4 tone and intonation exercises to practise while you #StayAtHome

Looking for new ways to keep up your music practise while you’re staying at home during the Coronavirus outbreak? Look no further. We’ve got four tone and intonation exercises for you to have a go at, to help build your technique.

Flute with scales exercise bookThis is an ideal time to get back to absolute basics. While these exercises may seem easy at first, jump right in and enter into the spirit of the programme. Be honest and strict with yourself, and you’ll notice big improvements.

You don’t need to do all four exercises on the first day. It’s far better to do 30 minutes of hard, constructive practise and add each step on as you get better, than to overdo it on day one and get fed up. Most importantly, have fun – and feel free to improvise and experiment!

Exercises to develop your tone

These exercises are all about scales and developing tone. They work with any wind or brass instrument. Use this as a guide, and feel free to make up your own variations as you go along.

Question: How well do you know your scales? We mean, really know them!

Scales are the building blocks for all music, but more importantly they’re an easy, free way of practising and developing tone and technique. Follow the steps below for a week. Provided you are honest with yourself and only move on once everything is perfect, you’ll be amazed at the improvement!

Exercise 1 – choose your scale and ensure each note has a full, constant tone

Start with your favourite scale (or at least the one you think you know the best!). This may be “concert” Bb Major (C Major for the Bb instruments, G Major for Eb instruments, and F major for instruments in F) or perhaps C major on your own instrument.

Start with a comfortable register and play the scale of your choice, one octave ascending and descending. Play each note for a count of 12 beats at a tempo of about 60 crochets a minute. Count one bar’s rest of four beats between each note. Take a full breath before playing the next note.

Focus on ensuring a clean entry on each note and pay particular attention to keeping the note steady, the tone full and constant. If you have an auto tuner, use it to check the pitch of the first note and then look away until you play the last note. Is it the same pitch? You may well find that it isn’t anymore!

Repeat this until each note is clean, constant and the pitch of the last note is exactly the same as the first note.

You may well find that if you are your own honest critic, this could easily take 30 minutes on its own for the first few days!

Step 2 – repeat your scale with a different starting note each time

Repeat the above, however start on the second degree of the scale, but importantly stay in the same key as the original. So, for instance, you may have played C Major (C D E F G A B C) first of all, so this time you would play C Major starting on D (or the 2nd, or supertonic, or if you’re really into your music theory – the Dorian mode (D E F G A B C D)).

By doing this you are putting the scale into the context of a real piece of music, as not every run you play in a piece starts conveniently on the tonic! You are also slowly extending the range of the scale.

Once you’ve managed this to the same exacting standards as before, then move on to starting on the 3rd, (mediant or the Phrygian mode) and so on, up to the 7th (leading note or Locrian mode).

Initially, as long as you are honest and exacting of your standards, it should easily take you 30 minutes, if not longer, to complete the first two steps. Use a tuner to check the first and last notes. As you progress, use the tuner to check random notes in the scale, but don’t look at it constantly as in so doing you start to train your eye to recognise what is correct, and not your ear!

Exercise 3 – play your scale but shorten the length of the notes

Repeat all of the above but start cutting the length of the notes – 8 beats, 4 beats with 2 beats rest; 2 beats with one beat rest, crochets, quavers, semi quavers…

This builds technique and tonguing and helps muscle memory. Always be mindful of the quality of each note and of keeping the pitch constant and correct.

Exercise 4 – try practising different scales

Once you’ve successfully completed exercise 3, consistently start on a new scale and repeat the entire process again.

Challenge yourselves. Be your own harshest critic and make everything you do the most consistent and musical that you can be. Experiment with different dynamics and attacks.