musings from a scholar, a performer, and a die-hard pedagogue!
My faithful readers notice I missed an August posting! I was teaching and performing as part of the Vianden International Chamber Music Festival in Luxembourg.
The bassoonists met early every morning to warm-up together prior to each days' events. The heart of our warm-up? Intonation.
Often, intonation is practiced as a concept isolated from the "rest" of music. In so doing, we train our ears, eyes, and mind to separate from one another. I train and teach in an integrative philosophy.
Tuning occurs in three phases:
1.) Internal tuning. The bassoon is an inherently out of tune instrument. I laugh with my students: "The acoustics of the bassoon want you to fail!" You have to be unwavering in your knowledge of muscle placement. Like great opera singers, we must know where each pitch lies in the body. Our ears cannot begin to function in pitch adjustment if we do not first know pitch fundamentals.
This training occurs with digital tuners. Learn to align proper* embouchure, support, air, and oral cavity with geographical intonation (A440 here in the USA).
*I stress the term "proper" as trends towards poor air, embouchure, support, etc. can also indicate fault with reeds or the instrument itself.
Long tones, Scales, and Intervals are inseparable and critical in training muscle memory as associated with tuner work.
2.) External Tuning: Placing pitch within the body is significant. Adjusting that pitch to the external world is essential. Working with a drone trains the ears to listen externally while muscles react with (eventually) instantaneous precision.
Drone applications for smart phones provide endless possibilities for creative external practice.
As technique widens, the listening focus becomes more difficult. For this reason, etude books such as Piard, Oubradous, and Krakamp, that grow more technical as they progress through an exercise offer excellent drone resources.
3.) Self Tuning: Eventually, the tuner is removed. The drone is shut down. Still, intonation is demanded. Using our academic knowledge, the simplest of harmonic/rhythmic analyses will often help tuning. Imagine the opening of the Mozart Bassoon Concerto, K191. Often the Eb in third measure of the solo entrance is ...suspect.... Tuning an ascending m7 is difficult. Upon closer inspection, however, the Eb can be practiced as an accented upper neighbor tone to the chord tone 'D.' The intense study of chord tones in Internal and External Tuning Practice provides room for neighbor tones, neighbor chords, and accented non-chord tones in the listening of intonation. Associating these tones as "neighbors" as opposed to "wide leaps" makes hearing more accessible.
As I always say: HAPPY PRACTICING, ALL!