If any music educator could choose two major points to improve with their ensemble, intonation and rhythm would have to be near the top of the list. The Yamaha HD-200 combines both of these key concepts in a handy, portable package. Don’t be misled by the fact that this unit looks like a keyboard complete with an internal speaker. The HD-200 is an incredibly useful tool that has fast become a staple in band rooms across the country.
Starting off with the concept of pitch training, there are two basic ways to approach teaching students to play in tune. They can either watch a dial or meter, or listen to match a reference tone. The difficultly with a metered pitch device, is when the student is adjusting their instrument – they are watching the needle of the tuner to bring their instrument in tune rather than listening to what being “in tune” really sounds like. The HD-200 provides a reference pitch that the students can match, and by listening to the waves in the tone between the student and the reference pitch, the player can adjust with their ears rather than their eyes. Whether the student is flat or sharp is less if they can hear waves in the tone, and did those waves get faster or slower. Regardless of the ages of the students, they can clearly hear the waves or “beats” in the sound – allowing the HD-200 to be used with ensembles of all ages.
Several sounds are pre-programmed on the Harmony Director – however, the object of the sounds is to provide a good reference tone for the students to match, rather than a realist sample of the actual instrument. Many educators will actually use the preset ORGAN sound since it provides an excellent match for nearly every instrument.
For more advanced groups, the idea of equal temperament vs. pure temperament is a key concept. Everybody has heard an amazing performance where a group will finish a piece with a resounding chord, and those notes ring and sustain throughout the hall. This is the resulting impact of playing in a pure temperament model. By training students to listen for waves in the tone rather than thinking: “I have the 3rd of the chord,” the ensemble is tuning with their ears regardless of the key center rather than watching a tuner needle.
The HD-200 can easily demonstrate this concept with the simple push of a button. By playing a major triad and changing between equal and pure temperament, the student can identify when waves or “beats” in the tone are present and when they are not. Ultimately eliminating waves will result in a warmer, richer, more resonant sound from your ensemble.
Perhaps the most convenient feature of the Harmony Director is a button aptly titled HOLD. This will hold any note or chord while the teacher is free to move about the room or ensemble. By providing this reference pitch center, students can move through the warm up portion of the rehearsal with a constant aural reminder of the pitch center.
In addition to the pitch training portion of the HD-200, the rhythm training applications are significant. An easy to use metronome with a large visual screen and easy to operate dial is included on the front panel. Teachers will appreciate the “tap tempo” function, allowing them to set a reference tempo for the ensemble to follow by simply tapping a key four times. The metronome function will also sub-divide up to 16th notes (triplets included too) – so during an ensemble rehearsal students can lock in to this reference tempo in addition to their reference pitch. Multiple time signatures are available to match the beat and tempo of any possible piece or exercise.
One common question among educators considering the HD-200 is where it should be placed in the band room. Most educators will utilize the Harmony Director throughout their rehearsals, so by placing it on a keyboard stand beside the podium they will have quick and easy access to both the intonation and rhythm training portions of the unit.
Another concern among educators is that this unit is keyboard based, and many educators are concerned about not having keyboard skills. True, this is a keyboard – but as mentioned at the very beginning of this article, don’t be fooled by the keyboard. If you can play a triad, you can operate the HD-200.
Most schools will plug in the Harmony Director to an amplifier or some sort of sound system. The onboard speakers are handy for individual or small group rehearsals, but for a larger room some sort of external amplification is essential.
Other useful features of the HD-200 include: adjusting relative volume between individual notes in a chord to demonstrate proper balance, manually manipulating the pitch of individual notes within a chord to demonstrate the speed of waves or “beats” in a chord, easy transposition buttons to Bb, Eb, and F instruments, and a large, easy-to-read front panel LED screen.
This article only covers a small portion of the capabilities of the Yamaha HD-200 Harmony Director. It’s a tool not just used indoor with a band. Choirs, marching band and orchestra are just a few of the additional applications that are perfect for the Harmony Director. If the only outcome of utilizing this tool is that your ensemble plays better in tune, then you have succeeded. When the ensemble sounds better, the “music experience” is much more rewarding for the students.