In tune

In tune

show of hands please.

In tune while playing at a session?

Do people pay attention to this? because I do constantly and I think it’s sad how out of tune people are without even noticing….especially when playing in tune sounds SO MUCH BETTER.

any thoughts?

Posted by .

Re: In tune

I would share with you my allegory about ripples on a smooth pond, but last time I did, it was lost on a few people in here — and I still suffer abuse for it.

Re: In tune

do what you gotta do.

Posted by .

Re: In tune

In tune fair enough,within reason, there is quiet a degree of "musical snobbery" comes in to play when this topic comes up for discussion
good players can make allowances!!!!!!!

Re: In tune

I had a discussion here a few months where I suggested that it might be a good idea to tune to "concert pitch" wherever possible. The big benefit of this is that I’m used to the pitch and can more easily get "back in tune" if I go out.
I realise that’s not always possible where you have a box or other instrument which isn’t easily retunable and we then have to tune to them. Howevr, we should strive to do it wherever possible.

Re: In tune

I often play in a session with a set of u-pipes, up to 2 concertinas and 3 banjos. What is "concert pitch please"?

Posted by .

Re: In tune

Concert pitch is when your A note is tuned to 440 - this can be found by using an electronic tuner, a well-tuned piano or tuning fork.

Posted by .

Re: In tune

Well, concert pitch is where the note which is equivalent to A(4) on a piano keyboard is tuned to frequency of 440 Hertz. Don’t worry if this sounds too technical as tuning forks, tuners etc are all designed to work around this. Even if it is a higher or lower octave, you should still be able to tune the "A" note accurately.
Hopefully, your concertina should already be in concert pitch, if all is well. So, you would normally tune to an "A" note from the concertina. The other instruments can obviously be tuned slightly sharp or flat, as required. However, as I said, if we know everything is in exact concert pitch, you can fine tune or give your own instruments a "tweak" as and when required. You know what you’re aiming for and shouldn’t need to worry about the other instruments/players who should be able to take care of themselves.

Re: In tune

Come on folks concert pitch at a session, drink spilling, half the pub trying to shout you down and the other half clapping their hands or stamping their feet on the stone floor, not to mention the heat from the roaring fire playing hell with the string section.

Re: In tune

I know it’s not easy but being "in tune with each other" is a good start. Surely that’s easier, if we can all agree on a "reference" whether it be concert pitch or a note from a "box instrument". As I say, I prefer being in concert pitch as it’s much easier to back there should things go awry.

Re: In tune

Happy Sally, re "making allowances". We often do by tuning to a note from an accordian player etc. Also good fiddle players etc can make allowances too, up to a point. However, if you are playing a fretted instrument like a mandolin, banjo etc, this can be more difficult. You’re stuck with the note on that particular fret whereas you can slide your finger up or down slightly on a fiddle to compsenate. Even there, you have a problem with the open strings. Flute players and pipers can adapt too, I believe.

Re: In tune

John J, thanks for the acknowledgment- I was beginning to think I was invisible! Sessions in Cape Breton include a piano so, that’s what everyone tunes to (the most difficult instrument to retune!)

Posted by .

Re: In tune

retuning an archtop mandolin can be an awkward task so have some sympathy folks.
Except for that, it’s easiest (and therefore best!) to tune the stringed instruments to the fixed reed or wind instruments

Posted by .

Re: In tune

That’s all very well, Bribanjo, and I agree with you. However, the problem arises when we have instruments in the session which aren’t readily tuneable like "boxes" and some wind instruments etc. Even the tin whistle can be tuned—my girlfriend "steams off" the piffle(sounds naughty) and can adjust it accordingly.
So, sometimes we have to make allowances and not play in exact concert pitch.

Re: In tune

Are they really only 8 quid?! I always just assumed they were hugely expensive so I’ve avoided buying one of my own, and always just used someone else’s :-) Maybe I’ll get one of me own now - thanks Bri.

Re: In tune

It’s one thing to be in tune (and it is important) but the bigger problem is when people don’t listen carefully enough and stay in time with one another. Spare a thought for an accompanist who is trying to decide who to follow when two fiddles are playing at odds with one another. I usually stop playing for a minute until things settle down a bit or pick the strongest beat and try to push that, so that others will follow.

Re: In tune

Dow, the "bog standard" electronic tuners are really cheap now but I’d recommend the Intellitouch tuners which you just clip on your instrument. They’re ideal for tuning in a noisy room and cost either £30ish or £40ish, depending on whether you buy the more sophisticated version. I find the cheaper one quite adequate.

Re: In tune

Tuning to a fixed pitch instrument is definitely best. If I sit next to the piper, I tune to him, no matter where everyone else is. As a former member of Jethro Tull said "can anyone tell me the difference between A=440 and an Elephant’s fart?"
Relying on tuners can be bad. I’ve found that quite often my ear is more accurate than a tuner anyway. I’ve seen 4 different tuners give a different pitch for A=440. What gets frustrating is when the UPs get sharper over time and you’re having to constantly compensate. It would be no big deal at home, but at a loud session it’s a bit tougher to tune on the fly. Plus this time of year, I find the fiddle going flat at the same time due to variable climate within the pub.

Re: In tune

Here in Paris, we have some boxes and concertinas. Playing in concert pitch is not an option. Most of the string section members are used to use an electronic tuner (we sometimes have compared them, and they agree). Most of the flute and tin-whistle players do also the required effort to play in concert pitch (the others… play alone!).

It’s pleasant to start a session with 2 fiddles a flute and a bouzouki and to be joinded later by a concertina of a box without having to tune up more than the usual drift due to play and heat.

Re: In tune

Flutes *never* play in tune. It’s nice, though, if at least one note is in tune in the scale. Everything else is at best an approximation.


[whine]

If I am playing outside in a session (e.g. at a camp), and tune the instrument, by the time the set is just getting going, my instrument has changed temperature, and is now sharp. But, there is also a temperature gradient, because the temperature where I blow is much warmer than the end, so up and down the scale the notes are wacky in a way I have never experienced before. Then, just after I finally figure out how to play a few notes, the set is over, and in the few minutes before the next set has begun, the instrument gets way flat and cold.

Yeah, it’s like that.

[/whine]

Posted by .

Re: In tune

Interesting no-one has yet mentioned that in fiddle-playing certain notes, eg. f# on the E-string and some others, are sometimes "flat" even on CDs, and I believe they’re tunes right as they are. Some musicologists terms htis "quarter-tones" and call the note "f quarter-sharp". I’m not sure if it’s exactly a quarter tone, that would be half of a half step. This note is not possible on pianos, fretted instruments or box, but can be done by fiddles, flutes, whistles, and it just depends what instruments play at your session, what, if anything, you’re going to do about it.

Re: In tune

You can do them on fretted instruments by string-bending.

Re: In tune

A good flute (of fiddle) player can play in tune. He is also able to adapt its scale to the dominant instruments (natural with pipes, tempered with box).

There is a true problem between pipes and a box/concertina, because they don’t use the same scale (thirds and sixth are flat on natural scale).

Re: In tune

I was playing with some friends in a pub last night, and this girl started to sing and play a song on her guitar.It was obvious to me anyway that one or 2 of her strings were miles out of tune with the rest of us.
But she didn’t seem to realise this and carried on regardless.I stopped playing along with her because our instruments were clashing, and it sounded bloody awful.

I thought she might have remarked about it when she stopped playing . . but she didn’t, carried on slurping her vodka and lit a fag up.
Why do some people need ear transplants?

Re: In tune

Pitch tends to float upward. This is because of two things; 1) if there are flutes, the pitch goes up as they get warm. Many flute players are either unaware of this, or they are preoccupied with just getting a decent tone out. 2) If there are a lot of instruments, or the pub is noisy, musicians can’t hear themselves and will tend to unintentionally play sharp to hear themselves. In most sessions, it’s the wind instruments that drive the pitch upwards; fiddles (no frets) tend to follow, and guitar players will try to adjust. All this leaves fixed pitch instruments behind, (unless they’re really loud.) The great tonal divide begins, and pretty soon the pond is all mucky.

Re: In tune

in america a korg electronic tuner is like 20-30 dollars. worth twice its weight in gold.

in my band at school, i play the piccolo now because even tho we’re the upper band (and actually for some reason better than the one band above us… whcih is strange cuz we all auditioned for that band, and we were put into the lower of the better bands) i am the only one who bothered to track down a piccolo to play. so although i am ok at the piccolo and pretty good tonewise, i cant tune it for crap, because it reacts different than the flute does. so its really annoying trying to tune an instrument i cant tune, to a group of people who arent evne trying to tune!

concert pitch is good, so far as you should learn to play to it. you should take a tuner and tune every single note of your instrument, exactly on, without wavering in pitch. before you can move to the next higher / lower note, you have to be dead on for several seconds. do this every day until you have mastered it. i dont do it any more, but i should. if you cant play with yourself in tune, you cant play with other people in tune!

in my opinion, dont get used to concert pitch. because a lot of people dont think of tuning when they play, they just play. the above excercise is good because it will teach you to hear how in tune you and others are. i could never do it too well, until this summer, after my flute recital, there were no more lessons for a month. i asked my teacher what to do, and he said, "learn to play in tune on every note". so i did. and now, i cant stand it when people play out of tune! it makes me cringe. and that is the first step to playing in tune, hating it when people are not. of course, sometimes it is me on a high a not in tune, but that hasnt happened since i realized my a’s on the flute were out of tune, upper octave.

so, although i agree concert pitch is good to get in, i disagree with whoever earlier said that you have to be able to get into it so you can go back into it when you are wavering from it. because, you cant! if no one else is going back to it, you go to them, bottom line. and there will be some instruments that cant go back easily. for me, i can tune every note on the flute easily because you can roll in, out, cover more / less, drop your jaw, push harder with your stomach, etc to get in tune. so why should i stick stead fast to concert A, when its easy for me to change away?

haha, and although i love the fact that i dont have to tune my concertina, i hate the fact that i cant play out of tune with it to play in tune with other people.

Posted by .

Re: In tune

My own observations - aside from tuning problems due to room temperature change, there’s a lot in the problems of badly set up instruments too. Problem areas : concertinas - having reeds damaged by overblowing (it’s surprising how much can escape the player’s notice as the tuning gradually gets worse over a period of time). Whistles - badly adjusted, and nearly always # sharp. Fretted instruments with wrongly positioned and badly angled bridges (more noticable on short-necks like mandilin and banjo). Old and worn strings also.
Fiddles - all manner of setup errors.

Taken individually, single instrument setup problems are no big deal, but get them all together in that state, don’t be surprised by the out of tune sound. Add to that the room temperature change, over-noisy punters, surly musos, warm beer in a cracked plastic glass with a wasp in it, and your night is made!

Not suggesting this would be the scenario at you average session, but it does happen in some places (The ones you’ve heard are great, and a 50 mile drive away in p*ssing rain….)!!

Well, if i was a pessimist, I’d be saying thing like "You’re born, sh*t happens, then you die"….but I wont bother saying that tonight!! :-)

Jim

Re: In tune

"Don’t worry if this sounds too technical as tuning forks, tuners etc are all designed to work around this."

I prefer to count the number of cycles per second. Obviously, I can’t count to 440 in the space of a second - no, I count the number of cycles in a minute and divide by 60.

Re: In tune

I have no trouble staying in tune as long as there aren’t any other fiddlers around. Somehow that just confuses the poop out of my ears and I can’t find my notes. If I’m playing with a guitar, banjo, pipes, concertina, box, bazouki, no problem. Plop a fiddle in there and all hell breaks loose. Drives me nuts. I have the same problem with whistles and flutes. There’s no reference for me to lock into because they drift sharp and flat depending on the breath control.

Unfortunately, I doubt I’ll be discovering a session with a piper, concertina and bozouki player lacking a fiddler. The world is just bursting at the seams with fiddlers. There are usually more fiddlers than anything else at the sessions I go to. Poor me. Or, I should say, poor them, because I can’t stay in tune when they sit beside me.

Re: In tune

(NB: in parapragh A I spelled bazouki right.)

Re: In tune

All this talk of getting digital tuners is a red herring. Having your instrument in tune doesn’t mean you’re gonna play in tune. (this is especially true for fiddle and flute, but no instrument is exempt. The amount)

I hate to sound like a stuck record agiain, but the only way to play in tune is to listen, listen listen. (I like daiv’s advice above, "the first step to playing in tune is hating it when people are out")

Posted .

Re: In tune

The virtuoso violinist Ruggiero Ricci said once in an interview that while he was warming up in the green room before going on to play his concerto he always tuned to the general pitch of the orchestra playing the overture or whatever out there in the concert hall, rather than use a tuning device. And he’d tune his gut strings just a shade sharp because they’d tend to go flat during the performance.
Soloists, and orchestras, often have a quick re-tune between movements of a concerto. It’s also not unusual to see a soloist do a very quick (and inaudible) re-tune during a few bars rest.
BTW, playing out of tune isn’t the exclusive prerogative of the amateur! The conductor of one of my orchestras, who has conducted one of the big London orchestras for BBC documentaries, told us that the woodwind and brass, in particular, are just as capable of playing out of tune at the beginning of a rehearsal as anyone else; it’s just that they get their act together that much quicker.
Trevor

Re: In tune

I take my Deger E-Pipes to sessions with a small Yamaha monitor battery amp, If some one asks for an A I can deliver a concert pitch note with plenty of harmonics and with enough volume for every one to here.
Obviously if there are non-concert pitch non-tunable instruments they should give the tuning note.

PP

Re: In tune

bodhdzookeigh. whatever. that stringy thing.

Re: In tune

Tuning is one of the three pillars of a good session, isn’t it? Tuning, Timing and Tasty pints?

Posted by .

Re: In tune

Hey, fiddlers, is there anything I can do about that? (I mean the thing where I go out of tune when there is a fiddle, whistle, or flute within spitting distance) I’m thinking I might just start waiting until everybody else goes home before joining the session.

Re: In tune

Kerri, it sounds to me like your intonation wanders only when you have trouble hearing yourself becuase you’re blending with another similar "voice." Is this the case?

On fiddle, my intonation’s no better than anyone else’s, but it usually seems *easier* to stay on pitch when I’ve got another similarly voiced instrument to play with, assuming they’re on pitch.

That said, I’ve played with a good concertina player whose squeezebox sometimes develops a few slightly sharp notes thanks to our cold, dry Montana winters. And playing with another fiddler or fluter certainly teaches you that pitch is relative. :o) In these situations, my response has long been to play to the pitch I hear in my mind’s ear, rather than some physical spot on the fingerboard or muscle-memory position of the fingers.

Good intonation on fiddle takes concentrated practice for most people. Classical types play scales throughout their careers in part just to keep their intonation accurate. But the trad approach tends to emphasize basic ear training—listening to the pitch of who you’re playing with and simultaneously monitoring your own pitch, all while lashing out tunes. Of course, muscle memory does play a significant part, so play through some tunes slowly, focusing on pitch and burning the feel of the "right" positions into place.

You might also benefit from some free, self-administered interval ear training at http://www.good-ear.com/

It helps to really nail the difference between a half and whole step, and 3rds, 5ths, etc.

Posted .

Re: In tune

Kerri, are you having trouble with the E string? I played in a band with another fiddler, and her E always sounded flat to me, and my E sounded sharp to her. She did some research and found that this is a common thing, and that people hear the E string differently. If I tune down to where she is, then I feel like I am playing flat all the time. Has anyone else heard of this phenomenom? or had experience with it?

And yes, most people notice the tuning problems, but they do happen. And there are some people that play out of tune that I would rather play with, or hang out with, than some people that DO play in tune. For me, rhythm and tune selection are more important that tuning (relatively speaking).

Posted by .

Re: In tune

Oddly enough, and this is where the digitsl tuner is useless, intonation is not a science. Ofcourse you can invoke science to come to your aid, by listening to sympathetic beats for example, but the only real solution is to play with people who meerly have the same feelings and standards as yourself.

My own standards seem pretty high with regards to your average diddler, but that doesn’t mean I don’t occassionally come accross musicians with a higher standard.

I guess it’s like anything with music, keep trying. And if you find yourself playing with people who you think are out of tune, get them to try harder, it’s for there own good. No-one ever thinks you’re a snob if you lean over to someone and gently tell them that they’re a bit sharp. They’re grateful

Posted .

Re: In tune

Don’t like digital tuners - invention of the Devil. If a tuning fork was ok for the likes of Menuhin and Heifetz it’s ok for me. It lasts for ever and doesn’t need batteries.
(grump, grump, putting his Ševčík studies on the music stand).
Trevor

Re: In tune

I don’t like digital tuners either. One of the sessions I go to infrequently, last time I was there, it seems like everyone had gone out and bought the clamp on types. The whole sesh looked like it had a bad case of mushrooms growing off the heads of instruments.

I like the simplicity of the tuning fork, and my own ear. Sometimes there’s no way to be perfectly in tune in sessions, for all of the various reasons. You just try for the best.

Re: In tune

I’ve always tuned by ear, an essential skill for any musician. But last year I bought a digital tuner for my son to use with his electric guitar when noise levels made it near impossible to tune by ear. Then I tried it on my banjo. Now I bring it to my session and keep it handy on the table. Here’s my reasoning:

1. I’m getting old and my ears aren’t what they used to be. I still trust them, but it’s sometimes nice to get a second opinion that’s more objective than the drunken sot across the circle yelling at me about my flat A string.

2. If I have to replace a string mid-session or mid-gig, I can re-tune quickly by ear to approximate pitch, and then quietly zero in on pitch with the tuner while very softly plucking the string—all without leaving my seat or annoying my neighbors.

3. In the event that no fixed-pitch instrument shows up, we have an accurate reference point for pitch. Whenever possible, I like playing from A=440 because I’ve spent 35 years doing it and it just "sounds right" to my ear. I don’t know that I have perfect pitch, but I know GDAE when I hear it, and it’s vastly different than, say, F#C#AbEb. Using an accurate reference point is good, self-reinforcing ear training.

4. Just putting the tuner on the table encourages other players to use it, resulting in a better overall sound. Tuners that clip on are a true boon—anyone can tune in a noisy session, no problem. Even less experienced players get the hang of it. It’s also less "aggressive" to hand someone the tuner and say, "You can use this if you’d like," or "Try out my new toy." It’s also handy for diffusing arguments with the person who insists they’re on pitch despite the aural evidence.

Not bad for $20 USD.

Posted .

Re: Out of tune at start of tune

Although his years make him slower at hearing his bass, our bass player knows from long experience how to keep in tune and listen for the "beats".
Out of curiosity, we tried a clip-on tuner on the string bass and found the bridge and the tuning rest end gave totally different notes. I wonder if this is also true for fiddles,banjos,guitars etc, but to a lesser extent.

We also have a band rule to tune your instrument at the end of a tune or well before the next tune. Tuning when others have started playing is a no-no (who does this in your session?)

Re: In tune

There’s this confusion again about your instrument being in tune and playing in tune. One of the things tuning your instrument by ear helps you with, is playing in tune. A digital tuner takes this away.

But, "I can’t hear so well in the noisy session, so I need the tuner," I hear you say. But if you can’t hear well enough to tune your instrument, how the hell are you gonna hear well enough to play in tune?

And of course if you’re in a band and you’ve started a song and someone else in the band starts tuning up, that’s totally out of order. But a session is different, and there are plenty of ways to tune quietly (you obviously don’t make a noise anyone other than you can hear)

Posted .

Re: In tune

I’m guilty of using the "clip on" tuner and/or tuning fork in sessions for my mandolin. The fiddle never really seems to go out of tune very much. However, this is just to get the instument up to the "approximate pitch". After that, I tend to "fine tune" by ear so that I’m (hopefully) in tune with the others. Luckily, I developed a fairly good ear while I was learning to play guitar. This was in the days before electronic tuners were invented.
Therefore, I’m certainly not against tuners but you can’t rely on them and you also need to develop the skill of "tweaking" up and down by using your ears.

Re: In tune

Jode, it is the pesky E string. Sometimes my brain can’t process it at all (I have the same problem with the (snicker) G-string on a guitar. I can tell when it’s wrong, but not whether it’s sharp or flat. A guitar has all those frets and fancy harmonics though, so it doesn’t give me much grief. The E string on my fiddle sometimes exasperates me so much with just "not sounding right", even when the tuner tells me it’s perfect, that I give up on it altogether.

Will, thanks for the tips. It isn’t a "voice" problem, though, I think it’s a "fixed pitch" problem. If there isn’t a box, fretted instrument, or pipes around (ie. if it’s just flutes, fiddles and whistles) I have no reference to lock onto for my intonation.

Re: In tune

At the session last night we had an inadvertent lesson on the inherent fallibility of the electronic tuner.

Our lead banjo player tuned up as usual with the gizmo attached to the banjo neck and launched into the first set along with everyone else. The sound was strange, to say the least, and as soon as the set was over complaints were voiced about his tuning.

After one or two cross-checks with other players it was obvious that the banjo had been tuned very sharp and that the infernal device (sorry, electronic tuner) used to tune it had lost its calibration.

I was the only person there with an A-440 tuning fork so we were able to recalibrate the electonic tuner. We found it had been 20 cents sharp on concert pitch (50 cents = 1 half-tone).

Here endeth the lesson.

Trevor 0128 hrs GMT+1