Feb 2, 2012

Just Desserts

This month the topic of Just intonation has come up, and I want to explore it's uses and the fact that it can be of value to those who don't even believe in the concept. Lets take a well known excerpt such as Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, which is on every audition these days. The question is; to those who practice the theory of Just intonation, would it be wise to use it on an excerpt such as the Wagner? Since many people on an audition committee might not be aware of Just intonation or don't use it themselves, it's an open question. Since the ear wants to naturally hear beatless intervals, I doubt if anyone listening to a perfect Just intoned Ride would be disturbed. As for those of you who don't use the system or don't believe in it, I think just being aware of the fact that a major 3rd, in this case D# shouldn't be sharp, and F# the 5th shouldn't be flat, is enough of a reason to use or at least be aware of the concept. Conversely, in the minor section of the Ride, knowing the D should be 16 cents high can make a big difference in the effect of this excerpt.

As an extreme example in the use of Just intonation, take two chords; a minor triad, in which you have the 3rd, going to a major 7th chord, in which you have the 7th. Since the minor 3rd should be raised 16 cents and the major 7th is lowered 29 cents, that's a change of 45 cents, almost half a semi-tone! Going from a major 3rd to a minor 3rd on the same note would need a change of 30 cents, almost a 3rd of a semi-tone, quite substantial. Even the manufacturers of tuners are now indicating on their instruments the placements for major and minor 3rd's. In a previous article I described intonation in an ensemble as resembling the ocean on a mildly windy day. It's almost impossible to tell where sea level is. Therefore being able to tune chords properly with beatless intervals within your own section is vitally important. It will add resonance and carrying power at all dynamics.

A friend and former student of mine, Tom Kociela has come up with an excellent Just intonation tool that will be of great value for those looking to improve their intonation skills, and utilize Just intonation. The following is a description of this new concept in developing confident, accurate intonation.

To be successful in performance, musicians must learn to place pitches confidently in both accompanied and unaccompanied situations. The Intonation Repair Tool (IRT) is different from any other intonation training program because it helps the user develop skills far beyond those gained by simply practicing with drones or a tuner. By utilizing six exercises in each key, the user becomes the decision maker, developing the skills needed to establish pitch confidently without a drone. The user is forced to listen, make a decision and then adjust when they are not matching exactly. The IRT also allows the user to experience perfectly in tune chords by matching single pitches. Over time, a dedicated IRT user will begin to gain confidence in their pitch placement and will be adept at quickly adjusting to their surroundings. All exercises are tuned with Just Intonation and utilize sounds that make it clear when the user is out of tune. The IRT text is pragmatic, exploring helpful concepts and common misconceptions regarding intonation.

For more information and to purchase this product use the following link:


This article has been translated into Polish by Lukasz Michalski.

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