What is a Tuner?
A tuner is a device musicians use to detect pitch accuracy. It will let a musician know if the note they are playing is sharp (too high), flat (too low), or if it is in tune. The accuracy of a pitch is what musicians call intonation. Tuners work by detecting the frequency of the pitch (sound waves). For example, an A is 440 Hz. If an A is sharp, it will be 441 Hz or higher. If it is flat, it will register as 439 Hz or lower. While tuners work by tracking hertz, musicians measure how close they are to the pitch in measurements of cents. Cents and hertz are not the same things.
How To Use A Chromatic Tuner?
Playing with a tuner will help develop your intonation and an understanding of the tendencies of your instrument. To use this instrument tuner, make sure the built-in microphone has web access.
- Play any note. You will see the needle move and the strobe rotates until it finds the pitch you are playing. This tuner is tuned to A440. Remember, these notes are shown in concert pitch. If you play guitar, piano, or another instrument pitched in C, then you will see the note name of the pitch you play. If you play an instrument that needs to transpose, like a trumpet or French horn, then you will need to understand how to transpose.
- Once the tuner recognizes what note you are playing, try to adjust it so that it stays perfectly steady and centered on the dial. If you had to bring the pitch up, you were flat. If you had to bring the pitch down, then you were sharp.
- Make an adjustment to your instrument, either by adjusting a slide, a peg, or whatever your instrument's equivalent is. Play the note again. If the needle and strobe are centered and steady, then your instrument is tuned.
Granting Microphone Access
This tuner will require mic access through your web browser. If you have disabled it in the past, then the tuner will not work.
- Chrome: Go to Settings -> Site Settings -> Microphone and allow this site to access the microphone.
- Firefox: Go to Preferences -> click Privacy & Security -> Scroll down to permissions and select Settings. Search this site and select Allow.
- Safari: Safari > Preferences, then click Websites. Change the microphone setting to allow this site.
How To Practice With A Tuner
Even if your instrument is in tune, there might still be pitches within a musical passage that just don't sound right. Here is a process to fix any out-of-tune notes.
- Start by checking to see if your instrument is generally well-tuned.
- Identify the problem notes by playing through a short passage of music (no more than 15 measures). These might be problem notes that are specific to you or they might be due to tendencies with your instrument. For example, on wind instruments, there are certain fingerings that will naturally be sharp or flat.
- Once you have found those problem notes, play the passage of music slowly and then stop and hold the problem note and look at the tuner. Try to adjust the note so that it gets in tune (the strobe will stay steady). This might mean changing fingerings, adjusting your embouchure, or playing around with your air support.
- Remember the adjustment you made and replay the passage. When you get to the problem note, try to hit it with the adjustment in mind. Hold the note and look at the tuner. How did you do?
- Repeat this process until you can consistently hit the note in tune.
- Write down what you needed to do in order to make the adjustment in your practice journal or notate it in your music.
What Causes A Note To Be Out of Tune?
- Temperature can cause an instrument to be out of tune. If an instrument is cold, it will tend to be flat. If it is hot, it will tend to be sharp. This can be challenging if the ambient temperature is extreme and for wind players as instruments heat up as they play due to hot air. Instruments will require periodic tuning after an hour of continuous play.
- Fingering combinations. Wind instruments change the pitch by making the instrument longer or shorter. An easy example to picture is the trombone. When a trombone player extends the slide, the pitch gets lower. The same is true for all wind instruments. However, many instruments have multiple ways to play the same pitch (For example: on a trumpet, pressing the first and second valve is the same as pressing just the third valve). Some fingerings have natural tendencies to be flat or sharp. You might be able to fix this by finding a different fingering combination.
- Air support. For wind instruments and vocalists, air support can impact a note's intonation. Not enough air support will make the note flat.
- What role a note plays in a chord. A major chord is made of three notes (the root, the third, and the fifth). For a chord to sound in tune, the third will need to be lowered (lowered by 14 cents) and the fifth will need to be raised (raised by 2 cents). If the third was to be played perfectly according to a tuner, it would be out of tune with the rest of the chord.
How to Tune Chords?
In the last bullet above, we saw that a chord can sound out of tune even though every member of the chord is showing as in tune on a tuner. This is known as "just intonation." This table is just a guide and not hard rules. Always default to your ear and the ears of those around you. The most common way to discuss chords in a generic way is through numbers which represent the interval relationship to the root of the chord. As an example, the C Major chord has a root of C (it will always be in the name of the chord). The next member of this chord is a third above it, E, so we call it the third. The major third of the chord must be lowered 14 cents in order for it to sound in tune.
|Chord||Examples||Root||Third||Fifth||Sixth / Seventh|
|Major Chord||No Adjustment||-14 Cents||+2 Cents||N/A|
|Minor Chord||No Adjustment||+16 Cents||+2 Cents||N/A|
|Diminished Chord||No Adjustment||+16 Cents||-17 Cents||N/A|
|Augmented Chord||No Adjustment||-14 Cents||-17 Cents||N/A|