TuneUp Intonation Training
An interview with Stephen Colley
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!
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
skill, depending on the ear, not simply information (or the eyes, for
on visual tuners!).
always told me to "find a need and fill it". Well, I found a need. I
to provide all the conditions necessary to develop my own skill. I
get the horn section together to work on pitch for hours and hours
every week. Enter Tuneup!
are the TuneUp Systems?
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
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,
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!
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
groups of players, whether quintet or full orchestra, are assigned
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
even some jazz chords and a Minor interval study, too.
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
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
required by the whole ensemble Tuneup: Basic Training insures that each
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.
specific things brassplayers need to be aware of?
players, we have a huge advantage over woodwinds. Our instruments
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
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.
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
Symphony says "It's medicine! It ain't supposed to taste good!" His
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
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
Harmonic Template" of interval relationships within the key would
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
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
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
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
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!
There is a
strange phenomenon surrounding intonation. It's almost like "The
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
Tuneup is the
great equalizer. Those who have a "good ear" and don't struggle to hear
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
attest to it's effectiveness. It is now up to the individual!
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