Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 03:06:18 -0600
From: Eddie Lewis <>
Subject: Re: intonation

Dereck Scott wrote:
> i have mucho problems with my intonation.......what is the best way to
> work on correcting this????
> dereck

As with almost every other subject, there is no "Best" way. It all depends on what works for you.

That said, I would like to mention what Charlie Geyer (SP?) told me about pitch. When I met Mr. Geyer, I was studying with Dick Schaffer, and Schaffer arranged for me to meet Geyer in the rehersal room in Jones hall, after a symphony rehearsal. It turned into one of the best lessons I've ever had in my life and I envie all of you who have studied with him at Eastman.

He basically talked about three things concerning pitch. (please keep in mind that this was a long time ago, so I am paraphrasing....not quoting Charlie Geyer)

1)  Know the tendencies of the instrument
2)  Learn the basics about pitch systems
3)  Learn how to make the adjustment between numbers one and two

Know the tendencies of the instrument.
In other words, know which notes on the horn tend to be sharp and which tend to be flat. There is a LITTLE bit of difference, from one instrument to the next, but there are some tendencies which typically apply to most trumpets. For example, most of us learn that the low D and low G are sharp, because of the 1 & 3 combination. More so for the C# and the F#....with the 123 fingering. Other notes which tend to be really out of tune are the G above the staff (sharp) and the top space E, Eb, D (flat).

Learn the basics about pitch systems.
When we're not playing with a piano, most of us tune with the more natural intonations, as opposed to equal temperment. I think the system that most people refer to is the "just" intonation. When you're not using equal temperment, then NOT every note is going to be played at the same pitch. A 440, if in tune as the root of an A major triad, is going to be higher than the A if it is the third of an F major triad. All of the notes move around to be in tune. A good example of this is when a brass ensemble plays a series of chords, but you play the common tone. In a lot of cases, even though you have a written (hypothetical) G for the entire progression, it's not uncommon for the person with the sustained note to adjust to each note as the chord changes. If the sustained note is the third of one chord, and the fifth of the next, that adjustment can be significant.

For that reason, for the purposes of playing in tune, chromatic tuners are practically useless. They only work if you are going to be using equal temperment. Most people don't.

Learn how to make the adjustment between numbers one and two
There are three things you can do to adjust the pitch on the trumpet. You can use the slides, you can use alternate fingerings or you can lip it. The problem is that lipping can make your sound quality change. So can the alternate fingerings, but not as badly. So there is a generally accepted hierarchy of adjustments, slide, fingers, lip.

Of course, this is a very technical way of approaching pitch, but I don't think the point is to think this way in the performances. I think these are things which you work on in your practice sessions so that they become second nature in performance.

Also, what I've written here, so far, has not mentioned anything about being able to "hear" the pitch. You must absolutely use your ear. But by understanding the three things above, and working them out in your practice sessions, you have the tools that it takes to play in tune when you recognize those pitch problems.

This was much longer than I had expected. Thanks for reading to the end.
- --
Eddie "Tiger" Lewis