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How I’ve gotten my students to play more in tune (for non-oboists too!)

I’ve started working on intonation with my more advanced students in a really interesting way the last few weeks: incorporating the tonic triad into their normal slow scale practice.

Slow scales

I use slow scales in warm ups to help students make connections between using good air support and a gentle embouchure pressure as they move around the range of their instrument. I imagine many band directors use Chorales to warm up for the same reason, as well as to get the class thinking as a unit rather than as individuals.

I love using a tonic drone when students play their slow scales to get them thinking about relative intonation in the context of their scale, as well as practicing the skill of tuning by ear. Slow scales are so important in my studio because they coordinate so many different skills with a rather simple set of notes.

Adding the tonic triad

At the beginning of the month, one of my students shared the idea of tuning the tonic triad before playing her slow scale, a concept she had experienced in band class with a clinician. I loved this idea because tuning in context of band is something this student has been working on a lot this semester, and I’m always up to try a new exercise. The result that this student got was that her intonation throughout the scale was more accurate and more consistent.

So of course I had to try this with other students. So far, the students I’ve worked on this exercise with have really flourished and been able to stay far more consistently in tune during their exercises in that key. What I think is at play is more than just awareness of needing to adjust intonation. The students I’ve done this exercise with are all in high school, have been working with me for a while, and are generally listening for intonation. I think that the experience of playing the tonic triad in tune, feeling where each pitch needs to rest and the pitch relationships between each note is the key to playing with better intonation. And I love hearing students play with better intonation!

Have you used tonic triad tuning exercises in class? How do you do it? What result do you find? I would love to learn from you, so please reply and let me know.

Next week, I’ll be returning to the topic of vibrato to discuss some new things that I learned last week after the blog was published, and whether I’m going to change how I teach vibrato.


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