exercises intonation microtonality practice

Sixth-Tone Exercise Audio

This is a very simple exercise for playing sixth-tones The audio file has undulations on three notes: (I picked these because they appear in a piece I am coaching.)

  • Bb3 – Bb3 sixth-tone lower
  • Db4 – Db4 sixth-tone lower
  • C3 – C3 sixth-tone higher

All you have to do is practice at first playing with the undulations, then against them so when the audio plays Bb – you try to play Bb sixth-tone lower, and check yourself as the tone moves. Here is a crude display, you can imagine the audio as the black line, your sound as the blue line.

Tuning is A=441

Here is the audio file

basics exercises intonation tuners

Intonation Exercises

Here is a compendium of intonation exercises I have written over the years. They require either two players or one player and a sound-generator such as a tuner or an app. (The exception is the “Exchange” exercise.)

These exercises are based on being able to discern and manipulate difference tones, and contain a basic introduction to just intonation.

If you distribute these exercises please give credit where it is due. Have fun!


Berio contemporary music expression intonation practice

Atonal Intonation in Light of Berio’s Sequenzas

Luciano Berio‘s Sequenza no.1 for flute is one of my favorite pieces. I also love teaching it; it has so much to offer in terms of technique (especially articulation!), style and presentation. There is an unwritten book inside me about this work, but for now I would like to consider one aspect of the work that often gets ignored: Intonation.

This is one reason it is not my favorite piece to listen to. If you know me, you know I don’t have perfect pitch, or even flawless intonation. Nevertheless, neither you nor I can assume that a work without a traditional tonal center and without traditional harmonic relationships is devoid of centers and relationships entirely. I would argue that in this context, these matters require even more consideration. I’d like to address this generally and specifically, not as a how-to guide, but as food for thought in your own practicing.

In general, there are rules of thumb for atonal solo works. Here I quote Doris Geller’s “Praktische Intonationslehre“, page 117 (my translation):*

In free-tonal music there is also a hierarchy of intervals, the most important points of orientation being the prime intervals (octaves, fifths, fourths), especially when they form tones that draw attention to themselves. These could be, for example, long, held-out notes or notes that follow a rest.

Here she is referring to Debussy‘s Syrinx, and gives specific examples. However,  these words and her further advice to analyze goal notes, high points, low points, and melodic turning points can apply to all solo works. Edgar Varèse‘s Density 21.5 especially offers the same points of consideration.

Specifically for the Sequenza, I consider the soul of the work to be in the long, held-out notes. If you listen to the other Sequenzas of Berio,  you will hear this particular pattern of drawing the listener in. Often there are rapid, virtuosic passages punctuated by the stillness of a single note, where the quality of sound and the relationship to its environment are of utmost importance.

*In a previous entry, I write more about Doris Geller and the intonation of melodic intervals.