File this one under “Been there, heard that.” I’ve had the fortune of rehearsing and performing with countless ensembles and have compiled this Quick Start Guide list of sure-fire intonation killers that I’ve seen in action.
If One Person is Out of Tune – We’re All Out of Tune
1. Keep your tuner on the stand during rehearsal and/or gig or even better, attach your tuner to your axe whilst playing with others. As I mentioned in the “Rules for Trumpet Players”: The number of gigs during which someone put a tuner on the music stand and the intonation actually got better is approximately zero. This trend will likely continue for the foreseeable future. A tuner on the stand is great way to communicate to those around you that they should be VERY worried. And besides, how could you possibly be source of the pitch issues – you have a tuner in front of you!! You are off the hook.
1a. Remember, if you center that tuner needle, YOU are “IN TUNE”. Congratulations!!!
2. Constantly adjust your tuning slide(s). Pitch, like lightning, should never strike the same place twice.
3. Bring down/up the pitch of the entire orchestra/band/group from your chair – this works almost every time and the other ensemble members will appreciate you setting them straight.
4. Focus on your own sound and make sure it can be prominently heard above the ensemble.
5. Play really loud as much as possible – if #4 is too subtle a tactic.
5a. Lead trumpet players need to be a minimum of 20% louder than the band, the good ones, are at least 50% louder.
6. Complain about intonation, especially everyone else’s.
7. Make sure not to practice too much.
8. Poor intonation is most easily mastered from a passive-agressive point of of view. Never address tuning issues directly nor take time outside of rehearsal to work on pitch with other players, ESPECIALLY if they are not in your section.
9. Help point out the bad intonation of others so they know it’s “their fault” that you are out of tune.
10. Rolling your eyes, overt body language and movement, giggling, or whispering to your stand mate during a section of the music where the pitch of others is obviously suspect can really help push things over the pitch cliff. Doing this in a part of the music where YOU are tacet (i.e. resting/not playing) or emptying your spit valve has the added benefit of showing everyone that it’s not your fault – how could it be, you’re not even playing.
11. If pitch gets squirrelly, stick to your guns and DO NOT adjust. Adjusting your pitch to others is a sign of weakness. The others need your steady reference point to feel confident in how they play out of tune. Think of pitch like a big game of “Chicken” – whoever blinks first, loses.
12. Be out of tune with yourself. This is a good one, especially if you don’t have the benefit of a group to
sabotage, er, play with. Start out with a sketchy or misinformed understanding of what constitutes good intonation, mix that with a general lack of awareness of the pitch tendencies of your instrument and/or how you hear intervals, throw in a few superstitions about the overtone series, and top it off with a good solid ignorance of Equal Temperament and Just Intonation. Then, make up your mind where to put each pitch ahead of time, regardless of what’s going on around you, and you have a recipe for awesomely bad intonation.
13. Play an instrument that you know has crappy intonation, but justify it by letting everyone know that #1. You know the pitch is bad on the horn and #2. You play it anyway because it really has “the sound” you’re going for. Then, play a few hot licks to demonstrate, drop the mic, and walk off….
More helpful tips:
• All mutes make you play sharp, except for the ones that don’t.
• If you feel cold, then push in, if you are warm or comfortable, do the same.
• When playing with a fixed pitch instrument such as a xylophone, accordion, fire alarm, or vocalist, always adjust your tuning slide to the inverse proportion of the gig pay.
• If questioned about your intonation by another player or social worker, be prepared to deliver a discourse on the Doppler Effect and its influence on Bernoulli’s Principle of equal pressurization, add two unrelated Arnold Jacobs quotes to close.
If you are a beginner, this should get you started. Please use the comments section below to add your favorite techniques for playing out of tune with others.