Giving pitches with a Tuning fork
Thank you to all who sent in feedback about the use of tuning forks to give
pitches. Inspired by your experience I have purchased both an A-440 and a
C-524 tuning fork and am slowly learning to use them, finding that the A440
works the best in most situations. My students are fascinated by my
efforts and we are all improving our interval training.
Here are the responses:
I use tuning forks exclusively. They are
preferable to pitch pipes because no one can hear the pitch other than
the pitch giver and thus begin to hum something which may or may not be
the correct pitch.
I have both A-440 and C-524. I prefer using A.
I strike the fork on the side of my forefinger. I've seen Chanticleer
members use their heads (!). When I
started, I used my wrist and then became aware that there's a nerve near
the surface that I was whacking and causing numbness in my left hand.
You don't need to hit the thing hard.
Go to the nearest pitch diationically and move 1/2 step from that one.
I find the tritone by going up or down a fourth or fifth and then a 1/2
higher or lower.
Tips? Don't hum anything but the pitch you want the choir to hear.
Someone will hear you and start humming the wrong thing.
I use one with my early music group. As far as I know, most people use just
one fork, then calculate the interval to the opening pitch of a given
and hum or sing that pitch or the tonic (or even the opening chord) for the
group. You get used to doing that, but I have certainly erred on occasion,
going a step up instead of down, etc. especially since we do some of our
pieces in a key different from the printed one! Just find a fork with a
comfortable starting pitch for your ear; an 'A' works for many. I hope this
is of help,
When I use a tuning fork, I use just one -- A440 -- and I figure out
the tonic pitch of whatever piece we're singing from that. I give
the tonic pitch to my choir (I "sing" it to them softly on "loo"),
and they figure out their own starting pitches from that. I now work
with adults, but this is how my own high school choir director did it
in the late 1960s. It looks kinda weird, but I whack the fork on my
head, and put the end on the bone just in front of my ear to "hear"
the A -- seems to help me nail the interval.
When I've used the fork, you just appoint a chorister with VERY good pitch
to listen to the AD0 and then hum the pitch that you want the choir to
hear. You can do this yourself, though it can be empowering for someone in
the choir to do it instead.
I frequently use a tuning fork for giving pitch when my choir sings
unaccompanied. I use a standard AD0 fork and pitch the notes from there,
mostly usualy humming the parts in turn with the soprano an octave down.
I've used a fork for years, and I have a mixed opinion. FIRST, if possible
I would recommend having all your singers buy A440 forks, and have them
practice getting their own pitches. That would be great practice.
Here are some observations and recommendations.
- Its usefulness depends entirely on the user's skill. The pitch-giver has
to have a clear voice which is not affected by nerves/adrenalin. It must
also be free of vibrato when giving the pitch.
- Most use A440. That's the standard in my experience.
- Practice all intervals from A. For my own difficult intervals, I use
easy + hard. Ex tritone: I use P5 minus a m2, because I don't quite trust
my ability to sing a tritone perfectly.
So, the advantages are as follows:
1. The pitch-giving is almost silent, and it forces the singers to listen
carefully to the pitch-giver.
2. The audience is fascinated by the process. Don't ask me why, but they
3. The pitch-giver is forced to have good ears.
4. Super portable and won't wear out like a pitch pipe. And of course
avoids the noise and clutter of a piano or other big device.
1. Can be hard for singers to hear
2. The pitch giver's voice must be really clear and accurate, regardless of
nerves, health, etc. Voice quality can cause the giver's pitch to be
interpreted differently also.
3. The audience fascination can be distracting.
I use a tuning fork every day in rehearsal. Sound the pitch fork to
yourself, (mine is A 440) then sing up or down to the pitch you want to
give to the choir. You'll be surprised how they will learn to listen and
figure out the pitches. They will also be developing their pitch sense or
I love using tuning forks, but I wouldn't want any more than my "A" fork.
In order to use it, you need to be well versed in scales and intervals.
For instance if you need an "E," you have to be able to think down a
fourth from "A." I use the first few notes of familiar songs to help me
get the desired pitch:
Amazing Grace or Here Comes the Bride-P4
I also have 1/2 and whole steps secure in my mind so that once I get to a
pitch that is close to the desired pitch, I can then adjust up or down by
1/2 or whole step easily. I've also found that humming a difficult
interval to myself quietly before giving it securely to a group helps me
to feel more confident in giving the pitch. This takes practice--but it
is worth it! Good luck!
You only need one - A440. I suppose you could use C 523. or 261., but I
like 440. You (or whoever is giving pitch) needs to become an expert at
finding intervals off of a given pitch. The problem is you have to do
it in your head. I've had students who hum the A and then the pitch of
the piece (say Bb), and it throws the entire choir off. This is
especially true if the tonality is Eb, where A is flat in the mode.
In college we used tuning fork exclusively, so you had about a dozen
music majors who had a tuning fork in their pocket at any given time. I
use it everyday in my HS, although mostly for sight singing.
I have an E and G fork, so can easily find most pitches from those.
It might be much easier to just use a pitch pipe. That is used by my choirs
for acapella singing, it fits easily into a pocket, and can be hear by a
chorus of 50-60 easily.
Sally B. Murphy