Oh no! Don't talk about intonation!

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by trumpetsplus, Mar 5, 2010.

  1. trumpetsplus

    trumpetsplus Fortissimo User

    Jun 11, 2006
    South Salem, NY
    I have lurked for a while; I have posted to some threads when I thought I could be of help; now I will start this thread (and maybe duck for cover?).

    I have just posted this to my blogs and would like comments from members:

    Is it the instrument or the player that is out of tune?

    Many of us have heard the legend of the frustrated school band director talking to the brass players. He has just spent the last 30 minutes trying to get the band in tune so that it can sound sweet for the school concert that night. With his eyes glued on the magic tuning machine in his hand he is saying "sharp – pull out…flat – push in…no, you’re still sharp – pull out". And so it continues.

    The kid who is being singled out gets more and more nervous. And, guess what? When you get nervous or feel under attack, the first thing that goes is your breathing. So the poor kid is squeezing out his note tighter and tighter; the pitch is going up and up; the trumpet is getting longer and longer; eventually it will be so long that the player will be miss-pitching up to the next harmonic.

    In exasperation the band director says:
    "The instruments are made in tune at the factory; just pull your tuning slides out a quarter of an inch!"

    We all laugh at this story, but maybe it has some validity. We must first of all settle the player so that they can blow freely.

    In these situations I prefer to say tight instead of sharp. The player is tight which makes the notes sharp. We must address the problem (tense player) not the result (sharp pitch).

    Assuming the instrument is well made, and an experienced player is able to play it in tune with the main slide out about half an inch, have that player demonstrate to the student where “in tune is”, and have the student blow (in unison with that player) long, easy notes with the slide in that setting. This can demonstrate to them what it is like to play in tune. They will also discover that their playing requires much less effort.

    There is always the tendency to believe that the correct pitch in any ensemble is the highest pitch that is sounding at the time. The player who is flat is the one who sticks out; the great French Horn virtuoso, Barry Tuckwell, is reputed to have said "I’d rather be a little sharp than out of tune".

    What do you think?
  2. rowuk

    rowuk Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 18, 2006
    I am not sure that we can separate the system player/mouthpiece/horn/room. They are all interdependent.

    Proof? Go into the bedroom, sing, buzz on the mouthpiece, play. Everything feels OK but not great. Do the same thing in a church or auditorium: we feel very good!. Now go outdoors to a lake or area with few hills or buildings. Singing and buzzing are OK, but the horn is VERY difficult!

    No trumpet is really "in tune". There are some with better comprimises than others. Playing in tune is a function of the efficiency of the horn/mouthpiece/player, how well you can hear yourself and how well your sense of pitch functions - in that order.

    An efficient player has a solid well defined sound where it is an easy target when the player can hear themselves and have "what it takes" to do what is necessary.

    An inefficient system has a sound that may measure in tune but not be solid enough to fill a particular function in an ensemble, regardless of the ears. It will ALWAYS sound "off".

    Orchestral winds ALWAYS bet slightly sharp - the strings do push the envelope in that direction.
  3. dhbailey

    dhbailey Piano User

    Jul 28, 2009
    New Hampshire
    Rowuk beat me to it, but my reply was going to be "Yes, it's the student or the trumpet or both who are out of tune."

    I have to disagree with the example of the pro player getting an instrument to be in tune and then handing it to a student so the student can feel what it's like to play an instrument which is in tune. The instant the player changes, the intonation characteristics of the package (player, mouthpiece, trumpet) changes drastically and so the student will have no better idea than if the pro hadn't bothered to get the trumpet set up so that it will be in tune.
  4. s.coomer

    s.coomer Forte User

    Mar 25, 2005
    Indianapolis, In
    I agree with all that has been said to this point. However, sometimes we find an instrument that is built for some reason better in tune than others. As an example I have worked for about a year and a half with a second player in the symphony who went out and bought what she thought was a custom horn. She brought it to the orchestra and the first valve was so out of tune that the first slide had to be thrown as far as possible in order to play in tune. I told her that I would have complained to the manufacturer, but she was happy just throwing the slide all the way out. I thought it was something that needed to be fixed. I say this to say that there is no fixed rule about anything when it comes to tuning your instrument.
  5. oldlou

    oldlou Forte User

    Aug 28, 2005
    Grand Rapids, Mi.
    I have a collectible cornet of very high grade, make and model that has a fantastic tone, superlative valves, excellent response, etc.,but, is so totally out of tune with itself,( no matter the mouthpiece tried ), that it just sits in its case. I would feel guilty about selling it to anyone. Sometimes it is the horn.

  6. Markie

    Markie Forte User

    Jan 4, 2009
    Clarksburg, WV
    I would say they are both inner connected. You might want to read this:

    Efficiency Through Resonant Intonation
    By Mark Van Cleave
  7. trumpetsplus

    trumpetsplus Fortissimo User

    Jun 11, 2006
    South Salem, NY
    Hi Guys
    Thank you all for your input.

    I'm just talking about kids getting scared.
  8. brassplayer

    brassplayer Pianissimo User

    May 6, 2009
    San Gabriel, CA
    We got a new Band Director my Senior Year in High School. He said it was a waste of time tuning flutes since they were "tuned at the factory" and never went out of tune.

    He wasn't around the following year. :thumbsup:
  9. s.coomer

    s.coomer Forte User

    Mar 25, 2005
    Indianapolis, In
    That guy has a real problem. Sorry, you can tune flutes.
  10. gglassmeyer

    gglassmeyer Piano User

    Apr 28, 2006
    Cincinnati, OH
    sometimes the kids can't tell if they're in tune. My wife played flute in elementary school and high school. She even played the oboe for a while in High school. My wife is horribly tone deaf. I'll hear her playing through a song book and miss a sharp or flat and keep on going.

    The high school band I was in required interested students to take a music aptitude test. It was a cassette tape that would play groups of 2 pitches and you would have to mark whether the second was higher, lower, or the same as the first. We would still have some tuning problems but at least the people in the band could hear the difference.

    I'm not sure when they stopped doing that, but as small as that school is now, they will take anyone willing to try. I know that seems cold, but at least on a basic level being able to hear pitches is required for playing music in tune.

    In addition to the nervousness affecting a player, some young players are inconsistent anyway. When I went to my high school homecoming football game last fall, the kid coming around to tune the trumpets never played the same "C" twice.

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