Brass Tuning Guide Information


One of the most important, yet sometimes overlooked, factors in the success of a marching brass ensemble is the ability to consistently play in tune — by individuals and by the ensemble. When an ensemble is out of tune, each individual performer will constantly be adjusting their pitch differently day to day, within the same music. By implementing Graduated Tuning Guides (patent pending), the director has the ability to instantly adjust his or her marching brass section if the temperature changes.

During a marching season, whether it’s drum corps or marching band, rehearsals tend to get shorter as the season progresses. In drum corps, you have several weeks of all-day rehearsals as you’re training members and learning the show, and brass rehearsals can be 3 to 4 hours long, providing luxuries of time to tune. In marching band, there’s usually a 1 to 2 week period for band camp, where sectionals are the norm, and fine tuning can easily be done. Once these early season sessions end, rehearsals become more infrequent, and time becomes much more precious.


On the tuning slide of each System Blue brass instrument, there are engraved marks, one eighth of an inch apart. Depending on the instrument, the number of marks varies. If you push the tuning slide all the way in, then pull until you see the first mark, that is called “1.” If you pull until you see the second mark, that is called “2,” and so on.

To fine tune even further, pull until you see the 3rd mark, then push in halfway to the 2nd mark, to “2.5.” This can be done for any fraction, but it’s important that you always pull to the next mark up, then push in to the fraction. Other options are “Cover” and “Show.” To Cover, you cover the engraved mark. To Show, you show as little slide past the mark as possible.

During drum corps all-days, or marching band band camp, do fine tunings with each section of the brass ensemble. Once the section is in tune, simply tell the performers what the temperature is, then have each individual record the temperature, what mark they are on and the date. Do this as often as you can in the early season, as well as throughout the season, as time allows. By mid-season, when performances begin and rehearsals are much more focused on the ensemble, each individual should have a nice sized list of different temperatures and marks to work from.

For example, it’s late season, and you only have a 2 hour rehearsal, broken down into 20 minutes for warm-up, 20 minutes for marching basics, one hour for ensemble, and a run through. There’s no time to spend fine tuning each individual, so, simply look at the current temperature, announce it to the brass section, have them look at their list and see if there’s a match, and then have them set their marks as a starting point. If the temperature is 83 degrees, and the performers have an 80 and an 85, simply have them estimate where an 83 would be based on those two previous records.

The Graduated Tuning Guide system is NOT an exact science. It is simply meant to be an incredibly useful time saver — an invaluable tool to help provide the ensemble with a starting point to help play in the center of pitch at all times, regardless of time, temperature or climate. If you’ve ever participated in a Dome show, where you had to warm-up outside, and the inside temperature was several degrees different, you know the struggle of making sure the ensemble is in tune once in the dome. With the Graduated Tuning Guide system, your ensemble can simply tune for the 91 degree San Antonio heat for warm-up, then push in for the cool 74 degrees inside the Alamo Dome.