Thursday, October 01, 2009

"Ironing Out" those intervals

Here's a way to think of tuning.
Take one of those simple tunes (somebody should come out with a whole book of those things!) and really work it over, listening carefully to the intervals. Don't just play it in sequence from beginning to end. Go back and forth. Pause on a lot of notes.

Listen, listen, listen.

Have the tuner on but don't stare at it. Use it to check what your ear is telling you.

Think of an out-of tune melody like a wrinkled shirt. Just as you would work over the wrinkles carefully with an iron, you need to work out those wrinkles in your tuning. Back and forth, be patient. Get everything to line up.


John Bailey said...

This is a very interesting topic. And brings up issues.

For instance, among the people I play with one of the more consistent faults is using short positions, not reaching all the way until in tune.

In my own playing I find my brain sometimes fixes on a certain pitch for a note no matter what's happening with the overall tuning. Sometimes it's hard to adjust even when I know it's needed.

Playing melodies leaps right into issues of temperament. Then all the positions rightly move a bit. How to get the hand to follow the ear into probably unfamiliar positions?

I dunno. I wonder if there's a good exercise to get rid of the familiar, pulling up the anchor on the things we think we know. Perhaps start a melody on a half position, then find all the new right places for the rest of the melody by ear alone.

Singing the melody is not anchored to slide positions.

Playing in tune is hard work.

Matthew Parunak said...

I like this idea/analogy, def. will think about it and use it in the future

Will said...

In my mind, there are a couple of ways to approach tuning.

1) Play equal-temperament

2) Play just intonation.

The thing to keep in mind is that no one is going to tell whether you are playing one or the other. They will just know, "That sounds right", or "That doesn't sound right".

So the key to playing in tune is to figure out what sounds right... and in any situation, know what to do in order to make it sound right.

If you play with a piano, you most likely want to play equal temperament. However... if the piece has the piano playing perfect 5ths and the composer writes the major-third in the trombone part... equal temperament might not "sound right". Some people might like to hear it lower, yet some people won't mind.

If playing with a drone, or with a trombone section... obviously, we like to hear the notes adjusted as per "just intonation". This sounds more "right" to our ears normally.

When playing by yourself, you must figure out what sounds right. There is almost always a way to make it "sound right" and that should be the goal.

Part of improving intonation is separating two concepts from each other: timbre and intonation. A lot of times we think that because a note has the right timbre, it's in the center of the pitch also. It's simply not true. :-)

Improving your ear's acuity is the best way to help determine what to do in these situations. Often times, our body takes care of the slight adjustments with slide and embouchure when our mind's ear is guiding it to the right place.

Hope these ideas prove helpful or intriguing to someone,


PS - Someone once told me...
"We basically play a tuning slide. We ought to play it in tune."