As Directors, we cannot assume that the students understand what being in tune really is in the ensemble. In a band rehearsal, maintaining pitch accuracy is essential for producing a cohesive and productive rehearsal. Too many times directors get into the rut of taking on the intonation responsibilities of every student in the room. This is ineffective and costs precious time. Turning personal responsibility over to the students allows for more time to work on other aspects of the music and also empowers the students to be more active in the rehearsal. Incorporating personal tuners can significantly improve the quality of the students’ pitch awareness and broaden their ear training. Providing real-time pitch monitoring and encouraging individual tuning, personal tuners offer numerous benefits that contribute to the overall growth of the ensemble’s musicianship and the development of ear training skills of the student.
1. Set Up:
Personal tuners suitable for band rehearsals can include tuners like the Korg TM 60 with a pick up mic, or smartphone apps. It is important for students to have individual pick up mics during group rehearsals. Students should have clear instructions on how to set up and calibrate the tuners. A brief tutorial during the first rehearsal can ensure that all students understand how to use the tuners correctly. While potential challenges may arise, having extra batteries or extra tuners on hand can help alleviate these issues. During rehearsal, the expectation should be that the tuner is on the stand, turned on, and clipped on. This should be the norm for every rehearsal every day.
Integrating personal tuners into warm-up sessions enhances individual tuning. While tuners are advantageous, emphasizing the importance of listening skills alongside tuner usage is crucial. Warm-up exercises should focus on pitch, intonation, and other musical aspects like articulation, phrasing, dynamics, balance, and blend. Effective warm-up exercises can include long-tone exercises, scales, and tuning drones. The warm-up session should be structured to allow sufficient time for individual tuning while also promoting a sense of ensemble awareness. It is the director’s responsibility to make sure the students use their eyes and more importantly, use their ears. The director should actively monitor the use of tuners by moving around the room while warming up to spot-check the students’ involvement. While potential drawbacks might involve some students relying too heavily on the tuner and neglecting to develop their ear training skills, educators can strike a balance by emphasizing the importance of listening skills alongside tuner usage. This can be expanded to not just include pitch awareness but also awareness of matching articulation, phrasing, dynamics, and balance and blend. Insist that the students have both their eyes and ears open and engaged. Directors must insist that students learn to watch the director first and foremost and check the tuner secondary. Ears should be the primary check for intonation. We are just giving the students a starting point with the tuners.
3. During Rehearsal:
Once the center of pitch has been established it is a good practice to routinely have the students check the pitch for their instrument throughout the rehearsal. Tuning isn’t just for the beginning of the rehearsal; it should be monitored through the entire rehearsal or performance. Giving the students 10 to 30 seconds in a rehearsal to personally tune can yield great benefits in the overall pitch center of the band. Teachers should encourage students to use the tuners discreetly during rehearsal to maintain the flow of the session. Students should be aware of their instrument’s tuning tendencies and make necessary adjustments. Low D for trumpet is a good example of a note that students should check and make sure that they are making the proper adjustments. Helping the student become aware of these notes will reap lasting benefits. The key is to have the student not just aware of themselves but also of their section and the entire ensemble. Directors and students must be involved the entire rehearsal with the focus of the pitch center to get the best use of time in rehearsal. In my rehearsals we create listening games to encourage the students to offer their opinions on the music, what we like, what we think needs improvement, and how we should shape the music better.
4. Benefits of Using Personal Tuners:
The initial benefits of using personal tuners in a middle school band rehearsal are improved pitch accuracy, enhanced intonation, and better tone quality across the ensemble. I have found the additional benefits are students are more engaged and aware of many more musical aspects of the music. Personal tuners help students develop a more acute sense of pitch leading to a more accurate understanding of articulation, phrasing, dynamics, balance and blend. Additionally, individual student playing skills are honed as they learn to take responsibility for not just tuning their instrument, but also being aware of how the different parts of the ensemble fit together and work together to make a more musical experience.
5. Benefits for Ear Training:
Using personal tuners encourages students to actively listen to their own pitch and the pitch of others improving their ear training abilities. In my rehearsal, we are constantly asking the students to listen to themselves and each other. Asking them, “What did you hear, what did you think was working well and what do you think we need to fix?” It’s about building a room of mini directors that are taking responsibility for themselves and the rehearsal. Challenges may arise when students rely solely on the visual feedback of the tuners; it is important to balance tuner usage with ear training exercises to foster a well-rounded musical development. Ear training is about opening up the ears to what is going on around them and how the individual fits into the rehearsals.
By incorporating personal tuners into rehearsals, educators can provide their students with valuable tools for improving pitch accuracy, intonation, and ear training skills. Striking a balance between tuner usage and ear training exercises, directors help students become more self-aware musicians fostering a culture of pitch accuracy and musical excellence within the band program. Bands can achieve greater musical cohesion and create performances that resonate with precision and artistry. We just have to give them a clear starting point and consistently remind them of their role in the rehearsal.
Completing 35 years of teaching experience this year, Mark Caspersen has dedicated the past 17 years to educating students at Bowman Middle School in Plano, Texas. Having taught in diverse settings, including small rural schools and large high schools, he brings a wealth of adaptability and expertise to his classroom. Mark’s current focus lies in refining the use of personal tuners to foster exceptional listening skills and promote effective ear training during rehearsals, showcasing his commitment to innovative music education. You can find more information at TunerCaddy.com.
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