Tuning Tendencies



  • Trumpet Tuning Tendencies Relating to the Overtone Series with Solutions From The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
    The fundamental does not exist as a real note on the trumpet. The first member of the harmonic series that exists on the trumpet is the first overtone, or second harmonic. Let’s use the lowest open note (no valves) as the first overtone for discussion. This would be low C on the trumpet. These tendencies apply to the overtone series starting on any valve combination. In relation to equal temperament, the notes in the overtone series are out of tune as follows:
    First overtone (low C) in tune
    Second overtone (second line G) 2 cents sharp
    Third overtone (middle C) in tune
    Fourth overtone (top space E) 14 cents flat
    Fifth overtone (top of the staff G) 2 cents sharp
    Sixth overtone (Bb above the staff, played open) 31 cents flat
    Seventh overtone (high C) in tune

    These numbers vary based on the trumpet, but the tendencies are the same, except for a rare exception.
    Because it is so out of tune, the sixth overtone is never played open; it is played first valve. Therefore, this is technically an alternate fingering, but has become standard. Refer to fingering charts for how to play the sixth overtone in each overtone series (in other words, starting on a different valve combination).
    To make it easy, here are some other notes that tend to be out of tune on the trumpet, mainly because of the presence of valves, which makes it impossible for the trumpet to be completely in tune.
    Low C#, D (very sharp)
    Low E (sharp)
    Second space A (sharp)
    A above the staff (sharp)

    Here is a summary of the typically out-of-tune notes on the trumpet:
    Low C#, D (very sharp)
    Low E (sharp)
    Second line G (sharp)
    Second space A (sharp)
    Fourth space C# through top space E (flat)
    Top line F through top of the staff G (sharp)
    A above the staff (sharp)

    Use slides to fix sharp notes whenever possible. The third valve slide should be used for the low C# and D. The first valve slide should be used for all other sharp notes that use the first valve (low E, second space A, top line F, and A above the staff); the first valve slide will probably only need to be moved slightly for these notes. This leaves the flat notes and some sharp notes (second line G, top line F#, top of the staff G) that one must now “lip” in tune. This involves directing the air stream upwards for flat notes and downwards for sharp notes. The challenge then also becomes to play these notes with as beautiful a sound as though you are playing through the center of the horn.
    Some other thoughts:
    Notes from low C below are so “moveable” that they do not have traditional pitch tendencies and typically slides are not needed. Notes below the staff tend to be flat because one is relaxing the embouchure so much to reach them.
    Notes above the staff tend to be sharp for younger players as they tend to “squeeze” for these notes, and this pinching makes these notes sharp.
    Fatigue also affects intonation on the trumpet, and will affect players differently. Some go flat when tired, some go sharp.
    Temperature affects pitch. Cold trumpets play flat. Hot trumpets play sharp. Temperature also affects intonation exponentially on pitches which are already out-of-tune. For example, top space E is always flat, but with each decrease of 5 degrees in temperature, this E will get flatter by larger amounts.
    Each trumpet has slightly different intonation issues. Each student needs to learn the tendencies of his/her own trumpet by first putting third space C or third line B in tune with the tuning slide. When purchasing a trumpet, one should try to pick a horn that puts the notes that are hardest to play in tune closest to in tune (the flat notes and G on top of the staff).


  • Qualified Repair Techs Credentialed Professional

    This is an excellent listing of the tendencies. But there are many differences to this list shared by many (but not all) trumpet designs. One difference I should mention is the very sharp 3rd overtone C (look at the number of top professional players using alternate fingering 2 and 3) on many C trumpets.

    Also let's consider the bell effect (thank you Arthur Benade). Because the instrument has an open bell, sound waves do not see their zero pressure happening at exactly the same place. Specifically low notes think the instrument is longer and high notes think it is shorter. The lower the note the flatter it tends to be, the higher the note the sharper it tends to be (poor technique notwithstanding). Incidentally this is why the pedal C, first harmonic, is so unusable; it is almost a 10th lower than the first overtone "low C". It is why the didgeridoo overblows not at an octave but a 10th (or so).

    The solution to this global untunefulness is balancing the amount and quality of feedback to the player with projection into the auditorium. I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours working on this balance.



  • Thanks Trumpetsplus!
    I was afraid no one would give it a first read let alone a second read. My overall hope is that someone would read it and say to themselves, "Wow! maybe if I use my slides, the notes will be better in tune."
    I wish I had a nickel everytime I had to say to a student, "Don't forget your slides!"
    Thanks for your stamp of approval. It carries a lot of weight.



  • @Dr-Mark said in Tuning Tendencies:

    Thanks Trumpetsplus!

    I wish I had a nickel everytime I had to say to a student, "Don't forget your slides!"
    Thanks for your stamp of approval. It carries a lot of weight.

    That rule does not apply to the Marten Committee. That horn has such dirty slotting, that the ear can feedback the ability to sound the note into tune without the need to use slide. Look at picture of Miles and Chris Botti when playing the Committee. Many of those pictures showing the artist plays those particular horns with the third valve slide ring removed. I too found this so true on my horn, and am now playing that horn tuning slide ring free.



  • @Dr-GO said in Tuning Tendencies:

    That rule does not apply to the Marten Committee. That horn has such dirty slotting, that the ear can feedback the ability to sound the note into tune without the need to use slide.


    You can play (for example) the Haydn Trumpet Concerto (1) or any piece that is slow and melodic on a Martin Committee and not have to adjust the slides? Man, that's great! I have a 1953 Martin and yes, the sucker is squirrelly and I can lip it around like crazy but using the slides comes across a lot cleaner for me. If I'm playing a Miles tune then bending and shaping the squirrelly notes are characteristic of that genre in my opinion. However, bending the notes on a Bach cello suite just doesn't work for my ears.



  • The A above the staff is pretty close on some trumpets I own, and sharp on others. Mouthpiece choice can also make some of those general intonation tendencies better or worse. Playing the A with the only the 3rd valve brings it in tune on the ones that tend to play it sharp, and the 3rd valve A is more solid on many of them, too.



  • Just playing the devil's advocate, but what about using one's ear and practicing so that compensating the notes so that they play in tune comes naturally?



  • @Kehaulani said in Tuning Tendencies:

    Just playing the devil's advocate, but what about using one's ear and practicing so that compensating the notes so that they play in tune comes naturally?


    Good luck with that one. That's what most people do until someone comes along and either records the person and lets them hear just how out of tune they are or someone like me says "Wow, you might want to use your slides on that low Db". Using the slides is another layer of learning if a person wants to maintain good intonation throughout. On a side note, the ears habituate fairly quickly. Mix habituation with one's ego and its no wonder why many can't "hear" that some of their notes are out of tune. We need a trumpet that's less like a trombone and needs no adjusting (the use of 2nd & 3rd slides).



  • On most styles of music, you're better off adjusting the length of the instrument using slides for notes that are sharp and playing it down the middle, than trying to lip notes into tune. Your tone and agility will be better. Of course, the flat notes will still require lipping up unless there's an alternate fingering that works.



  • @Dr-Mark said in Tuning Tendencies:

    @Dr-GO said in Tuning Tendencies:

    That rule does not apply to the Marten Committee. That horn has such dirty slotting, that the ear can feedback the ability to sound the note into tune without the need to use slide.


    I have a 1953 Martin and yes, the sucker is squirrelly and I can lip it around like crazy but using the slides comes across a lot cleaner for me.

    Dr. Mark, you don't have to play squirlly to get the Committee to play in tune on 1.3; 1,2,3 notes. Bob Grey, a well known educator in Cincinnati and I played the fist trumpet part in a concert band. He was yanking on the trumpets for not using their third valve slides on these noted. Then he looked at me and said, "you don't even have one". I said to him to turn his tuner on. He did. I hit the D solid and his line went straight up. He said: "I;ll be damned". I did not have to lip or squirl. You have to meet with me sometime and I will have to teach you how to play the Committee.



  • @Dr-GO said in Tuning Tendencies:

    Dr. Mark, you don't have to play squirlly to get the Committee to play in tune . . . Bob Grey, a well known educator in Cincinnati and I played the first trumpet part in a concert band.

    You use a Committee in concert band?



  • @Kehaulani said in Tuning Tendencies:

    @Dr-GO said in Tuning Tendencies:

    Dr. Mark, you don't have to play squirlly to get the Committee to play in tune . . . Bob Grey, a well known educator in Cincinnati and I played the first trumpet part in a concert band.

    You use a Committee in concert band?

    Yes. And Chris Botti uses it on classical pieces and neither of us use the third valve slide. Why does this shock you?



  • Oh, just because the tone quality doesn't blend as readily with a section of legit-oriented horns, as well as it's slotting being loose. I have a Committee but usually use a Schilke in concert band. Just wondering.



  • @Kehaulani said in Tuning Tendencies:

    Oh, just because the tone quality doesn't blend as readily with a section of legit-oriented horns, as well as it's slotting being loose. I have a Committee but usually use a Schilke in concert band. Just wondering.

    I have had no trouble to directing the Committee's tone to blend well with the trumpet section in the concert band format. And that is sharing the 1st trumpet part with Bob Grey that plays a cornet. It really is a nice blend for the lead chair.


  • Qualified Repair Techs Credentialed Professional

    The principle is very simple: in order to achieve maximum resonance for any note, the instrument's acoustic length must equal half the wavelength of the note. If an instrument is being "blown into tune" the notes are being blown out of resonance, the trumpet is being played inefficiently.

    Because 10% of 110 (=11) is bigger than 10% of 100 (=10), and sound frequencies change in a proportional way, not fixed, we need to make the instrument progressively longer when more valves are utilized. If the first valve is long enough to lower an open note by one step it is not long enough to lower a third valve note by one step. This is an immutable law of physics

    It requires either divine intervention or some form of physical compensation to enable the trumpet to be consistently resonant on all valve combinations.



  • @Dr-GO said in Tuning Tendencies:

    Then he looked at me and said, "you don't even have one". I said to him to turn his tuner on. He did. I hit the D solid and his line went straight up.


    Hi Dr-GO,
    Using a hand held tuner to tune a band isn't in my opinion a wise thing to do. Tuners are good for guitars, and various string instruments but not for wind instruments. If you can play a Committee and not use the slides on a slow ballad or similar piece, that's great! I've not that skill. For me, I have to use the slides unless I'm playing a quick song or a modal type song where bends are welcome (Miles-ish).



  • You use a slide on C# and D? If I understand correctly, it's not that the player can bend notes down to that, artificially, but that the Committee is made so that one doesn't need to use the third-valve slide to compensate.

    Back (an aside) to using a Committee in concert band, what mouthpiece are you using?



  • @Kehaulani said in Tuning Tendencies:

    You use a slide on C# and D? If I understand correctly, it's not that the player can bend notes down to that, artificially, but that the Committee is made so that one doesn't need to use the third-valve slide to compensate.

    Back (an aside) to using a Committee in concert band, what mouthpiece are you using?

    I only play old instruments. There are no usable slides and no rings or hooks or whatever. They are made to play in tune with the player used to playing them that way. Also, I think all that blending stuff is pretty silly as playing in a correct style for the section and group is more important that which instrument you are using. It is back to using those wonderful things on the sides of your head. ☺



  • @Richard-III said in Tuning Tendencies:

    I think all that blending stuff is pretty silly as playing in a correct style for the section and group is more important that which instrument you are using.


    Playing in a correct style? Style and intonation are two entirely separate creatures. If you can play all the notes (in tune) and not use slides, that great! But that's not the norm. The slides are there for a reason. Look how much less work it would be if the trumpet maker didn't need to make the 2nd and 3rd slides. Why make slides if they are not needed.
    I would suggest that you take your two favorite old trumpets and record yourself playing Moon River. Next, send it to a couple of college professors you don't know and ask them if they'll listen to your intonation and lend some advice if necessary. What we hear when we play and what is actually coming out of the bell can be quite different. College professors will often lend a hand for something simple like this.


  • Qualified Repair Techs Credentialed Professional

    I will throw the cat amongst the pigeons. Ascending valve instruments were around years before instruments with adjustable slides. 100 years ago Merri Franquin's trumpet made by Thibouville Lamy solved the intonation dilemma by side stepping it. Instead of playing C# 1 2 and 3, you activate the ascending valve bringing the instrument up one whole step and play that pitch as a B natural.

    The ascending valve trumpet has many other advantages such as:
    High A played open and the slur from high G to A is a cinch because they are both on the same harmonic.

    My go to horns are my ascending valve Bb (Bb/C) and my ascending valve C (C/D).

    On the C/D trumpet the beginning of Mahler 5 ta ta ta taaa is now 2nd valve! Not 1, 2, and 3, (C trumpet) or 2 and 3 (Bb trumpet). And the top note becomes an open G!

    Fun! Fun! Fun!


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