Tuning and Intonation

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Slide-o-Maniac, Jan 12, 2018.


Do you prefer to use your ear or an electronic tuners when tuning up?

  1. I only ever use an electronic tuner.

  2. I never use an electronic tuner.

  3. My instrument was tuned at the factory before I bought it.

  4. My tuning slide is welded tight.

    0 vote(s)
  1. Slide-o-Maniac

    Slide-o-Maniac New Member

    As a student trombonist, I was taught to listen and adjust the tuning of every note I play. I've been doing this for over 40 years now. I'm not perfect, but I do listen.

    I recently noticed that when tuning the band, conductors often use electronic tuners, and tune people individually.

    Unfortunately, this reliance on technology, I believe, is leading to players not properly listening to one and other, with the consequent deterioration in intonation and general musicianship.

    We need to make the distinction between tuning and Intonation:
    • Tuning means having the instrument set up so that (all other things being equal), the notes produced are of the correct pitch.
    • Intonation is the fine tuning of each note in relation to the other players in the band. This is achieved by adjusting for environmental factors not related to the actual tuning of the instrument per se. For example, tired lips, temperature etc.
    So, my point is.... Please be aware of the difference between instrument tuning and Intonation. Don't overly rely on electronic tuners. Just listen and adjust. You may find the experience a satisfying one.

    I wonder if anybody else has any comments or observations on this, particularly in relation to brass band playing these days ?
    Jerry and mikelyons like this.
  2. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    I think in the 2 or so years I've been at current band (champ section) the electronic tuner has only been out half a dozen times at most...

    If you're listening and adjusting then (as you say) results often follow fine anyway - there's very little I find as frustrating as a conductor finding a player out of tune on one note (let's say a top G, which tends sharp on plenty of instruments, including some pro level Bb and Eb cornets) and then moving the tuning slide of someone who's in tune on all but one note... Not even bothering to check if the slide is in the right place, let alone telling the player the problem and leaving them to solve it (alternative fingerings etc)
  3. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Ps. Voted never - but mean that to say... it's a source of information sometimes, but it's not the boss of me
    dennis78 likes this.
  4. ari01

    ari01 Active Member

    I use both.. electronic at home to get the instrument in the right ball park. Then by ear at rehersals
    dennis78 likes this.
  5. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    Tuners are useful as proof when a player won't agree with the MD's judgement. If an experienced player can't tune a few selected notes using their ears, how can they play in tune?
    Suzi Q likes this.
  6. julian

    julian Active Member

    Seasoned players use their ears! Besides basic tuning they make adjustments as and when necessary. There are, of course, occasions to use the tuners. It can be helpful to sit at home and practice with a tuner on your stand and learn your own weaknesses. Also, it's good to determine where the instrumentalist 'sits' in regard to pitch that the band will tune to. We also need to know our own 'problem notes' as regards to intonation so that we get used to using triggers or alternative fingering as a matter of course when needed rather than just pushing the fingers down and blowing.

    As for players who won't agree with the M.D.'s judgment (same goes for tempo, style, interpretation etc.) Well, you can't conduct a band by committee and only one person can 'drive the bus at a time, or I'm afraid disaster looms......
    RonBarnes and mikelyons like this.
  7. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    Has anyone experienced a band tune-up where a player sounds out of tune, but the MD using a tuner declares '"that's spot on that"?
  8. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    I find that's usually when the tuning slide is in the wrong place and the player is lipping it into tune (has a good ear and hears the correct pitch before playing) - lipping removes the resonance and overtones and can make it sound very off even if the tuner says it's fine.

    This is where a player has to be careful - I can play everything near enough in tune with my tuning slide (sop) about a cm too far in or out, but doing so will destroy my endurance and harm security in quiet playing... You have to listen to your lip as well as to your ear sometimes!!

    This is another reason I don't like using a tuner very much, it's far too easy for me to lip in - I'll usually tune by feel (how harmonics line up) and that's often a better policy (for me!!!)...

    End of the day, you've got to listen regardless, you've got to be in line with everyone elses tuning and the style etc
  9. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    Sorry, my description wasn't clear. I meant the note they play while tuning sounds out of tune, but the tuner apparently says it's in tune.

    To add to your comment, I've been asked to move my slide to match the tuner during tune-up, to find myself struggling (as you describe) to play as I'm constantly lipping to compensate. I've never been told I play out of tune (even when asking for reassurance), so I don't think it's a case of me having a bad ear.
    mikelyons likes this.
  10. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    That's kinda what I meant though... It's a trick of the ear - it sounds out of tune because the manipulation/lipping is killing off the overtones, but the tuner picks it up as being in tune...

    The dull/dead sound that produces sounds flat - but it's not... I even had it once (on an early prototype with a very sharp high G) where it was being lipped down and sounded flat whilst still coming up as sharp on the tuner.

    You'd be amazed sometimes - this is partly why I hammer on instruments with poor intonation, and disagree so fervently with people claiming it's all about the player... If the instrument is out of tune enough, then however good the player is it'll harm the results if they get it into tune
    Thom, mikelyons and 4th Cornet like this.
  11. 4th Cornet

    4th Cornet Active Member

    Makes sense and thanks - I've not thought about it in that way before.

    Manipulation / lipping will happen regardless of the method of tuning, so presumably players need to be encouraged to play a centered note on the instrument during tuning rather than one in tune with the reference note; somewhat counter-intuitive to our training for playing.
    Tom-King likes this.
  12. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Indeed - playing centered is a feel though, it can be hard to ignore the sound being out of tune and just center the note where it rings most (regardless of tuning).
    mikelyons and 4th Cornet like this.
  13. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I have tuned to an electronic tuner but far prefer to use my ears. With a large instrument it is relatively easy to lip the note to match what the conductor wants when tuning, but then to adjust as the music develops.
  14. Jerry

    Jerry Member

    Amen to that. Thank you for this very clear and concise summary.

    Only, one thing, maybe particularly in relation to cornet sections (i.e. the largest section in the band): it can be tricky for the 'listening' player to adjust / lip in such a way as to fit in with the rest of the section if some or even the majority of it are not of the 'listening kind'. By way of an illustrative scenario: if you're sitting between to fellow cornets, one of whom seems flat and the other sharp, it can be tricky to pick out the right intonation (one presumes the principal's) and adjust your own intonation to match that (even more difficult if more of your colleagues are 'off' in terms of intonation). Perhaps only really an issue in the lower sections, but the topic in general is also perhaps particularly relevant there.
    4th Cornet likes this.
  15. Suzi Q

    Suzi Q Member

    Having played in orchestras and wind bands for many years on clarinet, it surprises me how infrequently brass bands seem to tune! Is it a common thing in the brass band world not to and just rely on listening as you go along? I’ve played in 2 bands, one has tuned together once in the last year or so, the other does so sometimes, but not at every rehearsal. With orchestras and wind bands it was always ‘warm up then tune’ often to the oboe.

    To answer the question, I prefer to use ear, but use a mobile app when practicing alone, as I’m working on getting some of the bottom notes in tune.

  16. ari01

    ari01 Active Member

    My band rarely tunes up. I think the main difference with brass is that you tend not to move slides whereas a lot of orchestral instruments are dismantled which affects tuning..
    Suzi Q likes this.
  17. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    It depends a lot on the MD and on the band... Some bands tune up (to the tuner) almost every rehearsal and some bands never tune up (to the tuner).

    I guess windbands and orchestras are a little more difficult to tune by ear as you play - the sounds in a brass band blend quite well and its much easier to get a handle on the intonation, where trying to play in tune to a flute or oboe (without having a tuner baseline to start from) might be much more difficult?

    It's hard to say anything for sure because I don't have anywhere near the experience with windbands that I do with brassbands (and certainly not with any windbands that come even remotely close to the quality of some of the bands I've played and depped for) - it simply wouldn't be a fair comparison.

    I dare say there are plusses and minuses to both approaches (tuning the whole band up regularly 'vs' rarely tuning the band up).
    If you tune up regularly then everyone should be somewhere near right, but the downside is that players will often close their ears and stick their guns assuming they're in tune (because they've been tuned up) and it must be someone else that's out. I'm not saying that's always the case, but I've seen it happen.
    On the flipside, if you rarely tune up then you're relying on the band to be able to hear intonation problems and get them fixed themselves (perhaps with the occaisional hint from the middle) then you're only going to get good results if the players have developed a good ear and have built up the experience to know what to do and when.
    Suzi Q likes this.
  18. Slide-o-Maniac

    Slide-o-Maniac New Member

    Well, seeing as I started this thread, I'd better add my two-penneth!

    I user the tuner for two things...
    1. Practicing to make sure I'm acually producing the notes I think I am, and,
    2. In rehearsals, to check the tuning of, say, principals. Then the rest can be tuned by ear alone... maybe double checking with the tuner.
    That way, we get the best of both worlds and everybody is encouraged to listen to each other. A thing that, sadly, all too many people fail to do quite often.

    I'm glad this thread has been of interest to some people. Now, I need to think of something else to pronounce on! Haha.
  19. Thom

    Thom Member

    As an Eb bass player I sometimes face the choice of either retuning to the tuning note in a group or trying to explain why I think it might be a bad idea. It can take 10 or 15 minutes to tune it properly and even then it's not tuned "properly", just a weird compromise of imperfect notes. Most of the troublesome notes can be guided into tune but this is at the cost of clarity and security at very low volume.
    Tom-King likes this.
  20. Suzi Q

    Suzi Q Member

    Except I have to take out the slides to remove water! I have 2 water keys but they don’t seem to let it all out, and if I don’t clear it before putting the instrument away by removing each slide in turn, I have mega gurgling issues next time I play! I get your point though, my clarinet always ends up in bits when I’ve finished!