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Suggested Reading

1. Rehearsal Rooms

Struggling to improve the acoustics in your band room? Check out how the Medan Band did it.

2. Concerned about playing swing music properly?

Check out my guidelines

3. Ear training exercises for bands

Unlike piano players, ear training is essential for wind band performers. But how many band directors bother to give their bands suitable exercises?

4. Intonation problems

While tuning is simple act of adjusting a length of tubing on a wind instrument (often by reference to a single note), intonation is an ongoing process in which a player strives to match the pitch of others in the ensemble during performance. 

5. “Blowing” a wind instrument

A common misconception among wind players is to believe that the air moves through the instrument in order to produce the sound. This is simply not true. 

6. Conducting – suggestions for home practice

The best way for a conductor to improve is in front of a live ensemble. The unfortunate reality, however, is that this is not always possible. Aspiring conductors therefore have little choice but to find other ways of honing their skills.

 

Free Scores

Compositions for full band
Chorale style exercises

Compositions for brass


Compositions for full Band

Peter's March
Song Without Words
La Regata
Albinoni's Adagio

Here is a free march scored for full concert band. The following are the first 10 bars in condensed score format (written in concert pitch) to give you some idea of the music. The level of difficulty is about grade 4.

Peter's March

You can download the music here. There are two files: Peters March Conductors score.pdf (990 kb) and Peters March parts.zip (1,519kb).

 


 

Chorale style exercises

Introduction
Scoring
Intonation Exercise #1
Intonation Exercise #2
Intonation Exercise #3
Intonation Exercise #4
Intonation Exercise #5

 


Introduction

The chorale-style music provided here has been written to address two of the most important problems facing Asian bands trying to improve their intonation skills. These problems are:

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Most chorales - especially those written by Bach - have Christian lyrics associated with them. This often makes band members who are Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs or members of other religions uncomfortable. In some bands it also amounts to a strong disincentive to using this music to improve listening and intonation skills.

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Young bands that do play chorales rarely seem to make the mental connection between the intonation exercise represented by the chorale and any other music they play.

 

I have therefore posted a series of chorale-style pieces for wind band on this website that I have written myself. Thus, they have no words or other religious associations beyond that inherent in the style itself.  All are composed in the style of J. S. Bach following the traditional rules of voice leading, and include chord progressions used repeatedly by composers for centuries. These "chorales" are also graded in complexity, beginning with simple diatonic chord progressions in block harmony with no modulations, to ones including passing notes and more complex harmonies.

And to address the second of the two problems mentioned above, each chorale is accompanied by a short piece in a completely different style using exactly the same chord progressions in the chorale. Except for a change of rhythm, the bass line remains unaltered. This is consistent with the theories of Francis McBeth and others, who argue that bands should tune from the lowest voice.

I have released these scores into the public domain. They may be freely copied and distributed on a noncommercial basis provided the music remains unchanged and the composer is acknowledged.

 


Scoring

In order to ensure that these pieces can be played by small bands that may lack several of the standard wind band instruments, I have strictly adhered to the following scoring scheme. Thus, by means of careful substitution, even a very small ensemble of brass, woodwinds, or even saxophones can play in four part harmony.

 

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Soprano: Flute, Oboe, Clarinet 1, Alto Saxophone 1, Trumpet 1.

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Alto: Clarinet 2, Alto Saxophone 2, Trumpet 2, French Horn 1.

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Tenor: Tenor Saxophone, French Horn 2, Trombones,

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Bass: Baritone Saxophone, Euphonium, Tuba, Bass Clarinet.

 

Because of its comparative rarity in small bands, a bassoon part has not been provided. If you have a bassoon player, get him to play the euphonium part. Alto clarinet players can play the (lower) alto saxophone part.

 


Intonation Exercise #1

The following zip file contains a complete set of parts for wind band, including a conductor's score, in PDF format. The conductor's score also indicates to the band director which notes may to be out of tune, based on common design flaws in the various instruments. The file is Chorale1-Complete.zip.

For those interested in checking out the piano score first, here it is:

This chorale has a waltz associated with it. It is in the same key as the chorale and uses the same chord progressions. The following zip file contains a complete set of parts for wind band, including a conductor's score, in PDF format. The file is Waltz-Complete.zip. Please accept my apologies. I did not include the bass clarinet parts for either piece earlier. If you want the bass clarinet parts, download them here.


Intonation Exercise #2

This next exercise makes use of a different set of chord progressions. Once again, the conductor's score indicates to the band director which notes may be out of tune based on the known intonation flaws of the various instruments. Here is the piano score:

This time I have written a little gavotte (classical French dance) style piece to go with the chorale. It is in the same key and uses the same chord progressions. The following zip file contains a complete set of parts for both pieces, including a conductor's score, in PDF format. The file is intonation2-complete.zip (Size = 570 kb). Please accept my apologies. I did not include the bass clarinet parts for either piece earlier. If you want the bass clarinet parts, download them here.


Intonation Exercise #3

This chorale does not modulate, but it includes two chromatically altered chords often used by composers to add harmonic colour. Actually, they are not essential. Get the band to play the piece with and without the accidentals so they will become aware of the difference the chromatic notes make. Here is the piano score:

I have written a sarabande (another of the dances in the Classical suit) to go with this chorale. As usual, it is written in the same key as the chorale and uses the same chord progressions. The following zip file contains a complete set of parts for both pieces, including a conductor's score, in PDF format. The file is intonation3-complete.zip (file size: 583 Kb). Please accept my apologies. I did not include the bass clarinet parts for either piece earlier. If you want the bass clarinet parts, download them here.

For those interested in the theory, here it is: The chromatically altered chord in the third bar is a secondary dominant based on the supertonic (G7), first inversion.  The chord in the sixth bar is a supertonic seventh with flattened fifth (Gm7b5), also in first inversion.


Intonation Exercise #4

At last, an exercise in a minor key! I have included several modulations and suspensions in this chorale to make it more interesting than the others. Here is the piano score:

I have associated this exercise with a nocturne written in the style of nineteen century pianists such as Chopin and Field. As usual, it is in the same key and uses the same chord progressions as the chorale. However, in order to accommodate the nocturne style, I have had to make some adjustments to the scoring scheme. You will need have alto saxophone or euphonium players of at least moderate ability in order to play the accompanying figuration properly.

The following zip file contains a complete set of parts for both pieces, including a conductor's score, in PDF format. The file is Intonation4-complete.zip (file is about  600kb). Please accept my apologies. I did not include the bass clarinet parts for either piece earlier. If you want the bass clarinet parts, download them here.


Intonation Exercise #5

For this exercise I have switched to a new key signature. There are also several modulations. A particular feature of this chorale is the accented passing notes in the bass line (bar 6). Here is the piano score:

Due to time constraints, I have not written an accompanying piece. However, a complete set of parts for the chorale is available in PDF format. The file is Intonation5-chorale5.zip.

 


Rhythm

Introduction
Short Changing Notes
Dotted Quaver-Semiquaver Patterns
Other Quaver-Semiquaver Patterns
Syncopation
Triplets
Problems in Compound Metres
Notes Following a Tie


Introduction

A sense of rhythm is born in everyone to a greater or lesser degree.  It does not have to be taught.  In the case of musicians, however, this innate sense needs to be much more finely developed.  It is important to remember that just because a student has an intellectual understanding of the relative time values of the various notes does not necessarily mean that he or she can play them properly.  The ability to instantly translate such symbols into their correct rhythmic patterns is a skill, and like all skills it needs to be practiced.

The following sections outline some of the most common rhythmic problems facing the typical secondary school band. More advanced ensembles may like to refer to my article on "tempo traps" in the Interpretation section.


Short-changing notes

Sustained notes are often short-changed by inexperienced players.  Sometimes this is caused by improper breathing, but it can just as easily be the result of carelessness or simply a misunderstanding of the importance of giving the notes their full value.  The problem seems most acute at the end of phrases, or in situations where a note is to be sustained throughout a measure until the next one is about to begin.


Dotted Quaver-Semiquaver Patterns

Another common problem occurs in 2/4 or 4/4 metres when dotted quaver-semiquaver (eighth-sixteenth) patterns are executed as if they were in triple time:

The solution is to call the attention of the ensemble to the mathematics of the situation by using a blackboard to divide the quarter note into four equal parts.  Then count slowly 1-2-3-4 for each subdivision.  The opposite problem occurs in playing swing music.  In the case of the latter, a literal rendition of the notes would sound too mechanical.

That said, greater precision is often produced in rapid passages when the dotted quaver (dotted eighth note) is shortened and a rest is added, as in the example below:

Even greater rhythmic clarity will be achieved if the band director encourages the ensemble to treat the semiquaver as if it were a grace note ahead of the following beat. The use of this so-called 'energetic sixteenth', however, is not always musically appropriate. It is the responsibility of the band director to decide whether or adopt such an approach in any given situation. As a general rule of thumb, the energetic sixteenth can be usefully employed in marches. It also works well in certain compositions written during the Romantic period.


Other Quaver-Semiquaver Patterns

A satisfying sense of precision and forward movement can also be attained in particularly fast passages when rhythms such as that given below are similarly amended. With some ensembles the approach also seems to have the added advantage of helping to prevent rushing.


Syncopation

Dealing with syncopated passages can be especially difficult.  One way of achieving rhythmic precision is to get the ensemble to sing or clap the troublesome passages.  Yet another is to pencil in the downbeats in the students’ scores.  This is particularly helpful to players when they are faced with a mixture of notes and rests as given here:

Scribbling reminders on the students' scores can be useful in a wide variety of situations. It is especially effective when used to indicate dynamic changes, articulation and appropriate places to breathe.


Triplets

Many players also have trouble with triplets, particularly when they unexpectedly occur in 2/4 or 4/4 metres.  The most difficult triplets for young players to execute properly are apparently those that oblige them to negotiate intervals at the same time.  Typically, the first two notes are rushed, forcing the student to hold on to the third note longer than its written value. The musical effect is rather similar to that shown below:

One way to encourage the ensemble to understand the nature of the triplet is to drill the players using the syllables tri-per-let. And even better approach, however, is based on the realisation that the music rarely halts when a triplet is played. Encourage students to use the words, one-and-a-two, with the two representing the following crotchet (quarter note) beat. Eventually, memory of the drill will combine with a more developed rhythmic sense to produce an acceptable triplet feel whenever it is required. See also the section on notes following a tie.


Problems in Compound Metres

Another triplet form that is often played incorrectly is that which occurs in the 6/8 metre, especially in marches.  In this case, a clear distinction has to be maintained between (1) rhythms that consist of a crotchet (quarter note) followed by a quaver (eighth note), and (2) those that are characterized by two quavers separated a quaver rest. The following illustrates the point:


Notes Following a Tie

Many inexperienced players hesitate after a tied note. The result is that the notes that come after it are played late and the rhythm is lost. The problem seems particularly acute in slow, melodic passages, where players are inclined to take a breath after the tie. A typical rhythm pattern where this problem occurs is given below.

As in the case of many other syncopated passages, the solution is to ignore the tie completely and get the players to clap and then play the more simplified rhythm that results. Once the pulse of the music has been firmly established in this way, the tie can be reintroduced.

Ear Training

Introduction
Exercise #1

Exercise #2

Exercise #3

Exercise #4

Value of Electronic Tuning Devices

The Musical Ideal 


Introduction

Unlike the piano and other keyboard instruments, good intonation on wind instruments is dependent as much on the effort of the performer as it is on the quality of the instrument he is playing. This makes ear training an important aspect of a wind band musician's education. Yet many school band directors do not approach the subject in a systematic way. Some students will have quick ears and may only need to be corrected occasionally. The majority, however, will need to be told what to listen for, and for some progress may be quite slow.

With the full band in front of him, the band director has a valuable opportunity to demonstrate exactly what is required.  The exercises given here are fairly straightforward and only require the cooperation of one or two of the band’s more advanced musicians.

 


Exercise #1

For the purpose of this exercise we will assume that the band director is a brass player and that he is working with a fairly elementary group.  He invites the band’s first chair cornet player to join him on the podium.  A quick tune-up follows in which the band director ensures that the pitch of his own cornet matches that of the student. [This exercise, and the ones that follow, generally work best when instruments of a similar timbre are used]. This can be demonstration enough for those with a quick ear.  The aim of the exercise, however, is to reach all band members, not simply the more musically gifted.

Band members should be asked to listen for the subtle beating that indicates that the standing waves are out of phase.
The demonstration itself proceeds as follows. The band director announces that he will imitate an instrument that is playing too sharp.  The student holds a sustained concert F (G on the second line of the treble clef for the cornet).  The band director then joins in on his own instrument.  After entering at the correct pitch, he lips up slightly to produce a mildly discordant sound. The procedure is then repeated, this time with the band director lipping down to imitate the sound of an instrument that is playing too flat.  In both cases, band members should be asked to listen for the subtle beating that indicates that the standing waves in two instruments are out of phase.

To some readers the whole procedure may seem excessively elementary, but the fact remains that even experienced players sometimes need to be reminded what “too sharp” and “too flat” really mean.  The human ear is more tolerant of sharpness in pitch than flatness.  Told during a rehearsal that they are out of tune, many players tend to assume (often mistakenly) that they are too flat rather than too sharp.

 


Exercise #2

Long tone studies are often advocated by band directors as a means of developing the embouchure, extending the range, and encouraging students to breathe properly.  An equally important goal of such studies, however, is the development of the skills required to maintain a constant pitch.  Beginners – as well as quite a few more advanced players -- are often blissfully unaware of their weaknesses in this department and need to have the problem pointed out to them in a way that they can readily understand.  Fortunately, this can be easily accomplished through the use of an electronic tuning device.

Try this during sectional practice
The following exercise is best done during sectional practice.  The players take turns playing long tones in the middle register while watching the needle or LED indicator on an electronic tuner.  The aim, of course, is to ensure that the needle (and therefore the pitch) remains as steady as possible.   This exercise works well on at least three levels.  It (1) raises awareness of the problem, (2) encourages the sort of fine embouchure control necessary to manipulate subtle pitch variations, and (3) results in a much more sensitive ear.

Having developed the skill of playing long notes at steady pitches, the students then move on to using the tuner to help them deal with the problem of maintaining accurate intonation when playing at varying dynamic levels in the middle register as indicated below:

[Brasses, flutes and double reeds tend to go flat when playing a pianissimo, while clarinets and saxophones go sharp. Conversely, single reed instruments tend to play flat when playing a fortissimo, while other wind instruments go sharp.]

In essence, this is a test of the ability of the player to distinguish between the quantity of air being used and the speed of the air-stream. Thus the music director is provided with a valuable opportunity to point out an important principle that applies to both brass and woodwinds.  It is this: the amount of air employed determines the volume, while the speed of the air determines the pitch. [Some argue that volume is also influenced by the size of the mouth cavity. A very loud, high register note is said to require a larger mouth cavity than a soft, low register note].

 


Exercise #3

This exercise serves as a useful introduction to playing block chords of the type encountered in chorales.  The band director selects three clarinet players (or three players from any other section of the band for that matter) and instructs them to use an electronic tuner to tune their instruments as precisely as possible to the different pitches of a major triad.  They are then asked to play the triad several times so that both they and the whole band can hear what an in-tune chord sounds like.  Then the band director adjusts the tuning device on one of the instruments so that it is slightly out of tune.  The trio plays the chord again, producing a slightly off colour chord.  In this way, everyone gets to hear the difference between good and bad intonation.

The embouchure plays and important role in determining pitch
The band director then instructs the players to adjust their embouchures so as to produce the original in-tune chord without altering the instrument’s tuning device.  The students play the chord again, this time (hopefully) with considerably better intonation.  By approaching the problem in this way rather than fiddling incessantly with the tuning mechanism on the instrument, the band director is able to illustrate yet another point that was made more subtly in the earlier exercise involving the cornets, i.e. the role of the embouchure in determining pitch.


Exercise #4

Many band directors express frustration when, having (1) painstakingly tuned the band on a single note or chord and (2) ensured that each player is capable of holding a note at a steady pitch, the ensemble promptly reverts to its old habits when asked to play even the simplest of melodies.  I am convinced that at least part of problem lies in the fact that many young players are unable to play in tune with themselves, let alone adjust their pitch to match that of others.

Once again, it is possible to turn to the electronic tuner for salvation.  The following studies, transposed to an appropriately comfortable register for each instrument in the ensemble are designed to address this issue.   Use them during individual and sectional practice.

The notes should be played very slowly, with the student paying close attention to the tuner to ensure that each interval is played accurately.  Once this can be done successfully, students should be encouraged to work in pairs, with one playing the studies and the other holding the tuner in such a way that the performer is unable to see the LED indicator.  In this case, a brief record should be kept about which notes the student habitually plays flat or sharp.  This should then be followed by united sectional practice.  As in the case of exercise #2, the goal is to raise awareness of the problem while training both the ears and the embouchure.

See the 'instant chorale" in the intonation section or another exercise that helps check for tuning and intonation.

 


Value of Electronic Tuning Devices

Opinions vary on the wisdom of using electronic devices.  Some argue that tuning by ear alone is an excellent means of forcing young musicians to get into the habit of listening to each other.  Excessive reliance on electronic devices, they insist, trains the eye rather than the ear and should therefore be avoided.  This is possible, of course, but I rather suspect that the danger is over-rated.  My own view is that electronic tuners can be enormously useful as bio-feedback devices, particularly when used with the sort of ear training exercises given above.  Moreover, in cases where band members seem almost tone deaf -- usually the result of habitually playing out of tune under poorly trained or inexperienced leaders – heavy reliance on electronic tuners may be the only way an incoming band director can make any headway at all.

It is often a good idea to ask an inexperienced player whether he thinks he is playing flat or sharp relative to the first chair .
Even so, it is important to avoid getting into the habit of using an electronic tuner to tune the whole band. Most band directors use a system in which the first chair of each section tunes his instrument to an electronic tuner and then assists other members of the section tune to him. In the case of a very poorly trained band, this approach may take considerable time. However, it has far greater educational value.  Moving through the band while this process is going on can help a music director gauge the extent to which young players are gaining the necessary listening skills.  Often, it is a good idea to ask an inexperienced player whether he thinks he is flat or sharp relative to the first chair.  Sometimes, a young student gets into the habit of adjusting the instrument’s tuning mechanism in response to instructions from a more experienced player rather than taking the effort to listen carefully for himself.

Bands that avoid using electronic tuners completely usually attempt to tune to the clarinet, piano or oboe.  It would probably be better -- at least in theory -- if the band director insisted that the ensemble tune itself to one of the lower pitched instruments such as the tuba.  Getting the lower brass in tune is especially critical because pitches produced on these instruments set up a series of overtones that actually sound in the range of the higher instruments.  Thus, even if the lower brasses are only slightly out of tune, the whole band can be affected.

 


The Musical Ideal

The very best professional musicians go much further than anything we have discussed here, of course, training their ears to detect variations in pitch coming from just about anywhere in the ensemble.  For such players, wrong notes are easy to spot.  Elizabeth Green [The Dynamic Orchestra, Prentice-hall, 1987] relates the following incident involving the violinist Jacques Gordon:

When Jacques Gordon was concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a guest conductor stopped a rehearsal with “Wrong note in the horns.”  The passage was replayed.  Again the conductor stopped the musicians and made the same criticism.  Once more the passage was repeated.  Still the wrong note persisted.  For the third time the conductor stopped in exasperation.  Whereupon Gordon spoke (as concertmaster, this was his right): “Maestro, why don’t you tell them what the wrong note is?”  Disgusted, the conductor asked, “Well, do you know what it is?” Gordon replied, “Certainly.  The third horn is playing concert A-flat instead of A-natural.”

It would be unrealistic to expect all secondary school music directors – let alone their students -- to reach this standard of excellence.  Even so, it is useful to be reminded from time to time just what the musical ideal is.  Bands – and especially band directors! – who are not constantly striving to improve their listening skills are ultimately shortchanging themselves as well as their audience.

Intonation

Introduction
The Brass Section
The Woodwinds
Chorales and the Full Band
An Instant 'Chorale'

Introduction

While tuning is simple act of adjusting a length of tubing on a wind instrument (often by reference to a single note), intonation is an ongoing process in which a player strives to match the pitch of others in the ensemble during performance.  Unfortunately, the general level of intonation of an ensemble is not simply dependent upon the listening skills of the performers – although this is probably the most important variable. (If this is the main problem in your band, check out the section on ear training). Intonation can also be influenced by a whole variety of factors. 

Players with weak embouchers tend to play flat in the low register. Intonation is affected by the key (wind instrument designs tends to favor flats rather than sharps), the endurance of the players, and the quality of the available instruments.   Intonation can even be affected by the extent to which performers who are resting keep their instruments warm by gently blowing through them (see the section on pitch and temperature).

Generally speaking, a weak embouchure will result in the low register being flat because the lip muscles are not held firm. A player with a badly formed embouchure also tends to overestimate the tension needed in the high register, sometimes causing him to play sharp. This can happen regardless of the intonation tendencies of the instrument.


The Brass Section

As I pointed out in the section on music and physics, brass instruments utilize various partials of the harmonic series in order to make them truly chromatic.  Since several partials, notably the 7th, 11th and 13th, are not in tune with the equal temperament scale, they are substituted with other lengths of tubing by means of rotary or piston valves.   Use of the first valve lowers the fundamental by a tone, the second valve by a semitone and the third by a tone and a half.  These valves can also be used in various combinations, thus giving the player no less than seven harmonic series from which to choose.

The Valve System

Unfortunately, if the instrument is constructed in such a way that the notes played with a single valve depressed are in tune, the notes played by using these valves in combination are not.  The 1-3 combination, for example, is quite sharp while the 1-2-3 combination is very sharp.  To compensate for this, the tubing attached to the third valve is made a bit longer.  This puts the 1-3 and the 1-2-3 combination better in tune (though they are still a bit sharp), but results in the 2-3 combination being slightly flat. Further refinements include the addition of a fourth valve on euphoniums and tubas. Brass instruments tend to play sharp in their low register Trumpets and cornets sometimes come with a ring or trigger on the third valve slide (and sometimes also on the first) to provide further help, while many trombones also have trigger mechanisms.  Even so, it is important that the player listens carefully and uses his embouchure to make fine adjustments when playing.

The inherent sharpness of the 1-3 and 1-2-3 combinations means that - all other things being equal - most brass instruments tend to play sharp in their lowest register. All things are not equal, of course, and beginners often tend to play flat in the low register instead.

Lipping

The ability of a player to use his lips to correct the pitch of a faulty note varies greatly between the higher and the lower brasses.  This is because the business of forcing a column of air to vibrate at a frequency other than the one that should be produced naturally by the length of the tube (i.e. to sound certain upper partials) becomes progressively more difficult as the vibrating columns become longer.  In this sense, a trumpet is much more under the control of the player’s lips than just about any other brass instrument.  Trombone players can deal with the problem by adjusting their trombone slide, while French horn players can approach the issue by varying their hand positions.  Tuba and euphonium players, on the other hand, have no such means of overcoming the difficulty. This implies – at the very least – that whereas a trigger or ring mechanism fitted to a trumpet or cornet may be considered almost a luxury, the use of a fourth valve on the tuba or euphonium is essential.

The Trombone

Because of the way in which it is constructed, the trombone is probably the only musical instrument capable of being played perfectly in tune.  By the same token, however, this same design can result in the trombone section of the band being the one where intonation problems can be most acute.  The secret is in the placement of the slide positions.

The gap between slide positions increases as the position number increases. Many secondary school players tend to play second and third position notes flat, while notes produced on the fifth, sixth and seventh position tend to be sharp.   Band directors often react to this problem by demanding that their students listen more carefully to what they are playing.  True enough, but many beginners would also find it helpful to be informed that the gap between slide positions increases as the position number increases.  In other words, the distance between sixth and seventh position is greater than the distance between the second and third position.

Buzzing on the Mouthpiece

Resolving these intonation issues requires time, effort and a great deal of patience.  One exercise, which can be used to help develop proper breathing habits as well as improve endurance and general intonation, is to buzz on the mouthpiece.   At first, students unused to this exercise may be unenthusiastic, particularly if any woodwind players present find the activity amusing. The benefits to be gained so far outweigh any short-term embarrassment, however, that the approach is well worth pursuing.

Students should be encouraged to take deep breaths and buzz loudly.  Begin with long notes (any pitch will do at first), then proceed to intervals and finally to some well-known tunes. 

Try to buzz a standard four part chorale. At first, everyone should buzz in unison.  After some weeks of regular practice, however, it should be possible for the brass section to attempt to buzz a standard chorale in four-part harmony.  Another good exercise with young students is to play “Name That Tune” at every lesson.  This involves students taking turns buzzing a tune for the teacher or other students to identify. Players who can do this well will have little difficulty producing a centered tone when using their instrument.

Begin the brass section’s chorale study by repeatedly playing the music in the normal way so that everyone has had ample opportunity to memorize his or her respective part.  Then assign a four-man ensemble to play the chorale softly (an exercise in itself!), while everyone else attempts to buzz at the correct pitch.  Do not forget to insist on proper breathing.  Repeat the exercise several times, selecting a different quartet each time.  Then, as a finale, ask everyone to pick up his or her instrument and play.  You will be pleasantly surprised at the improvement in the tonal quality of the section

Woodwinds

In some ways, the intonation problems facing the woodwind section far exceed those of the brasses. This is because there is less uniformity in the way woodwind instruments are designed. In fact, the pitch tendencies of the various instrumental subgroups can be quite different.  As in the case of the brasses, compromises inherent in the various designs also result in a situation in which no woodwind instrument is perfectly in tune, even with itself.

Flutes, Clarinets, Oboes

Most modern flutes, for example, have tone holes that are equal in size, whereas in purely acoustical terms they should be graduated.  It is therefore wise to be aware of potentially off-key notes. This helps prepare a player to make the necessary embouchure adjustments or employ alternative fingerings whenever they may be needed. The most seriously off-pitch note is usually C sharp in the treble staff and - to a lesser extent - C sharp above the staff.

Quiet clarinet passages tend to be sharp. The intonation tendencies of the flute and oboe are almost exactly the opposite of the clarinet.  Flutes and oboes tend to play sharp in louder sections and in the high register, and flat in quieter sections and in the low register.  Clarinets, on the other hand, tend to be flat on high notes and sharp on low ones. But while this is the basic tendency of the instrument, a weak embouchure or a lack of air support sometimes results in young clarinettists playing flat in the low register instead. Quiet clarinet passages will also tend to be sharp.  Considering the fact that the clarinet, flute and oboe often play melodies in unison, the resulting intonation problems can be quite marked.

Added to this is the fact that flute players often double on the piccolo, an instrument whose intonation tendencies have more in common with the clarinet than the flute.  A piccolo’s middle register tends to be sharp, while its upper register tends to be flat.

Because sound wavelengths on high notes are very short, even small pitch variations within the flute and clarinet sections can produce a good deal of interference.  The result can be much more annoying than if a group of bass clarinetists, baritone saxophone or even tuba players are slightly out of tune with each other. 

It is not easy to "lip up" with a clarinet Clarinet players have yet another problem in that it is not so easy to “lip up” (actually done with the jaw) than on other instruments.  In fact, trying to match a sharp pitch with a clarinet can actually hurt the lower lip.  If the clarinet section sounds flat (and adjusting the barrels does not solve the problem), it may be wise to consider the possibility of getting the ensemble to tune down to match them.  However, this strategy risks producing an excessively dark tone colour and may even create intonation problems elsewhere in the ensemble.  It should therefore be done only as a last resort.

Bassoons

The bassoon has many intonation problems.  For one thing, the difference in pitch between a cold bassoon and one that has been played for about half an hour is greater than on any other woodwind instrument.  Lipping a note into tune is possible but, unlike most wind instruments, is not often recommended because it tends to change the tone quality. Another approach is to employ alternate fingerings, especially in slow passages. Notes in the extreme lower register of the bassoon tend to be sharp, as does the G and G-sharp in the middle and upper registers.  When playing loudly the pitch tends to become flat, while playing softly tends to make the pitch become sharp.

Saxophones

Saxophones have fewer inherent pitch problems than most other woodwinds.  Intonation problems can still be found within the saxophone section of the average secondary school wind band, however.  This is probably because the instrument is so easy to play initially that many music directors tend to neglect the section.  Built-in design flaws tend to result in the instrument playing flat on notes in the moderately high register (leger lines immediately above the treble clef) and sharp on those in the low register (just below the treble clef).

There are quite a few saxophonists who play sharp in the extreme upper register. 
This is the reason inexperienced alto saxophone players in particular tend to play flat in the upper register and sharp in the lower one. Fourth line D on the saxophone is also usually flat, as is third space C sharp. In the extreme upper register there are also quite a few saxophonists who play sharp.  However, this is not so much a design problem as it is the result of the player pinching the reed or biting down on the mouthpiece.

The quality of the instrument and how well it has been cared for are issues worth considering.  If the keys open too wide, for example, the pitch will tend to be sharp.  As in the case of clarinet players, young saxophonists also tend to play flat on loud passages and sharp on soft ones.

Reeds

Reeds also affect pitch.  A hard reed may be more difficult to control, but it does assist in proper embouchure development.  Even so, it is worth remembering that a hard reed will tend to play sharp while softer ones tend to play flat.  Reeds that are old or water-soaked tend to become soft.

Unfortunately, because reeds are not as flexible as the lips of brass players, the woodwinds do not lend themselves to the sort of buzzing exercises I have advocated for the brass section.  Double reed players can come fairly close, however. William Woodward ["Oboes Can Play in Tune" Bandworld Vol. 5 No.4,  March-April 1990] has suggested two exercises designed to help develop a flexible oboe embouchure. The first consists of having the student play a 5-note scale on the reed alone. The second exercise is for the music director to play a pitch and have the student match it using only the reed.

Embouchures

Other woodwind players can also adjust their embouchures to control intonation.  Clarinet and saxophone players who play too sharp are often biting on the mouthpiece, while those who are too flat can usually correct the problem by tightening their embouchures.  Intonation problems on the flute, on the other hand, usually have to do with the angle of the air-stream.  If the air-stream is directed too much into the flute the pitch will tend to be flat.  Raising the head or (even better) moving the jaw should correct the problem.  If too much of the air-stream is directed toward the outer edge of the embouchure hole the pitch will be sharp.

Chorales and the Full Band

The role of chorale playing in developing good intonation, not to mention correct phrasing and breathing habits, is well known. Unfortunately, few secondary school bands practice these exercises with any sort of consistency.  In fact, it almost seems as if band members would rather visit a dentist and have a tooth drilled than play chorales with anything approaching enthusiasm.  In some ways, it is hard not to be sympathetic. 

 Playing chorales may never become fun.  
Chorales are invariably slow and uninteresting to young ears, and the time spent on them can irritate a school band anxious to play a favorite march or Benny Goodman transcription. Playing chorales may never become fun, but band directors should probably spend more time than they do inventing little variations that will cut down on the monotony while at the same time enhancing the band’s listening skills.

Needless to say, chorales should be sung as well as played.  By way of preparation, band members should be given plenty of opportunity to memorize their respective parts by playing the chorale through several times.   The members of the ensemble should then be asked to sing and play the chorale alternately on their respective instruments. As an additional variation, ask the brass section to play the first two bars and the woodwinds to play the third and fourth bars and so on.  This encourages band members to listen to each other and forces everyone to be on their toes with correctly pitched entrances.

 Try adapting a march or other largely chordal piece. 
Richard Otto [Effective Methods of Building the High School Band, Parker Publishing, New York, 1971] has suggested yet another approach to good intonation that does not involve playing a chorale at all. Instead, the band director selects a march or other largely chordal work familiar to the band and asks the players to sustain the first note of each measure as a whole note, proceeding in this way from measure to measure for the first four to eight bars.  This approach has a huge advantage over the traditional chorale, since it helps to make a direct link between the intonation exercise and the music being prepared for performance.

An Instant "Chorale"

The following instant 'chorale' can be used to check the intonation of a band on some basic diatonic chords. It is a simple three-part round that is easy to memorise and can be played in virtually any key. It is written out below for Bb clarinets or trumpets, but can easily be adapted for other sections of the band (such as the trombone section), or even the entire ensemble. It serves as a good warm-up when no suitable chorale is immediately available.

Notice the successive unisons in the third bar between the first and second voice, the first and third voice and the second and third voice. These provide a useful means of checking for  intonation, as does the final unison in the fourth bar.

Numerous variations on this basic scheme are possible, such as varying the rhythm, beginning with a descending scale or playing in a minor key. The following example is much more difficult than it looks to play well because of the augmented and diminished chords created by the minor tonality.

Balance and Blend

Definitions
A Suggested Exercise
Distribution of the players
Experimenting With Sound
Pyramid Approach


Definitions

I it is important to keep in mind the distinction between balance and blend as it applies to the band. "Balance" refers to the strength of the various sections (saxophone, trumpet and clarinet sections, for example) and the extent to which one or more of these sections tend to dominate the band as a whole.  A good balance will not necessarily be achieved if everyone plays at the same dynamic level.  More attention may need to be given to the melody, or to some moving inner line.

Good balance and blend are the result of careful listening
"Blend" has two related meanings.  The first meaning refers to the process of merging the sounds of instruments of contrasting tone colours (for example, a clarinet and an oboe) in such a way that they produce a sound that is quite different from the mere sum of their parts.  The second meaning refers to the extent to which the sounds produced by instruments of similar tone colour merge together to form a homogeneous timbre such that no one player dominates.

Like balance, a good blend is more often the result of careful listening than anything else.  There are no quick fixes.  Getting the brasses to use the same brand and size of mouthpiece throughout each section, for example, will not necessarily produce a perfectly blended sound (unless, of course, all players have exactly the same shaped teeth, lips, and jaws).  In fact, it may be argued that if you want similar sounds from different brass players it is essential that they be permitted to use different mouthpieces.  The blend of a woodwind section, on the other hand, can often be improved by matching mouthpieces and reeds.

 


A Suggested Exercise

One particularly effective means of dealing with the issues of balance, blend and intonation is to invite one section to play while the rest of the band listens. For example, instruct the first clarinet section to play one or two short phrases from a chorale in unison and then ask other band members for a response. Was the section in tune? On which notes - specifically - could a subtle beating sound be heard, suggesting that one or more players was a little off pitch? Was the section breathing properly? Did they demonstrate good posture? Did they blend well, or did one or two players dominate the section?

Do the same with the second and third clarinet sections, then ask all the clarinets to play together. Was there an acceptable balance, or did the first clarinet section dominate the others? Correcting this latter problem often requires urging the seconds and thirds to play more confidently rather than asking the first clarinet section  to tone down.

Focus on the need for the section as a whole to overcome any weaknesses.
Because the above approach risks embarrassing or even humiliating weaker players, it is usually best to avoid singling out particular students, even when their shortcomings are obvious. Focus instead on the need for the section as a whole to overcome any weaknesses, and encourage those listening to give positive as well as negative comments. By moving systematically through the band in this way and summarising the findings of the group in a kindly and encouraging manner, the band director can do much to raise awareness within the ensemble of the basics of intonation, breathing, balance and blend. It will also help produce a much better sound from the band as a whole. Try it! 


Distribution of the Players

Good balance is not necessarily going to be achieved if every section has the same number of players.  Indeed, such a system would almost certainly guarantee disaster, particularly if everyone insisted on playing at the same dynamic level. Depending on the register and dynamic level demanded by the composer, for example, a single trumpet player might drown out an entire flute section.  Similarly, there is unlikely to be a desirable blend among the clarinets if the ensemble’s best players hog the first part while the third part is relegated to one or two beginners.

  • In determining the instrumentation of a school or college band, the following guidelines may prove helpful in promoting both balance and blend:
  • Ensure that the band has significantly more woodwind than brass players.  A ratio of 3:2 in favour of the woodwind section is about right.
  • Reinforce the lower parts in each section.  This means, for example, that there should be more third trumpet players than first trumpet players.
  • Ensure that there are not too many saxophone or percussion players, particularly the latter.
  • Include plenty of clarinet and flute players. Critics rarely take a band to task by claiming that these sections are playing too loudly.
  • Ensure that the horns are seated in such a way that the first horn plays into the rest of the section.
  • If necessary, move players to other instruments. Common transfers include saxophonists to the oboe and other saxophones; trumpet players to horn or euphonium.

Beyond this, the music will usually determine whether the band should strive for a single homogeneous sound (as in a chorale) or whether one or another section should predominate. Melodic parts, for example, will need to be heard over an accompaniment.  At other points, it may become necessary for an inner line to be given more prominence.


Experimenting with Sound

The following exercise is sometimes used by experienced band directors to help players become more aware of how balance can affect the overall timbre of a band.  Choose a major chord from a chorale (the final note of the last cadence is a good bet) and ask the band to play it.  Then assign each player a number from one to eight that divides the woodwinds from the brass and also roughly corresponds with the general pitch level of each instrument.  The following is presented as a guide:

  1. Piccolo, flutes, oboe, first clarinets.
  2. First trumpets.
  3. Second and third clarinets.
  4. Second and third trumpets.
  5. Alto and tenor saxophones, alto clarinet.
  6. First and second horns, first trombone, euphonium/baritone
  7. Tubas, second and third trombone, euphonium.
  8. Baritone saxophone, bassoon, bass clarinet.

Next, ask the players to imagine that each number refers to a particular point across the arms and shoulders of the band director.  For example, on the left arm number one corresponds to the tips of the fingers, number two with the wrist, three with elbow and four with the shoulder.  Similarly, on the right arm number five refers to the shoulder, six to the elbow, seven to the wrist and eight to the tips of fingers.

The different timbres produced can be highly instructive
The original chord is then played again, but this time with the music director holding both arms outstretched in front of the band.  The ensemble is then instructed to respond by raising or lowering the volume according to the extent to which the music director raises or lowers the positions of his fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders.  The different timbres produced in this way by the band can be highly instructive.  Needless to say, the contortions of the band director can also be hilarious, thus ensuring that everyone has a good time and learns something useful in the process.


The Pyramid Approach

A more sophisticated approach to the problem of balance and intonation is identified with the composer Francis McBeth [Effective Performance of Band Music, Southern Music Company, 1972]. It is based on the theory that, at any given dynamic level, the higher pitched instruments should be playing softer than the lower pitched ones. This is consistent with the notion that players should be able to hear the bottom notes of the chord so that they can tune to them.  McBeth illustrates the concept with the use of an isosceles triangle.  Today, however, the idea is more commonly known as the pyramid approach.

Once again the band is divided into groups, this time into four as illustrated in the following diagram.  The width of the triangle is a measure of volume, so that the higher the voice, the softer the sound.

Begin the exercise by selecting a suitable chord as before and then asking the band to play the chord at a pianissimo before crescendoing to a full fortissimo.  The band then does it again, this time with group four playing the full fortissimo, group three holding back at a forte, group two at a mezzo-forte and group one at mezzo-piano.  Reverse the instruction on the third attempt, with group four crescendoing to little more than a mezzo-piano, group three to a mezzo-forte, group two to a forte and group one to a full fortissimo.

Repeat the exercise with the brass and woodwinds separately
Chances are that the third attempt will sound very much like the band’s regular crescendo (first attempt), while the second attempt will produce a sound normally associated with that of a far more superior band.   It is often useful to repeat the exercise with the brass and the woodwinds separately.

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