Top Tuning Tips

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by IYOUNG, Nov 7, 2004.


    IYOUNG Member

    Much debate in my band room this week about obtaining good tuning and intonation in a 4th section band.

    Would all the good experienced people on here please be kind enough to give me a definitive top 5 tips please?

    Many Thanks
  2. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    What issues did the debate focus on?
  3. JSmith

    JSmith Member


    No secrets or shortcuts...Valved Brass instruments are not in tune by themselves...

    1). Get the open instrument in tune

    2). Make adjustments to valve slides on larger instruments for basically sound tuning

    3). Listen, listen listen. Then listen some more. Encourage good listening skills around the band by trying to get players to decide for themselves if they're out of tune and which way. This is MOST important. I believe in spending a few minutes playing slow Hymns as a warm up, all mezzo dynamic. If a chord is well out, play a pause on it and see if it finds its way into tune with listening as a first priority. Over-done this can be boring for players of course! [Players can make note-bending a part of their practice; ie. 'bending' a low C up to C# and down to Cb etc etc...]
    4). Use the features of instruments! Trigger-skills need to be learned/taught; almost every Cornet has 1st & 3rd valve triggers. I see quite a lot of Euph and Bass players with 4valve instruments playing D & Db without their 4th valve! Some players buy 'Besson Prestige' cnt/euph and NEVER make use of the Main-slide trigger - they must be made use of and skills taught.

    5). This is a "What not to do" point. One of the worst things I've come accross is knuckle-head conductors constantly trying to tune every note by large slide manipulations on horns down. In the same phrase he'll stop a player to tell him his upper D is flat so the 1st valve slide goes right in, then he'll identify that the upper F is somewhat Sharp so the slide goes out quite a long way to 'perfectly' tune that note. Unless players without triggers are going to adjust slides as they play (and this isn't practical on a 4valve instrument), you have to just find a happy-medium for slides and do the rest with alternate-fingerings and with the embouchure!

    5a). Just a short Coda. Some inexperienced players starve their instruments of air and this causes dreadful tuning issues which cannot be adjusted on the embouchure. Once players get used to shifting large quantities of air, they can easily adjust notes.

    Really you just get the basic instrument in tune and then LISTEN. :D
  4. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    I only have two...

    1) Know your horn. Play through long tones on your horn with a tuner until you know which notes have a tendency to be sharp/flat and by how much.

    2) As mentioned above Listen, Listen, Listen (While its great if you can play an A=440 on the nose everytime, if the rest of the band is at doesn't matter how well you can play 440)
  5. TheMusicMan

    TheMusicMan tMP Founder Staff Member

    For any players who don't play in tune - regardless of their ability/section etc... there is only two probable causes of this..

    • they don't know they are out of tune and therefore cannot hear that this is actually the case
    • they know they are out of tune, and they can hear it, but don't know what to do to correct this
    In both of these cases, the key to putting this right - as JSmith correctly says - is to train people to listen, listen and listen...

    Try to get a more experienced player to play slightly out of tune, but consistently - or perhaps pull a slide out of one player so thet they play out of tune. Then play these notes alongside someone who is in tune.... get player sin the band to listen to this. You could turn this into small a bit of very useful fun by not telling people which person has been intentionally 'detuned' - then run through a hymn tune or similar and see if people across the band can identify where ther tuning issues are...

    Lots of long low note exercises help in making the necessary adjustements to the embouchure to move the pitch up and down. Once individuals can do this you can then move to playing notes across the band in unison. What I have done in the past is to construct a few chords (perhaps 3) in a cadence accurately across the band and then get people to listen to what is being player.... then ask everyone when they play their three chords, to move up a semitone... some interesting sounds indeed - but it does make people listen and appreciate what's happening, it gives you (or the MD) a chance to explain why some chords are out of tune and some are not so out of tune, and is is a bit of a laff to boot.

    Alternatively if that is a tad difficult, and this obviously depends on the bands ability - an easier method is to play through a hymn tune pausing on the last chord, then ask everyone to just play up/down a semi-tone on the last note.... try to pick a hymn tune that when the last note is moved up or down would move to an awkward key...:)

    Tuning is an individuals responsibility, intonation is across the band and needs teamwork.

    Just a few thoughts....
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2004
  6. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Another factor to consider is the dangers of home practice. If there is no true reference point for keeping in tune, problems with intonation and tuning may get re-inforced rather than improved! Get a tuner before the habit's hard to break.
  7. JSmith

    JSmith Member

    Sorry but I don't think I fully agree with that...

    The "true reference point for keeping in tune" is the last note played; that's Intonation. At home, you can listen closely to yourself and therefore really concentrate on your own intonation.

    Tuners are useful for occasional tuning references but players need to develop their own sense of intonation by listening. Tuners only help you play in tune with a machine, not other people!

    "The dangers of home-practice" heh heh...
  8. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    Right, but if you practice playing out of tune with'll probably play out of tune with the band.
  9. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    I may add that if you get into the habit of self-tuning with a machine, your ear-training will benefit accordingly. Awareness will get increased and you become pro-active when you join up with the rest of the band members. Use of electronic keyboards or programmes such as Sibelius or Finale (for playback) is another handy way of familiarising yourself with intervals and differences in pitch. Every little helps! ;)
  10. Robb

    Robb New Member

    Lots of sensible points already, but just a couple of comments.

    Tuning machines CAN be useful, but encourage dependency. It's no good playing out of tune with the whole ensemble, but pointing at your beloved machine and claiming you're in tune. I've seen this A: create a situation where players myopically focus on their little black box, instantly contradicting all the golden rules about listening, being aware, and using your 'radar', thereby seriously compromising their performance, and also B: make players so reliant on the machine, that they trust it completely, and play hopelessly out of tune with their ensemble, and therefore become bewildered by the problems it's causing, and end up nervous wrecks! Use one as an occasional point of reference, maybe checking 'dodgy' notes in your home practice, but leave the thing at home!

    A book with some excellent exercises relating to tuning issues is 'The Trombone Section', by Eric Crees (I feared this was out of print, but have just found that Warwick Music stock it). I doubt it would be difficult to adapt this for whatever group of instruments you want to use it with, and it will certainly open some ears up to flexible tuning.
  11. lynchie

    lynchie Active Member

    When I was at Flixton we used a set of studies called Klankstudies or something like that... they were basically written to be really intensive on tuning, and they worked wonders! Might be worth asking someone there where you can get hold of them.
  12. sparkling_quavers

    sparkling_quavers Active Member

    I will see if I can find out for you. The klankstudies are good for tuning but many be a tad too hard (in my opinion) for an average standard 4th section band. If players are struggling with the notes, it won't be as easy to sort out the tuning.

    In my opinion, the best ways to sort tuning (and I am no expert!)

    1. Make sure you have an experienced player in with your less experienced members. This works wonders, especially on the backrow.

    2. Encourage players to fill the instrument properly (and practice routines that encourage this). INHO most bad tuning (and I mean bad tuning rather than the odd slip on intonation) is due to the fact the player isn't filling the instrument properly with air.

    3. Encourage players to listen and correct the tuning themselves.

    4. Use triggers correctly, make sure players still use their ears still to tune up on notes like low C#, D's that need the 3rd valve trigger. It's not an on and off switch.

    I totally agree with John though, some players do not realise they are out of tune, encourage them to listen for themselves- if they don't realise it is broken they are never going to fix it.
  13. NeilW

    NeilW Member

    Many years ago (!) my teacher spent a time with me tuning every note of my instrument. (and no, not the Sovereign I play on these days!)

    He did did this by doing a random sequence of notes (so I couldn't work out the intervals easily!) playing along with an electronic organ.

    On the notes I was out of tune on, we tried various fingering combinations until the "best fit" was found. On one note (top A on that euph!) 2nd was sharp and 1+2 was flat, so I learnt that I had to play "exposed" top A's on 2nd and lip it down.

    By playing with the organ, I could feel the note "beating" when I was off.

    I don't know about anyone else, but I find it very hard to tune myself - I rely on the conductor to tell me if I'm off tune for the band I'm playing with (and not all bands play at exactly the same pitch - you have to play at the pitch of the "flattest" instrument). Why is it always 1+2 notes that show up worst - just seems to be (its been a C# recently!)?

  14. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Maybe I should have been a little clearer. It helps if an individual can determine pitch and intervals before he/she plays any musical instrument (that can altered for tuning purposes). Tools such as tuners or keyboards are beneficial in correcting and teaching any faults already established and increases awareness in situations where adjustments may be necessary. Aural Training is an important part of musical life as any other aspect. Try singing different intervals and compare them against a tuner or keyboard. If you get it wrong continually, it is likely that the fault is internalised and may cross-over to instrument performance. For example, ... in a band situation, the solo cornet opens on middle C and you have to enter next on a maj. 3rd below. Do you concentrate on the G#/Ab solely or do you listen to the cornet and judge the correct interval accordingly? Tuners/Keyboards are there as tools to help minimise the risk of error but quite correctly said before, we do not live in a world of perfect pitch!
  15. Robb

    Robb New Member

    But, this is getting you in tune with an instrument that works on the principle of 'equal temperament' - a compromise. We are fortunate enough to play instruments that can always be in tune 'mean temperament', by being able to make the tiny adjustments necessary as chords move around us. If you're having major problems playing notes in tune with yourself, then these aids can help. But I suppose I'm ultimately agreeing with the earlier point 'Listen, listen listen!'. It's a convenient cliche, but it's listening/awareness/'radar' that really makes the difference between average ensembles and top class ones.
  16. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    I don't think anyone is advocating having people sitting in rehearsal with a tuning machine in front of them. As has been pointed out, the key to intonation when playing in an ensemble is listening. The point is that a player can benefit from having a tuning machine in front of them when they are practising at home; Again, the point has already been made, but people need to realise that even the best, "top-of-the-range" brass instruments are not, inherently, in tune with themselves. Unless an individual has the necessary fine-tuning skills "by ear", so to speak, then a tuning machine is, almost, invaluable in terms of enabling the individual to assess intonation on their own instrument, and become familiar with how to correct it.

    I was taught to always use a tuning machine when playing long notes as part of a daily warm-up routine; it works best as part of a long-term "aural-conditioning" process (for want of a better description). But I would never take one to a rehearsal, at least as a player, unless I was a principal cornet, and even then only as an aid to sounding a correct tuning note.

  17. Robb

    Robb New Member

    I agree that no-one here might have specifically advised that - but I've seen it happen, and thought it was worthwhile advising against it. In fact, I've even heard of professional brass players checking their tuning against a machine, not even mid-gig, but mid-piece! It sounds far-fetched, but actually happens.

    Helpful they can be, but as with most 'gadgets', tuning machines usually serve only to point out that the most effective aid we have available to us are our ears.
  18. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    A system I have used for some time now has been, I believe, largely successful in getting players in lower section bands to listen and conciously or sub conciously get into the habit of correcting their own tuning by adjusting embouchure to correct imperfections within the instrument and the player/s own 'air flow' or indeed, embouchure.

    It is possible to get a band to play a common chord by using the same valves/slide positions, i.e a concert Bb major chord will have the Bb instruments playing (upwards from) a low C, G, C, E, G etc. open, (trombones in 1st position at this point), the Eb instruments playing an open G (with the Eb bass playing the root of the chord) and the bass trombone playing a 1st position Bb, F, Bb, D etc.

    Once an 'in tune' chord has been established (allowing for the fact that 'in tune' must be at the same pitch as the tuned percussion), then each player goes chromatically downwards, using the seven basic fingering positions (0, 2, 1, 1+2, 2+3, 1+3, 1+2+3 in that order) and slide positions from 1st right down to 7th position in that order so that you end up with (concert pitch) the band at your disposal playing, in order; Bb major, A major, Ab major, G major, F sharp major, F major and E major, allowing the players to adapt and adjust as each chord takes shape, as I feel it's far easier for a collective band of players to hear and adjust if something's in tune or not by initially playing and hearing a chord rather than a unison note. Sure, allow plugs/3rd valve triggers/4th valves if need be, but bear in mind you'll have that advantage over certain instruments which don't have that facility (like horns and most baritones, let alone older/cheaper cornets. euphs, basses, tenor trombones). If common chords are being played, invariably certain players (like those for instance, on a Bb instrument, starting the first chord with a E in the top space of the stave) will be adopting alternate fingering/slide positons from that which they are used to for certain notes, a useful facility to learn, in my book. Even on the seventh position/1+2+3 chord, encouraging players not to be 100% reliant on triggers etc. and encouraging them to use their ears and/or make adjustments in air flow to teach them to hear when they're in tune is a useful tool. Once you've got the confidence of the players to play in tune playing chords like that using all their valves/slides, THEN get them to play a unison note, (they're warmed up by now) More often than not, I've found that it works.

    It's by no means a 100% infallible method but if you're talking about a 4th section band, you're talking largely about a collection of inexperienced players and players who don't/can't practice as often as they should/would like to, so one has to find a means to get that collection of such players to play in tune.

    Hymns of course are a useful tool, as are tuning machines to an extent, but teaching the 'ear' to do it gradually is no bad thing, I guess!

    p.s When it comes to playing pieces (particularly when rehearsing for a contest), this is where the conductor can really help, by learning the pieces and pointing out to the band what are the focal points of a various passages within a piece, obbligato parts where relevant and what is accompaniment and balancing accordingly, this can also help a band's tuning in the lower sections. After all, if you've got (to use a very basic example) a simple melody and accompaniment, where four solo cornets are playing the tune, and 21 (or so) other players are considerably outnumbering them in playing the accompaniment, then balancing it effectively is the key. I find an awful lot (and a lot of awful) tuning problems can be solved this way. After all, an 'accompanying' player getting a sudden rush of blood and deciding he or she is the 'soloist' isn't going to do anybody any favours!

    I should add that many of the other suggestions thus far are highly useful too! Just adding my own two bob's worth! ;-)
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2004
  19. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    By the way, if any player, (particularly in a lower section band!) whether a tuning machine or whatever is being used to tune a band, pipes up with 'but my tuning slide has always been in this position and it's never been out of tune before', shoot them there and then! :)
  20. ScrapingtheBottom

    ScrapingtheBottom Active Member

    People actually do this? How can the machine work effectively in an ensemble anyway? Tuning machines are great for individual practice and it's always good to have a go at intervals (especially on the trom!) and see how rubbish your ear actually is. There are a few important points to remember though:

    Other peoples' tuning affects yours and there are instances where chords require a slightly sharp or flat note to sound 'in tune' (I often find it is the former as the chords sound dull otherwise).

    Just as a side note, I need an electronic tuner, where can one purchase one from?

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