Re: Do tuning forks go out of tune?
No. They stay in tune with themselves.
No. They stay in tune with themselves.
If a bit fell off.
Do people still use tuning forks? How do you test them? - against an electronic tuner?
Yes, Gobby, people still use tuning forks. I think they come pre-tested.
Piano tuners use them.
Good point… Next session when everyone gets angry I’ll explain that I’m not out of tune, I’m actually in tune with myself.
Metal expands and contracts with temperature. Wouldn’t a tuning fork only be in tune at a specified temperature?
I’ll put mine (believe it or not a C 512 fork) in the freezer and report back, All Moldy.
Twenty minutes in the freezer and it was up to perhaps 515.
Okay Donald. Now go and do the same thing with your fiddle.
Yes, tuning forks vary very slightly with temperature. My one states that it is 440.00 Hz at 20deg C, and has a little graph in the lid of the box that shows it going up to 440.26 at 15deg C and down by a similar amount at 25deg C. I think that is about one cent off.
I would if I had space in the freezer, Gobby, but it’s chock full of banjos.
Ha, ha, VERY funny.
You’ve reminded me to dig out my tuning forks! I’ve got a couple of A’s somewhere here.
It’s a good and proper question. Of course forks are still used. They are temperature dependent, as any metal, and are calibrated at 20C. It’s a small variation, but present, and matters for critical applications - such as calibration of speed radars:
I have a full chromatic set of John Walker forks, very useful. I use the G sharp fork for tuning A415.
As to going out of tune, the frequency depends partly on the mass, so rust can alter the pitch. It’s well known. A good idea not to let them rust.
Tuning fork frequency can be adjusted by filing the two times down, precisely equal, or the other way, by filing down the U curve at the bottom. This is only if you need non standard pitches, such as for various 19c instruments like A430 or A409 or A452 etc.
As for testing yourself, using an electronic app will give you a close idea, but phone tuners are not laboratory standard pitch references. To be very precise, you would need to set up an oscilloscope. But a good John Walker fork or similar will be extremely accurate, and will stay that way for a hundred years (if it does not rust).
As long as everyone is tuning to the same tuning fork at the same temperature, it doesn’t matter.
Can I ask, not having really played in a session with the normally used Irish instruments, what is the usual way you tune up as a group? Do you go off a fixed instrument, or a tuning fork, or what? As I only play for myself, and by ear, I tend to just fine tune my fiddle according to the recording I am listening to. I find I don’t have to adjust it that much. Just wondering!
Well, you might have a box that is a little off of 440, and since you can’t tune the box you might have to tune to the box. Otherwise everybody has their little tuners and go at it individually. At least that’s how it works around here.
That’s an interesting question, Gobby.
In my local session we tend to tune to concert pitch individually with a tuner or tuning fork and then checking by ear. Pipes and flute will check with already tuned instruments that they are in the same ball park.
Thing is, after playing for some time tuning will have changed. Stringed instruments tend to go flat as they warm (especially with steel strings) whereas pipes go sharp.
And then there are the problems caused by the different scalar tuning of the instruments, equal temperament or otherwise. So there’s going to be a certain fuzziness to the pitches even if we all tune together at the start.
And then there’s the banjo!
What an interesting question and observation.
Over the years, with the advent of all these tuning devices, be they tuning forks or electronic tuners, there is certainly a more consistent pitch in both sessions and on recordings.
However, back in the day, not all accordions or pipes were necessarily in ‘concert pitch’.
And sometimes someone might, did, arrive at a session with a slightly higher or lower pitched instrument.
We always tuned into the ‘home’ A of the accordion or pipes. Sort of well, we’re all here to have a tune.
These days there’s not so much of that, reeds on accordions are so much better tuned and balanced, and generally (but only personally speaking) pipes, pipe sets are much closer to what is accepted as being at the right pitch.
Obviously flutes, fiddles, harps, all stringed instruments can be tuned to play with the odd fixed pitch instrument.
And, of course, the voice is probably the most flexible instrument of all!
Myself, I think that there is too much reliance on the electronic machines.
If tuning my flute, fiddle, guitar I just ask
“Can you give me your A?”
And I go from there but sometimes I might ask for another note.
Hope that this is useful
All the best
All the sessions I’ve played in over the years we always tuned to the A on the accordion. Its about all you can do as accordions can’t be tuned there and then as was pointed out in another post.
I suspect that if you called the National Institute of Standards and Technology (Washington D.C., USA) somebody could tell you how many millions of years (my guess) it would take for a tuning fork to lose enough atoms (I think they call it sublimation) to cause it to go out of tune. I lack the patience to do the experiment.
I don’t generally believe in tuning as a flute player/woodwind player. People look at me pretty funny when I say that but I know where to put my head joint where the flute will tune once I’ve warmed it up and there is so much fudging of different notes on the instrument anyway (flutes are never completely in tune with themselves) that I figure I’ll be able to lip adjust the notes that are off as long as I’m close. When I find myself feeling generally high or low I’ll make some fine adjustments to the head as I go - I do this quite a lot. Sometimes I will split the difference when I start cold so the beginning tuning is a little more bearable. When you get a lot of players the pitch tends to be pretty spread out and I find myself constantly adjusting in frustration. This is one of the reasons I don’t like big sessions. I tend to tune with the fiddle players because the ones I play with tune really well and they use digital tuners. We don’t often have box players but when they’re around you naturally have to tune with them.
My ear tends to make me play sharp. It’s not uncommon for flute players to think sharp and I believe it has something to do with the player wanting a bright sound. I use tuning drones in practice to try to center my pitch better because I much prefer the chord to ring.
I once read that the Rob McConnell Big Band (great pro Canadian Jazz big band) never tuned but the band’s pitch was impeccable. If you’re listening you’ll play in tune. The tuner gets you close but the ear is really much better.
@ross faison. A quicker experiment would be to buy two tuning forks, check there were no beats between them ( or time any that there were), then see how many times you have to drop one of them on a hard floor before it beats noticeably against the other. Work hardening.
Maybe it’s just me, but I cannot tune precisely to any tuning instrument or device, because my tuning embouchure does not match my playing embouchure. Still, I always play in tune.
Thank you David. In fact there are a few dozen tuning forks, all tuned to middle C more or less, where I (occasionally) work. I’ll try that one for sure! Boredom is a hazard there.
And JW, I pretty much agree. Tuning just about any instrument is a kind of moving target. We flute players can spend a lot of time “chasing the needle”. At some point ya just have start listening to how you sound against everybody else and go with it.
Ailin - I would suggest you make sure you’re tuning like you play (usually very loud for most session fluters) but, if you’re confident you play in tune then I say don’t worry about it.
I’m not confident enough to say I’m always in tune. In some situations where the pitch is spread among the other players it’s simply impossible. I do feel confident that if I tune with a digital tuner on a cold flute and don’t fill the flute like I will during a mad jig or reel than there is no chance I’ll be in tune. Like I said, I’d rather just know where my head joint usually is set and do the rest instinctually. I had an orchestra director once explain that playing in tune is easy because it is a state rest and relaxation where as playing out of tune is a state of tension and stress.
Martin Hayes has some really interesting comments about pitch that I found in David Flynn’s thesis.
It is possible your tuning fork never met any standard for accuracy. The manufacturer would be the one to ask.
Beyond that, here is a PC utility that might help you compare to a calibrated, electronically generated tone:
Here’s a more “official” procedure to calibrate tuning forks used for tuning speed radar guns, but which may also be used to calibrate tuning forks used for music. It will require equipment you do probably not have or desire:
I think tbe problem with tuning a flute for Irish music is that various adjustments for volume, buzz and assorted tonal color varies the pitch. When I play a Boehm, such is much less the case. Then I tune to a guitarist’s A and E. Either the notes or the chords. We record our sessions, which is how I can verify my pitch accuracy.
“Twenty minutes in the freezer and it was up to perhaps 515.”
Interesting. Thanks for experimenting DonaldK
I just got off the phone with my brother who was a director of some program or another at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Here’s the gist go what he had to say. Of course tuning forks go out of tune all the time and for a lot of reasons. There are only 7 things that can be directly measured. Everything else has to be “traceable” to one of them and one of them is time. There is now a clock that is accurate to a second over about 130 billion years. Frequency is the inverse of time so it is measurable to the highest level of standards. Frequency is important to a lot of things including communication, lasers, and a whole bunch of things like music! Whether tuning forks have to be tested meet some lab standard out to 8 decimal points is debatable. I’ll bet that at some point the manufacturer has to meet some standard just like butcher’s scales and gas pumps. Not sure that it matters all that much over tunes and pints though but I suspect it’s important to calibrating your laser when you need to set it to blow up a bulldozer or do eye surgery!
Translation of everything said here in this discussion: Under normal room-temperature conditions, your tuning fork should remain accurate enough to not drive people with perfect pitch up a wall. If you tune outside in 0 degree weather (!!!) then you’ll probably bother the most tone deaf of people. Not to mention that whatever you’ve tuned outside will go haywire as soon as you step in a nice warm house.
In other words, yes, forks can go out of tune, but you’re fine if nothing drastic happens like rust or cold… 🙂
The REAL question is, can a banjo tune to the out-of-tune tuning fork?
I learn a lot from this site. And occasionally I apply my learning. Inspired by Donald’s experiment with sticking his tuning fork in the freezer, and his later suggestion of everybody tuning up from the banjo, I came up with a brilliant idea (feel free to disagree) for a completely organic and environmentally friendly tuning system It starts by using Dolbear’s Law of cricket chirps.
First, to work out the temperature of the room, take a cricket out of your pocket and count the number of chirps in 14 seconds. Then add 40. This will give an approximation of the temperature in Fahrenheit. Example:- 30 chirps + 40 = 70° F. Or to convert so centigrade,count the number of chirps in 25 seconds, divide by 3, then add 4 - e.g., 48 chirps /(divided by) 3 + 4 = 20° C..
If you all agree on it, adjust the room temperature to how you all want it and re-calibrate your cricket. Then take out one of Briantheflute’s Banjo frogs from your other pocket. (see https://thesession.org/discussions/44350) This should automatically calibrate the frog with both the room temperature and the cricket chirps. Now you have both a tuner and a metronome in one.So then you SIMPLY tune up the banjo to the frog twang, and then everybody tunes up from the banjo. (I believe that environmentally unfriendly orchestras tune up from the oboe. But what would they know?) And ….Caution! at no stage try to adjust the fog by putting it in the freezer. And always keep the frog and the cricket in separate pockets. God it’s hot here in Oz!
Oh yes, and don’t bang your frog on the sofa.
“The REAL question is, can a banjo tune to the out-of-tune tuning fork?”
I find it easier to check my banjo tuning by smacking the resonator against the leg of my kitchen table. That’s a good approximation of how it will sound in session.
What do you do if you don’t have any crickets in your pocket? I used the last of mine when I ran out of prawn crackers.
Now your just being silly Donald!
Erm… Ah dae hink sae.
//Can I ask, not having really played in a session with the normally used Irish instruments, what is the usual way you tune up as a group?//
If there are any fixed-pitch instruments, we’d tune to their A or D.
If someone has already tuned up, we tune to them, otherwise I’ll just play a rolling 5th on the D and A strings, and everyone tunes to that. I’ll use a tuning fork for my own A (just whack it off the nearest banjo headstock or bodhran rim) 🙂
I sometimes just use the A pitch on my little Seiko metronome, as the volume is constant, whereas the fork’s pitch decays, and is difficult to hear when the session is noisy.
Plus the fact you need something to hold it with, as both hands are occupied on fiddle.
GOBBY!!! MY FROG ATE MY CRICKET!!! NOW WHAT DO I DO???
*sound of hysterics*
“Bang Your Frog On the Sofa” I’m rooting for that tune (to catch on). It didn’t catch on when I introduced it in my area which I blame myself for. I do really like the tune though.
Ailin - I disagree somewhat. I think simple/silver flutes behave more or less the same but it is more the playing style that is different. I do think that silver flutes are a little more flexible but I play mine basically for classical music which require a wider range of dynamic contrast therefore, I really have to adjust pitch a lot. With the wood flute I play basically between loud and as loud as I possibly can to hear myself (in sessions). The pitch adjustment in my experience has more to do with correcting relative pitch on the scale of my instrument and slight adjustments to overall pitch with the headjoint as the group or the temperature (as the flute warms up) goes up or down. Anyway, if you know you’re in tune, you’re making those adjustments so why worry. I like to think about the mechanics of these issues. It helps me for teaching but mostly it’s kind of a nerdy thing.
“If there are any fixed-pitch instruments, we’d tune to their A or D.” ……Well that makes obvious sense, but given all the variances, such as temperature and atmosphere’s, are all so-called ‘fixed pitch’ instruments in tune with each other? Or is near enough good enough? Sorry for my ignorance but I just haven’t yet worked out the necessity of a perfect pitch fork when you have to do the best you can with a variety of instruments. On the other hand I do understand what Ailin was saying about his flute and having to compensate. So why a pitch perfect tuning fork?
But anyhow, I suppose the slight imperfections are what makes it sound good really. I mean, I absolutely hate the sound of techno music where every note is made e-‘perfect’. There is no art or feel in it.
“ absolutely hate the sound of techno music where every note is made e-‘perfect’. There is no art or feel in it.”
There’s a man who has never had the pleasure of a Chemical Brothers or Fat Boy Slim gig. The boat has sailed Gobby and pitched you by the lighthouse of your own hazards and no go zones.
When I was younger so many Irish, ITM players were heavily into punk, quite a lot of them were also very well into the crowds with me at many of the free parties and raves that came later. I’ve yet to bump into Stormzy at a session but you never know.
I get what Gobby is saying, though. I mean, midi files drive me nuts. So does the Suzuki violin method.
P.S. Gobby, fortunately I can still hear the cricket inside of the frog, chirping away: the frog seems to be much better calibrated now as well. There is still hope for a tuneful banjo.
Yes Emily, I think that was more the kind of thing I was talking about. As I actually really like Fat Boy Slim (and some others) Steve was right to point out that I was wrong to suggest there was no art in that music. There is good and bad and different degrees of talent in all genres. I guess I just prefer the raw and live sound of music made by humans than those talent-less washing machine beats with electronic note perfection that we get so bombarded with on the radio. Half the singers nowadays can’t even really sing. The computers just adjust it all to come out right, and it sounds awful. I’d really rather hear the likes of Tom Waits.
Emily! You were not supposed to put the frog and the cricket together in your handbag and leave them unattended!
Yes, that was careless of me, but I was wearing a skirt and didn’t have any pockets.
I’ve used Tuning Forks, Pitchpipes, Strobo tuners and digital tuners. I’ve tuned against the untunable instruments, but I’ve never tried any of the phone apps. For the most part I prefer digital tuners as my hearing is going South. Certain frequencies have completely dropped from my hearing. Although I don’t recommend going cheap, as I have several cheapies that are inconsistant (depends upon which sweat shop they’re coming from). Buy a decent Korg or Sabine, and you’ll have something that has been calibrated.
In my experience, session players tune to the session leader or their designee. That might be to a box player if one is present - or to a celebrity guest if possible. In any case, it rarely works out to A-440.
The only value I see in tuning to A-440 before a session is to avoid being too far off at the start of tuning to the ensemble.
When I tune to a device, I don’t use a fork (personal preference). I use a chromatic electronic tuner first, and then compare across strings, e.g. by playing chords on the tenor banjo or mandolin, or string harmonics on the guitar or bouzouki.
Because we don’t generally have a fixed pitch instrument we usually tune to A440.
Actually, in sessions, I usually tune my guitar strings to concert pitch apart from the plain B and E which I set a few cents flat.
At home I often tune to the D string and then check octaves, where one note of each octave is an open string: E2-E3, G2-G3, A2-A3, B2-B3, D3-D4, E3-E4 & G3-G4.
At home, I use the A440 pitch button on my little Roland Microcube amp.
It’s handy, and it’s pressure sensitive too, so I just whack it, then tune the A-string to it.
It’s not a constant volume tone, but decays just like the A from a tuning fork does.
I then tune the rest of the strings in pairs, a 5th apart, D to A, then E to A, then G to D.
Sometimes I do a further check in 4ths, sounding the :
octave harmonic (12th fret) on the A string against the open E string (a 4th apart)
octave harmonic (12th fret) on the D string against the open A string (a 4th apart)
octave harmonic (12th fret) on the G string against the open D string (a 4th apart)
… then a final re-check of open A against the Microcube’s A440
All that said, most of the time when I pick up the fiddle, it’s in tune OK, apart from maybe a slight adjustment to the open E string.