We’ve all had the experience of tuning into a station on the radio.  We rock back and forth with the tuning knob until the sound is centered.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could tune your choir the same way . . . by just turning the tuner knob to the left or to the right?  Well, maybe after today that will be a reality!

Last TIP, I shared a simple idea called The Three Bears’ Breathing strategy aimed at ordinary tuning problems related to air support.  This week I’ll begin a long term strategy aimed at  training the ear and then habituating the entire breathing process.

First, the ear needs to be taught to differentiate small variations in pitch in order for the voice to reproduce fine tuning.  To affect this training we need an exercise (which can be done with a choir or even one singer alone).  Start by holding out your right hand in front of you, as if grasping the large tuning knob of a stereo system.  Get ready!  You are about to tune your choir!

While holding this imaginary tuner in your hand, sing a mid-range pitch using Ah and rotate the knob to the right.  As your rotate your hand, modulate the pitch upward very slowly and deliberately . . . until you’ve increased the pitch by a half step and then on to a full step.

Go back to your starting point and ask the choir to join you in the experiment.  As you rotate your hand clockwise, get the choir to raise their pitch very slowly and deliberately . . . until you’ve increased the pitch by a half step, and on to a full step.

Then have some fun.  Choose a new pitch and ask the choir to follow the direction of your ‘tuning knob’ as to how far to ‘bend the pitch’ up or down.  Vary the pitch predictably at first.  Then vary the speed of the variation . . . and then the range of the modulation.

In a very few minutes you should have your choir singing microtones without thinking about it.  And best . . . you will have taught them how to respond to a simple hand signal designed to adjust their tuning subtly at will!

Repeat this process consistently each week until there is a capacity for listening and adjusting at the slightest movement of your hand.

The end aim of this regimen is to bring about tuning on-the-fly, as it were.  Now when your singers see that gesture during a song, they’ll know that they’re singing sharp or singing flat . . . and what to do about it.

If you try this experiment . . . let me know how it turns out for you.  I’d love to hear feedback from anyone out there that is able to make a difference in their choir’s tuning by using the Tuner Experiment!