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  • Richard Sparks

Singing in Tune: Intonation

Updated: Jun 23, 2019

Several years ago I did a series on intonation for my old blog. I'll republish this series over the next several weeks—hope you find something helpful!

Intonation is an incredibly important subject for all choral conductors, but one that isn't simple. In this 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 exactly 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 mean-tone, 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!


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