Saturday, March 21, 2009

McBerth Pyramid of Sound

The McBeth Pyramid of Sound

Good tone and balancing is part of interpretation. Performing musical performances without appropriate tone and balancing are meaningless. Why? Because bad tone and balancing will cause intonation problems, exaggerate harmonic, unexpressive sound etc. A band is a form of massed groups of winds, each instrument possessing a unique timbre, and yet the sound must unite to form a collective whole. In this article, I would like to share my own experience and other band director’s experience on making a good ton and balancing. Achieving good balance will not only create a more beautiful sound, but it will help to solve numerous other problems, most notably improving pitch.
Bad tone and balancing are almost natural problem, face by new band directors. It is part of the development process. We should be thankful to those band directors who are willing to share their experiences with the novice band directors and for making the process easier to new band directors.
At the beginning of my career as a band director, I learned a valuable lesson in the art of disguising intonation in my concert band. While teaching at a small school in Taiping, Malaysia. I know I have problems with tone and balancing. Many of our instruments are assigned 3 or 4 different parts. In the orchestra, only the horns and trombones are normally divided into this many sections. The splitting of cornets and trumpets into 3 to 5 different parts, clarinets into 3 or 4 parts, and the like presents a tremendous challenge, especially in school groups where, in many cases, less qualified people may be assigned to lower ranges.
Since then, I went through several books by Dr L. Lisk, 1996, Colwell & Golsby 1992 and search for more information in the internet and learned more about it through reading. I finally meet a friend, an experience band director to work with my concert band. He helps me to understand the McBeth balancing concept. He told methat band conductors must try to achieve a true "choral" balance where all voices--from bass to soprano-are clearly discerned yet blended. This might be one of the key elements to McBeth's theory. The second is that lower notes need to be equal balance (essentially louder) than the higher ones. McBeth's describes this as the double-pyramid balance system. Some conductors refer to it as a reverse pyramid, meaning that the lower the sound, the more pronounced the instrument must be. It illustrates the basic idea that the lower the range of the instrument, the more present (louder) that it needs to be.

No one was able to clarify and describe how to achieve a flattering sound from the band as well as McBeth. He alone was able to put a clearly stated theory into writing, as well as to provide practical solutions. His 1972 text is still the best source for achieving an excellent "band" sound. (William Berz, 1999)

I have come across hundreds of article on improving band performance and two of the interesting articles that catches my interest is an article by Oliver C. Boone and William Berz. The article is about the McBerth pyramid of sound. I feel that most new band director will find this article as a very informative and useful to them.
The McBeth Inverted Triangle is based on the concept of expanding on the volume of the lower pitched wind instruments, such as the tuba, contras, bari saxes, etc. and thus diminishing the upper tones demonstrated by the piccolo's, soprano clarinets, flutes, etc. The concept is easy to remember if we simply place the various band instruments on a triangle of their pitch range from high to low.Once this has been displayed, the students have a clearer understanding of the individual role their instrument plays in the total sound concept of the ensemble. Next is to simply invert the triangle.
Those instruments at the top of the inverted triangle should be heavier in volume than those on the bottom. I usually asked my students to look at the bell of the brass instruments. The conical shape of the bell and the size of the bass instruments should remind them about it. The inverted triangle provides a wonderful illustration of the balancing effect which the conductor and students should give focus. Boone suggested that band directors should utilize this concept in their concert bands and notice an extensive and immediate improvement in the overall tone and quality of the band. The process of balancing the band from the bottom up was very easy in my mind; however, Boon approach is simpler to make the point to students. Throughout out the years Boone decide to expand on the idea of teaching the McBeth Inverted Triangle until he perfected a novel approach, which the younger generation would seem to grasp without difficulty.
Boone in his article also suggested that students should imagine the used of equalizer that are attached to their audio instruments such as the hi-fi, or a mini compo as an experience in making a balance sound. The author has also tried the suggestion. It certainly has an impact and recently we have an eight track and a thirty two track equalizer in the recording room. Students are encouraged to try it during the rehearsals.
I have also tried other alternative during rehearsal and during my instrumental teaching classes. I found that it is important to have students conducting and commenting the performance during the rehearsals. In my case, I invited all the section leaders in front; fist I have to guide them to hear and to controlled their section and second the whole band or performance. Then let them commmented the performance. Then we discussed about it. This will provide them a clearer picture of how to produce a well balance section. The understanding will then move toward having a balance sound for the whole band.
According to Lisk (1996) recording is a useful instrument for teaching purposes. Sometimes I recorded my students performance or rehearsal and used the recording for similar purposes. (Quality recording is essential) I found that they learn better with the recording materials and have better understanding on producing good tone and balancing. In fact, it is also good for teaching posture, techniques, and ethic in performance. The understanding of the concepts helps to motivate students to produce good tone and a well balance performance. However, band directors should firstly guide them thoroughly. A clear and effective guided instruction, tools and materials are essential; otherwise, it is just a waste of time.

Berz, W. It's time to re-visit McBeth ," Tempo, 53 no. 2 (May 1999): 24-25. Retrieved March 22, 2009 from

Boone, O. C. (n,d) The McBeth inverted triangle meets the stereo knob

Colwell., R. J., & Goollsby., T. (1992 ) The teaching of instrumental music: U.S.A.

Lisk. S.Edward. (1996). "Intangibles of Musical Performance". The Creative Director. Meredith Music Publication, Florida.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mayudin,
    You did mentioned that it was difficult to coordinate students in a large group
    such as the wind orchestra and the marching band that consist of large number of students with different kind of skills, knowledge, learning style, and behavior. Music educators need to develop their student’s musicality, which includes tempo accuracy, attacked, release, intonation, balancing, blend, articulation, intonation, style, and expression.

    Wow! fascinating. Thus, the cordination of eye, body,ear, soul, and mind need to be focus otherwise the band going to be messup. I think it was easier to teach students to learn langguge subjects rather then teaching them music.
    Nice reading your blog.