How to tune a bassoon

Tune in in the wind orchestra

How do I get in the mood for a wind orchestra? Should I, as a conductor, “listen to” each individual musician with the tuner and then let him change “too low” or “too high” on his instrument until this one tone is correctly displayed on my digital device at precisely that moment ? NO !!! Under no circumstances should the subject of “tuning in” or “intonation” be treated in this way in a wind orchestra. Far too often, in my work with orchestras and conductors, I come across exactly this very wrong way. Therefore, the following is an overview with ideas for a better tuning in the wind orchestra.

How much hertz do we tune into?

Basically the rule "Concert band = 442 Hz". But no rule without exception. Because as soon as there is an “indistinguishable instrument”, the rule has to be broken. This can be, for example, a “wrong” glockenspiel that is built on a basic pitch of 440 Hz (ditto for all other mallets such as xylophone, vibraphone, tubular bells, ...). When buying, therefore, pay attention to mallets in 442 Hz. But even with instruments that are not used by a wind band, such as church organ, piano, ... you have to treat the rule as an exception.

Who agrees when, who joins in?

We agree first the instrument and then the musician a! In my orchestras I work with the basic task that every musician plays himself in and before rehearsing his instrument independently tunes to exactly 442 Hz using a tuner. This procedure requires some training at the beginning, e.g. in using the tuner (or nowadays with the appropriate tuner app), but after a while it is a very good basis on which, as a conductor, you then get a better mood and a more precise tuning in the wind orchestra can reach.

After this independent basic adjustment, the detailed work takes place, which is influenced by several factors:

  • Quality of the instrument
  • Material and quality of the mouthpiece and reed or reed
  • Temperature and humidity
  • Acoustics of the room
  • Condition and approach of the musician
  • Use of the breathing support

It also becomes lighter and sustainably better when the musician can imagine the tone inwardly. The development of the inner tone concept is a big step on the way to a clean intonation.

Literature tip:


Practical intonation teaching for instrumentalists (with an exercise part) by Doris Geller

How can a tone be changed?

  • Basically through the Changing the "overall length of the instrument", by “pulling out” or “pushing in” tuning slides, mouthpieces, S-bends,….
  • Both Woodwind instruments you can intone a series of tones lower or higher by using auxiliary handles, opening or closing flaps or tone holes or covering them halfway, or changing the approach through the position of the mouth with the help of “iiiiii…” or “ooooo…”.
  • Both Brass instruments With the help of the natural tone series and the necessary auxiliary grips, the tones can be intoned higher or lower if necessary, or by changing the position of the mouth.

Optimal order for attuning in the wind orchestra

This following procedure is described by Alex Schillings in his book "Metafoor - The language of conducting by Alex Schillings”Described as a so-called“ tuning tone network ”from page 262 ff.

Be the first to agree Clerk / Registrar from. Then the instruments tune to the following “tuning tone network” (max. 2 musicians each play) ...

The “tuning tone network” according to Alex Schillings

The note names are transposed (!!!)

  • Group 1
    one after the other: oboe (a1) - clarinet (h1) + clarinet (e2 or e1) - oboe (a1) - flute (a2) + flute (d2)
    together: oboe (a1) - 2 flutes (a2 + d2) - 2 clarinets (b1 + e2)
  • Group 2
    one after the other: clarinet (h1) + clarinet (h) - alto saxophone (f sharp2) + alto saxophone (f sharp1) - tenor saxophone (h2) + tenor saxophone (h1)
    together: 2 clarinets (b1 + b) - oboe (a1) + cor anglais (e2) - alto saxophones (f sharp 2 + f sharp 1) - tenor saxophones (h2 + h1)
  • Group 3
    Alto saxophone (f sharp1) - tenor saxophone (h1) - bass clarinet (h1) - bassoon (a)
  • Group 4
    Bassoon (a) - 2 horns in F (e1 + h1) - alto saxophone (f sharp1) - 2 tenor saxophones (h1 + f sharp2) - baritone saxophone (f sharp2)
  • Group 5 “wood tutti”
    The wood plays tutti a sounding a and a d distributed over the wooden registers.
  • Group 6
    2 horns (e1 + h1) - trombone (a) - tenor horn (h1) + baritone (a)
  • Group 7
    2 horns (f1 + c2) - trombone (b) - tenor horn (c2) + baritone (b1)
  • Group 8
    3 trombones (b + f + b)
  • Group 9
    Trombone (bb) - 2 trumpets (c2 + g1) - 2 horns (c2 + f1)
  • Group 10
    Trombone (bb) - tenor horn (c2) + baritone (bb) - tuba (sounding Bb)
  • Group 11
    2 trombones (b + f) - 2 tenor horns (c2 + g1) + baritones (b + f) - tuba (sounding B-flat)
  • Group 12
    The brass tutti plays a sounding a and d (see group 6) or a sounding b and f (see groups 7 to 11).

List of optimal vocal tones

Which instrument should you tune to? Do you know where the “wrong notes” of every instrument are? Is the “sounding Bb” always the right choice? Here is a short list of the optimal tuning tones for each instrument:

The note names are transposed (!!!)

  • Piccolo = e2
  • Flute = a2 / e2
  • Oboe = a1
  • Bassoon = a
  • Eb clarinet = f sharp 2 / f sharp 1
  • Clarinet (in Bb) = b1 / e2
  • Alto clarinet = f sharp 2 / f sharp 1
  • Bass clarinet = b1 / b
  • Alto saxophone = f sharp 2 / f sharp 1
  • Tenor saxophone = h2 / h1
  • Baritone saxophone = f sharp2
  • French horn (in F) = f1
  • Trumpet = c2
  • Tenor horn = c2 / c1
  • Baritone = b / b
  • Euphonium = b / b
  • Trumpet = b
  • Tuba = b

Watch list for everything to do with “tuning in to the wind orchestra”:

  • The Sounder plays the loudest, the pickup softly to it.
  • Stuffed brass instruments almost sound always too high.
  • right one sequence when tuning in with chords: 1st root note, 2nd fifth and then a little quieter 3rd third
  • If you no longer know how or where to correct, you pull the tuning slide or the mouthpiece out so far that you are sure to be too deep. Then start tuning again from bottom to top. This is easier than tuning from top to bottom.
  • The Musician must not at first Listenwhether it is “too high” or “too deep”, but he has to hear whether there are vibrations.
  • Clarinets and saxophones become at one Decrescendohigherwhile the rest of the orchestra tends to get deeper.
  • Trumpet: On a trumpet, the g is usually very low. In contrast, the c sharp1 is usually too high without a trigger, so use a trigger. The es2 is usually too deep and needs to be corrected upwards. The f sharp2, on the other hand, is too high and must be corrected downwards.

Tips & additional links on the topic: