Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tuning with your Ears 2

I'm finally following up on a series of posts that I began a few months ago about teaching students to tune themselves by ear rather than relying on a visual tuner all of the time. In this post I'm going to share some real world ideas of how I use the Harmony Director(HD) and/or the 5th CD in the classroom on a daily basis.

Note: This is not a plug for the Harmony Director but rather a plug for the concept of teaching kids to listen as they play. The HD is just a really great tool for doing this with ease and little effort.

We begin the year by playing Concert F long tones with a steady F playing on the keyboard. I want them to hear what they are meant to play before they actually make a sound. In the beginning, we don't spend a lot of time with the HD but work to first make a clear sound as we dust the cobwebs off after a long summer.  When we have a somewhat clear sound we quickly move to playing Concert F Remingtons while the drone of an F is playing loud enough to be heard. My goal in this is for them to match the 1st and 3rd notes of the Remington Exercise.  I find that as the notes get further apart the students struggle to get the pitch back to a center on the Fconcert so we pause on these notes to listen and adjust to the true pitch.  For even clearer hearing (and the next step) I play a drone of F and C (5ths) to fit into.  This is where the CD can be used to play the 5th and it is acceptable to begin with this if you don't have the HD keyboard.  (Side note: I use the Pure Tuning on the HD to get a pure 5th in the key of F).  So, basically, whatever we are playing for warmup (Remington or Chickowicz or whatever) I try to find something that they will hold out and can focus their listening ears to match.

As we progress, I will have the brass buzz on just their mouthpieces while I use the HD Keyboard to play the Remington Exercise.  We are currently doing this sort of thing in my class.  I play the first group (F - E - F) so they can hear the interval. Then the brass buzz it back to me with the woodwinds playing while I play the interval again so they can match.  Then I move to the next group (F - Eb - F) and they buzz (brass) and play (woodwinds) back to me.  We work our way through the excercise, both decending and accending, focusing on all players really listening to each pitch and matching.  The brass benefit from buzzing the pitches and the woodwinds benefit from not having the loud brass to interfere and it is easier to listen and match.  (Side note: This a great way to use the Berp aperatus for brass instruments)  In the last few weeks I have noticed that my brass are stronger players and have a clearer tone and woodwinds are more in tune.  We still have a lot to work on with this and it will take time for them to really get it, but I can see progress in just a few weeks.  It is difficult to do this excercise with the 5th CD, but can be done with the brass buzzing and and woodwinds playing and matching the drone as before.

When we are working on a Chorale as part of our Ensemble Time I find it very useful to have the HD Keyboard and its ability to create Pure Tuning in any key.  The 5th CD can give you 5th in any key to work with, but the keyboard can provide the 3rd to listen to and can (of course) change chords as the students play.  I play the first chord for them to match and we play the first chord together listening some times to individual notes.  I don't spend anytime at first talking about correct chord tuning (3rd lowered and 5th raised) but just force their ears to hear it and match as best they can.  Later, I may get into those concepts if they seem mature enough.  After we play the first note and tune, we pause and then begin the chorale.  At first I focus on the 1st and last chords for them to hear because they are usually the same chord.  As we progress, I will add a hold while playing other chords to make sure that we are matching.  This can also be used in any piece of music to be sure that the students are listening and matching to correct pitch.

At this point in the rehearsal I will usually only make use of the metronome part of the HD Keyboard but will refer back to these concepts of listening when we have a spot in the music that needs adjusting.  Some might say that using technology can get in the way of doing the real teaching of how to play the instruments.  I completely agree that the first priority is for students to be able to play with a clear sound.  I would say, however, that as long as it is used in a good balance, technology can be extremely useful in the band rehearsal.  There is a time to strap in and work on the music.  There is also a time when the students know the notes and rhythms well enough that we can begin to use these tools to improve their overall performance.  The HD Keyboard will get lots of use in my section rehearsals and as we get closer to our UIL Contest date.

But overall, I am more and more convinced that it is better to help students to listen for their tuning rather than to always rely on the wheel or needle of a tuner.  Climate, room size, muscle fatigue and stage lights all will effect the pitch of the instruments in so many different ways and there is not always a tuner available.  So, let's make an effort to really teach kids at the younger levels to listen and trust themselves to play in tune.  Because after all, they are the only ones that make themselves play in tune!!