Tuesday, 26 May 2009

More on tuning

The previous post didn't mention how to set the valve slides to ensure that the horn is as tune with itself as possible.

First of all, do your normal warmup exercises before getting the tuner out.

Then play a few open notes. Close your eyes and play the note, hold the note to get it nice & centered, and only then open your eyes to look at the tuner to see if the note is in tune. Repeat this process for a variety of open notes across the range, so that you can work out whether there are individual harmonics which are badly out.

You may be lucky and find that you have no major variation in tuning across the range. If not then you will need to work out how to deal with it. If the high or low range is persistently out compared to the rest, then you may have an embouchure problem that needs to be fixed, or your horm might need to have some adjustments made beyond what can be done with the tuning slides. By far the most likely problem is embouchure.

But assuming that there is nothing badly amiss, you adjust the main tuning slide until the tuning is perfect on the F side when playing a third-space C. If you have a double horn with separate main and F-side tuning slides, adjust both so they are both pulled out by about the same distance.

Then check the tuning of a third-line B, and adjust the second valve slide as needed. Then check Bb and adjust the first valve slide.

Having got the the first & second valves individually tuned, test it out with an A using 1-2 fingering. This ought to be OK, if anything very marginally sharp, but not by enough to justify further adjustment.

Then you test an Ab using the 2-3 fingering, and adjust the 3rd valve slide accordingly. Notice that you don't adjust the 3rd valve slide using a note played with 3rd valve alone. Most conventional fingerings don't use 3rd valve alone, 2-3 is a much more common fingering, and so is a much better one to use for testing tuning. Tuning using 2-3 will normally result in 3 being tuned very slightly flat relative to 1-2.

Then you repeat the process in order to tune the Bb side. Start with a top line F to tune the Bb side tuning slide (leave the main tuning slide alone). Then play E, Eb and Db to tune the 2nd, 1st and 3rd slides respectively on the Bb side, just as you did on the F side.

Having done all that, test out the tuning on a selection of notes in a variety of ranges. This time, don't close your eyes when playing the note. Play with you eyes open and see how quickly you can lip a note into tune if it starts slightly out.

This process should take 20 minutes or so in total. Don't hurry it, this is something you should only need to do twice a year or so if you do it properly.

Once you have your valve tuning slides properly adjusted, you should rarely if ever need to adjust the tuning of the valve slides again. Adapting to the temperature of the room you are playing it should (except in extreme circumstances) always be a matter of adjusting the main tuning slide.

In rehearsal, tuning doesn't consist merely of checking that you are right with the A at the start of the rehearsal, it means listening to and adjusting if necessary every note you play. Even minor tuning adjustments to eliminate "beats" can make a decisive difference in how good the horn section sounds. Get used to listening and making those adjustments as a matter of habit.

If you are not playing first horn, realise that as far as you are concerned the principal is always right, even if you think he is out of tune. Tune to the principal, so that the horn section is always in tune with itself. If you are principal, listen out for whoever nearby is playing with you - e.g. the principal clarinet or bassoon.

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