Breaking Down Instrument Intonation

Breaking Down Instrument Intonation

The first thing Philadelphia, PA musicians or aspiring musicians must understand about intonation is simply this – what is intonation really? Intonation refers to the tune an instrument plays each note in, and if someone claims a particular instrument plays notes a bit sharp, or plays notes a bit flat, what they’re really referring to is the intonation the instrument carries. When talking about intonation, it’s something that comes up as a hot debate for woodwind instrument players of Philadelphia, PA in particular. If one goes to purchase a new saxophone at a Philadelphia, PA music store, they may ask the music store owner “Does this instrument have good intonation?”. 

What Causes Intonation And The Controversies Surrounding It 

There are some controversies surrounding intonation, particularly what causes it and what could be considered good intonation or bad intonation overall. Some believe an instrument can have good intonation, but play a note here or there with different intonation. Some believe that the mouthpiece makes all the difference in the intonation. Some believe it’s the reed or the ligature that causes the intonation altogether. Regardless of what a person may believe is the root cause or not, it pays to learn just what affects intonation and when a musician may experience intonation changes. A few causes of intonation include: 

  • - Humidity and temperature – One common cause of changes in intonation is the humidity or change of temperature the instrument experiences. A person may start out playing their clarinet with a particular intonation, and find that 20 minutes into their performance the intonation begins to change. As heat and humidity affects the wood in the reed, these changes do makes sense. 
  • - Playing style – The style in which a person plays their instrument can also have an impact on intonation. The same instrument of the same make and model can be played by one person and experience different intonation than what is experienced in another simply because their particular playing styles are different. 
  • - What they’re playing along with – If a person is playing along with a piece or other instruments that are not in tune, they may experience different intonation in their own instrument. The basis for this is simple – they’re playing along with a guide, and their guide may be steering them in a different direction than what they’re striving for. Playing with a sharp guide will cause sharper sounds, and playing with a flat guide will cause flatter sounds. 

Find An Instrument You Love 

The most important part of playing an instrument is finding one you love and learning to love to play it. Someone at a music shop may claim that it will play this note a little sharp, or this note a little flat, but the truth of the matter is that the intonation is a point of preference. You may pick up that instrument and experience these intonation claims at first, play the instrument for 10 or 15 minutes, and see that the intonation changes as the instrument gains temperature and humidity. 

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