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Trumpet Intonation

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by wulf, Jun 4, 2003.


  1. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Here's one for all you trumpet (and other brass) players out there. Am I right when I think that certain keys are harder to play in tune than others on trumpet?

    My band had a chill out evening last night and there was some debate about the trumpet player's intonation. Being only too aware of my own mistakes, I suggested that some of it could be due the keys we're choosing.

    I know that if we play something in A, the trumpet plays in B, and I'm sure I've read somewhere that B is a tricky key for the trumpet. However, if we shifted up or down a semitone, we could hit Bb or Ab (C or Bb for the trumpet) which might make for a sweeter sound overall.

    So, am I right in thinking that there are a few 'handicaps' we can remove to assist our trumpet player?

    Wulf
     
  2. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Keys shouldn't make too much of a difference. Tuning on brass instruments is always a compromise, due to the nature of them, and the way they use harmonics.

    But, intonation can be a problem with the trumpet, and trumpet players should intonate with their lips as well as just pressing the right valves.

    Certain keys are harder for the trumpet, yes. Sharp keys, really. The horn players that worked with Stevie must have been cursing him for writing all those songs in B! :D That Sir Duke riff is a killer...

    But those keys are tricky from a fingering point of view, rather than intonation. So putting your tunes into flat keys would assist the trumpet player, at least in the way of fingering.

    I'm not sure if sharp keys have a tendency to have worse intonation or not. That could be the case.
     
  3. tuBass

    tuBass

    Dec 14, 2002
    Mesquite, Texas
    in theory, a great player should be able to play a trumpet perfectly in tune, but life doesn't work out that way.

    On a trumpet certain valve combinations are out of tune. 1-3 is a little sharp, 1-2-3 is very sharp, and 2-3 is a little flat. you have a kick slide on both the 1st valve and 3rd valve tubing, but you have to throw those out to the proper postion at the same time as pushing down the valves. It's not easy even for an experienced player. take the Bb concert scale on trumpet, which sounds a Bb when playing a low open (no fingerings) note. the Bb scale is fingered..
    0
    1-3
    1-2
    1
    0
    1-2
    2
    0

    can you see why that would be a good scale to play on trumpet? now take the Eb scale.

    1
    0
    1-2
    1
    0
    1
    0
    1

    ever better, you are avoiding all of the problem notes

    now look at the A concert scale (b for trumpet)

    2
    1-2-3
    2-3
    1-2
    2
    2-3
    1
    2

    after factoring in all the slide pulling, and add to that that the key of a is rarely ever used in band music, you can see the problem

    Kids dont get good at sharp key because the music they see is never in those keys

    composers never write in those keys because band directors won't pick that music because they know their band can't play it.

    it's a never ending cycle
     
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Freddie Hubbard wrote tunes in sharp keys! ;)
     
  5. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    tuBass - you're right, but not even notes with open fingerings are in tune!

    On a trumpet, the Cs (concert Bbs) are in tune. Any other notes with open fingering are based on harmonics, which aren't in tune. It's slight, but they're not in tune. It's not actually a problem, though, really, with open notes.


    An interesting point, related to this, is the observation that tuning solo instruments (if they're in sections, the entire section) a *tad* sharp. Not very sharp, just very slightly. It makes the solo instruments just... stand out, for want of a better term. But, stand out in a good way, pleasing to the ear.

    If you tune the instruments by ear anyway (which one usually does with horns etc) you'll probably find you're tuning them that bit sharp anyway - because you're going with what naturally sounds good to your ear.

    My Dad has found this in his work - he has done quite a bit of remastering of old Jazz recordings, which involves repitching the recordings, due to inconsistencies in tape speed etc. He uses varispeed to adjust it so the recordings are in tune (sometimes it's not easy to tell what key they're supposed to be in!). But, he found that if you adjust it so that the piano is in tune, the solo instruments are ever so slightly sharp, and if the solo instruments are in tune, the piano is ever so slightly flat.

    Which is the result of them tuning by ear - to what naturally sounds good.

    This is one way in which electronic tuners fall down, they won't give you this. But, since the only instruments you'll probably be using a tuner with are guitar & bass anyway, it's not an issue.
     
  6. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    tu-bass - that's a really helpful post. One thing I'd like to clarify is whether you're naming the scales for concert or trumpet tuning. For example, you give A concert / B trumpet. Are the others Bb concert / C trumpet and Eb concert / F trumpet OR Ab concert / Bb trumpet and Db concert / Eb trumpet?

    Actually, run me through how the note production works. I think it's a case of the player producing a base note using the mouthpiece (part of a harmonic series) which can then be made 1.5, 1 or .5 tones flatter by depressing one of the valves (and therefore up to 3 tones flatter when all three valves are depressed).

    A bit like playing a tune on bass using harmonics?

    I'm interested to understand.

    Wulf
     
  7. tuBass

    tuBass

    Dec 14, 2002
    Mesquite, Texas
    you're right of course, but that's doesn't have much do to with why trumpets have a hard time playing in sharp keys, so I left that part out.
     
  8. tuBass

    tuBass

    Dec 14, 2002
    Mesquite, Texas
    In band circles, when you use the term Bb concert scale, that means concert pitch.(non-transposed) The Bb scale is the scale that starts on C as far as the trumpet player is concerned, and the Eb starts on F. All trumpet music is transposed to the key of the trumpet the performer is playing. So you will have non-transposed part that is meant to be played on a C trumpet, and so on...
    Most trumpet players can transpose, but they usually don't have to.

    Before anybody asks, the reason that trumpet players transpose is because trumpet has been around longer than the invention of the valve. Before valves trumpet could only play notes in the harmonic series, for example, a C trumpet could play
    c
    g
    c
    e
    g
    Bb (flat note)
    c
    d
    e
    and so on up the harmonic series, depending on the skill of the performer.

    If somebody was playing in the key of D, he would have to use a trumpet pitched in D to get the notes in that harmonic series. So even after valves were invented, we were stuck with thousand of pieces of music that were transposed from the composer, and we are stuck with them, and the outdated system. French horn music, and to some degree clarinet music is the same way.

    Trombone has always been a chromatic instrument, and tuba wasn't invented until after the invention of valves. So those instruments are called non-transposing.

    As for how the notes are produced, the valves add tubing to the overall length of the horn. A Bb tuba without any valves down is about 16 feet long, if stretched out. Add the 2nd valve, (the short one) and you have a tuba now pitched in A. you can now play all the notes in the A harmonic series. The first valves makes Ab, 1st and second together is G, and so on. Here is the chromatic series for a 3 valve instrument.
    0
    2
    1
    1-2
    2-3
    1-3
    1-2-3
    each progression lowers the horn by a half step, and fill in the gaps in the chromatic scale between the open notes.
    It's a lot easier to show someone than tell them, so I hope I explained it well.

    Any other questions? I know a lot more about brass instruments than I do bass.
     
  9. cb56

    cb56

    Jul 2, 2000
    Central Illinois
    I have no problem playing my horn in tune in any key. Of course it's a little easier 'cause I play a fretless.... er trombone.
     
  10. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Heh. Since you play trombone, I guess you have trouble playing it in tune in *every* key, right? Sharp keys, flat keys, no difference, they're all out of tune! :D j/k
     
  11. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    ...and always don't want to :D
     
  12. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Okay - got that. Trumpet players will drop in the word 'concert' when they're talking about keys in a way that the guitarist might have a hope of understanding ;)

    Aha - that is like playing only with harmonics on bass. On a C string:

    c - 12th fret
    g - 7th fret
    c - 5th fret
    e - 4th fret
    g - just above 3rd fret
    Bb - just below 3rd fret
    c - just above 2nd fret
    d - 2nd fret
    e - just below 2nd fret

    (I'm reasonably okay up to just above 3rd fret - higher harmonics become harder and harder to produce a useable note).

    Presumably, changing valves is like changing strings - you lower the base note and thus the series of notes above. Therefore, if I strung my six string bass G Ab A Bb B C and only used natural harmonics, I could play like a (very poor) trumpeter! I'm not suggesting doing this, but I'm trying to visualise what's going on in terms of the instrument I'm most familiar with.

    So, we've got three valves, numbered from the one nearest to the mouthpiece (?):

    1: - 2 semitones
    2: - 1 semitone
    3: - 3 semitones

    Therefore, to play an F at the bottom of treble clef I'd use the mouthpiece to produce a G and the first valve to make it sound like an F (by lengthening the tubing). Does that mean that I could play the C in the middle of the treble clef either by playing the third note of the series open or by playing the fourth note of the series with the second and third valves closed (-4 semitones)?

    Of course, the first option would make sense whereas the second one would perhaps be less even-tempered, especially due to the fact that using the 2-3 combination tends to make the note a little flat. I might be able to adjust for that by slighly altering the way I blow, but if I was making a note with 1-2-3 (very sharp, you said) it would be difficult to get it in tune and I'd be better using a different starting note if at all possible.

    How am I doing?

    Wulf
     
  13. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    I'm not entirely sure how correct that is, Wulf.

    You might be right, theoretically - but you can't get the whole harmonic series (well, as much of it as is useful anyway - up to the 10th harmonic I guess) with every fingering. Actually let me qualify that - *I* can't ;) It may be possible, but it's certainly not practical.

    For example, with 1st valve, as far as I'm aware you can't get an Ab (which would be the 7th harmonic, which is rather flat - and it would be the equivalent of playing a high Bb with open fingering, which I've done all too often when trying to hit a C :D).

    With 1+3, you can only get G D G as far as I'm aware. I've never played any other notes with that fingering.

    With 2+3 you can only get Ab Eb Ab Ab, again, as far as I'm aware.

    Maybe theoretically you could get the whole harmonic series with each fingering, I'm not sure. But in practice, you wouldn't. Here are the fingerings for all the notes in what I'm gonna call the "practical" range of the trumpet. You can go lower than this (with pedals), and you can go higher (Jazz trumpet players usually do, especially Maynard Ferguson ;)). This is all in trumpet pitch, BTW, so move it down a tone to get concert pitch. The C with the asterisk is middle C, which in concert pitch is the Bb below middle C.

    Code:
    F# : 1+2+3
    G  : 1+3
    Ab : 2+3
    A  : 1+2
    Bb : 1
    B  : 2
    C* : open
    C# : 1+2+3
    D  : 1+3
    Eb : 2+3
    E  : 1+2
    F  : 1
    F# : 2
    G  : open
    Ab : 2+3
    A  : 1+2
    Bb : 1
    B  : 2
    C  : open
    C# : 1+2
    D  : 1
    E  : open
    F  : 1
    F# : 2
    G  : open
    A  : 1+2
    Bb : 1
    B  : 2
    C  : open
    That last C is "top C", which is pretty much as high as I can go. I've got C#s before, maybe even a D, but not with any degree of consistency.

    A lot of guys play a lot higher than that, but most trumpet music will be in that range.
     
  14. lump

    lump

    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    Great posts, Tub @$$. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that mashing down three valves is going to give you more intonation problems than pushing one. That's why some horns have added valves - to address intonation problems with certain valve combinations. Even then, you still gotta yank slides around while you play. Wulf, next time you guys play a tune in A, check out the trumpet players' pinkies and you'll see what I mean.

    If you wanna help out your horn players, play in flat keys. The vast majority of big band tunes are written in flat keys for the reasons TuBass has given. Sharps are for p#$$ies anyway. Go out there and play in Gb like a man. ;) :D

    [Edit because I forgot who was who. Sorry, Moleman]
     
  15. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    ...I know what you mean, I'm a trumpet player myself, duh! Why you tellin' me this? :D

    It's the C#s (in the lower octave), you need to use your little finger with the ol' 3rd valve slide to pull them in tune. Annoying, really.
     
  16. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    moley wrote:
    Is that because different tube lengths make different parts of the harmonic series hard (or well nigh impossible) to reach? I'm assuming this is analagous to the way some harmonics are harder to reach than others on bass - not only when they are higher in the series but also on thicker strings and with different plucking hand positions and combinations of bass, FX and amp controls.

    Thanks for the comprehensive fingering chart - are there any variations or is this the canonical list for three valve trumpets? I've coloured them based on what tuBass said earlier - orange for the slightly sharp or flat combos and red for the really sharp ones:
    How does that look?

    Wulf
     
  17. moley

    moley

    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    The way I was taught, these are the standard fingerings, but there are alternative fingerings. The alternative fingerings, are, presumably less in tune than the standard ones. I presume the standard ones were chosen because they give the best intonation.

    I don't know all of the alternative fingerings, but here are a couple that spring to mind.

    G (above middle C) - can also be 1+3
    E (a 10th above middle C) - can also be 1+2

    There are also some alternative fingers with just the 3rd valve (as you'll notice, this isn't one of the standard fingerings, again, presumably because the tuning isn't great?). If I recall, (some of?) the notes which use 1+2 you can play with just 3. I'll try that out tonight too.

    Then there is also the 7th harmonic ones - i.e. high Bb with open fingering, and high G with 1+2. They're rather flat - and very annoying, because it's very easy to mispitch and get a Bb when you're aiming for a C, and a G when you're going for an A. That's particularly bad when playing in a section ;)
     
  18. wulf

    wulf

    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Cheers - I look forward to hearing what comes of your experimenting. I'm certainly already much more trumpet-savvy than I was at the start of the week and highly appreciative of my 'teachers' ;)

    Wulf
     
  19. tuBass

    tuBass

    Dec 14, 2002
    Mesquite, Texas
    Wow, you go to sleep over here in the states and there a 50 posts have past you by!

    it sounds like you have got it down pretty well Wulf, but the 2+3 valve combo is a little flat, not a little sharp, and even that depends on the brand of horn, and which harmonic you are trying to play with it. The trumpet player's middle C, which is the Bb above the real middle c, can be fingered 2+3, but it's only a fingering that would be used for certain trills. For example, if you have a trill that goes from C to C# you are crossing what I call the "harmonic boundry". You can use alternate fingerings to put two of more notes within the same harmonic, and make slurred passages or trills sound smoother. You can see how this relates to choosing which bass fingerings and strings to use. The different is, alternate fingering tend to be more out of tube than the regular fingerings, or they wouldn't have ever become alternate is the first place. :D

    Moley, it's possible to get a full harmonic series on each valve, I have my students do 7 to 9 note lip slurs as an warm up at the beginning of every lesson, and go through all of the fingerings for a 4 valva tuba, which are:

    0
    2
    1
    1-2
    2-3
    4 (same as 1-3 with extra tubing to bring it in tune)
    2-4 (a little sharp)
    1-2-4 (1-4 is too sharp to use)
    2-3-4
    1-3-4 (sharp)
    1-2-3-4 (VERY SHARP, pull every slide youve got and hang on tight)

    there are actually 5,6 and even 7 valve tubas out there to add even more tubing to the low end. 5 valve pro tubas are actully very common, and becoming the industry standard (sound familiar?)
     
  20. NJL

    NJL

    Apr 12, 2002
    San Antonio
    I have been really lucky to not have to use alternate fingerings. I have a great horn (76' Los Angeles Benge "Claude Gordon") and have, over the years, just used muscle memory for notes like E under the G above the staff and low D and Db.

    I do have a mind trip with the second A above the staff (double A) - i can't play one unless I play it 3rd valve (usually supposed to play it 1 + 2)

    But, now a days, my lead chops have been going down. It's amazing the difference with the lack of practicing on trumpet compared to bass.

    Here's a pic of my fat arse!

    [​IMG]