Fiddle tuning weirdness

Fiddle tuning weirdness

I just got a new violin and while I was playing at the luthier the tuning was fine. I got it home and tuned it with three different tuning apps. E, A, and D tuned fine to the app. But G was insane. When the tuners indicated a perfect G, it sounded terrible. Even the scales sounded way off. So I tuned the G by ear so that it just sounded right. The tuners say that the open G string is an F#. But it sounds fine. Is this something that happens?

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Re: Fiddle tuning weirdness

Download Pano tuner. Note it is Pano. Not piano. Forget about any other online tuner.

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Just to add: if it’s new the tuning can be a bit erratic for a few days. I’ve been playing Dominant strings for a few years. Decided to try Helicore for a change. Taking a couple of weeks to settle.
Be patient.
Alex.

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use a real tuner, not a huge fan of tuning apps.

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I have both a older physical Peterson VSAM strobe tuner and their iStroboSoft iOS app and they pretty much match 100%.

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Do yourself a BIG favour and learn to tune the strings to each other, in perfect 5ths. Then you can tune your A string to a reliable source (tuner, piano, whatever) and that one reference is all you need. In more than 50 years of playing fiddle I have never used a tuner, let alone a tuner app. A tuning fork will last you a lifetime - you can drop it safely and it has no batteries to run out 🙂 . There may be situations in which a tuner might be essential, I suppose (on a noisy stage, or other noisy environment), but being able to tune your strings to each other by ear is far more essential, I reckon.

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It is worth noting that fifths in equal temperament (which is what tuners use) are about one tenth of one per cent flat of perfect fifths. So if you tune the A string to 440 and then tune the other strings to that by ear (i.e., in perfectl fifths) the G string will certainly be flat of the equal temperament G of the tuner (and the E should be a little sharp).

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yup, ditch the tuner. Did you end up getting something nice?

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I agree totally with stiahm but would go further and say ditch the fine tuners and learn to tune from the pegs( lubricated with peg dope or soap)
BUT if you want a tuner for noisy or lazy environments :/) then the app recomended by Micheal Eskin is 10 x more sccurate than anything else on the market ( bar other strobe) i have their hardware version but the app is a LOT cheaper . ( you need to install a paid update {10 roughly} for violin . The free version is ET

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I agree with Stiamh too, on just getting an accurate A400 reference pitch, and then tuning the other strings to a perfect 5th by ear. The Seiko quartz metronome has an A tuner, showing the frequency, so you can use that, or your ear, or both, to tune the A string.

As Will says, you can tune from the pegs, but that’s a skill in its own right, even with pegs and holes in perfect condition. You need to be able to turn the peg while pushing it in, so not so easy.

The geared pegs like Knilling Perfection pegs are excellent, as you can bow the strings while turning the peg. Even if you are tuning from tailpiece fine tuners, you ought to be able to bow 2 strings while making adjustments. The recommended method is to de-tune the string slightly, then bring it up to pitch, while bowing it. So, to tune the D string, bow the D and A together, drop the D a little bit, then raise it up to pitch, so you are hearing D and A together for a perfect sounding 5th.

Repeat for the other strings. If the string are well off pitch to begin with, you might have to repeat the whole sequence again, as sometimes the perfectly tuned A will drop a fraction after adjusting the other strings.

One other optional check after tuning is complete, is to sound 4ths - so you play the 1st harmonic of the A string ("12 fret") along with the open E, then repeat using D harmonic and open A, then the G harmonic and open D.

Oh, and tuning forks are deadly accurate, but you really need 3 hands to use them (or two hands and an orifice!) I’ve got a little 5W practice amp with an A note button, so I just the hit the button, and tune the string to the A. The note decays after you sound it, just like a tuning fork does.

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Don’t worry about it! Tuning any stringed instrument is a compromise. As others have said, get one open string reliably in tune and tune the rest by ear.

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Tuning forks are not as deadly accurate as you might think, Jim. Their pitch is affected by ambient temperature. I’m sure we did a wee experiment with putting them in the freezer a while back.

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@sutpen, It seems like the bridge may have moved, or tilted, or been bumped at an angle, or maybe gotten reversed during a string change.

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Ditto Stiamh. You need to use your ears to play the fiddle anyway, so you might as well put them to good use for tuning as well. Tuning by ear provides some of the ear training you need to be able to play in tune. All you need is a tuning fork or pitch pipe (or another instrument that is in tune) for reference.

I don’t know much about the relative merits of tuning apps and physical tuners (physical devices) – I imagine the performance of an app would depend a lot on the device you are running it on – but electronic tuners in general sometimes ‘mishear’ notes because of oversensitivity to overtones or interference and, unlike a human, they have no idea how wildly wrong they are.

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Barry, surely a fault at the bridge wouldn’t affect the tuning of the open strings, as Sutpen describes.
It also seems unlikely that the bridge would be reversed, having come straight from a luthier.

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I know most people are frightened off by the idea of tuning from the pegs, commonly frozen in place and rarely touched but thsts how it was for centuries. I dare say most pegs will be fine, Bach had no fine tuners and he did ok 🙂 . Chalk makes them grip more and soap, Or graphite make them slip more so a balance can be found …
I played for years with cheap fine tuners and the best thing i ever did was remove them.
It became so much easier to tune !! And so much more stable . Truly revelatory.
Better quality inbuilt tuners seem way better and consistent than the cheap ones which were only designed for the E string…..
Perfection pegs are …..

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DonaldK, in the temperature range that your instrument is being played in, the difference in tuning fork pitch is negligible. Experimenting with putting tuning forks in the freezer is only relevant if you put your instrument in the freezer.

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David, I don’t seem to remember it being "quite negligible". Obviously tuning forks must be calibrated for a particular temperature. I don’t think the temperature has to move that much to throw the pitch a few cents out. I’ve regularly performed outdoors in the winter months when the temperature has only been a few degrees centigrade above zero and (rarely for where I live) in the summer when the ambient temperature has been in the thirties. I’d be very surprised to find a fork that gave the same pitch for, say, 3ºC and 33ºC.

I’m not going to repeat the experiment, but I’m sure it was for a discussion on this site.

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From Mark M, just over a year ago:
"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."

This discussion: https://thesession.org/discussions/44384

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How did we ever live- or play - without digital devices. be it tuners. Or banter via digital messaging boards.

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Hi Everyone, thanks for all of this excellent information. I will just have to educate and trust my ear it seems!
Alpinerabbit, I played about twelve fiddles and chose a strad copy made in Korea for my luthier. A lovely darkish red with a very dark and haunting tone and power that makes me a bit nervous but really gives me a shaky feeling in my soul!
Sutpen

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Re: Fiddle tuning weirdness

@Donaldk

//Tuning forks are not as deadly accurate as you might think, Jim. Their pitch is affected by ambient temperature. I’m sure we did a wee experiment with putting them in the freezer a while back.//

Well, I stopped doing freezer gigs after losing one of my testicles at one 🙂

I’m sure the pitch would vary minutely at different temperatures.

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It’s not going to be as accurate as the test oscillator I have Logic.

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Right, the mathematics says that if A is tuned to 440 and the other string are tuned in perfect fifths, then the E string will be 1.955 cents sharp of equal temperament, the D the same amount flat and the G 3.910 cents flat, i.e., roughly one twenty-fifth of a semitone flat in the case of the G.

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No, I don’t know, Jim.
If you played the two pitches separately then I guess not many people without perfect pitch would pick up on a difference of a few cents. However, if you play the two notes together, you can hear the pitch difference as beats per second (i.e., Hertz).
But you can also hear the difference between a perfect fifth and an equal temperament fifth. That is, you can hear when a fifth is not perfect (which is the case in equal temperament). The difference between Pythagorean intervals and equal temperament is probably most noticeable with major thirds, where the true third is about 13.7 cents flat of the ET one.

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In a previous discussion someone quoted a few cents, 4 cents I think, for successive notes but others claimed they could hear less than that. The ‘scientific answer’ it should be easily googleable. Hearing that two simultaneous notes are ‘out of tune’ (from beats etc) is less than that. Maybe a lot less - we can calculate that from the slowest beat that we can detect.

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On the human threshold of frequency discrimination, there are several online tests. I tested at .35 hz, or about 1.5 cents using headphones 6-8 years ago, but I can actually do better than that with a quality instrument, where the beats are amplified, and you pickup sensations of other things vibrating in sympathy, that you aren’t conscious of. Most digital or LED tuners’ displays aren’t accurate enough to discriminate under 2 cents, but an analog servo needle-based tuner like a Korg OT-120 can do you better. While I’m rattling on, with a needle based tuner, you can see the pitch drift of an old string’s frequency, or the stability of a new string.

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I used a Boss TU-12 for years until it became a bit temperamental after someone sat on it (it was under a jacket). Got it out of the drawer just now and put a battery in. Wow! I’d forgotten just how good it is, with a very steady needle (new strings on a couple of days ago).

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@Donaldk

//If you played the two pitches separately then I guess not many people without perfect pitch would pick up on a difference of a few cents.//

I don’t mean to be picky, but wouldn’t that be relative pitch, rather than perfect pitch?

Whilst it’s true that two parallel pitches with a fractional Hz difference can be determined more easily than the same pitches played consecutively, I don’t think it could be a valid test, because you’re not just hearing 2 noises, you’re hearing a 3rd noise of the notes going in and out of phase (if that’s the correct terminology?)

I suppose theoretically you could test yourself on an instrument. On fiddle, you could play an an open E, then a unison on the A string. If you could measure the frequencies, you could tell just how little a difference you could detect, by flattening the E on the A string.

Or, on an accordion, you could play a clean A, then switch the tremolo on, and see if you notice any difference. (OK, just kidding on that one!)

It’s all getting a bit nerdy and geeky now 🙂

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I suppose one good point about a really accurate tuner with a visual display is that it could become important, eg if your hearing deteriorated so much that it became difficult to tune accurately by ear. It happens. Obviously your playing would suffer because of poor hearing, but at least if you’re in tune that would help a lot.

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Jim, for a normal person it is relative pitch, but for a person with perfect pitch it might be more a question of absolute pitch like "That A is sharp", or whatever, because the note they hear is sharp of their A (the A they have in their head).

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@DonaldK

//Jim, for a normal person it is relative pitch, but for a person with perfect pitch it might be more a question of absolute pitch like "That A is sharp", or whatever, because the note they hear is sharp of their A (the A they have in their head).//

OK, got you. I just tested myself for perfect pitch, for the first time in ages. I hummed an A, then went over to my fiddle and plucked the A string. I was 3 semitones flat!

I’m not sure how the test should be performed, officially - presumably, a pitch is played, then the subject is asked to identify the note. Is that correct?

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Having perfect pitch means that you can remember pitches. So if you are told, "This is A 440" then, if you hear the pitch some time later, you can say, "That’s A 440".
You could have someone with perfect pitch who couldn’t name a note because they had never been told the names of the notes.

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As a self confessed nerd 🙂 i have to point out that the ability to identify pitches,; tune up, is a learned skill and gets better with practice as the neursl network is established and deepened .
Plus physics says the closer you are to your instrument the more accurate your ability to differentiate . Hence it can sound fine a few paces away and we feel we are out of tune.
Plus the ambiant air temp and thickness of the air obviously has a big impact on wind instruments so an instrument at sea level tuned up perfectly then transfered up a mountain will not be any more as the airis thinnner .

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> OK, got you. I just tested myself for perfect pitch, for the first time in ages. I hummed an A, then went over to my fiddle and plucked the A string. I was 3 semitones flat!

Try this: sing a tune in your head that’s in A, and having sung a part through hold the pitch of your A and test it against your fiddle.

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//Try this: sing a tune in your head that’s in A, and having sung a part through hold the pitch of your A and test it against your fiddle.//

Just did that, and now I’m a whole tone sharp of my fiddle A (which is definitely at 440Hz).

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I was curious to see whether or not it worked! A lot of people do have a strong memory for pitch recall that isn’t "perfect pitch". It’s noticeable in the pipe band scene where people will hear a set of pipes or a band and be able to label them as sharp or flat without direct comparison to the prevailing pitch. A few years ago I was playing at a gig and had been asked to play some tunes with the dance band so brought a concert pitch setup. I was having a few tunes to myself when one of the bandsmen walked in and said "it’s nice to hear a piper at the right pitch", or words to that effect.

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Re perfect/absolute pitch: if I’ve not been playing for a few days, I can be out by up to three semitones in identifying a note, almost always flat. If I’ve been practicing every day, I’m usually within a semitone. I guess I have near perfect pitch. My older brother, even when he was little, could tell you what note the tires were humming when out for a drive. It’s impossible to tune a string instrument perfectly, just get one string accurate then tune the rest to it. With a guitar or mandolin, tune it so a chord sounds good, it will be out according to your tuner. Having said all that, I have a Korg tuner/ metronome that I really like.

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Would any of the "sweetened tunings" that Peterson tuners now have built in help? There are settings for both orchestral violin and fiddle: https://www.petersontuners.com/products/stroboStompHD/presets/

I have had fantastic results with Peterson’s sweetened tunings for guitar. I have an old guitar with questionable intonation and it does a great job of making it playable all over the neck. They have an insane number of sweetened settings for all stringed instruments and I’d be interested to hear what experiences non-guitarists have had with them.

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Best tuners on the market i have a hardware vetsion but mostly use the app . For fiddle its brilliant

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I have my own "sweetened" tuning for guitar in Standard:
Tune A, D and G strings to concert using tuner. Tune B and the two E strings slightly flat of concert.
In practice, this means I tune the D string to concert. I then make sure that the open G and A sound perfect fourths with the D. I then tunes the B string so that, played at the third fret, the octave with the open D is just acceptable. I then do the same with the open E strings, played at the third fret with the open G.