize notes - regardless of the initial 'attack' - and helps provide a linear direction musically and mentally. You might also make sure your air is 'underneath' you. You should feel as though you have a limitless reservoir of air to release, not blow [try a sigh]. Think of a deeper point of exhalation - your core/belly/lower longs - rather than 'blowing' from only your mouth/upper throat. I hope some or all of this is helps!

CV

PS - I just had an interesting idea; try writing out little diatonic scales or exercises into your upper register just using note names - Ex. Eflat,F,G,Aflat,Bflat...Bflat, Aflat,G,F,Eflat. This might take away any of the visual component that leads to your anxiety and prove to your mind that you can play the notes without worry.
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« Reply #2 on: Nov 14, 2012, 04:36PM »

For me, it's partly a mental game.  I force myself to change what I think the definition of "high note" is.  So if go to hit an A, it's just an A, not a high note.

Over a period of time, I've been able to adjust my definition of "high note" to where it is now - anything above a C.

If I don't think of a note as a high note, I don't have to worry about playing a high note.  Sounds goofy, I know, but it works for me.
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« Reply #3 on: Nov 14, 2012, 06:31PM »

If I don't think of a note as a high note, I don't have to worry about playing a high note.  Sounds goofy, I know, but it works for me.
Funny how that works, when you have an A as your highest note in a piece, that's high.  But when you play a piece that goes up to Bb, C, D, then suddenly A doesn't look so high anymore.  It is about perspective.

How much tenor clef practice do you have? Take a Bordogni/Rochut book and a familiar etude, and read it like it's in tenor clef.  You already know what it sounds like, it's melodic, and boom, you're practicing your high register.

Remember when you breathe, take air in like you are saying the syllable "OH".  Inhalation and exhalation must happen in time and be fluid.  It is when our timing is off that the system gets out of whack.  It is important not to pause during the process and create resistance in the throat, or excess tension in the chops when articulating the note and sustaining a tone.

This you may already know in a practice situation, but when it comes time to perform, think about time.  1,2,3, breathe, play.  And you may not have have time to think about negative things.

Take some lessons and mention your concerns, I'm sure you can get set on the right track!
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« Reply #4 on: Nov 14, 2012, 09:20PM »

...
Remember when you breathe, take air in like you are saying the syllable "OH". 

Sorry to disagree, but that is one of the very worst things you can do.  Breathing with an "OH" means you don't have the mouthpiece on your chops and your embouchure is completely NOT set to play the next note.  That method and timing of breathing is one of the biggest causes of embouchure troubles.
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« Reply #5 on: Nov 14, 2012, 10:21PM »

Sorry to disagree, but that is one of the very worst things you can do.  Breathing with an "OH" means you don't have the mouthpiece on your chops and your embouchure is completely NOT set to play the next note.  That method and timing of breathing is one of the biggest causes of embouchure troubles.

Yea before when I breathing with an "OH" I wouldn't get set fast enough and would chip most of my high notes... I find a chip less notes now that I leave my chops set at least in or near the mouthpiece.... For me high notes have always kinda come easier but what really helped them just kinda float out as been the elevator concept of having your elevator and getting the elevator to the right floor... but also concentrating on blowing my embouchure helped alot as well...
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« Reply #6 on: Nov 14, 2012, 11:22PM »




Maggio!!
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« Reply #7 on: Nov 15, 2012, 07:24AM »

The other comments are excellent with regard to how to practice in this range.

I am a part time player with similar issues. I may practice a few hours one week and the none the next. Not the best way to maintain a good high range.

In spite of this I have found that the greatest impediment to playing G-C in tune and in time was not playing with some type of group or accompaniment. Did you ever listen to a pianist play and flub a note? Invariably they go back just to show that they really can play it correctly. They learn to do this by practicing but not playing with a group. The group has no sympathy for wrong notes. Play one wrong note and you can only redeem yourself by playing the next one right. This is a tremendous incentive to hit the note on the head and keep going.

My improvement has come by playing in our church orchestra. We are a very traditional church and use a hymnal for congregational singing. I learned to read treble clef and play the Alto line. This typically gives me a shot at G-A with an occasional B flat-C. I sit next to the piano so I pretty well know if I hit it right.

You have to put in the practice time to develop the strength, muscle skills and techniques to produce the notes but, in my opinion, you just have to find a way to put these into practice to overcome the mental side.
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« Reply #8 on: Nov 15, 2012, 07:44AM »

My idea on high note playing is not to think of high notes,but instead think of music.Hear what you want to play and use good breath support,relax and play.Spend  some time playing in the upper register every day,gradually extending that amount of time and slowly extending the range.Practice playing all of your articulations in the middle to upper register daily.this isn't a switch you turn off and on.It takes perseverance and much patience. a short version of some of my ideas.
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« Reply #9 on: Nov 23, 2012, 06:59PM »

You might change your mental concept when approaching or playing these notes. I like to think in terms of distance instead of height. So, for higher pitches, think of hitting an imaginary target that is far away with your air. More often than not I've found this mental concept to not only eliminate the 'reaching for the stars' struggle when playing high notes, but also makes you follow through with your air. Following through with your air helps stabilize notes - regardless of the initial 'attack' - and helps provide a linear direction musically and mentally. You might also make sure your air is 'underneath' you. You should feel as though you have a limitless reservoir of air to release, not blow [try a sigh]. Think of a deeper point of exhalation - your core/belly/lower longs - rather than 'blowing' from only your mouth/upper throat. I hope some or all of this is helps!

CV

PS - I just had an interesting idea; try writing out little diatonic scales or exercises into your upper register just using note names - Ex. Eflat,F,G,Aflat,Bflat...Bflat, Aflat,G,F,Eflat. This might take away any of the visual component that leads to your anxiety and prove to your mind that you can play the notes without worry.


Thanks all for the advice.  CV, the breath support advice has definitely helped with the visualizations.  Maybe if I cross out the notes and replace with the lower octave ones and still play the uppers, it will also help.  By teacher is all about breath support as well.

Kevin
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« Reply #10 on: Nov 23, 2012, 07:16PM »


Thanks all for the advice.  CV, the breath support advice has definitely helped with the visualizations.  Maybe if I cross out the notes and replace with the lower octave ones and still play the uppers, it will also help.  By teacher is all about breath support as well.

Kevin

I have a different approach that works for me, and the whole breath support concept seems to me to be a bit . . . incomplete.

To play higher pitches, the airstream needs to speed up, but the actual air volume moved decreases unless the volume gets louder along with the pitch raising. That's physics. Now, describing that as 'breath support' doesn't quite produce a reliable approach, especially if me or a student interprets the more vague 'breath support' phrase as something other than what actually needs to happen.

I much prefer to use the phrases 'air speed' and 'air focus' when talking about air and high range. That's part of the whole concept behind using vowels in different ranges, to use your tongue to help speed up the air when up high and to help slow it down when down low.
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« Reply #11 on: Nov 24, 2012, 01:16AM »

I have a different approach that works for me, and the whole breath support concept seems to me to be a bit . . . incomplete.

To play higher pitches, the airstream needs to speed up, but the actual air volume moved decreases unless the volume gets louder along with the pitch raising. That's physics. Now, describing that as 'breath support' doesn't quite produce a reliable approach, especially if me or a student interprets the more vague 'breath support' phrase as something other than what actually needs to happen.

I much prefer to use the phrases 'air speed' and 'air focus' when talking about air and high range. That's part of the whole concept behind using vowels in different ranges, to use your tongue to help speed up the air when up high and to help slow it down when down low.

Air speed and tongue level......Maggio!!
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« Reply #12 on: Nov 26, 2012, 06:10AM »

Andrew expanded on what I said in my original post perfectly.I would add that at first,volume can be a little louder or softer than desired due to a number of factors.Control comes with time.
    Do not be afraid to use your mouthpiece and try to mouthpiece buzz the pitches or music you are attempting to play.I have found through countless numbers of students from beginner right through to professional level that the ability to mouthpiece buzz properly what you want to perform on your mouthpiece can be a huge aid in making things feel easier and more relaxed,while at the same time helping the player focus the air better and get a feel for proper feel for the necessary airspeed.
    If you don't already have a good teacher,get one.They are a great aid in helping you to overcome these type of issues.
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« Reply #13 on: Dec 09, 2012, 03:52AM »

Hi. Think higher, buzz higher, and ease off the top lip. I feel that a lot of people use too much top lip pressure and I drop the horn just a fraction and buzz higher and use s bit more bottom lip. don't whack the note with the tongue. Too many people rely on the tongue to  get the note. The note should be there. You may not agree but it works for me. Max
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« Reply #14 on: Dec 09, 2012, 05:31AM »

What helps me is just practicing up there more often and not thinking about it.  The one thing I've been trying to work on is to not change my approach.  I have to be just as loose in the high range as I am in the middle and low ranges.  So all I've been working on is less tension, and then everything else seems to take care of itself.  High range playing is not about muscling notes, it's really about finesse.  I'm letting my high range chops acquire strength naturally.  I've noticed significant improvement in the past few months. High range passages that I could not play accurately just a few months ago are sounding much cleaner and less stressed now. So my approach seems to be working.
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« Reply #15 on: Dec 09, 2012, 05:49AM »

What helps me is just practicing up there more often and not thinking about it.  The one thing I've been trying to work on is to not change my approach.  I have to be just as loose in the high range as I am in the middle and low ranges.  So all I've been working on is less tension, and then everything else seems to take care of itself.  High range playing is not about muscling notes, it's really about finesse.  I'm letting my high range chops acquire strength naturally.  I've noticed significant improvement in the past few months. High range passages that I could not play accurately just a few months ago are sounding much cleaner and less stressed now. So my approach seems to be working.

I'm building my range and I agree; it normally can't be rushed.  Why is it that I miss hitting a high Bb the first time through a phrase, go back and then nail it?  I didn't suddenly acquire the muscle - if anything I am incrementally tireder.  It's because I missed the technique the first time through.  I think the margin of error for the higher notes is a lot less than for the lower notes, so technique is more important.  However, I can not over-look the need for muscle stamina to stay up there for any length of time.  That takes time to develop - at least for me it does.  I believe I have achieved a certain amount of success in building a higher range, but I'm not there yet.  When I'm fresh, it's okay.  But I want to get to the point where I can nail very high notes at the end of a piece, too.  That takes stamina on top of technique and it takes time to develop - apparently.
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« Reply #16 on: Jan 08, 2013, 07:19PM »

Playing high notes is a lot like hitting home runs.

One year when I played ball, I was so concerned about hitting the home run that I either hit lazy fly balls to the outfield on bad pitches or swung and missed because I was swinging too hard. As one can imagine, my home run total was pretty low, and so was my batting average.

Then I changed my approach. Instead of focusing on the home run, I focused on driving the ball with precision. My batting average went up and so did my homer total--if I got ahold of one by just trying to hit it, there was a chance it could leave the park. The strikeouts also went down.

The same can be applied for hitting the high notes. Just as the homers came as a natural part of my hitting after changing the approach to "let's not think about the big hits", the high notes will come if you don't think so much about hitting the high Bb or whatever note it is--just accept it as a note in the music and play it alongside everything else.

Of course, that doesn't mean to get rid of conditioning. In fact, conditioning becomes even more important. I attribute that to my increase in homers--I started doing more lifting the year I changed my approach. You'll want to keep up on your normal practicing, which includes the high notes you already can play and also low notes (I've found working on low notes is just as important sometimes if you're trying to build a better lip for the higher ones).
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« Reply #17 on: Jan 25, 2013, 05:24PM »

Playing high notes is a lot like hitting home runs.

Wait - I don't place baseball, but aren't home runs good?  When do you not want to knock one out of the park for instant points?
Does that mean you always want to play in the high range? 

(I'm actually confused this time, and not really sarcastic, because I don't understand baseball that much.)  :p

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« Reply #18 on: Jan 25, 2013, 05:30PM »

Wait - I don't place baseball, but aren't home runs good?  When do you not want to knock one out of the park for instant points?
Does that mean you always want to play in the high range? 

(I'm actually confused this time, and not really sarcastic, because I don't understand baseball that much.)  :p


Baseball involves someone standing somewhere hoping to hit a ball and be able to run some bases before the ball is returned to the field of play.  If you are a cricket lover, it's a similar deal.  A home run would be equivalent to a Cricket 6.  It's hard to hit and you have to exert a lot of effort.  It is easier to get a simple base hit (similar to a single in Cricket) and you are more likely to get one with less effort.

One other factor in always trying to hit a home run is that most people known as home run hitters also are leaders in strikeouts (comparable to a bowled out in Cricket) so they may not have great averages (run counts in Cricket).
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« Reply #19 on: Jan 25, 2013, 09:46PM »

Baseball involves someone standing somewhere hoping to hit a ball and be able to run some bases before the ball is returned to the field of play.  If you are a cricket lover, it's a similar deal.  A home run would be equivalent to a Cricket 6.  It's hard to hit and you have to exert a lot of effort.  It is easier to get a simple base hit (similar to a single in Cricket) and you are more likely to get one with less effort.

One other factor in always trying to hit a home run is that most people known as home run hitters also are leaders in strikeouts (comparable to a bowled out in Cricket) so they may not have great averages (run counts in Cricket).

Batting average is overrated. On base percentage and slugging percentage are far more telling statistics on how valuable a hitter is. I also fully employ WAR, wOBA, and WPA in determining superior players. :D
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