Suddenly Playing Flat

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by simonium, Oct 18, 2011.

  1. simonium

    simonium Member

    Over the last two weeks I've noticed that I have started playing a lot flatter in pitch than I previously have. Nothing has changed in terms of instrument, mouthpiece, posture or lifestyle, apart from the fact that I have suffered a relatively bad headcold in the last week or so, which is just clearing now. My hearing has not been affected by the cold.

    Traditionally I have always been complimented on my tuning but the last two rehearsals have been cringeworthy. Hideously flat. Ordinarily my main tuning slide would be approximately half an inch out, varying very little from this. The slide is now in as far as it will go and my pitch is still woefully under. There is nothing in the instrument - a long brush has been put around the main branch this evening. The mouthpiece, leadpipe and removeable slides are kept immaculately clean and the valves are oiled and cleaned. I thought there might be something lodged inside but the playing characteristics and sound remain unaltered. I tried tuning up with a digital piano this evening, with some trusted ears who said straight away "something's wrong with the instrument". I cannot see how there can be as I am very careful with maintenance. This has happened in the last two rehearsals after coming back from the Finals at Cheltenham.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated as this is getting me down and short of having the main tuning slide shortened, I can't see a cure for this as I have no idea what is causing it. The pitch is so flat I can't even begin to compensate by "lipping up".

  2. One of my band colleagues had a similar problem with his cornet - after much debate and testing, we discovered a tiny hole had opened up in part of the tubing, at a joint, which we only spotted as we could feel a jet of air on our faces as we examined the instrument closely as he was playing.

    So, how about checking thoroughly for any leaks, especially around joints near the valve block? Hope that helps.
  3. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    So, is the whole instrument flat but still with good intervals or are some notes better/worse than others?

    Were you practising like mad for the finals then had a break of a few days afterwards? That sort of thing causes me problems, usually self-resolves with a couple of weeks of my regular practice routine.

    North Londoner could have the right diagnosis too, have a go on another instrument and see if that helps!

    Also, have a look at your mouth while playing in front of a mirror - is the mouthpiece sat where it normally does, do your muscles look unusually tight or relaxed and is the angle of the mouthpiece against the lips right?

    Finally, be sure to relax when you practice and not fight too hard against the poor tuning, if it a mental thing (like I suspect my problem above is) getting wound-up about it will be counter-productive.
  4. simonium

    simonium Member

    We did a fair amount of rehearsal prior to the finals - by our standards at least! Which meant two or three extras in the fortnight leading up to the contest. I never do much home practice so certainly haven't over-taxed myself. The contest was followed by a two week band hiatus which included a bit of home practice - nothing terribly formidable or different to usual.

    I have a very good ear for tuning and in the last rehearsal there were some noted that were so far out I couldn't continue playing. As I was the conductor's best man I normally have plenty of leeway for split notes and coming in the wrong place, but even he was forced to comment!

    The instrument (or more likely me as it us only a length of static tube) is generally flat but some intervals are repulsively out of tune. Bottom C to middle C is not an octave the upper note being very, very flat indeed. Middle and Top F are so flat as to be comical. Even top G is flat. The interval of middle G to C at the start of Calling Cornwall is so ridiculously sour. It's every note but some are worse than others. I work in a music shop and will be playing on a Prestige, Sovereign, Yamaha Neo and York Eminences today to see if the problem is consistent on them.
  5. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    It is possible this is related. As I understand it, when playing a brass instrument, the nasal/sinal cavities become part of the resonating chamber formed by the tubing on the instrument. If these cavities change shape/dimension due to congestion, it is theoretically possible that tuning might be affected. A long shot, and one that could perhaps easily be shot down in flames by someone with more knowledge of physiology than me, but I wouldn't rule it out completely ...
  6. jezza23361

    jezza23361 Member

    A very simple solution would be to borrow a similar instrument - if it is also flat it is you - if not - it's your instrument.

  7. simonium

    simonium Member

    Right. I've tested a similar model Sovereign from the same era and it displays none of the issues that mine does, with the exception of a slightly dull sounding middle C. This is bewildering! I wonder whether there are some leaks somewhere, but can feel no air leaking and can't hear any difference.
  8. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    Sounds like a hedgehog may have moved in for the winter... time for a thorough clean?
  9. fsteers

    fsteers Member

    The quickest and easiest way to pinpoint any leaks is to mix up some dishwashing soap with water in a spray bottle, spray the solution over any joints and seams, and have someone watch for bubbles while you play something.

    Here's another thought: don't know what instrument you play, but on some older Besson euph models (and Yamahas), the first and third valves were almost interchangeable. You could swap them and still play the thing, but the intonation went all to h***. Maybe you accidentally switched them the last time you oiled your valves?
  10. simonium

    simonium Member

    I wash my euphonium through once a month and clean the leadpipe every couple of weeks. My mouthpiece is washed after every use so I'm pretty sure there's no debris cluttering the banjo up!
  11. simonium

    simonium Member

    I'll try the leak trick. As for mixing the valves up, the instrument is always disassembled and reassembled in strict order so it's extremely unlikely things have got mixed up, and besides the number of valve is stamped on the top of the valve. I will check, so thanks for bringing that up. I want to avoid as far as possible the ultimate solution of having the main tuning slide shortened, but at the moment it's becoming ever more likely. Unless I swap my euphonium and neglect to mention a slight tuning issue...

    I'm thinking of changing from a SM3Ultra to a 4BL or similar as a nearly-last resort.
  12. monody

    monody Member

    You've probably checked this but, make sure your water keys aren't leaking.
    I always try the simple things first.
  13. jezza23361

    jezza23361 Member

    The best way to test for a leak is to get a smoker to blow some smoke through the instrument.

  14. Maestro

    Maestro Active Member

    That's the only time your dad didn't moan at me for being a smoker!
  15. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    That won't sort it out though, will it? The instrument's not in tune with itself as it stands, and it still won't be in tune with itself if you make the whole thing sharper. Or if you make a mouthpiece change. Once you've found it, the solution's going to be something that looks obvious, that occurred suddenly; something that has had a gross effect on the acoustic properties of the instrument. I'd suspect that something's got down the bell, and maybe wedged there round the bend so that it is blocking a significant portion of the tube. Or that something's got wedged elsewhere - maybe a bit of cleaning brush snapped off somewhere unexpected - or maybe a 'friend' thought it would be funny to insert something. Is the blowing resistance increased over how it used to be?

    In the meantime, make sure you have access to another instrument to play to take the edge off the panic! Sounds like you're about to do something rash...
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2011
  16. simonium

    simonium Member

    I've put a Reka cleaning brush (it has a foam ball on the end rather than bristles) down the bell and right around the top branch and down to the main tuning slide and nothing has either come out or been revealed as being stuck in place. I've also done it reverse by removing the main tuning slide and going up until the brush somes out of the bell. The playing resistance seems to be as it always has been. It's most odd! I would not even countenance shortening the instrument unless there was no other way (plenty of options yet) - indeed I would rather change mouthpiece than shorten an instrument. What I really don't understand is the C octave being so weird. Never before have I had a problem with middle C being so flat as to almost be a Cb. The worst individual note for outright tuning is bottom C# - it's nigh-on a semi tone flat. It's not so bad as 1) it's not the most common note and 2) better to be under on that particular note anyway (!)

    Where on a euphonium could something cause tuning issues on such disparate notes, apart from the main branch?

    I'm looking forward to The Wayfarer and Prisms on Sunday.... :oops:
  17. WoodenFlugel

    WoodenFlugel Moderator Staff Member

    Agree with Dave ^^

    Unless you've slung the thing down a flight of stairs recently* its unlikely to be a fundamental issue with the instrument - and it certainly won't be something that sawing a length out of the tuning slide will fix. By all means check for leaks but I'd suggest looking for a simple solution first before doing anything rash, or changing mouthpiece for that matter. BTW when looking for this solution go through everything that has happened in the last few weeks - it might be something that is unrelated on the face of it.

    *you've not have you? I notice you don't specifically say you haven't....:)
  18. eflatbass

    eflatbass Supporting Member

    Never discount the possibility of 'something' lodged in the instrument. I once purchased from Band Supplies in Leeds, on behalf of a band, a Yamaha Eb Bass. Having personally tested the bass in the shop, I was satisfied that it had no major tuning problems. The instrument was delivered directly by me to a band member. When the player arrived at our next rehearsal they were complaining of not being able to get a single note from the bass. I was able to produce notes, but none of them resembled the fingering or pitch I attempted to play.

    The offending instrument was returned to Band Supplies. They reported back to me a few days later of their findings: a plastic coca-cola bottle lodged in the tubing! These things do happen.
  19. simonium

    simonium Member

    No I've not! :) Although the temptation to cause a gross amount of damage to the thing increases every time I play it. If it's not being played it's in its case, or on its stand.
  20. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Here's an idea: get hold of another euph of the same (or similar enough) model. Then try cross-plumbing the various tuning slides between the instruments one by one - so that you blow into your instrument, but the sound comes out of the other instrument's bell. Using this technique, you can focus in on the portion of the tubing that is causing the problem.

    For example, if your problem lies between 3rd and 4th valves your test might run something like:
    1) Cross-plumb the 1st valve slide so that the air path goes through your leadpipe, into your 1st valve, across and out through the other 1st valve, then through the rest of the other instrument. Result: normal response.
    2) Do the same for the 3rd valve slide (I doubt the 2nd valve slide is wide enough to do the test in the first place). Result: normal response.
    3) Do the same for the 4th valve slide. Result: oddness.

    Using this technique you should be able to isolate the problem to between (or beyond) any of the suitable tuning slides on the instrument.