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How can a cello player practice to project over an orchestra as a soloist? I know that one must reset their perceived level of dynamics so that even a piano dynamic can be heard, but I was wondering if there were any techniques or practice routines that helped with this.

For clarification, I am a cellist. But any general tips would be good (I am a pianist as well).

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    Projecting with what instrument? Piano? Or maybe voice? – Todd Wilcox Jan 3 '16 at 3:56
  • Play with your stereo system blasting the full orchestra at you (warning: may piss off everyone else in your house/apartment/small town) – Carl Witthoft Jan 3 '16 at 13:43
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    I have no experience working with an orchestra, but I do work with choirs extensively. I can't imagine getting a feel for projecting over a choir without actually being in front of a choir. It sounds like the sort of thing you go to rehearsals to learn. – Babu Jan 3 '16 at 14:40
  • Perhaps, but I am looking for practice techniques or tricks that will help me achieve this. Conductors expect soloists to have a sound that dominates the orchestra; one doesn't usually have the time to learn how to do so at the rehearsals. – patrickhuie19 Jan 4 '16 at 1:41
  • is there any way i can get more attention for this question, or is it not a good question? – patrickhuie19 Jan 19 '16 at 21:16
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There are a couple things you can do to make your sound more noticeable. But there are trade offs and risks. For example, if you use more vibrato, it becomes easier for someone in the audience to distinguish you from other sound sources. Depending on what else is playing, you have some choices in tone color: play closer or further from the bridge, or dig in more or less, to contrast as much as possible in tone color with what else is playing.

Little tricks can draw the ear to you, such as slight dramatic hesitations. It's kind of like being an actor who is a "scene-stealer" always finding ways to draw attention of the audience. It definitely can backfire if overused, just as will too much vibrato or tremolo or too harsh a tone.

It also helps to emphasize passages where you are more exposed. Sometimes the start of a line (that is in the clear) can lead to a person "hearing" the continuation of that line even if it is somewhat covered. That's an old trick used by those who compose with counterpoint.

But mostly, the composer should write with the mismatch in capabilities in mind when orchestrating, and the conductor should also help out, for example by trying to achieve a "character" of forte or intensity more via color rather than volume.

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There are a lot of different things that will affect how an instrument will project over orchestras, not all of which we musicians have control over.

In no particular order:

  • The instrument

Some instruments sound more than others, some instruments will be perceived even with a lot of sound coming from the orchestra. Il canone, the widely known violin on which Paganini played is such an instrument. I'll assume you have your instrument and will not be buying a 50k instrument for the sake of it.

  • The orchestration

This might well be the biggest influence on wether you will be heard or not. Great composers know how to balance melodic ranges so that even if many instruments are playing at the same time, the range in which the soloist is playing won't be filled with too many noise, allowing it to be heard.

  • The soloist

There's no secret, producing more sound is possible. It has to do with bow pressure and bow speed, strings as well as the soundpost placement in your instrument. To choose the strings is a trial and error process, adjusting the soundpost is made with a luthier, and bow pressure and sound can be practiced with long notes.

  • Knowing when to play louder

I once had the chance of hearing a masterclass with Vadim Repin. He told something really interesting, I don't remember the exact words but:

You have to play louder when it will actually make an impact. When doing long scales, you may relax the sound during the middle notes, but you will definitely put some emphasis on the notes just before switching direction in the scale, of when there's an harmonic change.

Regarding your comment:

Conductors expect soloists to have a sound that dominates the orchestra;

I really haven't had this experience in my life. As a matter of fact, all conductors were more on the side of telling the orchestra to play more piano so the soloist can be heard more.

  • Of course - as an orchestral player, these are exactly my goals. I was speaking from a soloists perspective - playing concertos or solos pieces as a pianist or cellist with the orchestra. What you were saying was correct, however, a piano sound in front of an orchestra needs to be in terms of volume louder (but with the same character) as a piano in my practice room. – patrickhuie19 Feb 11 '16 at 22:39
  • I initially accepted your answer - it was a fantastic response, and I will definitely take that to heart. However, i'm a little bit more interested in practice techniques that can help you to play louder - perhaps you could add a few to your already great answer? – patrickhuie19 Feb 19 '16 at 3:32

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