Learning Just Tuning

My students and I have been having a lot of fun learning more about just intonation, and understanding the syntonic comma in theory and practice.

I want to share these exercises by Ross Duffin, which we’ve been using to get inside just tuning. In them, he marks each note which must be altered by a syntonic comma, so they can see where the adjustments must be made. We have learned the exercises slowly as part of our vocal warmups each week.

We’ve seen a couple of very positive outcomes.

First, high school students are far better at hearing and adjusting by a syntonic comma (~20 cents) in a logical context than they are at singing quarter steps (~50 cents) in an artificial exercise. If you want to train your singers to hear finer gradations than half steps, this works very well!

Second, the musicians in my ensemble have already begun applying this knowledge to their music. We are singing an Arcadelt Ave Maria, and they have begun noticing thirds and adjusting for better intonation. I’ve been so impressed by their ability to apply these fairly sophisticated principals.

I encourage you to give these just intonation exercises a try, and watch your students’ musical sophistication and intonation improve!