You must play in tune. It's that simple. Without proper tuning, music ceases to be listenable, and why make music no one wants to listen to? A major part of your basic skill and your daily practice regimen must include proper attention to intonation – both in how you listen (can you hear when something is out of tune) and in how you play (are you able to adjust your playing note by note to stay in tune).
Thankfully, we have help. There are a variety of electronic tuners in all price ranges available to all of us. It would be impossible for me to get my hands on every different make and model, so I will avoid giving you an actual recommendation. But you should know the different types available to you so you can make an educated decision, and hopefully this will help.
The classic version of electronic tuners is known as a "strobe" tuner. They are considered the most accurate and often cost quite a bit more. Strobe tuners utilize flashing lights that react to the various frequencies notes produce. If a note produces a frequency of 440Hz, the light will flash 440 times per second. The light shines behind a spinning translucent disc that holds several printed patterns. When a note is in tune, this creates an optical illusion of appearing static (much like the common "strobe light" effect). When a note is out of tune, there seems to be a "vibration" of sorts, and the patterns present a little more chaos.
If you need absolute perfection in your tuning procedures (perhaps you're a piano tuner?) you probably need to make a big investment in the highest quality tuner possible. For one example, check out the Node Chromatic Strobe Tuner. A less expensive strobe tuner may also work well for you, like the Planet Waves PW-CT-07 Desktop True Strobe Tuner.
VIRTUAL STROBE TUNERS
These are basically what they sound like they are - virtual strobe tuners that take advantage of digital technology. The Peterson VS-R StroboRack Virtual Strobe Tuner even offers tempered tunings that can adjust to various instruments, as well as a fun customized message display panel for when it's not in use ("Buy my CDs on the break!").
Digital tuners are often perfect for the average user, and you are likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of makes and models available. Because technology offers a lot of bang for your buck, I'd suggest trying one like the Korg TM-40 Digital Tuner Metronome , which also includes a built-in metronome. Might as well kill two birds with one tuner!
Most tuners recognize the sound of the instrument through either a built-in microphone or, for guitarists, through a ¼" guitar jack input. The microphone options really only works well if there are no other sounds for it to pick up. As soon as someone else starts playing an instrument, you are unable to use it to tune.
If you choose a mic-based tuner but find yourself in noisy situations often, you may want to consider the Peterson TP-3 Clip On Tuner Pickup which can convert a tuner into the type I'm about to describe below.
CLIP ON TUNERS
Every horn player should have a clip-on tuner handy.
These tuners generally operate by sensing the frequency of the instrument its attached to as it plays. The Sabine Zoid Clip On Tuner is made specifically for horn players and fits nicely on your bell. However, plenty of more generic styles clip on nicely as well, like the Fishman FT-1 Digital Clip On Tuner or the Intellitouch PT30. The Peterson-StroboClip offers a simulated Strobe Tuner experience offers a simulated Strobe Tuner experience.
Clip-on tuners place the tuning display right in front of your eyes (if that's where you want it) making it possible to monitor your performance as you play.
In even the most professional of situations, like L.A. studio sessions, I see major-caliber musicians with tuners attached to their instruments so they can watch every note. I also see it in performances, and I recommend you practice with a tuner on at all times.
As always, have fun making music, but always play your tune in tune!
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Tony Guerrero is a freelance trumpet player in Los Angeles California. Performing and recording with a wide range of artists ranging from John Tesh to High School Musical, Tony is at home in nearly any style on both trumpet and piano. For more information on Tony including his latest Recording titled "Blue Room," visit www.tonyguerrero.com
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