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Brass Clinic

Maurice Faulkner, Contributing Editor

Using the First Valve Slide to Adjust Tuba Intonation Larry


No instrument can be constructed so that it is perfectly in tune with itself. Thus, certain adjustments must be made by the performer. When the fourth valve was added to the tuba, it eliminated the necessity for many of these adjustments. For example, instead of the sharp combinations of 1-3 or 1-2-3, the fourth valve or combination of 2-4 could be used to improve the intonation. The fourth valve also made more alternate fingerings available. But because the fourth valve has not eliminated all intonation problems, the performer should take advantage of another option available for tuning the use of the first valve slide to adjust pitches while playing. (Obviously, this method of adjustment affects only notes played when the first valve is depressed.) The need to make adjustments with the first valve slide arises from the difference between equal temperament and the natural harmonic series. When a tone is sounded on a brass instrument, the resulting harmonic series (Figures 1 and 2) remains compatible with the equal tempered system of tuning on the first, second, fourth,
Fig. 1 BB<> Tuba, first valve harmonic series.

Fig. 2 CC Tuba, first valve harmonic series.

^ ft

"

+.02

-.1 A +.02 -.32

Larry Pitts, a graduate of Tennessee Technological University, is currently a graduate student in tuba performance at Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe.
52 THE INSTRUMENTALIST/APRIL 1975

and eighth partials; the third partial is two cents sharp, the fifth partial is fourteen cents flat, the sixth partial (an octave above the third partial) is two cents sharp, and the seventh partial is thirtytwo cents flat. The seventh partial is so very flat that an alternate fingering must be used in order to play this tone in tune. The others can be adjusted by using the first valve slide: it should be pulled out for the third partial (Et> or F) and pushed in for the fifth (c or d). It may be necessary, especially on some older instruments, to actually have the first valve slide shortened in order to bring this fifth partial up to pitch. Since this is the flattest pitch encountered in the "first valve series," the slide should be shortened so that the fifth partial is in tune when the slide is pushed all the way in. Until this can be done to the instrument, an alternate fingering of 1-3 may be necessary to raise the pitch. This is an awkward solution and should be used only as a temporary measure until the slide can be cut to the proper length. Experimentation is necessary to discover exactly how far the slide must be pulled out or pushed in. This may vary for every performer, but there are some general guidelines that can be followed. 1. Preliminaries: the instrument should be completely warmed up to room temperature (about 70 F); and the open horn must be tuned properly (using a Strob, if possible). 2. Tune the first valve slide to Al> or Br>; it will probably be out l" to 1 1/2". 3. Next, tune El> or F; the slide will probably need to be pulled out an additional 1/2". 4. The last note is c or d and it is the easiest to tune, since the slide will have to be pushed all the way in. Once you know how far the slide must be moved, you may have

problems with compressed air "pops" that can occur when the valve is opened although the recent advent of the "anti-pop vent" has eliminated this problem. Most "professional" line tubas are now available with "vented" valves (some players like to vent all valves whether they are pulled or not in order to help alleviate the "clicks" of compressed air encountered in normal playing), and there are competent repairmen who can vent the valves on older horns. Without the vents it takes practice to eliminate the "pops" and make the movement smooth and co-ordinated. Of course, in very fast passages, the benefit gained from using the slide is completely nullified the notes pass too quickly! The first valve slide can also be used when other valves are used in combination with the first valve. As more valves are added to the first valve, the notes become sharper (e.g., 1-2, 1-3, 1-2-3). Since each added valve will require additional slide length, this length should be added by pulling the first valve slide. Manufacturers and artists are constantly striving to perfect instrument design and eliminate intonation problems. Some day the "perfect" tuba may be designed, but until that time, each performer should use every option available to him to insure good intonation. I
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