Continued Discussion on ““Tuning A Band To A Tuba”

Thank you for responding to our post and I will try to answer each of your concerns.

Your comments are in “”.
My comments are in bold type.

“Firstly, your point 2&3 is pretty much the same”

Due to the fact you have not specified which two comments were “pretty much the same”, I will have to respond with an explanation for both comments marked 2 & 3.

2. The clarinet note lies more in the middle range of the human ear which makes it more recognizable by the majority of the players.

The main focus of this statement is to establish that the clarinet is more in the middle of the range of all of the instruments were the tuba’s tuning note is still below the playing range of the majority of tunable instruments in a band.

3. Being a reed instrument, the clarinet is better equipped to center and reproduce the tuning note more consistently than the same note played on an instrument generating vibrations through the use of lip muscles.

The point made in this statement is that the vibrating read is much more stable to pitch change than is the lip on a tuba player.

Point # 2 was decidedly different than issue #3.

2. The low frequencies of the tuba are more difficult for the female members of the ensemble to hear than their male counterparts. In school bands, more girls than boys tend to play most woodwind instruments, especially flute, and more boys than girls tend to play brass instruments, saxophone, and percussion.
Read from the following- (

The main issue with this statement is the FACT that there are more girls in a band than there are boys and this conclusion is verified in the Article from Wikipedia.

3. The majority of members of a band are most often females. Due to the fact that females are not as sensitive to the low vibrations of a tuba, the majority of the players are at a disadvantage when tuning to that instrument.
Read from the following-(

This source substantiates my claim that girls are equipped with hearing mechanisms which are more sensitive to higher frequencies than boys. If the females hearing equipment is better suited to hearing higher frequencies than their male counterpart, it is only logical to assume their more sensitive hearing at higher ranges would also limit them in the lower ranges.

Point # 2 was decidedly different than issue #3.

“but more seriously they are hogwash”.

    [hawg-wosh, -wawsh, hog-] Show IPA
refuse given to hogs; swill.
any worthless stuff.
meaningless or insincere talk, writing, etc.; nonsense; bunk.

Few would agree to your statement that the information stated in these two Wikipedia articles could be considered worthless, meaningless, nonsense or inferior writing.

“Females (as shown in the citation you’ve used) are more sensitive to “higher frequencies” than men are. This is not to say that they are less sensitive in lower frequencies”.

It stands to reason that if the female hearing components are built differently than the male, the advantage in the high range would equal a similar amount of loss in the low range. You can’t have one advantage without losing in the other range.

“Secondly the evidence surrounding this is thin”.

Due to the fact that both source were the beliefs of Wikapedia, I feel that the information and the eventual conclusions were ample evidence to prove my assumptions.

“A better argument is that tuning is pretty much about detecting differences in frequency (which usually manifests itself as pulses where the mismatching frequencies). The more of a mismatch, the more frequent is the pulsing effect”.

I’m not sure what you were trying to say. Your opening remark, “A better argument is that tuning” puts me at a loss. My post discusses the advantage of tuning to a clarinet as opposed to tuning to a tuba. The remander of your sentence is completely off the subject for “A better argument is that tuning”, does not relate to anything I have covered in the post.

“However, when tuning against a tuba where the fundamental frequency is way below most of the orchestra (wind orchestra anyway, this advice doesn’t apply for a tuba orchestra) you are in effect tuning the weaker overtones of the tuba – where the pulse effect would be less pronounced than for two signals of similar fundamental frequency”.

Sounds like you agree with me on this one but what is a “tuba orchestra?

”Similarly it is common to tune to oboes in orchestral settings (for a variety of reasons), mainly because they are pretty much in the middle of the spectrum frequency-wise and they project such that they are distinct even when everybody is tuning. Tubas, not so much.

Sounds like you agree with me on this one also.

I appreciate your comments on this topic and as more comments come in, I will be addressing each one individually.

Scientific Proof- “Tuning to a tuba can be hazardous to your band’s intonation”

It takes courage to try to change the world but to some of us, it is worth it. Listening to out of tune bands could be a thing of the past if only the band world would take note. Below I will discuss the reasoning behind clarinet tuning as opposed to tuba tuning and if you have a strong opinion either way, please send me your views so that this problem can finally be exposed and hopefully corrected.

Why Tuning to a Clarinet Works

1. The clarinet’s tuning note (Bb) is in the middle of the pitch range for the majority of the band instruments making it closer to the majority of the players tuning note.

Download this document- The Frequency Spectrum, Instrument Ranges, and EQ Tips instrument chart

2. The clarinet note lies more in the middle range of the human ear which makes it more recognizable by the majority of the players.

3. Being a reed instrument, the clarinet is better equipped to center and reproduce the tuning note more consistently than the same note played on an instrument generating vibrations through the use of lip muscles.

4. The first chair clarinet is in a position whereby all the players of the ensemble are positioned to better hear the tuning note.

5. The tone quality of the clarinet is much more centered which makes tuning much easier than tuning to the notes played by brass instruments.

Clarinet sine curve on top Tuba sine curve on bottom

Why Tuning to a Tuba Does Not Work

1. The Tuba’s tuning pitch (Bb) is below the usable range of all the wind instruments in the band with the exception of the trombone, euphonium and tenor saxophone. (refer to diagram- The Frequency Spectrum, Instrument Ranges, and EQ Tips)

2. The low frequencies of the tuba are more difficult for the female members of the ensemble to hear than their male counterparts. In school bands, more girls than boys tend to play most woodwind instruments, especially flute, and more boys than girls tend to play brass instruments, saxophone, and percussion.

Read from the following- (

3. The majority of members of a band are most often females. Due to the fact that females are not as sensitive to the low vibrations of a tuba, the majority of the players are at a disadvantage when tuning to that instrument.

Read from the following-(

“There is a difference in sensitivity of hearing between the sexes, with women typically having a higher sensitivity to higher frequencies than men.[4] The vibrations of the ossicular chain displace the basilar fluid in the cochlea, causing the hairs within it, called Stereocilia, to vibrate. Hairs line the cochlea from base to apex, and the part stimulated and the intensity of stimulation gives an indication of the nature of the sound. Information gathered from the hair cells is sent via the auditory nerve for processing in the brain”.

4. The position of the tuba in an ensemble, whether in the center, back row or on the left or right of the band makes it more difficult to clearly hear the tuning note played by the tuba.

5. The sine curve produced by a tuba is much more vague than that of a clarinet and thus more difficult to match in pitch. (See sine curve above).

I have limited my examples to five for any more would be needless. Because of these proven disadvantages of tuba tuning, it is only logical that those currently practicing this method of tuning should consider returning to the earlier method (tuning to the clarinet) so that our bands will once again perform in tune as it should be.

My next and final post on this subject will deal with any comments sent to us and the misguided idea that “tuning from the bottom up is the way to tune”.


Why Are We Still Tuning Our Bands To A TUBA?

Many years ago, someone came up with the stupid idea that bands should stop tuning to a clarinet and start tuning to a TUBA. How ridicules! I thought it to be a fad started by some band hating string player as a joke but soon it caught on and it now seems that the majority of band directors are still continuing this unproductive and silly practice.

As I listen to more and more bands continuing the time wasting exercise of tuning to the tuba, I shake my head in wonder. I have been shaking my head now for a long time and I finally decided to not only become vocal in my opposition to this practice but also give the world scientific proof why tuning your band to a tuba is a waste of time.

I am very sensitive to good and bad intonation and for that reason, the pain I have to go through when listening to an out of tune band usually creates an all-day headache as well as sweaty palms and extreme tension in my throat and neck muscles. None of these reactions are pleasant and for that reason, I intend to take on the world to try to turn things back to the way it should be: bands once again tuning to a clarinet.

The history of band tuning

Arguably the first tuning device could have been the tuning fork. Limitations on the volume of a fork when tuning would have made it impractical for with the usual noise in a rehearsal, a tuning fork would not project far enough to help anyone trying to tune.

Next was the long series of Conn tuners which were in every band room and would spend its entire life spinning from left to right and back again.

In the earlier days, once the correct pitch was given to and matched correctly by the first chair clarinet, the band (section by section) would use this pitch as a guide. The range and timbre of the clarinet worked well in tuning the ensemble. For individual instrument checking during a rehearsal, the director would periodically check back to the electronic tuner. “And life was good”.

Then the diabolical idea of tuning to a tuba surfaced and we still have not been released from this hideous bondage. If you are still tuning your band to a tuba, please check back at this location and I promise to enlighten you to the better way of tuning your band. If you are a student in a band which continues to tuba tune, politely notify your director of this site and I will try to convert his thinking to the better way.

Next post in this series will be entitled “Scientific Proof- Tuning to a tuba can be hazardous to your band’s intonation”.

Adolph Sylvester (Bud) Herseth- A Legend In His Own Time

When speaking of greatness, merely the first name or nick name is sufficient. The name Pops, Diz, Bird, Duke, Count, Wynton instantly brings to mind these gifted musicians and when the name “Bub” is offered, only one person comes to mind; Bud Herseth.

To the less aware, Mr. Herseth has been the shining star in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra sence he was first hired in 1948. His astonishing record of accomplishments in this ensemble is legendary and to the younger players, he should be their inspiration for perfect consistency, dependability and overall musical example.

This radio interview is again one of the more important exchange of ideas in the trumpet world and I strongly suggest that you listen to all of this enlightening conversation.

To alter and commandeer a well-known commercial, “This Bud’s for …….all of us”.

Click here to listen to interview

Click here to view his history

Which is more important n the development of a student- the teacher or the environment? Part 3

In the previous post we discussed the advantages of private lessons on a student’s development as well as the contributing factors to the development of the self-motivated student. Self motivated students , as I will discuss will begin to have a profound effect on the players around them. This influence will be the factor which will advance his/her fellow students in their improvement in addition to their private instructor’s help. The question will be this- will this influence have more affect on the other students than the one on one influence the private teach has on the same students?

Pier pressure has a very powerful affect on all students as we all know. How we dress, what we purchase, what we eat are all illustrations of this influence. The younger the individual, the more this is evident. Pier pressure even at the college age is evident and when it affects your musical ability, it is even stronger because most musicians take pride in their ability as a performer. Throughout their musical development, people have been telling them how wonderful they perform and how musical they are gifted. When reaching the college age and performing in this arena of musical performance, we all know what pressure is exerted on us in order to perform at an acceptable level. In my own case, I remember distinctly the feeling I had when I entered the old music building at North Texas State and was humbled by the large number of trumpet players practicing and realizing that I was NOT the best trumpet player in the world. I remember this situation as if it were yesterday. Till that moment, I thought I was a hot shot on trumpet. That’s when I learned the affect your environment can have on your motivation as a player. This sudden exposure to what trumpet playing was going to be like at NTS had more impact on me than all of my private lessons combined. I quickly learned the meaning of practice and advancement. Just as a sinking person suddenly learns to swim, I had to reset my goals as a trumpet player.

How does your environment affect your musical advancement?

When comparing a student’s contact with their private teacher and the his/her contact with a fellow trumpet player competing for a chair in an ensemble, it is similar to swimming in a public swimming pool and swimming in an ocean full of hungry sharks! Preparing your weekly lesson in order to please your instructor and preparing your audition material in order to secure the lead chair in you favorite jazz ensemble is as different as night and day. Your audition for the lead chair will command your full attention and your weekly lesson preparation will have to wait. This is the environmental pressure which will push students to higher levels of preparation than for their weekly lessons.

Reflecting back to the years when our college was “wall to wall” filled with gifted trumpet students, I have no doubt that the real reason for this wonderful time in our history was not because of the gifted teachers in the studios as much as it was the fact that we had an over- abundance of self-motivated students. I also remember the years where the number and ability of trumpet students was below average we were working with fewer self motivated students. What does this tell us about our effectiveness as teachers?

Lest our readers concur that environmental influence is a better motivator than private teachers, let me remind you that without private teachers, there would be no students taking lessons. The point I have been making is that the teachers have a positive responsibility in the development of musicians and coupled with their student’s environmental pressures, great things can be accomplished. If, on the other hand, you think you are the only reason your students succeed, you would fit better in a field such as politics.

Which is more important in the development of a student- the teacher or the environment? Part 2

The importance of personal contact on a regular basis cannot be over stated for the concentrated time given on a one to one basis is fundamental in the concept of private lessons. During a lesson, the instructor is able to listen, evaluate and make recommendations to the student drawing from the instructor’s personal experience. This one on one environment in most cases builds confidence in the student and the knowledge shared can be of great benefit to the student. Private lessons can be a non-threatening encounter where the students problems are observed, analyzed and through carefully planned assignments, improve the student’s musical ability. But how much actual impact do these assignments have on the student?

If the teacher has gained the student’s respect as an educator, these assignments will be prepared to the student’s level of ability. Each assignment is expected to be practiced and through regular practice, improvement should be expected. The weekly routine of lesson, assignment, practice and re-evaluation the following week can in many cases become just that, a routine. Each visit will predictably garner the same amount of success. To the average student, this is expected. But what about the over achieving, self-motivated student. Granted this type of student is not the norm but is the exception. The self-motivated student has higher expectations and because of this mind set, wants more rapid and more obvious improvement from week to week. With a student like this, his/her drive can be from self imposed goals or may come from a more competitive mind set. This student has more impact on the people around him/her than the average student. Having a more self-motivated student in the same environment as average players will most often improve the playing ability of the other students. This is where the debate begins to establish itself. Do students improve because of the efforts of the teacher or does the environment of the student have a greater affect on a player’s musical ability?

Teaching private lessons is a simple matter complicated by the fact that individuals are just that- individuals. Each has his/her own problems. The flip side of that argument is that each student’s problems are very similar to every other students problems and the prescription to the solution is in most cases the same for every student. If a student has range issues, the assignment in most cases is the same, if the mechanical parts are correct in the player (embouchure, mouthpiece placement, pressure issues, etc.) assigning gradual increases in upper register playing is the solution. If the student’s level of finger dexterity is lacking, the assignment of exercises to improve this issue is assigned. But what can an instructor do to motivate more determination to excel which is always present in the overachieving student’s mind. The average student practices the assignment because their instructor has suggested it, an overachieving student practices it because he/she craves it due to the fact that they must succeed in their efforts. The self-motivated student must practice these assignment in order to fill their need to be successful. In many cases the average student practices the assignments in order to please their instructor.

In our next post, I will illustrate the influence of the student’s environment on his/her improvement as a musician.

Which is more important in the musical development of a student- the teacher or the environment?

This post has not come easily for I’m not sure that I will be able to articulate my thoughts effectively. The ultimate goal will be to cause thought, evaluation and deep reflection on a very debatable issue which is “Does a student’s improvement depend on the ability of the teacher, or is success more dependent on competition from the student’s environment”?

One of the greatest benefits of advanced age coupled with retirement is the fact that one has time to sit back and reflect on issues which are seemingly important to the retiree, even if not as important to his/her listener. This is one of those moments.

When reflecting on past highs and lows of more than forty years of teaching, one question has surfaced- “Which was more influential in the improvement of my students- my teaching ability or the competitive environment of the student at that time”?

Some years produced outstanding students and in other years few students were able to reach equally high levels of success. If the same teacher were teaching in the same manner each year, it seems logical that success and accomplishments should be relatively consistent. Granted that the level of ability as an entering Freshman can vary considerably, but after four, and sometimes five years of study with the same instructor, time should have evened the playing field.

As an educator, one would like to think that the many hours spent in private lessons would be the reason that a student would eventually become an accomplished musician. But are these weekly contacts as important to the student’s improvement as we would like to think? In the next two posts, I will try to expose the truth, or the truth as I see it in this debate and in doing so, I would like to invite my readers to respond in order to gain their thoughts on each side of this discussion.

In my next posting I will discuss the advantages of private lessons in a student’s development and in the following post advance some of the influences applied through the student’s environment on his/her musical advancement.