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Thread: 'Gosh, this ol' tuner must be broke!'

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2020
    Location
    SW WA, USA
    Posts
    6

    'Gosh, this ol' tuner must be broke!'

    Hi all. New here. Was just going to lurk but I thought that might be impolite.

    Just over a month ago, the Universe delivered a euphonium to my doorstep. I played trombone in middle and high school (including bass 'bone parts on a Bach 36B, why not ) and switched to CC tuba during my junior year. I went off to a respectable conservatory of music for college, and did fine until non-academic circumstances caused me to drop out three years later. I returned home and played tuba at the local university until I hurt my low back in a way that holding a tuba was not ever going to be possible. I sold the tuba. I'd already sold the trombone. After devoting a chunk of my life to the pursuit of musical endeavors, it was just over. I walked away, because it was all gone anyway.

    That was roughly 30 years ago. And in spite of my college reputation as the Swiss Army Knife low brass player, I'd never played a euphonium. I marveled at the tiny mouthpiece (same one I used with my 36B), I was shocked at all the extra tubing, I was afraid to touch its beautiful silvery-ness. But I did get brave, and started in. I have progressed from 'drunk 6th grader' to 'incompetent 7th grader,' and that seems pretty good! It's not that I don't know what to do here - it's that the chops are nonexistent and I forgot how to breathe.

    But surely I should think about intonation! Right! So I got out the old Korg tuner, put batteries in it, checked calibration, and put it on the stand. Closed my eyes, took a nice breath, thought as hard as I could about Bb3, about beautiful tone, about a good strong buzz, about a well-supported column of air, about a lovely centered note... opened my eyes and the dang needle is swinging wildly all over the place, just crazy-like. Well that's unexpected. I repeated the 'closed my eyes' bit with an F. Opened my eyes and the tuner looks like it could jump itself right off the stand.

    Gosh, this ol' tuner must be broke! Too bad, kind of sentimental value and probably pretty accurate; wonder how it went bad sitting on the shelf, oh well, these thing happen I guess. Seems a strange failure mode, though. I mean, I can see it not turning on or something, but what would cause it just to go crazy like that? Very odd.

    I paused. I put the euphonium down. I plugged an electric bass guitar into the amp behind me, and played an open string. After the initial attack, the note held steady at about 3 cents flat.

    Ahhhh. Folks, the tuner is fine. I do not need your donations to buy a new one. I do need you to throw another shovel of dirt over me, because my tiny scrap of pride is DEAD. I took the batteries out of the tuner. It's too soon.

  2. #2
    Here’s the worst of it- if you once played very VERY WELL and then hit a wall (or walls) and not being able to tolerate second best, STOPPED, then re-starting requires first that you NEVER STOP AGAIN.

    Since your goal of playing perfectly pitched long tones didn’t wind up serving your progress, what goal should replace that one?

    Are you working with a teacher? Is it time to think about doing so? Can you convince a potential teacher that you are as serious or more as any student that’s ever been taught? By sheer luck I’ve worked with a teacher for several months (lost 6 months to Covid quarantine) who does not spare me in spite of my advanced age, and darned if it isn’t working.

    I will NEVER GIVE UP, and since my major goal is playing Gr. 5 wind ensemble music and even higher, I know how to focus. If you’re really serious, get yourself a teacher.

  3. #3
    A clue is in your description of how the tuner behaved when you tried it on your bass guitar. The initial attack has lots of harmonics then sustains with a strong fundamental. Euphonium tones contain lots of harmonics throughout. If your pitch goes flat or sharp during the duration then the tuner may be unable to lock in the pitch. Or, the tuner might not be able to lock if you are starting out way sharp or flat. Seems like some experimentation might solve the problem. Also, there are some free or inexpensive tuners one can get for a smart phone that might perform better. I use an old Petersen tuner/generator/metronome that sometimes refuses to lock until I turn it's tone generator on and off! Good luck and keep trying!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2020
    Location
    SW WA, USA
    Posts
    6
    @carbogast Interesting! I was assuming that the problem was 100% on my end, but I'll try my Snark (or my phone) and see what happens. Even if a different tuner does better, it's probably in general way too soon to blame any of the equipment for any problem I have.

    Ann, we may have different definitions of 'serious.' I do have year-from-now goals, should the pandemic cooperate, but they're modest. I have a second set of goals that does not require the pandemic to cooperate. I have no need to be the second coming of anyone - not even the second coming of myself. I think often of Nicholson Baker's Playing Trombone, and that's about where I am these days. I'm content with that. That's not to say I'm content with where I am now as a player, because there's a lot of work ahead to get to my goals. I'll do the work and I'll get there. If I achieve my goals and end up as second best, I'm ok with that. I'm long past the need to be #1.

  5. #5
    If I could make one suggestion it would be to use the tuner for now to keep your tuning note at pitch. As you shape your skills you'll want to start using to control the intonation difference among all the notes, but the most important thing is to keep your chops focused.

    In my own practice I can easily keep going sharper as I play. Probably the way my ear wants to get a little more brilliance sometimes and I push the pitch to do that. Over 10-15 minutes I'll find my tuning note has gotten shaper. It is critical to get your horn well warmed up before tuning. While it is cold, it will be flatter and the relationship between notes will be off as well. So get the instrument warm and your chops working, then tune. Close your eyes and play a Bb concert (on top of the bass clef staff, or that's a C in the transposed treble clef staff). Settle into the note while your eyes are closed to feel like you are playing in the center of the tone. When you are happy, open your eyes and see what the tuner says. Adjust the tuning slide and repeat.

    Do that every 10 minutes or so afterward. If you are getting sharper, despite having warmed up before tuning, either your horn is getting hotter (which could happen in a hot room) or your ear/chops have caused you to play above where the horn is. That is tiring, thins your tone, and causes you to miss more notes!
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams Artist (Adams E3)
    Alliance Mouthpiece (DC4)
    YouTube: dwerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    Twitter: davewerden
    Instagram: davewerdeneuphonium

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2020
    Location
    SW WA, USA
    Posts
    6
    Thanks, Dave. I try to start with a slightly-warmed horn (my house is quite cold overall). My practice sessions are not long, because a) I don't have the chops and b) I'm less than a year out from very serious neck surgery after several years of no diagnosis, and the lingering effects in the shoulders/arms are pretty brutal. I'm hoping that will improve over time (that hope has to do more with employability than playing, tbh), and also will be trying a harness that transfers weight to my hip bones. With any luck, this will enable me to increase the length of my practice sessions.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2020
    Location
    SW WA, USA
    Posts
    6
    Update: Snark tuner, clipped to leadpipe, was much steadier than the Korg. It provided useful information, so I'm happy.

  8. #8
    Funny, i am in almost the same situation. I was away 50 years from the horn. I have the same problem. I seem to be all over the place with intonation. I have been practicing 2 years now from 2 to 3 hours a day. I had not used a tuner for a while and decided to see if my intonation got better. I seem to be consistent in that when i tune the horn on B flat, some notes are consistently flat and some sharp. The problem is that they can be far off. I can trigger out the tuning slide on the sharp notes and it seems that i cannot bring the notes in tune. Of course flat ones present another challenge. I had tried to find a teacher but no one knew the Euphonium well enough to be of any help (that was their opinion). I had the opportunity to play in a band, but Covid came just as i was to start. I need a way to figure out how to improve my intonation while not having a band to play with nor a teacher to lead me. I would think playing with others in a band should help, but that is not an option yet. Even after 2 years of practice, i am better with technique such as double tonguing, triple tonguing, slurs, etc. than i am at intonation. I live in Orlando Florida and it seems difficult to find instructors. When i lived in Pittsburgh area while i was young, it was easier to find a good instructor. Of course, at that time, i was planning on majoring in music and got a professor from Duquesne University to teach me. It is my fault for selling my horn and not playing for 50 years. My guess that the best solution for this is to play with a local band, any band that will have me, when things open up.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2019
    Location
    Intermountain West in USA
    Posts
    58
    Late to the discussion here. I had a similar problem just the other day. I used a tuner app on my iphone, and my intonation was all over the place. I told this to my teacher and he said that sometimes the instrument is so loud that it overwhelms the tuner app, and it doesn't give a true readout. That sounded good to me, so I'm sticking to that explanation, at least until I can find another excuse.

    Anyway, he said that some tuners are better behaved than others in this regard, but I don't recall which one(s) he recommended.

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