Monday, January 26, 2015
Tuning for Intermediate and Middle School Bands
by Fred J. Allen
How can a teacher
effectively incorporate teaching good intonation? Teachers already
have an increasing amount of elements which must be taught in ever
decreasing amounts of time! Fortunately, good intonation
is easy to incorporate into the daily routine of the class without
taking much time.
1. Students must be striving for good tone, or intonation problems
2. If the teacher demonstrates by his/her actions that tuning is
will be more likely to adopt the same attitude.
3. The room has to be quiet for players to hear, match and adjust.
4. The instrument must be warmed up in order to play in tune. To
all the directors who have students line up at the tuner as soon as their
instruments are assembled you are going to have to tune again!
Cold instruments play
flat, and the air coming out of your body is warmer than
the air temperature of your band room. Yes, when
we "warm up," we are literally "warming
up" the instrument to a temperature higher than the
surrounding air. Therefore, you have to play for
a few minutes in order for this to occur.
5. Dynamics, range,
reed strength, valve combinations--these are just a few elements that
will change intonation. Therefore, it is best to use a mid-range
pitch at a mid-range volume for tuning. Actually, most young
players need to be told to play "forte" in order to be truly
playing what will become, in later years, a mid-range volume.
If you have band every day, consider formally tuning one-fifth of the band
Monday: flutes, oboes
Tuesday: clarinets, bass clarinets
Wednesday: all saxophones and horns
Thursday: trumpets and tubas
Friday: trombones and euphoniums
If you meet every
other day, you can adjust this schedule. You may have to spread
it out over a two-week period, but that is okay. Any tuning you
do is better than none!
Use pairs as described in the Beginner Band section above.
Vary the methods of tuning.
mechanism with strobe or needle indicator. This machine has no opinions,
making it a great arbiter of tuning disputes! It is an excellent
way for visual learners to see what "in tune" looks
a device that emits an electronic pitch. This is a great way for a
student to make the waves go away. This is actually preferable
to the "two pairs" method in one way : the electronic
device will not waver unintentionally nor will it run out of air! The
student can also learn to use this easily for
after-school individual practices, lessons, etc.
by ear! You
can't use the tuner in the middle of a concert
to check pitch.
in tune is ultimately up to the individuals producing the
sound. Tune in pairs as described above. Play a scale
in long note (with fermati). During each pitch, point
to two individuals. These two players will remain
playing when the teacher cuts off the fermata. The
benefit to this is it exposes the sound in progress, rather
than the sound at its start. Choose a section of
players. Go down the row, having each player playing
one half note about quarter note = 60. This method
will often make it easy to see which players are sharper
or flatter than their neighbors are.
Strive to make good intonation more than just a routine. Tape rehearsals
to identify problem intonation spots. Try to address at least one intonation
problem in the music each day.
Teach students how to use an
intonation chart to keep track of their tendencies.
The teacher should
specify the range to be checked. The teacher should specify a
mid-range note for the beginning pitch. The student will need a partner
to help mark the intonation tendencies.
begins playing on the mid-range starting note-only on this pitch
are they allowed to look at the tuning mechanism in order to
stop the needle or light.
- Next, the
student looks away from the tuner and moves chromatically upward.
- The tuning
partner marks the chart by indicating how many cents sharp
(+) or flat (-) the student is playing. Then the student
plays the starting note and moves chromatically downward as
the tuning partner marks the pitch variance on those
- Now the player
has a visual record of pitch variances. Students
will look forward to the next opportunity
to have their tuning partners check them
again. Be sure you have plenty
of copies of this chart ready: students love this
activity once they learn how to do it!
Teachers, help your
students understand that their personal intonation may change slightly
as they develop their playing skills. For this reason, foster
the attitude that all players have to be ready to adjust intonation
at all times. No student should be "in trouble" for
being out of tune; they should be helped to listen more carefully! The
only student who must be corrected is the student who stubbornly refuses
to match intonation, as in the following scenario:
Student: "But I'm in tune! You
just told me the tuner said so when we warmed up!"
played that note in tune. This one needs adjusting."
Teachers, learn to
predict the factors which can cause even a seasoned player to face
tuning difficulty (see Intonation
of Wind Instruments). The Middle School years are perfect
for teaching a few of these idiosyncratic problems at a time. Teachers
who have sectional rehearsals often find that time to be ideal for
teaching "problem notes."
We would like to thank Mr. Fred J. Allen and the Texas School Music Project for giving us permission to re-distribute this helpful information. Click this link for the original source material. Click here for contact information for Mr. Allen at Stephen F. Austin State University.
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