O.J.'s Trumpet Page Interview

TuneUp Intonation Training System

Book cover

An interview with Stephen Colley

Before we start talking about TuneUp, could you tell us about yourself?
I began the horn at age 11 when most choose to enter instrumental music in the States. I distinctly remember hearing an "Old Spice" cologne commercial where a solo melody was played by everything from a pennywhistle to tuba. When it got to the horn, I was hooked!

I pursued horn performance at the University of Texas at Austin under Wayne Barrington, Farkas 3rd horn in Chicago for many years. (Best quote from Wayne – "Play so clearly that a person taking musical dictation in the audience will write down exactly what is on your page!") I moved to Los Angeles to study with Ralph Pyle, 2nd horn of the LA Philharmonic and learned as much about life as I did about hornplaying from him. I also benefited from other great teacher/players like John Cerminaro and Jimmy Decker.

After playing in LA, Sweden, Mexico and Texas, I moved to the San Francisco Bay area where I won the Principal Horn position in Stockton under Kyung Soo Won. It was here that I was finally confronted with my lack of intonation skills. My chops were pretty good and I had a good sense of musical expression, but my own pitch was very fragile; certainly not enough to hold a section in tune!

I read everything I could including the bible of instrumental intonation, Chris Leuba's "A Study of Musical Intonation" and Art Benade's foundational book on musical acoustics. The information was very helpful, but I did not play better in tune. You see, intonation is an aural skill, depending on the ear, not simply information (or the eyes, for those dependent on visual tuners!).

My grandfather always told me to "find a need and fill it". Well, I found a need. I needed something to provide all the conditions necessary to develop my own skill. I simply couldn't get the horn section together to work on pitch for hours and hours every week. Enter Tuneup!

What are the TuneUp Systems?
The Tuneup Systems are two intonation training methods that bring the player/singer from introduction to full ensemble performance. The first system, Tuneup: Basic Training is designed to give the individual player the conditions necessary to develop intonation skills in a self-study format. You see, we all possess a different level of aptitude when it comes to pitch perception and correction. Me? I was not particularly gifted in this area. It took time. Time which as unavailable in school and certainly not in the rehearsal.

So, Basic Training was developed to answer all of these demands. The text lays a theoretical foundation, then an audio CD provides the steady, constant chords and drones needed to develop the awareness of beats. The player then corrects the beats, listening for the perfect location of each major and minor interval. Pretty simple stuff, actually. The main thing is that the CD gives the player time! We all will progress at a different rate. The CD gives those who are not so lucky all the time needed to develop skills. Before, they were often "left behind" or even told that the skill could not be developed!

The second System, Bootcamp, is an extension of Basic Training. There are several stages to learning how to play in tune practically. First, one must know the "quality" of the interval. This is done by singing with the CD. Then the player learns the idiosyncrasies of their own particular instrument. These two stages are handled in Basic Training. But then comes the practical world of timbre and balancing chords in addition to pitch. Bootcamp handles this.

In Bootcamp, groups of players, whether quintet or full orchestra, are assigned different lines from the Basic Training Interval Study. Each line concentrates on different chord members. So, put horns on Line 3 (Fifths of the chords), Trumpets on Line 5 (thirds of chords) and Tuba/Trombone on Line 2 (Roots of the chords) and play along with the CD. There's even some jazz chords and a Minor interval study, too.

The biggest challenge is that the ensemble intonation cannot improve without the improvement in individual skill. In other words, it's a "weak link" thing. The player who cannot play in tune has the capability of ruining the intonation for the entire ensemble. Often, it is this player who is least aware of their own pitch and "oblivious" to their role. When required by the whole ensemble Tuneup: Basic Training insures that each player obtains a baseline of intonation skills. The key, however, is personal responsibility. One must be willing to confront their own weakness (in all areas!) in order to improve the ensemble as a whole.

Are there any specific things brassplayers need to be aware of?
As brass players, we have a huge advantage over woodwinds. Our instruments function more consistently with natural tuning, therefore, we can use a "flat" or "sharp" partial to our advantage. (In reality, the supposed out of tune partial is most likely perfectly in tune for a particular key!). When I studied briefly with Froydis Wekre, she reminded me that alternate fingerings may have a different timbre than fingerings normally used. It is our duty, she said, to insure that they sound as good as any other fingerings. I feel that alternate fingerings should play a major role in fine brass playing. It is said that Christopher Leuba, famed hornist and author, adjusts his slides according to the key performed; a different setting for the key of A than the key of Bb. This would remove a lot of the guesswork from trying to adjust 3rds, 6ths and 7ths on the fly.

Who can use it?
One of my goals in developing Tuneup was to make it convenient and practical to use. I purposefully did not make it a CD-ROM. How many people do you know with computers in their practice room at school or home?! What made the most sense was to make it a simple audio CD that works on full stereo or headphones. Either is equally effective.

Often I hear complaints about the timbre of the CD. As Gene Pokorny, tubist with the Chicago Symphony says "It's medicine! It ain't supposed to taste good!" His point, obviously, is that the purpose of the CD is to expose pitch discrepancy quickly for any instrument. I have tried producing a more pleasing timbre, but I felt that the main purpose was compromised.

Are there any specific things you should do when you start using TuneUp?
Imagine if we all learned moveable "DO" solfegge in school. The "pattern", which I term "The Harmonic Template" of interval relationships within the key would remain consistent from key to key. Since most of us don't learn solfegge, the next best thing to do is to sing. Sing everything! Phrases, dynamics and especially pitch!

Ben Chouinard, a fine trombonist and teacher at Towson State University in Baltimore began to put the Tuneup CD on the car stereo as he was driving to rehearsal. Even without working directly with his instrument, he found his ability to hear the pitch before he played it increased greatly. Intonation deals first with the ear, then with the challenges of the individual instrument, then with the differing timbre of the ensemble. Get it in the ear first!

Some people think they can fix their tuning problem if they buy a digital tuner. What do you say to them?
I have a fun little thing I do in clinics: I have an old tuner that hasn't worked in years. I sit down in a chair, place the tuner on a music stand next to me, then grab it, place it on the floor and stomp on it in one quick movement! After the initial shock wears off, I talk about proper use of visual tuners. Basically, let the oboist settle on a pitch, then turn the dern thing off! It's OK to insure you're at your basic tuning pitch, but you don't "taste" a Monet, so don't "see" yourself in tune!

Any final comments?
There is a strange phenomenon surrounding intonation. It's almost like "The Emperor's New Clothes". We all know there's a problem. No one is fooling anyone if they can't play in tune. But the problem is that we rarely talk about it. There may be no more frustrating area of musicianship than intonation. Teachers who struggle intonation themselves may even shy away from dealing with it. But, we ignore intonation at our peril and at the expense of fine musicianship.

Tuneup is the great equalizer. Those who have a "good ear" and don't struggle to hear pitch discrepancy will find it reassuring. But those, like me, who struggle not only to hear when it's out of tune but where to move the pitch are offered all the time it takes to develop sure skills. The bottom line is this: there is no excuse not to play in tune any more. The tool to address intonation exists and is endorsed by players all over the world who attest to it's effectiveness. It is now up to the individual!

To get TuneUp - go to:


o.j. 2004