Temperature and Intonation

Temperature and Intonation.

This bit of information was in a recent email from Encore Music Publishers:

Temperature and Intonation
Wind instruments become lower in pitch (flat) at cooler temperatures (string instruments do the opposite). As the brass instrument is played it will warm somewhat and its pitch will move higher (sharp).
How much this movement? For each degree Celsius increase in temperature the pitch will rise about .18%. This translates to a change of about three cents sharper for each degree Celsius increase (a “cent” is 1/100 of a half-step). While a change of three cents is barely perceptible, larger temperature changes can make profound changes in intonation.
Additionally, if you are performing with strings remember that their pitch is moving in the opposite direction. Temperature changes can play havoc with intonation.

As resident of the upper midwest, the temperature issue can be especially vexing in winter. Drafty old churches or other venues can be very difficult in regard to pitch. I am thinking specifically of two gigs I had in December, one of which was in a very large church over 100 years old, and another in a venerable old theatre, both of which will remain nameless.

In both cases, electric/electronic keyboard instruments were being used, meaning that the pitch of these instruments remained steady at A=440. Meanwhile, the brass players horns were dealing with mid 60s temperatures. I find that holding my hand over the bell (closing if off as much as possible) and blowing air into the horn BEFORE MY ENTRANCE is quite useful in bringing the horn up to pitch. If everyone in the section does this, the result are better.

Another solution is to move the slide, though after a minute or two of continuous playing the instrument will warm up enough for that the become its own problem. If you are fortunate enough to have a pitch finder/trigger on the main tuning slide, simply tune the horn sharper than you would at normal temps and ride the trigger as you warm up the horn. More about the pitch finder in a future post; its a useful innovation.

Regardless of which solution you apply to the horn itself, remember to use your ears as a guide as always. There is no substitute for that awareness.

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