Improving Intonation using a Tuner

Here is an exercise to help develop a strong ability to play "in tune." Lots of us have access to electronic tuners that have dials or meters that visually indicate when a note is played "in tune." You play a note and watch the machine. The trouble with this approach is that when we play, we need to listen with our ears, not our eyes. If you have a tuner that also plays pitches, here's a great exercise. Set the tuner to produce one pitch (C, for example). Using your ears, try to match that pitch perfectly while playing longtones. Concentrate and you will hear when the notes sound the "sweetest." Then play the note in all the octaves on your horn. Then slowly play the major scale of the note on the tuner. Try playing broken scales in thirds. Then try individual intervals like perfect 5ths (eg, tuner plays "C", you play concert "G") and 4ths (eg, tuner plays "C", you play concert "F"). Then try all the other pitches. Then go back and play the major scale. Really listen to the relationship of the tuner note to the notes you are playing. After you have played for a few minutes using one pitch from the tuner, make the tuner play a new pitch and repeat the whole process. Make sure that over a period of several days, you have played on all 12 pitches of the chromatic scale. Just by doing this every day, over time you will develop a reliable sense of good intonation. —Steve Rosenthal

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