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Practicing with tuner

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by cb_man, Sep 18, 2008.

  1. cb_man


    Apr 16, 2007

    I would like to know your opinions. I usually practice with a tuner and most of the times I get the pitch on the spot, and I always strive for that, but other times I just can't get it right! In these cases I usually go off by 10 cents (sometimes, rarely, by 20 cents). Are the pitches in that area "in tune" at the regular listeners ears? Can it be considered acceptable, or should I nitpick and don't allow errors greater than 5 cents, for ex, AT ALL TIMES?

    I want to be (really) in tune as much as possible of course (and not "in tune... for a bass!"), and I always think that there's no point in playing faster when there are still flaws to be sorted out, but I'm afraid that being so critical about my intonation keeps me from moving forward as much as I could and still have my playing thought of as good and enjoyable!

    Take into account that I'm a recent graduate, freelancer and upcoming auditioner for professional symphony orchestras, and not a high school student. So, I'm asking this in a professional level's perspective. Be realistical, but demanding. And if not much to ask, please be nice at the moment!! :crying: (joke! :p)
  2. I recommend that you don't practice with a tuner. Use a drone. You won't have a tuner on stage to tell you that you are a few cents off. It's better to learn to hear the pitch in the right tonality. Use a drone on the tonic or dominant. Each pitch will be slightly different depending on the tonality. When you are using a tuner you are tuning to equal temperament. Tuning that way for anything other than a keyboard instrument sounds funky. It's also helpful to play along with good recordings to understand how the notes relate and to get the piece in your ear so that you can hear the other instruments when you are playing by yourself. Learn to trust your ear and don't become dependant on little gadgets like tuners.

    That being said, I doubt that most people hear differences of 5 cents easily. That difference can be made by bow speed and vibrato. 10 cents and greater is probably going to sound wrong.
  3. 20 cents off equal might actually be in tune relative to where you just came from... but it probably isn't going to be right when you're playing with someone else (there are a couple of ways correct intonation can be that far from equal temperament, but they're rare). 5 cents is audible, but into the range of 'that's a matter of opinion'... in other words, it's not wrong, it's a matter of style.

    Sometimes in an orchestra, you can be playing low down on the E string and fingering a semitone lower than what you're supposed to be playing, and be sounding perfectly in tune. I've had to go for my tuner to get an open E right more than once.

    So, use a drone, sit by a keyboard and compare with it, program up some accompaniment for yourself on your computer, play with someone else, but however you do it use your ears.
  4. Usually when this topic comes up, most of the responses tend to be from the never-use-a-tuner-absolutists, which is silly and fascistic. But, I think you're the first I've seen who really needs to put it down for a while. It's just another tool, like a metronome. And, I believe most ears can only hear within about 10 cents. You might find the Wikipedia article worth reading (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cent_(music)).
  5. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    I like to use one to check in when I am really having trouble, mostly I trust my ears and mostly they won't steer you wrong. It can really help for a passage that is both high and awkward, but I like to just use it to get the right sound in my ear and get off it right away.
    I have used it in the studio when something really hard just really had to be on, as well. It should never be a crutch but it also should not feared
  6. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I used to practice with a tuner. Then I switched to using a drone (my metronome can generate tuning drones which is great for this purpose) and I found it by far much more effective. The difference is that you have to constantly check the tuner if you're on. With the drone, it gets drilled into your head and you can hear the intervals.

    The way I was doing it was that if I was practicing scales, I'd drone the root and play the exercise, then do it all over again with the 5th droning, then the major 3rd, then major 7th, 9th, 13th, 11th, etc. With each drone I make sure that I can reference the root at any time. It's like practicing modes but backwards.
  7. damonsmith


    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
    Drones are good, but a chromatic tuner is great when you are trying to hit a high Ab or C# or anything like that way up in thumb position. Especially if you have to start on a note like that.
  8. shadygrove


    Feb 14, 2008
    Marysville, WA
    Thanks for posting the link, but it didn't quite get me to the article. Try this if interested.... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cent_(music)

    Good thread! I was having many of the same questions as the OP while spending the last week waiting for my new amsteel tailpiece cord to stretch out. :rolleyes: I tune it up to pitch at night, then the next day I'm 30-40 cents flat on every string again :meh: I've got a jam tomorrow with a bunch of old-time fiddlers and celtic players and worried i'd be tuning between every tune and totally distracted by the tuner. If most can't hear 10 cents difference down low I'll quit stressing as I'll still probably be more in tune a lot of the time than half the fiddles, banjos, mando... :smug:

    It was a little shocking after relying on electronic tuners to get my tuning "just so" to learn later in life about the compromise of playing with equal temperament. I like the drone idea and will give it a try, should improve my fiddling a lot too - less margin for error with that short scale. When a note on the high e string is off more than 10 cents it'll make people run for the door!

    I noticed this lengthy exchange on even temper tuning yesterday in a thread on church basses. Haven't had time to go back and read it yet, but it looks like it could be interesting for people like me that are still learning about the concept....

  9. Try only using your tuner for the initial A harmonic on the D string ("7th. fret'). Trust your ears to tune the other harmonics - it should be part of their training.

    Train yourself to hear the structures of Major and both Minor Scales and their arpeggios. Think of "Scale" coming from "scala", the Italian word for ladder. In a scale the rungs are relatively ( not quite absolutely) fixed. A scale is made up of two Tetrachords, two groups of four notes. In a Major scale the two groups have the same structure - Tone Tone Semitone - with a tone between groups.

    I try to hear and predict this STRUCTURE clearly and apply it to any SCALE starting note, just like moving my step ladder sideways to a new position. I play scales in groups of four notes with a slight pause between groups, repeating each octave note to restart a group. If you think of a three octave scale as a long flight of stairs then breaking it up into four note grabs creates many more landings and your ears don't wander (or at least, mine don't seem to now). Even relying on hearing each octave note in tune leaves room for many mistakes in between.

    Waiting for a tuner to tell if you are in or out of tune is too reactive. You need to be more proactive and prehear the note you want to play, even if you can't sing it ! In that way you will learn to go directly to notes, prepared to adjust instantly if you are wrong.

    Practicing scales in different intervals (eg, see Simandl Book 1), especially in thirds, also helped build my confidence. Also I found a small book of exercises by Jiri Pichlik called Technical Studies for Double Bass, published by Feja, Berlin, that helped a lot. They are based on crossing strings both ways in straight lines using different finger patterns (eg 1 2 1 2 would play F B Eflat A across and A Eflat B F back) then repeating the pattern after moving up in half tone steps (Fsharp C E Bflat, etc). If your steps are correct the closed A will be the same as open A or very close to it. The book is only 12 pages long. The exercises are simple but tiring and there is some risk of strain in the wrist if you are not careful. There are a number of benefits - training arched fingers to cross in straight lines, improving reading of notes across strings, training the ears and left hand to make accurate 1/2 tone shifts and different intervals, strengthening fingers, improving timing and coordination of string crossing using different bowing patterns, and improving strength and endurance of fingers. I do part of some of these exercises in my warm up to remind me that my left hand will always try to close up as I cross strings either way!!

    Being aware of Natural Pitch, Tempered Pitch, their differences and good Relative Pitch (playing in tune with others) is important for ear training. I can't rely more than briefly on an electronic tuner. I would prefer to use a tuning fork for my initial A.

  10. I practice with a tuner but using a drone is a GREAT idea if possible. I wouldn't necessarily worry about being 20 cents off the mark. Who's to say your piano is going to be in perfect tune? Being in tune is all relative to your accompaniment and your intervals.
  11. pskelly


    Nov 7, 2005
    Hartford, CT

    What do you yourself use to generate drones?

  12. mheintz


    Nov 18, 2004
    My two cents. I sometimes get ear-fatigue with a drone. I've found that some modal play-along with a pianist (e.g., Aebersold series) is fun and helps my intonation too.
  13. thedbassist


    Sep 10, 2006
    Try this http://www.karnatik.com/shrutibox.shtml . This is a drone of a shruti box, which creates a drone that mimics an Indian instrument called the tanpura.
  14. Korg tuners produce good drones. I had one of their smaller tuners that produced great drones but I lost it. Korg has an orchestral tuner that is great. The drones aren't very loud but it gets a wide range of pitches. Lately I've been using a small Boss tuner. It does the trick but I don't like it as much as the Korgs.
  15. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Chromatic tuner= good
    drone= ok

    Sequencer= win your next audition.

    drones don't account for tuning differences of different pitches within the scale... only one of the 12 notes is guaranteed to be in tune. Bad odds in my book.

    If you really want to play in tune, play along note for note with a sequencer (reason, finale, etc...) or hire a full time accompanist!

    The first time you do this you will be amazed at how out of tune you are. The second time, you'll wonder how you lived without it.

    FWIW, the studios at one of the "big" music schools are full of guys who use sequencers all the time. They place or win nearly every US audition.

    Also, RECORD YOURSELF!!!!!!! All the time. You really don't realize how out of tune some notes are when playing- the difficulties of the instrument overbear one's ability to listen and be objective about pitch.
  16. Do sequencers take into account different temperaments or do they do everything in equal temperament? Using a sequencer seems like a great idea regardless.

    A drone accounts for more than one pitch in a scale. All the pitches of the scale relate to the drone. Some pitches are harder to hear with the drone but that's why you should use a drone on the Tonic then the Dominant or vice versa.
  17. jsbarber


    Jun 7, 2005
    San Diego
    Douglas Mapp provides CD and Midi file versions of the accompaniments to a large number of double bass pieces, e.g. the Marcello, Vivaldi and Scarlatti Sonatas, and much, much more. I find them terrific to play along with, they make practicing the pieces a lot more fun, and they help with fine tuning your intonation.

    Check it out at:

    I strongly recomend the midi files, as you can set the tempo to whatever you want it to be and pitch will be where it is supposed to be, with no degradation to the music quality. (If you use a a CD version with a Tascam CD-BT1, for instance, when you slow it down there is pitch correction, but the quality gets pretty sketchy if you reduce the tempo by more than 16%.) You will need a midi file player like the Roland Sonic Cell or the Roland MT90U, or you can use software on a computer hooked up to some decent speakers to save some money.

    I can't say enough good things about these products from Douglas, and they are very reasonably priced, IMO. If you're going to spend hours of your time to learn a piece; why not invest $20 to enjoy it more, play it better, and learn it faster?


  18. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Yeah... you can "tune" all 12 notes to a drone, but then you're depending on your ear and all its faults for the majority of the intervals, which defeats the point of using a pitch reference. The 5th and the octave are really the only notes that are going to really lock in with the drone, esp if you aren't using a clean sine wave. Even the 3rd is a tricky son of a gun. The drone also fails to account for key changes... not to mention how hard it is to tune a M7 or b9 by ear!

    Temperment is a moot point here. You can make slight adjustments for different pianos/ ensembles, which are all a bit out of tune. Playing dead in tune with the reference from a sequencer is never going to hurt you in an audition though!

    There are alot of practice reference products going back 30 years, but if you have a keyboard and time, you can make your own practice files in no time flat.

    Analog version- record stuff on a tape recorder from a well tunes piano. Or... buy a piano player a 6 pack and play along to your fancy.

    2 criticisms you'll never hear:
    1) her time is to good
    2) she plays too in tune.
  19. mcnaire2004


    Jan 17, 2006
    So where do I get a sequencer?
  20. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    If you own a Mac, you probably already have one. These days I use garage band for lots of stuff- scales, trouble spots, etc.

    In the past have used the following programs-
    Reason, Finale, Protools, Logic, GB.

    All basically work the same for midi these days. Plenty of free software available too, but save features may be disabled.

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