8 problems and 3 solutions to help you brass section play more in tune.
1. The perfect fifth is sharp in the overtone series.
In the overtone series partials 3, 6, and 12 are sharp. Sharp is indicated with a red note and a sharp underneath. The 3rd, 6th, and 12th are all the same note, the fifth above the root. Avoid tuning to these partials.
2. Trumpet and Horn:
In the 3rd and 6th partial trumpets and horns play G, F#, F, E, Eb, D, and C#. All of these notes play sharp because of the nature of these partials. The 6th partial; high G, F#, F, and E is even sharper than the 3rd partial.
3. Euphonium, Trombone, and Tuba:
In the 3rd and 6th partial trombones, baritones, and tubas play F, E, Eb, D, Db, C, and B sharp. The 6th partial; high F, E, Eb, and D are sharper than the 3rd partial.
Solution 1: How can I make this info help my brass section?
Brass players should avoid tuning to these partials. Avoid having the brass tune to concert F for trombone, baritone, and tuba, G for trumpet and C for the horn. If those notes are in tune everything else will be flat, making the instrument hard to play in tune.
Trombones should extend each slide position flatter than normal to play the 3rd and 6th partials. The 6th partial will need to be played flatter than 3rd partial.
Trumpet, baritone, and tuba should voice these notes a little lower. Voicing means to shape your mouth to adjust pitch. “OO” voices the note flatter, “EE” voices sharper.
4. The fifth, seventh, and tenth partials play flat.
In the overtone series partials 5, 7, and 10 are flat. Flat is indicated with a blue note and a flat underneath. The fifth and tenth are all the same note, the third above the root. Do not tune to concert D. The seventh partial is so flat it is unusable on all brass instruments except for the trombone.
5. Fifth Partial: Trumpet and Horn
Trumpet E, Eb, D, and Db at the top of the staff and French Horn (same notes right below the staff) need to be raised in pitch to be in tune with a tuner.
6. Fifth Partial: Euphonium, Trombone, and Tuba
Trombone, Baritone, and Tuba note D, Db, C, and B are flat. Trombone and baritone at the top of the staff and Tuba in the middle of the staff.
7. Seventh Partial: Trombone
The trombone is the only brass instrument that uses the seventh partial. All positions should be adjusted very sharp. G should be in Sharp 2nd position and F# should be in sharp 3rd position.
8. Problems with unisons because of partials!
Trumpet E, at top of staff and Trumpet E in the staff, or Euphonium D in the staff or Tuba D in staff or many other endless possibilities. In example 1 it shows pitch problems in normal music. Example 2 shows how Band Intonation Chorales and Exercises shows pitch problems.
Solution 2: How can I use this to help my brass section?
Checking octaves can be a huge help in making your band sound in tune. Practice exercises to tune octaves. Check octaves within your music and ensure they are in tune. Many times it does not matter if the other notes are out of tune as long like notes are in tune. When I first started tuning piano the best advice I got was “unisons are king.” Tune the unison notes first and teach your students to tune unisons and you will find 90% of pitch problems are gone.
Solution 3: Retaining information?
You can teach your brass until you are blue in the face but until you show them what to do and repeat it 700 times they are not going to remember what to do to adjust pitch. They are not going to remember and apply it all of the time unless you give them reminders and show them what to do. That is why I came up with Band Intonation Exercise and Band Intonation Chorales. Quick easy chorales to teach your students to: play in tune, show them problems and how to fix them.
That is it, in a few minutes of rehearsal a week you can review and teach all the skills that your instrumentalist needs to play in tune. Teach them to listen and when and how to adjust.
Brian R. Thompson graduated from The American Band College and received his degree from Sam Houston State University with a Masters in Music with an emphasis in Instrumental Conducting. He also received his Undergraduate degree from University of Utah, in Salt Lake City UT and an associate degree from Snow College, in Ephraim UT. He has been teaching for the past 13 years in rural Utah. He has taught middle school and high school bands. Brian was a quarterfinalist for 2018 “Educator of the Year” by the Grammy foundation. He is the exclusive composer/arranger for Sevier Band & Percussion.
Experienced band teacher, author, clinician and musician. Brian has a Masters in conducting from Sam Houston Sate University through the American Band College. He was quarter Finalist for Grammy "Educator of the Year" 2018