Time For A Tune-Up!
Let’s talk about tuning. Intonation is really one of the unsung heros of a quality choral performance. Singing expressively is wonderful, but if the intonation isn’t locked in, an ensemble’s performance can go down hill pretty fast.
At this point in the semester, I really start to focus on cleaning everything up. One of the ways I accomplish this is to really get my students listening to their intonation. The very best tool I’ve discovered for this focus?
So, What Is It?
TonalEnergy Tuner is an app you can buy for a smartphone or other device. It’s not free, but it’s definitely 3.99 well spent. The easiest way for me to explain how the app works is to show you. So for a brief tutorial, check out the video below:
Here's How I Use It
I place my device on my stand (lately it’s been my phone, because I haven’t added it to my new iPad yet. A larger screen is definitely better!) and show the kids how to read it. I explain the concept of the bullseye, and that they want to keep the smiley face on the screen as much as possible.
It’s very motivating for my students, because they want the smiley face! It’s also a great tool for getting your students to project, because they want to sing at your phone to make sure it’s picking up their sound.
Teaching Students To Self-Adjust
My favorite part about this app is that it provides you an opportunity to teach your students how to self-assess, and self-correct. When we aren't’ singing in the center of the bulls eye, I show everyone how to make tiny adjustments until we are back in the center of the pitch. For example:
Singing Flat? Try:
Increasing your air speed and better engaging the breath
Add more tall space inside your mouth by lifting the soft palate
Singing Sharp? Try:
Dropping your jaw a little farther to allow more room for proper resonance, and so the sound can properly leave the mouth
Bringing in the corners of your lips. Spread sound tends to push sharp in my classroom.
I demonstrate this process myself. We don’t always sing in tune ourselves! If I notice that I’m off while modeling for my classes, I will play with adjusting what I’m doing in front of the kids (to their infinite amusement). Heck, sometimes, I even have to play my pitch on the piano again because I can’t figure out the right adjustment to make! But that’s good, because our students see that we are just as human as they are.
The number one trick to using this app: don’t just put it on your stand and leave it there! Show your students HOW to use it, what to listen for, and how to assess and adjust.
I’ve added two videos from my classes where tuning was the primary focus. I used the tuner, referred to it, and we constantly made corrections along the way to make ourselves better. The first one is from my 6th period, where you’ll see us working on a particular section in one of our pieces.
In this second video, I am working with my 7th period class during warm-up. They were singing Ghost of John and working to address the same tuning issues.
Teach your choirs to listen, and your job gets so much easier!