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The Ensemble Sound Blog Series #3 The Power of 1-1, Episode III

July 16, 2016


Welcome to the Ensemble Sound Blog Series. The blog posts in this series are meant to help you think through and hopefully help you come up with some ideas on how to achieve your ideal ensemble sound!  As always, these posts are not meant to tell you what to do, but to hopefully make you think more about what you are doing!


“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something that you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.” – Doris Lessing


Part 3: The Power of 1-1


In the 3rd segment of The Ensemble Sound Blog series we will start to look into the exercises that we use to work on our ensemble sound. The Power of 1-1 will actually be split into 3 parts or episodes due to the length. Episode 1 will talk about 1-1 and its relationship to “The Power 5” talked about in the second blog part in the Ensemble Sound Series. In episode II, we will listen to a recording of our Wind Symphony performing 1-1 and I will critically dissect their performance. In Episode III we will look at how we can take 1-1 and use it to work on more advanced ensemble concepts.


The Power of 1-1

Episode III: The Journey Continues


1-1 with Advanced Ensemble and Listening Techniques


There are many different ways to rehearse using 1-1 to focus on other ensemble skills besides the beginning, middle, and the end of the note. I will touch on some of these ideas in future Ensemble Sound blog posts and for some audio examples you can visit the media section of the website. Once students have a good understanding of the goals listed with 1-1 you can start to work on some variations. With a little imagination, 1-1 can be formatted to work on anything that you need to work on. Remember that students must still focus on the above fundamentals while working on the concepts below. Here are some examples.


1-1 with Dynamics


Just by adding a simple idea as dynamics can change the quality of performance. I will often times during the rests call out a different dynamic with the goal being to keep the concert F as vibrant as possible no matter what dynamic is being played. What an easy way to work on consistent tone quality throughout the dynamic ranges. When your students are ready, add a crescendo or a decrescendo. How about using 1-1 to work on fortepianos? In the middle of a music rehearsal, we will often jump back to 1-1 and work on a chord that may have a fp or crescendo/decrescendo to work on consistency. You could even take a 4 bar or 8 bar phrase from your concert literature, add 4 beats of rest in between and work on the dynamics of phrase over and over again.


1-1 and Balance Training (Pyramid of Sound)


To help students understand the proper balance of an ensemble (low to high), start 1-1 with the tubas or your lowest sounding instrument and then build your group up from the bottom to the top. Start with the tubas then add in order the low woodwinds, baritones, trombones, etc. until you reach the highest sounding instrument in your group. Students will need to match the tone of the lower sounds while fitting their sounds inside the instruments already playing.


1-1 with First Chair Players as an example.


You can start 1-1 with just the first chair players then slowly adding in the second chair and third chair players (or second and third parts) with the idea of maintaining the sound and balance of the first chair players. Instead of slowly adding in your second and third chair players, you can start with your first chair players to establish the sound and then add everybody at once with the idea of keeping the same sound with everybody in the ensemble playing.


1-1 and the levels of listening


Start students playing 1-1 with level 1 listening (self). During the rest have the students move to level 2 (trios), followed by level 3 (listening down to the tubas). Use the rests to help guide student listening and reminders. As the group changes its levels of listening, the sound should start to become even more focused and clear. Be sure to make sure that students are not just playing softer as that could be a byproduct of moving through the different levels. Work to make sure that students are playing with as vibrant sound as possible. In our example of this exercise on the media page, you can hear a little change from Level 1 to level 2, but not much of a change when we go to level 3.

There will be more on the levels of listening in a future blog post.


1-1 and Intonation


You can start to work harmony and tuning concepts with 1-1 as well. Split your ensemble into 2 groups, either highs and lows or woodwinds and brass. Start both groups on 1-1 as written. After you are satisfied with the sound of the concert F, have one of the groups either play up (concert G) or down (concert Eb). This produces an interval and the goal is to have the notes resonate with each other. When ready, continue to create other intervals by ascending or descending as described until a  Perfect 5th is produced. This is a great way to introduce just vs. equal temperament tuning. Are you playing a song in the key of Db? Use this method to help your students get more comfortable with the sound of the key instead of just playing the scale to get the students used to the finger pattern.



This conludes the "The Power of 1-1" series. As you can see, you can accomplish many goals by using 1-1 throughout the entire school year. The “power” of this exercise comes in not only the number of concepts that you can work on but by giving your students something to concentrate on and improve on each time you use it. Using the concepts I have outlined will keep your students actively involved throughout the entire process. If there is one exercise that you should use every rehearsal, I highly recommend you make it 1-1! (Did you guess?!)




Coming Soon – The Ensemble Sound Blog Series continues as we look at 2-1 in the Essential Musicianship Ensemble Concepts series and focus on articulations.


Check out the other blogs in the Ensemble Sound Blog Series:


Part 1: Deciding on Your Sound

Part 2: The Power 5

Part 3: The Power of 1-1: Episode I: The Return of the Power 5

Part 3: The Power of 1-1: Episode II: The Quest for Purity



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