Playing in an Orchestra, Learning it all

Discussion in 'Orchestral Auditions [DB]' started by madeinthePRC!, Jun 23, 2008.

  1. madeinthePRC!

    madeinthePRC! Guest

    Nov 17, 2007
    Is there some knack to it or is it something thats learned over time,
    I find it very difficult to watch both the music and the conductor at the same time. I've been playing for a number of years and in a handful of youth orchestras. But i find it very hard to know when exactly to come in in a passage.

    is this a thing that is learned in time and experience by accident or is there something i can do to kick start this skill, apart from playing in an orchestra of course.

    I can play solo okay but i really want to work on playing in an ensemble as i would one day like to be in a professional orchestra.

    any helpful feedback on past experiences or if this sounds like a common problem let me hear about it

    Thanks all...
  2. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Inactive Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Watch the Stick and Count!
  3. futurebass77


    Aug 2, 2007
    Well, coming in with the orchestra really depends on the nonverbal communication with the rest of the orchestra. Apart from watching the conductor, there is usually a sign from the orchestra to come in, such as breathing. This should help quite a bit, but you need to make sure you are counting, counting, and counting.
  4. JayR

    JayR Guest

    Nov 9, 2005
    Los Angeles, CA
    Also, peripheral vision. In the beat patterns for each time signature, ( if you're not familiar with what the different ones look like), the conductor will mark each beat in the pattern with something called an Ictus, which you should be able to see as a little flick at the exact point in space where he/she arrives at the beat and starts moving to the next one. (I'm not very good at explaining this, if you are a legitimate conductor, please don't hurt me.)

    Anyway, if you get used to what beat patterns look like and where your conductor is placing the ictus in each beat pattern, you can start to train your peripheral vision to see these things and be aware of them even as your focus is on the music.
  5. mcnaire2004


    Jan 17, 2006
    COUNT!!!, and if all you can do is glance at the conductor remember, look for beat 1 it is by far the most usefull to you and the simplest one to pick out.
  6. G-force

    G-force Guest

    Jul 1, 2004
    oslo Norway
    Interesting situation.
    I like Ken's answer but of course I have a couple of cents to add.
    First of all. It is never easy coming in if the conductor is not up to snuff.
    Just work on knowing your part so well that you can spare sometime watching the other musicians. Listen to their parts as play your own. Listen to recordings and KNOW the score. Learn to be aware of what is going on outside of your bass and brain.
    In time you will become more at ease with this.
  7. anonymous12251111

    anonymous12251111 Inactive

    Apr 6, 2007
    1) Study Conducting - It helps to know the different tricks, learn about interpretation and the meaning of certain gestures, if you have a great conductor you should be able to know exactly what's going on in a bar just by a glance every so often. Do not be reliant on a conductor, most of the time it's the orchestra itself that does most of the "conducting."

    2) Rely on your EARS AND EYES - This is a fairly large generalization but for the most part I listen to the ensemble when it comes to note placement...If things start to go out of whack tempo wise I look at the conductor and try and steer the orchestra back on track. It's a give and take between listening to the rest of your musicians and following the General at the front. When it comes to entrances my eyes are hooked on a conductor, same with understanding exactly what he/she wants in terms of interpretation, note length, phrasing, etc. So It's definitely a mix between listening with your ears and eyes...This becomes even more important in large concert halls and old churches where the sound isn't always as present, and don't get me started on certain conductors who like to conduct BEFORE the music occurs; that can be a real headache if you haven't seen it before!

    3) Stand Placement/Body Position - It's nice to have your body facing the conductor, and the stand at the exact height so you can see the conductors ictus points clearly...A stand that is too low is going to slow down everything...Try keeping it at eye level and make sure there is enough room on the side of the stand so you can see the conductors beat patterns perfectly clear.

    4) Know the music inside-out, and make markings that are VERY visible. Ever had a stand partner that makes tiny little faint markings and you start pulling your hair out at the concert because you can't decode if it's a down-bow, wedge or hieroglyphics? Use a dark, fat pencil; be clear and concise with markings so you know exactly what is what...Practice all the passages clearly; isolate them. It also helps to make a "novel" out of the score...This is particularly helpful if you're playing Opera, when you're sitting for 4 hours and you need some sort of incentive or guide-line as to where you are in these mammoth pieces! Tacky, but often a little roadmap makes things nice during various sections of the piece.

    5) Prey and get good glasses...Back in the day, you had to have incredible eyesight to be a bass player, since we were usually reading off of the same part as the harpsichord. Luckily, we now have someone squawking their arms at the front!

    It gets easier, just experience and patience. Good luck.
  8. Yes.

    That is, yes, it's learned over time, but yes, there are also things you can do to kick-it-up.

    The above suggestions about 1.) knowing the score (i.e., what everyone else is playing while you're playing) and 2.) stand/body positioning are the ones most frequently overlooked.

    **If you want to have a really good time in both rehearsal and concert, buy the full score of the piece of music, get recordings, and read books about the composer. You'll be so far "into" the music...!

    **As Calvin Marks said, position yourself so you can clearly see both the music and the conductor. You should get used to sharing a stand - and when you share, each person should have their face pointing toward the conductor - if you each drew a line from your nose to the conductor, at least an edge of the sheet music should be along that same line.

    **Learning to constantly "count time" and SUBDIVIDE every-single-cotton-pickin'-beat should be practiced at home with a metronome; learning to "always play with a beat" makes your ears open-up when you get to rehearsal, and search for who has "The Beat" that you should be playing with.
    I'm to the point now where I can be listening to some massive Shostakovich piece on the radio in the car, thrilled with the recording the DJ chose, marveling at the cello section playing some passage, and I suddenly realize I'm also counting along... eighty-six, and 2, and 3, and 4 and; eighty-seven, and 2, and 3, and 4 and....
  9. All very good tips and all , but in the end it`s just like driving a car.
    Where you need to watch the road , look in all your mirror`s and still technically drive the thing. after a while it`s second nature. Don`t worry about it.
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I do this and have never played in an orchestra or intended to!

    But I love getting miniature study scores and following the recordings - I've got all Mahler's Symphonies and it makes a big difference - I hear things that I might not have noticed otherwise! :)
  11. TheGrayBassGuy

    TheGrayBassGuy Guest

    Dec 10, 2004
    Chicago, IL
    I'd say that it's mostly one of those things that you become more comfortable with the more time you spend playing in an orchestra. The two simplest pieces of advice that I can offer are concentrate and practice with a metronome.

    Concentration is a little hard to practice, but it's something that every musician has to put a lot of effort into while performing. It sounds like a big step for you right now is being able to not space out and count during rests. Sounds simple but it's something that everybody can have problems with. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a conductor go off on somebody because they weren't counting properly.

    Using a metronome is a much more practical and incredibly effective way to improve your ensemble playing. You'll start subdividing more, and you'll find it easier to play blend in with a group. In order to really make on impact on your playing though, make sure it's on the stand, running at least 97% of the time while you're practicing.

    There's one other subtle thing that you should be aware of. Every orchestra plays under a conductor slightly differently. Usually the players are slightly behind the stick, just because of reaction times or whatever. The differences lie in how big that delay is. Where you would play in relation to the conductor's stick might be different from the rest of the ensemble. One of the tricks I've heard to keep this in check is actuallly to keep an eye on the concertmaster's bow. That's probably going to end up as a more reliable source for when to play precisely than the stick.

    Hope I could be of some help.
  12. Wonderful advice, everyone...

    It's very helpful to watch 1) your section leader and 2) your concertmaster. I've played under conductors that were very difficult to follow (haven't we all?) and it really helps to have a great concertmaster.

    In my college orchestra, for 2 years we had a KILLER bass section. 5-strong: 2 graduate students, one now teaching, one finishing his Phd, an upper level undergrad, now with Lazlow in Cincinnati, a high school student (now at Indiana) and a girl from Chicago who started playing the bass at age 4, now doing grad work in biology at Princeton. Talk about a WALL OF SOUND. (Where the heck is going with this???)

    My point is, for 2 years, we didn't get a cue. Nary a glace, ever. Our conductor had other things to worry about... certainly not us. We rotated the principal, and who's on first brought us in.

    Man, I miss playing in that section.
  13. So, on top of all that... some orchestras, it will be someone other than the concertmaster that you'll be following at certain points (happens more in Mozart-era and earlier music). You need to know who that's going to be... principal cello, one of the wind principals, whoever. If you're principal bass, very occasionally everyone will follow you. Know when that's the case!