Here are 10 reasons most of our bands are playing out of tune- #3, #4, #5

Valve extension tubing
3. Tune your band before, during and at the end of every rehearsal!

The need to tune your ensemble at the beginning of a rehearsal is obvious but what about during your rehearsals and again towards the end. The more often you bring up good intonation, the more conscious your students will be aware of any changes in pitch.

Changes in room temperature can alter a once in tune ensemble and even the size of the instrument will affect the bands intonation. Think about the amount of air and the length of time it takes a warm breath to fully envelop each of the band instruments. We all recognized that warm air, as it travels through an instrument brings the pitch up on that same instrument. Cold horn= low pitch and a warm horn = a higher and more stable pitch as long as warm air continues to flow through the instrument. Now think of the time it would take the air blown through a tuba to begin to warm the instrument and eventually gain the proper pitch. Compare that now to the time required for the same warming for a trumpet. The trumpet is considerably shorter and because of that fact, requires much less time to warm up the air inside. This inconsistency will cause you to rethink your tuning process even within the brass instrument family not to mention the other instruments throughout your ensemble.

Most often these days, the few minutes given to tuning at the beginning of the band/ orchestra rehearsal is the only time given. Throughout the rehearsal, the importance of proper intonation should be reinforced in order for the students to realize that “once tuned” does not mean “tuned forever”. During every ensemble rehearsal and performance, every player must constantly check for any and all notes within the organization.

If more directors would also spend just a small amount of time towards the last few minutes of a rehearsal, this repeated exercise will make every student more aware of the importance of good intonation and eventually this reminder will carry through to every minute of a student’s playing.

4. If somethings sounds out of tune, fix it!

My reaction when hearing an out of tune note or chord is similar to resting my hand on a hot stove. It isn’t a matter of a slight discomfort, it’s more like “WHAT ARE YOU DOING”? As we become ever more used to perfectly executed recordings and television performances, we become more complacent as far as intonation. One must remember that almost all of these perfect performances are usually attributed to many painful hours checking and tweaking out of tune notes during the recording and after the recording to make every recording perfect. Life is not like that. We make small mistakes as well as large mistakes and there are no electronics to save our performances when it is done live.

Many of the shows in Branson as well as other active live music areas rely on pre-recorded tracks to improve a production. If you have not realized that this is often done, then you probably get upset when you actually hear a clam or mistake in a show. The reason for the use of tracks is simple. You shouldn’t hear any mistakes. Another advantage of tracks is that even with a substitute musician; the show still goes on and sounds the same. Now we come to the realization of “lip–synching”. I will reserve the right to address this at a later date.

Now back to playing in tune-

When I hear an ensemble land on a chord which is obviously out of tune, my first reaction is, “Why are you going on”? If something is out of tune, fix it at that time. The more often a director passes by an obviously out of tune note or chord, it gives the student the misconception that it doesn’t matter and is less important than everything coming next. Intonation is as important as the correct fingering of a note. This makes as much sense as correcting a missed played note at the start of a rehearsal and failing to remind the same student every time he/she misses it throughout the entire rehearsal. An out of tune note is equally harmful as a wrong note!

If you hear an out of tune note, don’t go on and hope it will correct itself for I guarantee you it will not improve without an adjustment by its player.

5. Learn which notes tend to be out of tune on “every instrument”.

When addressing this problem, I have more sympathy for most of the band directors for this requires much more study and understanding than just isolated notes from various instruments. Some generalizations can be made for out of tune instruments such as the three valve brass instruments. Most educators remember from their high and low brass classes that the more valves you put down, the more out of tune the notes will become. This is a very general statement but does cover many of the intonation problems we have with valved, brass instruments.

I have worked with band directors who have done their study on out of tune note tendencies on all of the instruments and I hold them in great respect for this acquired knowledge takes a lot of time and energy to collect and remember. In most cases, these directors are the better educators and front the very best bands in the nation. So…. If you want to improve your bands performance ability first start to improve your own knowledge and ability to recognize which notes could be out of tune on ALL of the instruments in your band/orchestra.

I would like to suggest that you also read my posts called

Valve Slide Conversion Rings- The Solution to Low D and C# intonation Adjustments


Revisiting Valve Slide Conversion Rings- The Solution to Low D and C# intonation Adjustments

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.