Practice your intonation – Part 1
Ory’s Flute Tips
Practice your intonation – Part 1
This post can serve any musician who wishes to improve his/her intonation, although written about the flute.
Playing the flute well and in tune raises a big challenge for us flutists. The nature of your playing technique (use of air, direction of air) and the way the flute is built make the control of our intonation a difficult task, that can and should be trained for better results. In order to do so we have to develop our hearing and our sensibility for the intervals we are playing. A great way to achieve that is to use a tuner machine.
Intonation is relative and the tuner is our best friend and enemy 😇😈
Tuners are very common and many players use them during their practicing time. They allow us a quick and objective feedback whether the note we are playing is too high or low or exactly in the ‘right’ pitch. There is though one catch – intonation is relative and even-though the tuner shows you are right in the center you can still be out of tune…
Feeling confused right now? Here is the explanation:
If the note you were just playing ‘in tune’ (according to the tuner) had no context and was not part of a chord, a harmony or a melodic line it would be then ok to say that this note was indeed in tune. But if this note would have a context, it is very possible that you would need to play the same note higher or lower, according to its relation to the context. This type of intonation system is called ‘Just Intonation’ and it is different than the ‘Equal Tempered’ or the ‘Well Tempered’ scales, in which for example pianos are tuned with. It is the intonation system that is used in orchestras and chamber music ensembles and therefore it is very important for you to fully understand and integrate into you playing.
In order to explain Just Intonation in a better and more simple way, first take a close look on the next 2 examples. You can see the relations between 2 different notes (intervals) and the corrections you have to make to the intonation of the note, in order for it to sound in tune.
The numbers shown above the notes are called ‘Cents’. 100 Cents are a half tone difference (for example, from C natural to C#). The upper note of each interval should be played higher or lower according to the number of cents written.
What important information can we gather from these examples?
- Minor 3rd should be played much higher
- Major 3rd should be played much lower
- Perfect 4th should be played slightly lower
- Perfect 5th should be played slightly higher
You must ask yourself whether intonation is something you can practice and how. My answer is: Definitely Yes and here is how:
I’ve created for you exercises (keep reading) and I will post more complex exercises in Part 2 that will be published soon.
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For the next exercises you would need a tuner or a tuner App that is able to play the 12 chromatic scale notes.
I use a free Android App named Soundcorset Tuner&Metronome, which can play for you the 12 notes in different octaves as well.
👻 The ghost(-note) is your best new friend:
When you will play the next exercises you will encounter with a physical, acoustic phenomena: The tuner will play one note, you will play one other note and you will be able to hear a third note. This note is called ‘Ghost note’ and in fact it can be a useful and powerful tool for you in order to play better in tune.
Ex.1 – Divide and Conquer: Re-learn how an in tune interval should sound
The next series of exercises are very simple and designed to allow you to be able to listen carefully to the intervals created between the note you are playing and the note the tuner is playing.
You should bend the notes you are playing up and down (playing it gradually and slowly higher or lower) and listen carefully to the interval and the ghost note.
Here is an example with Major thirds intervals (the upper note – the note you are playing – should be -14 cents lower in order to be in tune).
Questions: Can you hear the ghost note? Can you notice what happens to the ghost note while bending your notes up/down?
If you bend your note up, the ghost note will go down and vice versa. There is only one point in which all the 3 notes (tuner, you and ghost note) meet. When you hear that moment you know your note is now in tune.
I have created for you a FREE PDF with all the most important intervals. You can simply print it and use for yourself and your pupils/students, as well as playing these exercises with any other interval you wish to improve.
Practice this week these exercises. Part 2 is now published as well and you will find there more complex and advanced exercises.
Try it out and let me know how it feels.
Ory Schneor is a principal flutist with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, Tongyeong Festival Orchestra and member of the Geneva Camerata. He is teaching masterclasses around the world and he is the founder and instructor at FLUTEinWIEN