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Intonation I

Intonation is an incredibly important subject for all choral conductors, but one that isn't simple. In this next series, I'll write about different aspects of choral intonation. Not only what does it mean to sing "in tune," but how do you help your choir sing better in tune?
 
When I say "isn't simple," I mean that as conductors, when we hear out of tune singing from our choir we need (most often) not to tell them just, "It's out of tune" or "you're flat," but diagnose why it's out of tune or why it's flat and help them solve the underlying problem. Is it a vocal issue? Is it a particular interval that causes the problem? Is it a complicated harmonic structure the choir can't yet hear? Is it that the choir isn't matching vowels? Is it poor ensemble? Is it that the chord isn't balanced?
 
Further, how about your ears? How sensitive are you to good intonation and how well can you hear exactlhy where the choir starts to flat, or which section is sharping, or what note in the chord is out of tune?
 
What have you learned or accepted about tuning systems? Where do you hear thirds as in tune? Is your ear trained by the piano and equal temperament? Have you done early music with a keyboard tuned to another tuning system (quarter-comma meantone, for example)? Have you worked with a system of "just" intonation?
 
What's your philosophy about vibrato and tuning?
 
All of these are areas I'll explore in the next number of weeks.
 
I'd also love to hear your feedback! There are areas where we may disagree and in that discussion can sort out our own biases, but also share the techniques that have been most successful for us.
 
If a particular topic calls to you, consider sending me a potential guest blog post.
 
Here's to better intonation!
on April 18, 2013 5:14am
Hello Richard,
 
I'm excited to hear your input on this subject matter!  In the style of music I most often perform / direct (barbershop quartet / chorus singing), we use just intonation.  When hearing something equally tempered, it often sounds out of tune to our ears.  I'd be happy to be a resource from this angle if you'd like!
 
Mike O'Neill
MM, Univ. North Texas
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 18, 2013 1:37pm
Thank you, Mike! Yes, I know barbershopers always use just intonation--it's the way to make chords ring. Yes, if you want to write something about barbershop tuning and the methods used to teach it, I'd be happy to look at it. Just email me at my UNT address. Let me know what your major is here at UNT as well!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 19, 2013 8:57am
Hi Richard! Very excited to see what comes from this string of posts. I'm just finishing my thesis on choral tuning. Final draft is due in a week. When approved by the faculty (University of Colorado Boulder), I'd be happy to send you a copy as  a "guest blog post" if you're interested.
Jay
Applauded by an audience of 1
on April 24, 2013 1:54pm
Hi Jay,
 
Love to see it!
on August 29, 2013 10:10am
I would love to see this thesis, as well!
on June 2, 2013 9:00am
I read Jay Dougherty's very well written thesis with pleasure.   I disagree with his final conclusion, which is a kind of recommendation to singers and conductors and performers, but the background is extremely thorough and should be required reading for conductors.