Practice the intonation – alone or in a group


I assert that we – as wind players – have a particularly hard time with intonation!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 „That's not true.“ is going to be the answer of all the string players „ guys have keys which fix the pitch while we have to put our fingers 100% on the right spot in order to get the correct tone.“
Yes, on the one hand – but: The scale that's prescribed through the keys, is only an approximative value. A lot of notes drop out (they are too deep or too high if we don't correct them), we don't have empty strings as points of orientation, every tone varies a lot if we want to play it loudly or softly and we depend on the room temperature and the temperature of the instrument. So we have to tackle these problems and bring a certain system into our intonation practice. Before you start, make sure that the cork inside the headpiece is properly located!

First step

First, we should take care of tuning the scale of our instrument in a continuously medium volume. Due to the fact that our body really is a part of our instrument, we have to commit ourselves to this task with a lot of patience.

We choose mf – without the vibrato!

Where to start?

Best is to start with those tones that show the least flexbility and tend to be too deep, like: E', D', E'' and D'''.

You turn up the tuning device without looking – then you search for the sound that seems nicest to you in the low register – exactly how you would want to play it in the musical piece. When you are satisfied with the sound of your low E and D, you can take a look at the tuning device and see which frequency is shown – do not correct it!

Now, pull out or push the flute in until the nice sounding E and D are located on „0“. Most pianos nowadays are tuned on 442 or 443 and probably the ensemble you play in has a certain standard tuning.

So now we have a well-sounding E' on „0“ - now you can play E'' and this octave should be right. If it doesn't, you have to change something about the way you play.

In case E'' is too low, check the following parameters:
Maybe you screw in while overblowing? Or you didn't move your jaw enough? Or you put your lips too far to the front?

In case it is too high, you probably play too turned off or blow too hard – an octavation isn't achieved through a high air pressure but through changes:
a) of the blowing angle

b) of the size and form of your lip gap

c) of the distance to the embouchure hole edge

d) of the position of the jaw and the interior mouth – vowel

That's why you have to try to play cleanly, well-sounding octaves with a consistant dynamic. Like this, you continue with all the octave leaps from E'- E'' to C''-C'''. Be careful, C'', Cis'' and D'' are overly high tones, you have to choose a blowing angle that's steep enough for them to be correct. If you manage to do this, they will sound nice. You have to remember this timbre because you can take it as an orientation. In the following, you produce even tones: go up chromatically from C''' – in view of the tuning device. Still stay in the mf and try to embed all the tones in an attuning scale by making little corrections with the lower jaw and the looseness/tension of the lips. 

Basically, a tone becomes deeper when:
a) we lower our head and cover more of the embouchure hole

b) we open the jaw and take it back (slower air – steeper angle)

c) we reduce the tension of the lips
In case of reversed movements – higher!
Due to the fact that we are still playing in mf, the corrections should  in total be kept within limits,

The dynamics

Now it becomes a bit more difficult:

You need to turn the tuning device on the desired frequency. First, you check your mf, then you play a p and in the following an f. All of them should be staying on the same intonation now. Then you try out pp and ff. It is not easy at all and a long way until you are in total control of all this. In case the pp works well and the ff sounds terribly high, you've lost your mf centre and you actually have to pull out or the other way around.

In the group

In a group, it is essential that every player is able to correct the scale or the dynamics. Inside the group, it counts that the bass voice is the foundation on which the intervals of the sentence are built.

If you are practicing this, you can proceed like this:

  1. Keeping the bass tone with the tuning device
  2. Add octave tones
  3. Employ fifth tones
  4. Add thirds – major third deep – minor third high!
  5. Add dissonant tones – if available

A big help for everybody:

Imagine you are singing in a choir and listen to every tone in advance that you are going to sing/play. Like this, you can correct it in the right direction within seconds.                                                                                                                   Intonation becomes natural like this – assumed that we worked out our flexibility!

Good luck!