Monday, September 12, 2011

Tuning with your Ears 1

In my last post I shared a terrific article by Si Millican in the August issue of SBO Magazine.  It discussed the concept of making students use their ears to adjust their pitch rather than relying on a tuner to find what is "in tune".  In this post I want to share why both a CD with Perfect 5th drones and a Yamaha Harmony Director 200 can help students understand these concepts and put them into practice.  In a second post I will share some practical ways to use these in the classroom setting to help students use their ears better to tune as they perform.

The Perfect 5th Drones CD (5th CD) has perfectly tuned drones at an interval of a 5th.  These drones are in all 12 major keys in both low and high registers.  When a student plays any note in that key it becomes very evident when they are not in tune with the drone because they will hear loud beats when the sound waves do not match up.  The interval of a 5th is the purest interval (next to the 4th)  and, basically, the note that is played fills in the chord causing the student to adjust to both notes rather than just the single sustained note.  This allows for little if no wiggle room to be out of tune with the intervals. This is a practical way for students to hear their note as compared to a set (in tune) interval and decide what adjustments need to be made.  However, with only the two notes sounding, you can't adjust chords and other intervals involving more than one note for students to hear.  You also have to make sure that your CD player is on Single Track Repeat so the drone can continue for a long time.

The Harmony Director Keyboard takes the these concepts of playing against a 5th and adds the ease of a keyboard with the ability to play more than two notes at a time, the ability to have real tuning for chords (as apposed to even tuning like any other piano) and to instantly change the notes as the students play.  For instance, when my students play a chorale, I will set the keyboard for the real tuning of the key they are in and give them the beginning chord before they play, but then play the major (long) chords as they get to them.  We will pause on that chord long enough for them to adjust their tuning before we move on in the chorale.  This takes many weeks to get the hang of and the students often want to "get bored" and complain about the drone sound before they begin to grow excited about getting it right.

Next, I'll share some daily drills using these tools to improve student's tuning tendencies.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Great Article on Tuning

I saw this article in this last month's SBO Magazine and I thought it was worth sharing with those who maybe don't get that magazine. 

Article: Turn Off the Tuner for Better Ensemble Intonation

In this article Si Millican plainly speaks to the concept of making the students use their ears to tune rather than the wheel or needle of a tuner.  For years I have been working this concept with my students and I have seen a dramatic change in their tone quality and their performance.  At that time I was using a CD that sounded a drone of perfect 5ths in all keys for students to listen to and match.  Recently, I moved schools and one of the first purchases I made with my new budget was a Yamaha Harmony Director 200.  Those who work in my district asked me why I bought it and how I use it.  When I saw this article, I thought it put together all of the reasons I believe in using the Harmony Director into one article so I immediately shared it with them.

You don't have to have a fancy keyboard to work this idea, though.  Sometimes, when I don't have access to my Harmony Director, I will play the note on my instrument (trumpet) for the kids to match.  This will remind them of the concept of unwanted beats in the sound and begin to make them want to fix it. 

I so appreciate the way Dr. Millican provides a basis for this idea of listening rather than seeing to tune in his article.  In my next blog installment I will share some ways that I have used the 5th CD and the Harmony Director Keyboard with my classes to work the students' ears to become independent tuners when they play.