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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000483.txt from 2005/08

From: "Lelia Loban" <>
Subj: [kl] Tuning vs. Intonation
Date: Sun, 28 Aug 2005 09:04:50 -0400

Sarah Elbaz wrote,
>I agree that its not enough to tell the student to
>listen - you have to practice that from the begining
>until it becomes a habit- and then when they go to
>audition, they don't have to think about pitch -
>because its there!
>Of course, It doesn't work with all students, because
>some are more talented and have a better ear and
>more dicipline.

Yes. I think early intonation training gives a student an enormous
advantage. My beginning band teacher had a knack for teaching youngsters
to listen to ourselves and to the group. He used a combination of facts
and humor. I don't think there was any such thing as an affordable,
personal electronic tuner in those days (late 1950s), but whether or not it
existed, nobody had one. He asked us to buy tuning forks to use at home.
He tuned us to the piano at the beginning of class. During class, when
necessary, he'd stop and explain, but he also used plenty of gestures,
without grinding everything to a halt every time, because he wanted us to
learn to balance our intonation in context, not just stop and fuss over one

(Of course, we weren't playing Prokofiev. We were playing the Belwin Band
Builder. But that's part of my point: Kids who learn to listen from
something simple can build on that foundation instead of suddenly
realizing, at age 17, "My intonation sucks.")

He accompanied his criticism with faces so amusing that nobody got mad when
he singled us out. He'd point at someone, then hold out his clenched hand,
as if he were gripping a handle, and make lifting motions, signalling,
"You're flat! Raise your pitch!" (An open hand, with a more relaxed,
waving motion, meant too loud or too soft. Hand cupped around ear: "I
can't hear you!" Finger raised to lips: "Quiet it down!") If someone was
way-down-in-the-basement flat, he'd grunt and strain as if he were trying
to lift a heavy suitcase with that hand. He'd point at someone else, turn
his hand palm down and make pulling-down motions, signalling, "You're
sharp! Lower your pitch!" He could exaggerate that gesture, too, pulling
on an invisible string as if he were trying to pull down a windblown kite,
for someone who'd gone severely sharp. For someone whose intonation was
just plain bad, wobbling all over the place, he'd point, then twist his
index finger in his ear and make that gaping-mouthed grimace from the Noh
dramas (aka the famous "reveal" face in Lon Chaney's version of "The
Phantom of the Opera"). Now and then, he'd send us off to practice in
small group sessions while he dealt one-to-one with kids who had special
problems, or who were trying to play on instruments that needed adjustment
or repair.

If the whole band sounded sour (and what beginner band doesn't sometimes?),
he'd make ratchetting noises as he pretended to twist his ear like the knob
on a radio; or he'd quit conducting, drop the baton, clap his hands over
his ears, then stop the whole band and scream, "People! People! EARS!
Before my head explodes!" He also did the emergency train-wreck scene,
baton flying, frantic expression, kicking, stumbling, shielding his
horrified face with arms and hands. He also taught the junior high school
band, where we had the problem with the instruments failing to arrive at
the new school in time for the first day. Someone plunked the C on the
ancient upright piano he'd managed to borrow from another school.

Student: "Mr. Curatillo? Does this piano need tuning?"

Mr. Curatillo: "That piano needs about half a stick of dynamite."

Of course, he was also teaching us, right from the start, to watch the
conductor, instead of just burying our noses in the notes. The guy was a
comedian, but he unmistakably made his point that intonation mattered, and
that the way to correct it was to *listen first* and then keep on listening
while we did the technical things he'd taught us to do to the instrument or
to our embouchures to correct matters. Kids being kids, we also learned to
enliven a dull session by secretly agreeing that at a certain point, about
half of us would pull out and lip down.... But that, too, was education in
action, because thanks to him, we understood what musical horror we'd
perpetrate by doing those things, and he invariably rewarded us with an
unusually fine display of dramatic agony. That scene in "Harry Potter and
the Chamber of Secrets," where Ron Weasley's broken wand backfires on an
"Eat slugs!" jinx and he turns green, bulges out his cheeks and gets ready
to vomit up a giant slug, reminded me quite a bit of Mr. Curatillo's best

Lelia Loban

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