Blending in

Edited: November 2, 2017, 10:06 PM · Hi all,

I'm an amateur asking an amateur question: I know we should blend in in orchestra. So here's my background. When I try to blend in I can't really seem to hear myself play so then I guess I subconsciously play louder and then I guess I would then stick out. So my question is how do you judge how well you blend in how well you stick out? Are you suppose to hear yourself when you are blending in just right? Is there a metric or rule of thumb that you use so you can tell how blended you are? What am I listening for? If I can hear myself does this mean I'm playing too loudly?

I suspect I do play louder than most (especially in the community orchestra) so that when I'm wrong it really sounds bad and I know what others are thinking: I play too loudly and either is obnoxious and insensitive or am trying to show off.

I really just want to get it right so I guess my reasoning is that I might be playing too loudly on purpose so that I can hear when I'm right or wrong and then when it is wrong I can fix it. Is this okay or a total faux pas no matter if it is during just a rehearsal of many others. so I figure what's wrong with being wrong now ( during rehearsal) so that I can fix it later and learn from it? Maybe there is just too much of me using rehearsal as my own practice time. At concert time this is less of an issue because after so many rehearsals I usually feel confident now so I then play strongly most of the time and correctly. When I feel uncomfortable I correctly fade. It's during rehearsal that I am worried more about others perception of me. Obviously I know I should have everything ready and rehearsals are to work on the finer things
... But I'm no professional ok?

I don't know how to really convey my question and situation but maybe some of you enlightened ones can read my mind and help me.

Thanks for any advice you have for me.

Replies (17)

November 2, 2017, 10:07 PM · How do you know what others are thinking? Has anyone said anything to you?

You perceive a problem but whether or not this is objectively true is something nobody here can answer. It's very hard to correctly judge one's own playing. Do you sit near enough to the front to feel comfortable asking the concertmaster or principal second (depending on which section you're in) if they can give you any feedback on your playing in the section?

If it's true that you play too loudly during rehearsals, whether or not it is on purpose to be able to catch and fix your mistakes, you should stop doing that immediately. It makes it harder for the people around you to hear themselves, and it also wrecks the balance of the orchestra. Try listening more to your standpartner and making your level of sound match theirs. You should not be audible over the rest of the section.

November 2, 2017, 10:55 PM · I thumbs-up what Mary Ellen said.

Fit your sound into your stand-partner's, the same way that you would blend into a group in chamber music. It is not a question of volume, but rather producing a uniform sound. Your articulation should match your section leader's, and preferably your bow distribution should as well. A good sound for orchestra typically has more air in it.

You should be able to hear yourself without producing more volume than anyone else; if you can't, consider different strings / set-up.

November 3, 2017, 3:22 AM · I'm the same way. If I'm playing along with my teacher, there is no way I will hear my violin. If I do hear mine, I'm out of tempo or on the wrong note. Drives me nuts.
Edited: November 3, 2017, 4:28 AM · Getting used to hearing yourself in orchestra just takes more experience too. I don't know how, really, but it just seems that way. Maybe you learn to "hear" more with your hands or something. I suspect you just learn to optimize your concentration for the environment you're in.

For a student orchestra, I would say that the conductor should be saying something to you individually, or something to your section if (s)he is hearing especially poor blending coming from your direction.

For an amateur/community orchestra my own individual experience is that conductors sometimes just let those things slide a little more, maybe because the group is less focused on learning and improvement and more focused on general enjoyment. In that case if there is a more experienced player (hopefully your section principal) that can give you a heads up when you're not blending well, then you don't need to wait for steely glances coming from other sections.

November 3, 2017, 4:30 AM · There are free on-line hearing tests that you can use to check your own hearing sensitivity over the entire frequency range. They give the same results as professional audiologists. If your hearing proves to be within the normal range, it could be that your violin has weaknesses in the range you need to hear it in certain ensembles. It's worth trying the test. you will need headphone to take the test.
November 3, 2017, 6:51 AM · Lydia. "more air in it". Less bow pressure, closer to bridge?
November 3, 2017, 7:03 AM · "More air" is closer to fingerboard, not bridge! Less bow weight, usually. (I don't like to use the word "pressure" with regard to bow strokes; pressing produces an ugly sound. I teach my students to bow with the weight of their right arms.)

But I suspect that by "more air," Lydia means to play with a less soloistic sound in general, and how that is accomplished is a combination of bow speed, weight, and placement which changes depending on the context of the piece being played.

November 3, 2017, 7:36 AM · Yup. Sound is either more airy or more dense. More air means more bow; more dense means less bow, effectively. But it means adjusting all the factors that go into sound production.
November 3, 2017, 10:54 AM · Thanks folks.
November 3, 2017, 1:55 PM · I had this problem with my rather mellow violin: PI G & D "Russian style" steel A & E: I played too loud. I changed to the lower-tension Tonicas, there was a more "silvery" sound, I could hear myself, and everyone was happier!
November 3, 2017, 2:50 PM · I think that in amateur orchestras, the strings are often not the strongest section, and they are often the most timid section. Don't overpower anyone, but definitely play to be heard and play with confidence. Of course, be discerning and sometimes the strings aren't playing anything particularly important. You may find that a slightly attenuating earplug can help you sort the sound around you better, though I hadn't been using earplugs when I was playing in orchestra (I totally would now).

Sorry, read your post more carefully. Maybe you don't need to be less timid, and maybe others in your section might play a little louder, but see if some weak earplugs help you out. You will get the intonation feedback through your jaw that might help you separate your own instrument out better so you don't have to play as loud.

November 3, 2017, 6:04 PM · Playing with confidence does not mean not blending. You can produce a blended sound while still contributing confidently to the section's volume.

Take some of the edge out of your sound. Have a little less core to the note.

Note that you're not just trying to blend with your section. The section as a whole should be blending into the overall texture. And if you can't hear, say, the wind soloists, you are too loud.

November 5, 2017, 9:12 AM · In my experience, blending with an orchestra and "playing too loudly" are two different things. People don't stick out in volume so much as they stick out in time. They rush, they drag, they hold over into rests. Those are the things that get us noticed.
November 5, 2017, 10:55 AM · If you are back in the pack of a section and can't hear yourself during the loud tuttis, then congratulations, you are probably playing the right note, in tune, in time, blending, not too loud. The mistake that some players sub-consciously make, especially on the high E-string notes, is push or vibrate the note sharp, so that they can check their tuning.
November 5, 2017, 11:10 AM · @joel, that's what my teacher says. I think I need someone to practice with more often so I don't have to hear myself, lol. It takes some getting use to.
November 5, 2017, 4:18 PM · Jim-- one trick I used to use when much younger, playing in a very loud band, was to use a cheap foam earplug in left ear, then I could hear my instrument through the bones in my head. jq
November 5, 2017, 5:40 PM · I'll try anything once.

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