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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000428.txt from 2005/08

From: "Margaret Thornhill" <>
Subj: [kl] "Tuning" vs. Intonation
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 18:09:18 -0400

A new thread, if you like:
Here in southern California, it's been an uncharacteristically humid summer,
and I, my students, and my colleagues have been forced to join the rest of
the country in struggling with our reeds, and therefore ( surprise!),our

I've been forced to think about this because I coach/conduct two groups on
the weekend--one, an advanced group, my Los Angeles Clarinet Choir, which
would describe itself as "semi-professional," the other, a high school
group. Both come to rehearsal with their personal tuners in hand and the
best intentions in the world. The students, in particular, with the
competitiveness of youth, like to use the tuners as an artibtrer: aha!
you're wrong, I'm right--see? The visual cues of the dial eventually help
them get their tuning note perfectly together. Nevertheless, the rehearsal
continues,often with intonation bad as before. The students are puzzled; so
are some of the mature players, wondering whose scale is at fault.

Beyond the out-of-tune scale--which is indeed a problem--it's an issue of
adjustment and adaptability. In fact, one of the hardest points to get
across to the conscientious student Korg user is that sometimes being
"right" is actually "wrong." Consider these "what if"situations in which
only the ability you have at Matching Someone Else's Pitch will save the

1. The Bait-and-Switch Tuning Note
It's your community/student orchestra. The oboist sounds an A, looks
dutifully at his tuner, inches it up a notch, and tunes the wind section at
440. Yet, once the music starts, everyone sounds wrong. Why? The person who
gave the tuning is no longer at 440--he's sunk back to his original pitch
center, where he plays habitually, or where his reed du jour wants to play.
(This situation is a lost cause--last year it was true for every rehearsal
of the youth orchestra whose clarinets I helped mentor.)

2. Follow the Leader
Perhaps you are playing chamber music. The bassoonist is holding a long
note; you come in later, doubling him at the octave. You sound out of tune.
Your pitches don't match. You look at your Korg. He is sharp (sharper than
you!) No matter how much you bug him about this in rehearsal, his pitch does
not come down. BUT, you are obligated to match his pitch, no matter
what--because he his pitch came before your entrance, and not to do it will
make you look terrible.
Later in the movement, when it happens again, it's especially important to
tune to him, because this time his note is the root of the chord that the
entire quintet is playing, and good intonation builds from the bottom up.

3. The Out-of-Tune Dissonance
You are playing one of the outer voices of a diminished seventh. You are not
sharp, but the interval sounds wrong: it's too small. You voice down (or up,
depending on which note you've got) and--bingo!- the chord comes into tune,
a healthy dissonance.

4. Usually, they adjust for you, but
You are playing in unison with a violist. Suddenly, she has a sustained note
on an open string.
(not a great idea, but it happens) and surprise, her tuning has changed
since the beginning of the concert. She can't match you. It's up to you to
match her.

5. Exaggerated Accidentals
You are playing in unison with your cellist in the Brahms trio. It's a
scalar passage and you find that he is sharper on the 7th degree of the
scale than you are. Sure he could match you, but maybe you need to follow
the natural tendency of all good musicians to play the leading tone a little
higher than the note would be otherwise, as your cellist has been trained to

I think that we who teach need to find more ways to help our students look
for auditory as well as visual cues about intonation, knowing that it's
always more of a process than a fixed entity.


Margaret Thornhill, DMA
Artist/Teacher of Modern and Historical Clarinet

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