Intonation test results are in!
Thought I forgot, didn’t ya! Well, now that the semester is over, the project is over and break is here, I can hopefully answer the burning questions of those who participated in the test. First of all, a resounding THANK YOU!!! to all my guinea pigs! I got a total of 14 completed tests back that I used to tally the results. Of course a larger sample would be better but I saw some interesting patterns emerging even with such a small group. I apologize to anyone who sent in a request to take test who never recieved it. If anyone is curious and would like a copy of the test sent to them now, I can get it out within a day; if anyone who has already taken it would like to hear it again once I explain it, just let me know. But if you haven’t taken it and want to, read no further, for the secrets will be revealed!
So here’s the deal. You listened to 12 examples. Only 3 different possible intonations were represented in those examples, each one 4 times. Four of the examples used what is called “just intonation.” Just intonation is the only mathematically perfect way to tune an interval: in a justly tuned interval the ratio of the frequencies of the two notes is exactly 2:1, or 4:5. or 3:2, or whatever. As a classical player of a fixed-pitch instrument (the harp) I’m forever sitting around in orchestra while the conductor tries to get everyone else to tune this way. I don’t understand how it works in classical music--maybe Trevor can help here? but I understand from acoustics that to play everything strictlly in just intonation would sound pretty terrible since the ratios add up evenly to an octave. But anyway, a classical musician other than a pianist or harpist would be expected to prefer a justly tuned interval in this test since that would be how they’re taought to tune. I had to take an intonation class last year at school where just intonation was the only acceptable intonation, for example.
The second type of intonation represented in the test is equal temperament. Equal temperamentwas invented to solve the problems of just intonation by dividing the octave equally into twelve semitones, or half-steps. Pianos and harps are tuned this way in classical music. The major third in question in this test is noticeably sharper in equal temperament than in just intonation.
The third type of intonation used is one modern fiddle player’s personal preference, and is even sharper than equal temperament.
So, all of them can be considered “in tune” by one standard or another. My interest was to see if I could notice any patterns for preference in a random sampling of Irish music enthusiasts. Everyone’s responses were tremendously helpful, and some of you, I suspect, have better ears than you thought after taking it. So here are the answers to the test:
Several people consistently rated just as flat, equal as in tune, and the other one as sharp. The overall trend among the group reflects this as well:
61% of the responses for Just Intonation were FLAT
25% were IN TUNE
7% were UNSURE
7% were SHARP
64% of the responses for Equal Temperament were IN TUNE
14% were FLAT
13% were SHARP
9% were UNSURE
48% of the responses for the Extra Sharp Tuning were SHARP
45% were IN TUNE
5% were UNSURE
2% were FLAT
So, there seems to be a definite trend towards preferring equal temperament, though the sharp tuning is overall less objectionable than just intonation. There are a million directions one could go in researching this type of thing in Irish music, particularly relating to how people actually play and hear intervals in tunes, but this was an interesting start. I really wanted to analyze commercial recordings of well-known fiddlers to see where they fit on this spectrum, but have been having trouble getting the frequencies of isolated notes with any reliability. Preliminary results are summarized in this chart, although I must make the disclaimer that due to technical difficulties one should not take these results as conclusive:
|1/5 tone sharper than Equal Liz Carroll
|Equal Temperament | Martin Hayes
| Paddy Glackin
|Just Intonation Brendan Mulvihill
|1/4 tone flatter than Just Kevin Burke
So that’s all the data. Any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them! And comments are obviously welcome!