Advantages and Disadvantages of Improving Your Sense of Intonation

The other day I was thinking about the advantages of improving your sense of intonation, the ability to hear and respond to pitch fluctuations, and it occurred to me that there were also some disadvantages (yes, I said disadvantages) that go along with it. Here is my list of 5 advantages followed by my list of 5 disadvantages. Ready?

5 Advantages to Having a Good Sense of Intonation
1. Because you play well in tune, you sound better and are perceived as a better player. Everyone wants to be thought well of.
2. Your tone is usually better and more consistent because you are managing your air better in order to play in tune better. Your technique has to improve in order to make the adjustments necessary to play in tune.
3.You are better able to convey musical ideas both because your intonation is good and because you can concentrate more on other aspects of playing when your intonation is well-managed.
4. Other musicians enjoy playing in ensembles with you because your intonation is good. Directors notice, too, and are favorably impressed.
5. You feel more confident and at ease when you know your intonation is good. Playing is more fun!

Now for the opposite side of the coin.

5 Disadvantages of Having a Good Sense of Intonation
1. Playing with musicians who don’t play in tune becomes increasingly frustrating. But now you know how others felt before you got better!
2. You may develop a bit of a superiority complex, and become less tolerant of other’s intonation flaws. Worse, you might start trying to tell them what to to, resulting in them thinking you are bossy or snobby.
3. You have fewer excuses for playing out of tune once others become used to you being able to play with good intonation.
4. Once you develop a good sense of intonation, you will never be able to listen to music in the same again. You will constantly be aware of inconsistencies and clashes in the intonation of everything you hear. And you will never be able to sit through a beginner band concert with a straight face again, no matter how much you love the sibling, niece, nephew, son, or daughter you are there to hear. My hat is off to all the directors of beginner bands. Every day your ears must take a terrible beating, but you keep at it anyway, and we all benefit from your sacrifice!
5. I couldn’t come up with another believable disadvantage. If you can, or there are advantages I have missed, please put them in the comments and share them.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely believe that the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages, especially being able to fully convey the music while feeling good about it. For most of us, it takes a lot of work to develop a good sense of pitch, then it takes more work to develop the ability to adjust pitch on demand in order to play in tune. But it is well worth the work, and the personal enjoyment of playing well is the reward.

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More about Difference Tones and the Flute, and about Wil Offermans at NFA

I was doing some research on difference tones, looking for more ways to use them in the flute choir and in my intonation studies, and Googled “difference tone duets.” I got one(!) exact result which led me to this webpage, www.forthecontemporaryflutist.com/etude/etude-03.html. It is from a website by one of my favorite flutists and teachers, Wil Offermans, whose class I just happened to have attended at this year’s NFA convention. The class was about how to go about learning to play Offerman’s composition for solo flute, Honami. I had purchased the piece at this year’s Florida Flute Fair and was hoping for some insights in how to approach it. I got that and much more!

It was a GREAT class, in which he took a group of players (myself included, you can’t up opportunities like this!) through the entire piece, demonstrating and instructing each of us in how to execute the techniques and gestures featured in each section of the piece. Even though the piece features some extended techniques and includes many interpretive choices, I left feeling confident I could go home knowing exactly how to go about learning the piece and some day perform it. Very cool!

Anyway, this article thoroughly explains what difference tones are and how they work, as well as giving a couple of experiments to try with a flute-playing friend. Offermans wants flutists to explore all the different sounds and tone qualities that are possible on the flute, and this is one of the avenues he suggests trying out. Or as I have said for years, “Explore your sonic resources!” Flutists like Offermans, Ghobriel, Pattillo, and others continue to push the boundaries of flute sound, giving us that much more to explore.

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Update, update, update . . .

Finally!

I’ve been updating the site by rearranging some features and making it easier to download my Intonation Practice Book. Unrelated work has included totally reworking my Dad’s website (www.beanhustler.com, for all your seed transfer needs), getting the new season of the Tampa Bay Flute Choir underway, Now maybe I can move on to writing the second one!! Not to mention practicing a little and providing my readers with new posts.

Thanks to Lynda.com for all the technical support, I really appreciate the service, and recommend it to everyone who needs to learn anything computer-related.

Hope everyone is doing well flute-wise. I should be also soon. Back to the grindstone!

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Tuners, Tuners, Everywhere!

It has been a long time since I bought my current tuner (a Seiko Chromatic Auto-Tuner) so I thought I would browse around and see what’s available now. I found lots of tuners and a large range of prices. Unfortunately, what I see most are tuners that only read pitches, without an internal tone generator or sound out port.

So what’s wrong with that? I did, after all write a practice book on how to use that kind of tuner to improve intonation. The problem is that this is only a beginning in the quest to perfect playing intonation. The feedback that a tuner’s readout gives you is only part of the picture, a narrow slice. It’s great for working on consistency, and learning the sizes of scales and intervals, but it can only help so much. In my opinion, what is needed is a tuner that can generate pitches as well as reading them.

By working with a tuner that plays the pitches, you can work on improving your ability to hear when you are in tune or out of tune, so you can function in the real playing world. Tuners are calibrated to an equally tempered scale in which all half steps are the exact same size. Unfortunately, when those half steps are combined into larger intervals, our ears don’t like that rigid equality. Different intervals need to either be expanded or compressed so our ear hears them as being in tune. Are our ears wrong? No, but it would take a long explanation to clarify this and others can do it much better than I can.

Besides the dissonances with equal temperament, the playing conditions, pitch tendencies of different instruments, and abilities of the players all play a part in the ever-moving target of good intonation. A little bouncing light or digital readout will not give you the information that you need to play in tune when you play with others. To learn this, you have to exercise your hearing and your ability to constantly adjust the pitch.

So, in my opinion, when you buy a tuner or download a tuner app, or whatever, get one that will read all the pitches your instrument can play, one that has a display that is easy to read, and one that will sound at least a full chromatic octave; two or three would be even better. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to do everything you need it to do. And leave your tuner at home when you go to rehearsal or a performance. Your attention should be on the music and your interaction with the other players, not on a gadget! Music is for the ears, and is not made with the eyes.

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