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Mozart Cosi fan tutte – Act II Finale

Cosi fan Tutte – the Act II Finale…

I set this excerpt as a very good test of tuning.  Yes the re-tuning must be done quickly but, with a bit of knowledge of the music, it is perfectly possible as there are some very helpful pointers along the way.  Of course, using your own instruments or ones you have practised on is vastly preferable, but this method, for this excerpt, is completely un-reliant on knowing the drums.  This is why I set it for exams and auditions.  You can practise it all you like, but you can only do it on the day, if you can hear the notes and tune them.  Obviously it is harder on hand-tuned timpani.  But even on pedal drums, it still tests quick and accurate tuning using pitches from the orchestra.  So it is a very fair and revealing test of someone’s ability to tune.

Cosi fan Tutte 3 with help - Timpani-1   Cosi fan Tutte 3 with help - Timpani-2

Some general tips:

1  When you are doing a quick re-tune, my motto is to get pretty close to the new note, very quickly.  You don’t want to be going round the drum making small adjustments over and over again.  This wastes time and increases the chances of putting the drum out of tune with itself.

2 Decide that you are only going to tune one drum at a time.  Get the first one right.  Don’t panic and don’t move on to the second drum too quickly.

3  Always always always have a few reference points of pitch in the orchestra during an excerpt like this.  It is disastrous if you re-tune both drums incorrectly but then cannot identify the correct note for either of them!

4 If you are doing an exam or audition on strange drums, use your warm up time to work out how much you have to turn the taps for a given tuning.  For example, know that on the top drum, tuning up a tone requires a quarter turn.

5 When tuning upwards, it is vastly preferable not to tune too sharp and then have to tune down again.  This takes time and the sound quality of the new note is worse.

With this excerpt, it is vital to be calm and clear how you are going to tackle the tuning.  Immediately you stop playing the section in C (bar 36), put down both your sticks and clear your head – you aren’t going to tune anything for four bars.  I suggest tuning the B flat first.  Yes it might be strange to tune the dominant first but here’s why;  In bar 40, the music changes into the key of F, a perfect key for finding your B flat.  Use the F and the sympathetic resonance to find the B flat.  Looking at the music above, tune only the B flat in the bars that are in red.

Now, when you have your B flat, you may as well check it against the C you still have. When the music goes back into C (the blue section beginning at bar 51) it is relatively easy to sing (in your head) an E flat –  a minor third above the key note.  You can keep tweaking the E flat until the very last minute.  Take one, not two, sticks and hold the tap nearest to you.  At the instant you strike that first E flat you can bend the note to be in tune.  You only have one B flat in this opening phrase and so it is far less important than the clearly audible E flat.


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