Monday, December 27, 2021


There are scary videos available where one can hear Maestro Aturo Tosconini screaming at the orchestra, frequently that rage was directed at the contrabasses  and the the low brass about their chronic lateness. Many of the musicians to whom that rage was directed rationalized that the reason for the lateness was that those instruments that were the most distant from the podium where the maestro was listening and because of the greater distance, took the sound longer to reach the podium.

In fact, it’s true, many of the sections farthest from the conductor’s podium, do sound late, but is distance the reason? With my awkward mathematical skills I calculated that if the first stand of violins were one meter from the conductor  the sound would reach the conductor in .003 ( 3 thousandths of a second) to reach the podium; that’s a nearly imperceptible length of time. And if we calculate the back of the contrabass section as 10 meters from the podium the sound would take .03 {3 hundredths of a second. The differences that the sound from the contrabasses and the first stand violins is .027 of a second ( 27 thousandths of a second), that we are able to hear that 27 thousanths of a second difference is dubious.

Of course, the reason the lower instruments sound late is because it takes a proportional amount of energy generate a sound as the frequencies get lower. Energy in the case of low frequency instruments comes from the  body which must be able to deliver the energy  that will enable the instrument (contrabass and tuba, for example), to respond in time with the higher pitched instruments

For lower brass instruments this involves the following 4 aspects of an articulation:

1, Are speed 

agenerally air speed doubles every octave into the low register.


2, the compression of the air at the point of an articulation,

3, Tongue placement,

 generally the contrabass register , responses more immediate with the tongue quite far forward, in the very low register, starting a note with the tongue between the lips helps in achieving

4, Resistance of the instrument:

Resistance changes from instrument to instrument. and the length of the tube; there is  great difference in length whether we are playing on the open tube or with all the valves pressed , which almost doubles the length of the instrument.

The best way to assure not being is to listen and to be sure your sound in sync with the rest of the ensemble, particularly the higher instruments.

The key to not sounding late is, of course, listening and perhaps more importantly, listening while thinking of simultaneously participating, simultaneously participating with all the musicians near or at a distance and simultaneously participating with a conductor, just following frequently can result in lateness.

Roger Bobo , December 27, 2021 HAPPY NEW YEAR!