Masterclass Handout
The Tone of intonation - sharp/flat vs. high/low

All brass instruments operate on the overtone system. The pedal B-flat on the trombone is the fundamental. The low B-flat is the first overtone, the next F is the second, the middle B-flat is the third etc.

My various exploits on different brass instruments, from the tuba to the natural trumpet, have enabled me to identify what I believe are consistent tendencies in the character of the different overtones. I identify three catagories: 1) in tune 2) flat and 3) sharp. Please notice the terminology flat and sharp, as opposed to low and high.

To use a marked example, the 6th overtone (in 2nd position, the 'g' above the bass clef staff) is flat. Every kid learns early on that this note is too low. You must move the slide up a couple of inches. Good. You can move the slide around until the tuning machine (worth a chapter alone) tells you, "yes---the vibrations per second are correct. This corresponds to the note G". (Common translation: it's in tune.) The tonal quality is still flat, or dull. Now, turn off the tuning machine. Play your G in normal 2nd position and try to liven up the dull tone. Play the same note in 4th position as a comparison. It has more core there. Granted, with this 6th overtone there will always be a slide correction necessary, but don't forget the tonal aspect of the correction.

Another example is the 5th overtone, 3rd position E-flat. It is sharp. Don't just move the slide down. Try also to correct the tonal sharpness by playing it with a rounder and deeper tone (the opposite of sharp and pointy). If you start approaching the inTONEational idiosyncrasies of the instrument this way you can experience that the overall tonal impression is much more consistent, instead of the notes seeming to come from different corners of the instrument.