Intonation - Do you really know?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by ploughboy, Sep 28, 2009.

  1. ploughboy

    ploughboy Active Member

    I noticed this weekend at the Nationals the adjudicators talking about intonation over and above basic tuning - I got wondering, How many bandsmen really know what intonation is? and how do you explain it to others?

    My understanding is, intonation is how the notes in a chord sit together to make that chord in tune. For example - three horns playing g's - tuning. three horns playing G,B,D - intonation. . .

    Am I close?
  2. AndyCat

    AndyCat Active Member

    I see it more basic than that. Knowing where every note "sits" on YOUR OWN particular instrument once you're "in tune"
  3. Beesa

    Beesa Member

    I would say that tuning is the mechanical adjustment by a particular player at a particular time, of a note produced from a lump of shiny metal,

    Intonation is the adjustment of a note by the player using their embouchure and according to the piece of music they are playing and where a note is sitting within a chord etc. Adjustment is more often than not subconscious.

    Few (lower section) brass bands in my experience ever properly tune the band, they only ever unwittingly have time wasting intonation competitions. That is to say, "here is a note, see if you can match it".
  4. johnsop

    johnsop Member

    To me, intonation is the relationship between each note on the instrument. For example, bands always tune the tuning note (concert Bb), but they can still have intonation problems because certain notes in the instrument will be out of tune.

    For example, soprano cornets tend to be flat around D and E near the top of the stave, and if you tune middle G with the tuning note, this will not solve the problem, however, high G can tend to be sharp. This is intonation not tuning.

    There will be similar issues on all instruments of the band. To tune up makes on concert Bbs in tune, not all instruments in tune.

    Hope this helps.
  5. Aussie Tuba

    Aussie Tuba Member

    Sounds about right to me.
  6. Hells Bones

    Hells Bones Active Member

    This is a huge issue in all levels of banding.

    Too many people think that if you push your valve down, all notes will be in tune.

    Complete rubbish.

    It's the same on trombones. There are not 7 positions on a trombone. More like 1007. Each note has it's own place on the slide and that can change depending on the chord.

    It is a wonderful thing called the harmonic series. You have the fundamental harmonic which is the pedal. 1st is bottom C, 2nd is second line G, 3rd is middle C, 4th is E, 5th is G, 6th is Bb, 7th is top C.

    Generally speaking the 4th is a little flat which is why some sop playes play their Es on 1+2. 5th is sharp so people lip down when they play it. 6th is monstrously flat so don't bother using it unless you are doing lip trills.

    No doubt someone will counter this and say I am speaking a load of tripe.
  7. Columbo

    Columbo Member

    I'd go with that. Played the same C, E, G, F's etc for 20 or so years. Slide hardly moved over the years as you also need the ability to play "in tune" with your surroundings, therefore familiarity with the instrument is paramount. As I tell my band, once tuned up, there is no excuse for intonation, its a listening game, together YOUR PRACTISE to get the familiarity with yourself and the instrument.
  8. davidquinlan

    davidquinlan Member

    Howard Snell used to describe intonation as being a musicians personal hygiene ... everyone knows when you have problems with it :)

    Intonation is a players responsibility, you need to know how to make your instrument play in tune. Find out where it's problem areas are and what the resolutions to those problems are, by practice, scales and interval studies etc.. .

    Conductors should assist when it comes to ensemble playing obviously.
  9. Kjata

    Kjata Member

    Actually hell bones, scientifically that is exactly right, and the properties of the waves that make the note are all dependant on the series.
  10. jezza23361

    jezza23361 Member

    Bad intonation = being out of tune with yourself.

  11. Columbo

    Columbo Member

  12. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I'd qualify that by saying that while the information is good, it's presented slightly confusingly - while it's reasonably correct to talk about fundamental, then 1st overtone, 2nd overtone, etc., more people will have seen the pedal referred to as the "1st harmonic", or "1st partial", then bottom C as the 2nd, etc. - a labelling scheme that is one number higher than HB's throughout. It certainly made me do a double take... "I thought Ant was supposed to be quite a good trombonist...", then "Oh yes, it's just that the numbers he's used aren't what I expected".
  13. timbloke

    timbloke Member

    I think that balance is often overlooked when it comes to intonation. If the chord is well balanced it is often easier to adjust your intonation and hear the chord as a whole. I was thinking about this very thing on Saturday: I was playing Young Person's Guide in an orchestra concert on Saturday. In the Harp Variation (Variation I?) there is a single "shock" note on muted brass. During the rehearsal, we played it and it sounded ok but not quite right. The conductor asked us to hold it as a chord, and by simply asking the top trumpet to play a little louder and balance up, the chord was instantly more in tune and tighter.

    Perhaps intonation is something conductors can do something about, by spending more time working on balance? Not sure what everyone else thinks?

    But in general I like the opinion of most of you that intonation is about a) being in tune with yourself and b) being in tune with the moment.
  14. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

  15. worzel

    worzel Member

    I believe it's urban legend that a brass instrument produces the actual natural harmonic series of an open pipe. Acoustically they are a sort of one end closed cone, which only roughly approximates the harmonics of an open pipe, but is alterable by the manufacturer by varying the various tapers. Each frequency has a different reflection point down the open taper.

    Check out this guy's essays on the subject:

    If 1st space E really were the one from the natural harmonic sequence then it would be 15 cents flat from the equal temperament E. Even if your open E were perfectly in tune (using equal temperament) 1+2 would still be about 11 cents sharp because if the slides for 1 and 2 are the right lengths for ratios of a whole and half tone against the length of the instrument then both are a bit short compared to the length plus the other value. I.e. musical intervals combine geometrically while lengths of tubing combine arithmetically.
  16. Sonny Barker

    Sonny Barker Member

    3 horns, listening and in practice = good tuning / intonation / whatever
    3 horns, listening, out of practice = all bad
    3 horns, not listening, in practice = all bad
    3 horns, not listening, not in practice = v. all bad.

    The answer is to be found in the instrument case and between your ears, rather than a dictionary or forum.

    Intonation, as the good Time Lord says, is made up of wibbly-wobbly-tuningy-wuningy stuff.

  17. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    And if you really want to lose the will to live, read this: Bell Trumpets.html

    The bit about tuning-bell v Slide-tuning are not really relevant to the argument, but the graphs showing the discrepancy in tuning between notes in a harmonic series are interesting ...
  18. Hells Bones

    Hells Bones Active Member

    I must say I anm flattered to be help in such high esteem, Dave!

    Sorry for the confusion, that's just how I was taught!
  19. Kjata

    Kjata Member

    You lot have too much time on your hands lol!! ;)
  20. scotchgirl

    scotchgirl Active Member

    Intonation is more about being in tune with yourself and the people around you...and that's on every note within a chord structure...for example the pitch of a 'c' in one chord may be sharper than in a different one. You have to train yourself to hear the difference, and know when you are not in tune.

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