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. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Yes - the vital importance of not just knowing what the reading is on a piece of test equipment, but how to interpret that reading in order to take appropriate action. Your post, Euphfiend, reminded me of the old engineers joke (and serious warning!):

    Once upon a time there was a railway wheel tapper called Charlie Bloggs. He worked in a huge shunting yard, and he tapped all the wheels on all the wagons which came into the yard, checking to see if the tyres were loose on the wheel centres. If the tyre was tight, he expected to hear a nice "Dinggggg!!" :), whereas if the tyre was loose, he would hear "Dunk!" :(

    And Charlie scrapped four hundred and fifty seven thousand, six hundred and nineteen wheels - and then the awful truth dawned on him. All those tyres were not loose - it was his hammer that was cracked . . . :oops:
  2. euphfiend

    euphfiend New Member

    Thank you 4th cornet, I stand corrected. It was a long time since Grade 5 theory! The explanation is correct though. I make early woodwind instruments for a living, so I deal with this stuff every day, since early instruments are not tuned to equal temperament. Thanks also for the comment on quality of explanation.
    4th Cornet likes this.
  3. sop@55

    sop@55 Member

    err..thought I could stay out of this , but no. Kiz7 has hit it on the head! Why is the 3rd tuni
    ng slide not equal to 1 1/2 tones? exactly for the reason Kiz7 says. So get the "open" note in tune (some pieces may dictate a different note be the "source" note (ask any soprano player) and adjust each other note by ear and skill (I think this is called intonation). Isn't this what contesting is all about; continual improvement? there ya go, I'm off to earn some money so I can enjoy my banding......
  4. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

  5. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    But Kiz7 said the app was "in development", Steve, so it may not have been launched as yet.
  6. Mello

    Mello Active Member

    Amazing really just how deep some folk will dig into the problems of Tuning and intonation. I really do feel that one can become obsessed with technical details about the subject. Throughout my long career its just been simple...one is either in or out of tune. Sometimes intonation problems arise , in cases of a player being inconsistent , or unable to sustain a note at a steady pitch. THAT'S when I know a machine will assist in home practice. I used to check myself for this using Pages 125 /126 in the Arban ( Mixed intervals ).
    Example. page 126 -1st line, I would set the tuner to my C ( 3rd space) then as I progressed along the line , every so often I would hold the C in mid flow......and glance at the tuner just to check I was hitting and holding in tune with my own original setting.
    Try it and see.....there is a tendency to drift , the larger and more 'odd' the interval.

    If it does . give yourself a kick up the backside and dont do it again. Just saying what I did , and it worked ok for me as a player/ I certainly didnt get too concerned about things like the 3td undertone being slightly sharp ( or flat ). I DID used to get a feeling of satisfaction when I was spot on ....even if it was at the second attempt......starting at the beginning of course.

    I am NOT knocking anyone wanting to get really technical , just hope they dont let it get in the way, looking for absolute perfection ...it don't exist !
    Euphonium Lite, PeterBale and Jack E like this.
  7. BrianT

    BrianT Member

    Wantage, Oxfordshire
    It's simplistic to say it's either in tune or not.

    Imagine you've got three players, playing a major triad - root + third + fifth, and each player using their ears to tune so the intervals are exactly 5:4 for the third and 3:2 for the fifth. The chord will sound amazing - the notes mesh together and ring beautifully.

    But if you were to point a tuner at the people playing the third or the fifth it would indicate the notes they are playing are are out of tune. because the meter is equal temperament.

    If you then gave each player their own tuning meter, and got each one to play so that their root, third or fifth was exactly in tune according to the meter, the produced chord would sound slightly worse than in the first case I described. The notes don't mesh together together so nicely - they grind a bit.

    In the situation I described, we're getting conflicting messages about which of the two chords is more in tune. But if it's a choice between "the machine says I'm in tune" and "my ears say I'm in tune" then I'll go with my ears every time.

    Tuning meters:
    • encourage the "set it and forget it" mentality - so players tune one note and then think their entire instrument is in tune.
    • encourage players to be broadcasters only and not listen to what they're doing.
    • train you to tune with your eyes not your ears.
  8. GJG

    GJG Well-Known Member

    A pub, Surrey, UK
    I think tuning meters are like any other tool; they have their uses, but equally they can be mis-used. I have one, and I sometimes use it, both in my own practice and also when rehearsing the band. Sometimes it's useful, sometimes it's not. It's not a replacement for listening, but I'm suspicious of people who rule out using them completely ...
  9. Mello

    Mello Active Member

    As I said, , for me it was simplistic , I was either in or out of tune. A Simple Fact .
    Never was I nearly in tune , for that would be Out of tune , wouldnt it ?

    I like to think I was in , cos if I wasn't then the great conductors I worked with , would certainly not have accepted it. ( I include Sir Malcolm Sargent , Sir Arthur Bliss , Neemi Jarve , Eric Ball , Harry and Alex Mortimer Geoff Brand , Walter Hargreaves , Howard Snell , Joe Horowitz amongst them) .
    I did say for me it was simple, and I accept that may not please the purist or technophobes.
    .It may not satisfy others and if they want to get deeply technical , of course they are entitled to , I just hope they dont get hangups about it,

    As a matter of interest , with Versatile Brass , it was certainly not unusual fro the Trumpet /Cnt players to play
    the root /3rd/5th and even the octave , Striking in unison to check their tuning before a concert.
    What Brian T didnt say was whether the 3 players struck together, and held their notes in unison or if they each placed their note on top of the root which was already sounding. Thereby having a benchmark Which is a point I covered in an earlier post

    Regarding my mixed interval practice, Sometimes if the tempo is fast it is easy to hit a note off centre , specially if it is a very large , interval ie; double octave Dbs such as written by John Golland, particularly if no trigger is fitted . In this regard I had no qualms in checking myself from time to time, even if I had no particular reson to doubt it. That is simple enough for me.

    If folk wish to tear my simplistic methods to bits , thats fine, feel free , you are probably correct . All I know is they worked well for me , and I played amongst some pretty good company. My late dear friend Maurice Murphy used to say when asked technical questions, " Don't ask me, .....I just put it on my face and do it " He was a far better player than I , and also was free from technical encumbrances .

    Having said all that ,I am not going to get involved further discussing things I am not either an expert in or interested. I have given my opinion and examples used by myself and my peers. and have nothing further to add.
    Euphonium Lite, GER and Jack E like this.
  10. Kiz7

    Kiz7 Member

    Umm, no I didn't say any of that?
  11. Kiz7

    Kiz7 Member

    No, it's still at the beta testing stage but if you visit the link I added to my post you can download the trial version
  12. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    A bit like you can't be slightly pregnant? Thank you, Mello - that works for me!
    Mello likes this.
  13. Slide-o-Maniac

    Slide-o-Maniac New Member

    Blimey..... I didn't expect to open a massive can of worms!
  14. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Welcome to the world of forums, Slide-o-Maniac . . .


    Been there, done that, more times than I care to remember.
    Slide-o-Maniac likes this.
  15. GER

    GER Active Member

    Works for me too, keep things simple and don't overthink them
  16. Laz

    Laz New Member

    I saw Intonation Station mentioned a couple of times in this thread. I'm actually the developer of this app. I've played in brass bands for over 5 years now, and I'm certain our local band would be a section higher if we could sort our intonation out.

    I've no wish to be perceived as promoting the app here, but to address the questions that have been asked:

    Intonation Station is currently available for iPhones and iPads. An Android version should follow sometime this year.
    Beta testing is now officially finished, but if you'd still like to test a copy for free, let me know, or contact through the website (listed in a post above).

    Back to the thread. Intonation seems to be very poorly understood in the bands I've played in. I guess the top bands have players with excellent ears, who can rely on others also being in tune, and who understand the various different temperaments that result in a pleasant ensemble sound. But in a lower section, having an excellent ear is not much use if everyone else is out of tune - who do you tune to?

    It's tempting to level criticism at the MD, but my experience is that half the players don't know the difference between tuning and intonation, and fewer still are aware of the difference between natural temperament and equal temperament, or even that their instrument could have uneven intonation. I've often cringed watching a player move their main tuning slide in an attempt to correct one, aberrant note. The MD has some role in addressing these issues, but the players and their teachers also need to take responsibility.

    Personally, I hate electronic tuners, for all the reasons posted in this thread. They give players an unjustified confidence in their instrument, and demotivate them from training their ears. That's not to say they don't have any role for establishing an initial baseline though.

    When it comes to tuning up the band, I think there's a lot to be said for tuning up the principal players in each range (SATB) to a tuner, then having the rest of the band use their ears (with guidance from the MD) to tune to the principals of their section. Players should be aware of the various aspects that affect intonation as discussed in this thread, but knowing the characters in our band, I wouldn't want to be the one to tell them!
    euphfiend likes this.
  17. T Bone Funky

    T Bone Funky New Member

    I try and use an electronic tuner as little as possible/not at all, as does the better MD's I find. I have one in my case but barely ever use it. I'll use it occasionally at home to check my 5th positions are accurate and tuning higher register (top F, G, Ab, A, B and Bb's always need fine tuning on trombone) but otherwise I try not to use it as it's more beneficial to me as a player (IMO) to just use my ears. You'll never learn to play in tune if you're relying on a machine all the time.
  18. Queeg2000

    Queeg2000 Active Member

    My observation is that a lot of players in lower sections, particularly younger players have no idea what the purpose of a trigger is, and even if they know what it's for, it's probably seized solid.

    Then you get the experienced players in the band using their trigger and produce the correct note, but compared to the younger players they're flat so either stop using them to avoid the MD complaining they're flat, or persist using them. This is compounded by the younger often playing cheap instruments which are never going to be in tune across the range.
  19. dennis78

    dennis78 New Member

  20. Kiz7

    Kiz7 Member


    All the time in the fourth section band I played for! The MD always used a tuner to tune individual notes when a chord was out of tune (without consideration for which note of the chord it was and so on) and then didn't get why everything else was out of tune. The point about understanding how to use a tuner is also relevant. In the same band a number of players, including the then principal cornet, had their mobiles on the stand with a tuning app open checking their tuning using the app when asked to tune a not by the MD. On many occasions the two tuners differed and the players challenged the MD saying their tuner said they were in tune. It created chaos. That said, the same MD did tell a player who was a tone flat that their tuning note was "nearly there, just pull out a bit more" until it was pointed out to him that the tuning machine had gone to the note below it was so flat!
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