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Practicing intonation

06 Sep 2008 11:29 - 06 Sep 2008 11:31 #164 by Robert Ward
Practicing intonation was created by Robert Ward

I generally have good intonation when merely in the practice room with a tuner. However, I seem to have some trouble when I go into my ensembles. If even possible, how would you recommend practicing ensemble intonation without the ensemble?

Scott Hoehn
Student of Horn
University of Northern Colorado

Bob Ward's Answer:

Hi Scott,

First, let's talk (or I'll write and you'll read :) ) about how best to use a tuner. It's important to train yourself to listen to yourself and not become dependent on the visual display of the tuner. So play a note with your eyes closed and when you think you're right, open your eyes and see how you did. Or record yourself on a good flash recorder playing slow scales and arpeggios and play it back through a speaker and watch the tuner to learn what your tendencies are. It's very instructive. That's the best you can do by yourself.

Now, ensemble intonation is obviously dependent not only on your intonation, but on the skills of the others involved as well. If they are all working on their own pitch as above, things will get better over time. But there are things that you can do to improve matters. The biggest thing that can help is to know what degree of the chord you are on, and to adjust accordingly. For example, major thirds need to be a bit low, and minor thirds a bit high. Minor 7ths need to be quite a bit low. As an experiment, try the following - have two colleagues play a middle C and the G above. Get it perfect. Now play the E as the major third. Fits really well, right? Why, because it's the 5 partial, and naturally a little flat. Next, play the open 5th a 1/2 step higher, C# and G#. Insert the third, and play it F1. So-so. But try it as B23 and you will see how much better the chord rings.

Next, recruit another colleague, have them all perfectly tune a C major chord as above, then play a Bb, fingered B1. Now try the same thing, but play the Bb open on the F horn as a 7th partial. Notice how well the chord tunes up. In real life, you might feel that this is too flat, but notice the tendency - and adjust according with fingerings.

That brings me to another observation - there are 3 ways to adjust the pitch on the horn:

choice of fingering
move your hand
lip the note

This is my preferred order. Why? Because you are not fighting the horn when you use an alternate fingering. Moving your hand changes the pitch, but you give up sound. Lipping the note means that you are not playing in the center. Sound and endurance will suffer.

So what does this mean? You have to know every alternate fingering on your horn and their tendencies. Take a piece of staff paper and list all the fingerings for every note on your horn and, together with your tuner, whether they are sharp or flat, and make a note of how much. Then, when you are on the third of a chord (top space E in Eb horn, for example), you can play it B3 and be closer in pitch to a major third. If everyone in your section is aware of this, and does it, your will notice a big improvement.

The complications arise when this type of harmonic tuning collides with others who are playing a melody and trying to play closer to equal temperament, or, in the case of some string players, raising their leading tones. In that case, you must compromise, and work it out with the players involved.

Intonation can be a thorny issue (and a personally sensitive one) with some folks, so I encourage a non-judgmental approach ("I think we are not agreeing on that note").

This an issue that is complex, but I hope that this is a enough to get you started.

Last edit: 06 Sep 2008 11:31 by IHS Online Manager.

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