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Thoughts On Seating Bands

by Jacques Rizzo Retired

General Considerations1

stronger or weaker than others. Though not a cure-all, seating can help balance the sound by screening stronger sections and/ or giving an acoustic advantage to weaker sections. By not using risers, students in the front rows can absorb the sound of instru- ments in the rows behind them. Conversely, risers may be used to give certain players an acoustic advantage, alleviating some of the reflection and sound absorption for players placed in the rear rows. Softer instruments, such as flute, oboe, bassoon (and to a lesser extent clarinets) should be given an acoustic advantage by placing them in the front row or across the front of the band. Louder instruments such as trumpets and trombones should be placed in the rear rows to help balance their sound with the softer instruments. With the exception of bell-up eupho-


niums and tubas, the sound of band instru- ments is

directional. Those instruments

seated facing the listener have an advantage over those that face across the band. For ex- ample, flutes placed in the front rows on the left side of the band with tone holes facing the audience are given an acoustic advan- tage. Trumpets placed in the rear row fac- ing across the band are at an acoustic dis- advantage. However, if you have too many flutes and wish to place some of them at a disadvantage, you may seat only one stand of flutes in each of the first few rows on the left and place the remaining flutes in the left rear row to screen their sound. You might also seat the flutes on the right. Similarly, lighter percussion instruments such as bells and traps should be placed on the outside of their row with stronger instruments such as


ew bands have an ideal instru- mentation, and even those that do often have sections that are


timpani and bass drum placed toward the center of the band.

Seating within the Sections

Seating students in order of ability lev- leaves the lower parts of that section (2nd

and 3rd trumpets, 2nd alto saxophone, etc.) insecure—without leadership. It is better to equalize the ability levels within the section in a manner that allows for both a strong lead voice and leadership in the lower parts. For example, a nine member trumpet sec- tion might be seated 1a, 1b, 2a, 3a, 1c, 2b, 3b, 2c, 3c, and a four member alto saxo- phone section 1a, 2a, 1b, 2b. Many directors prefer a greater number

of players on third clarinet, who often play in the less brilliant chalumeau register, and fewer first clarinets, who play in the more intense sounding upper register. Thus, a clarinet section of twelve players might be divided into three first clarinets, four sec- onds, and five thirds and seated 1a, 1b, 2a, 3a, 1c, 2b, 3b, 2c, 3c, 2d, 3d, 3e. It is also advantageous to have the

weakest and strongest players in a section share a stand, as the stronger player provides a model for the weaker player. For example, in a 3rd clarinet section of five clarinets, 3a (the strongest player) and 3f (the weakest player) would share a stand, as would 3b (the second strongest player) and 3e (the second weakest player). It also helps to place the strongest players (Cl 3a, 3b, and 3c) to- ward the middle of their section. The sec- tion, from left to right, would be 3e-3a, 3c, 3b-3d.3

clarinet on easier pieces. A weaker player would play 1st clarinet on an easy selection, 2nd on a moderate selection, and 3rd on the more difficult pieces. This challenge to weaker players pro- It also helps

vides incentive to improve.

diminish the “swelled head” syndrome that some better players develop. Assigning parts in this manner teaches students to value their contribution to the group no matter what part they play, raises morale (as all stu- dents have an opportunity to play all parts at some time), and prepares younger players to assume leadership in future years.

Placing the Sections within the Band Judicious seating can aid intonation,

precision, balance and blend, and help pro- vide support for weaker students or sections. Four general principals for placing sections within the band are: 1. The various sections (woodwind,

A six player section would be seated

3d-3c, 3a-3f, and 3b-3e. Lastly, vary the difficulty level of the

repertoire so students play different parts on various selections. This allows a better clarinetist to play the 1st clarinet part on the more difficult pieces, the 2nd clarinet part on pieces of moderate difficulty, and 3rd


brass, and percussion) should, where practi- cal, be seated contiguously. 2. The first part can best exert leader- ship if it is placed in the middle of the sec- tion. That is, if all trumpets are seated in the same row, the 1st trumpets should be in the center of the section. The 2nd trumpets and 3rd trumpets would be seated on either side of the 1st trumpets. 3. Instruments that usually play the bass line (bassoons, bass clarinets, and bari- tone saxophones, tubas and string bass) should be seated in the center of the band. This minimizes the distance of other players from the bass pitch to which they tune. Bas- soons, the weakest of the bass instruments, should be given the advantage of first row placement. Bass clarinets and baritone sax might be placed in the middle rows, and tu- bas in the back row. 4. Players who often play the same mu- sical line or have the same musical function


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