Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Great Pumpkin

Halloween is coming so I thought I should put up a post in the spirit of the season.  Some of you may remember that Peanuts special...

Linus believe that, if you chose the right pumpkin patch and you were pure of spirit, the Great Pumpkin would rise up over the horizon and smile down upon you.

This reminds me of a teaching technique I often use.

We all want our students to tune more with their ears than their eyes.  And yet, if that tuner is in their line of sight, there is still that tendency to rely on vision to correct pitch.

If a student is struggling with a particular note.  Let's say, oh, I don't know....how about 
E-FLAT!!
I have them select a passage and play into that note and put a fermata on it.
As they do this, I hide the tuner behind the music stand and, after they've had a few seconds to rely on their ear, the tuner rises up from behind the stand to render its opinion of their pitch.

(kinda like the Great Pumpkin....get it?)

I often find that students have actually trained themselves to hear a note incorrectly.  Sometimes, I give them this instruction, "Play that note so it sounds just a tiny bit flat to your ear."  If that note had been chronically sharp, they are often quite surprised to see that the "flat note" is right in tune!

About that time, I leave the tuner and put on a tuning drone to serve as an "aural chiropractor" and realign their intervals.

One critical trap to watch for: the "out of tune" note may be correctly aligned with the preceding note.  
For example, if a student is playing the 5th position Gb on the high side after coming in from an F in 6th, they may have played a correct half step up from an F that itself was too sharp.

Likewise, it wouldn't hurt to quickly check the tuning note to make sure the whole instrument is in sync.

The basic message, as always, is this: 
Your ears are the tuner!
Use the electronic aids to calibrate your ears.

If you can do this, maybe this Halloween the Great Pumpkin will smile down upon your pumpkin patch!


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