Reply To: Out of tune players

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Some suggestions from vclorch:

Great conversation!

I’m SURE low pitch standards run rampant across many school orchestras. I’d be lying if my orchestras were playing perfectly in tune… that said, I think I have a few suggestions. And by the way, THANK YOU for radar and the snake. Fantastic. I’m also a cellist, and teach grades 4-8 strings, just outside of NYC.

1) The truth hurts: Try recording your students in ensemble or small groups. I recently purchased a Blue Snowball, a USB mic, to plug into my laptop. I recorded a few rehearsals and played them back for students. Though a recorded sound is obviously much different from the live sound, pitch inconsistencies were very noticeable. They have a chance to hear themselves clearly. Since pitch is hard to work on, several students just say “it’s not THAT bad.” This method says “think again!”

2) Introduce ringing tones and sympathetic vibration. This is a great way to move beyond and the tape and develop the ear. The visual cue for intonation is also the vibrating open string. I tell my students that tapes are training wheels.

3) Finger patterns are excellent. Pitck up a copy of Daily Warm-Ups for String Orchestra by Michael Allen for some good basic exercises. I do these in middle school but there are some advanced exercises for high school. Transpose them.

4) Harmonized scales. Cannot be overstated. Great for tone and pitch. Obviously they are closely related.

5) Tuning cd/drones. ASTA has a tuning CD out for cellists, but I think you can incorporate droning into the orchestral setting. Maybe isolate a section (violas for example) and divide inside outside so one player is the drone and the next is the scale. They can hear the intervals against the drone pitch, especially the “cool” sounds of the P4, P5, and octave.

Lastly, and I’m sorry for writing so much, show them videos and play recordings for the students. I do this ALL the time, so they know how much nuance and skill are needed. We also watch YouTube videos of other orchestras and comment on their playing in class — discussing both the good elements and those that need to be improved. Developing a critical ear, but also one that appreciates the challenges of playing well, will do more than just develop good pitch.

Keep this conversation going. I’m always looking for new suggestions myself. Feel free to get in touch with me to chat more!