Tuning and Intonation for Your Band

Intonation and Tuning In A BandPlaying in tune with the other members of your band is incredibly important.  This article provides three tips as well as links to other sites about tuning and intonation.  It is written with the amateur band leader in mind.

{mosimage}Tuning your band is not the easiest task in the world to accomplish. However, if you are constantly finding your band's popularity failing to live up to your expectations the tuning and overall intonation of your band could be to blame. You could be playing the best and most popular music available, but if you are not in tune as a group you will never be respected or admired as musicians.


Most people think that tuning their band is as simple as pulling out an electronic tuner, playing a few notes, and doing what the tuner tells you to do. The reality is that while this is a starting point there are many more items that have to be considered in your band's tuning ritual. Remember these simple tips:

  1. Different instruments react in different ways to heat and cold. If the venue your band is performing in is very cool to begin with and heats up as the night goes on, your instruments (especially brass, percussion, and woodwind instruments) will get more and more sharp as they heat up.

  2. Some instruments (especially brass and woodwinds) must warm up through normal playing for at least ten minutes before they will remain on a stable pitch. If you tune your sax player as soon as his horn comes out of the case and then tune again ten minutes into his warm up you will often find a difference of as much as 10-20 cents (cents are the units by which frequencies are measured in music).

  3. Your instruments MUST be clean and well maintained. Guitars must have good strings and their tuning gear mechanisms must be adjusted to hold the tension properly. Woodwind instruments must have their pads in good condition and their key heights properly adjusted as well as using a clean mouthpiece and good quality reed. Brass instruments should be cleaned regularly with warm soapy water inside and out (note: never wash a woodwind instrument). Not only does a clean horn play better in tune, it also plays easier! Also watch for dents in the tubes. A dent that blocks more than one quarter of the tube must be removed, especially if the dent is in the first few inches after the mouthpiece.

  4. Once these three things have been taken into account you should be able to use an electronic tuner to adjust the instruments to the correct group pitch.

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