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Thread: Tuning in the digital age ... vexing

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    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Tuning in the digital age ... vexing

    No, I most certainly do NOT wish to ruffle the feathers of organ tuners who may read this ... but.

    Having seen an organ tuner in action (working in the cycle of fifths, etc). It occurred to me, that once an organ is tuned. It would be possible to store the pitch information and then simply tune a rank based on a predefined set of ratios. Obviously, the individual flavour of the tuner would be evident as no two different tuners end up with exactly the same results ...

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    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    An interesting post on many levels!

    Here in the US, at least, organ tuners use electronic tuners all the time to set their temperaments. What they ideally come up with is perfectly equal temperament (though tuners sometimes are not completely accurate.) I've long been of the opinion that completely equal is about the most unattractive sound, and that when it was tempered by ear, there would be variations, as you say. You mush have watched a tuner doing it by ear.

    Older temperaments, like Werckmeister, are not as difficult to set by ear, as there are a lot of pure intervals.

    I would guess that what you're proposing would be possible with the right tuning machine. I'd mention that I have a good friend who tunes equal temperament by ear and he always prides himself on the accuracy of it--that if you check it against a tuner, it is very close if not dead on (at least that's what he says.) I don't know. I know that even when I set Werckmeister on my harpsichord, it comes out a little differently each time because there are still four tempered intervals, though the more I practice the more consistent it is. I don't mind the variations. But tuning with a tuner is certainly a lot faster, especially for equal temperament, which is pretty difficult to set by ear.

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    My former two tuners did this by ear - started out checking A3 with a tuning fork (440Hz) on the 8' Principal, then tuned in 5ths until the middle octave was in tune, then tuned the rest of that rank using octaves. The rest of the organ was then tuned to this rank, except for, of course, the celeste rank. A complete tuning took 3-4 hours. The end result was a warm sound, with a very slow 'rolling' when plenum was used. Nice in a very deader than dead acoustical building where the sound almost stops before one takes their hands off the keys.

    The organ stayed in fairly good tune for many months - there will always be a few pipes who refuse to stay in perfect tune - the two divisions stayed fairly close, although the swell box is on a western wall, the reed rank is mounted just behind the shades, so it isn't affected too much by the heat.

    Earlier this year, my tech, who was also a local builder, moved to California, and I had to secure another company for tuning/maintenance. The new tuner, does the whole instrument using an electronic tuner. The immediate end result was a much "tighter" sound than before, but later, as we got into the hot summer months, the two divisions have wandered apart so much that is is almost impracticle to couple together. I have been the organist at this church since 1982, and this is the first time it's wandered like this (the organ was installed new in 1979).

    What has happened this year, is that the exposed division (Great) has gone flat in comparison to the enclosed (Swell) division that is inside a box mounted to the hot west wall. All the pipework is metal - the only exception is the 12 note 16' extension of the Gedeckt in the pedal which is wood. The wind pressure is at 3" - the original builder is M. P. Möller, the pipework can be seen here

    Now the question ...
    Is it possible that this tuning scenario could be caused by the two different methods of tuning, by ear vs. machine? Seems that 'tempering by ear' has its advantages and is slowly being replaced by a faster, yet impersonable, method of tuning. (?)

    BTW, the church, at my insistence and because of where the organ case is installed (western facing exterior wall - hot endless summers) does maintain 76 degrees (+/- 4 degrees) at the pipework all year round. The Gallery area where the organ resides, is also the choir loft and thus has its own separate A/C unit, which is always set for 76 degrees.
    Last edited by Krummhorn; Jul-26-2007 at 01:12.
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    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Thomas and KH,

    Thanks for your inputs on this. I guess my point was ... it should be possible to "capture" a tuner's tuning digitally and then, next time he/she tunes, the process is faster and the result identical.

    I've also been pondering the issues of tuning extremely noisey stops and didn't remember to ask the tuner this at the time. The Sydney Town Hall grand organ, for example, has the most ear splitting reed stops on the great ... how the heck to you adjust these without having to wander off to a safe distance before yelling "play middle C" to your keyboard monkey?

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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Erm, I've been thinking; seeing as the issue is tuning, do our organists here play many works which include other instruments? If so, how does that work out tuning-wise?

    Intonation is a huge issue when playing works with more than one instrument; I was just reading that piano and guitar don't necessarily mix that well, at least according to this article on stretch tuning which applies to string instruments-

    http://www.doolinguitars.com/intonat...tonation5.html

    I asked a friend of mine who's a piano tuner, and he said he stretch tunes pianos all the time.
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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    In my church, we do have many occassions when there are other instruments employed for use with the organ in church services, most commonly, brass. The organ is tuned to A-440, and it is up to the musicians to tune their respective instruments to that before they play along with it.

    When I have the pianos tuned in the church, the piano tuner is required to use the organ 8' Principal rank as his tuning pitch. I strive to get the pianos tuned shortly after the organ has had one of its routine twice a year tunings.

    I have played the organ with brass, strings, woodwinds and percussions.

    The gent who tunes my residence piano does so by ear, after setting A3 @ 440 Hz. I've not paid much attention to the method he uses, but will shortly as it is schedule to be done in the next few weeks.
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    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Sorry I haven't responded on this one. Tuning and temperament is one of my favorite topics, but I've been waiting til I have a lot of time to write a decent post. Let me just say quickly that stretch tuning is something that instrumentalists sometimes do just by intuition. The theory is that it's only necessary on strings like piano strings, but I believe I prefer it somewhat even on harpsichord. I had found some interesting stuff on the internet about this, but I have to see if I can find it again. But if you don't stretch tune a piano it sounds out of tune on some of the harmonics.

    Krummhorn, it's unusual to use the 8' Principal as a reference rank. The 4' Principal is more stable and that is what is normally used. I don't know if that had anything to do with your problem, I need to reread your posting and think about it. Not sure I'll have a lot of detail time until after this weekend. In general, I like the imperfections of setting equal temperament by ear, and I have read sources that make it clear that piano tuners in the earlier 20th century (before electronic tuners) would "fudge" it a little bit in order to make some keys sound "sweeter." Gotta remember that you always rob Peter to pay Paul when you set a temperament on an instrument with 12 notes per octave. I don't have a lot of time to explain, but I believe way back I made a couple detailed postings on tempering in general, though I don't think I talked about the practical way it's actually done. I could explain how to tune Werckmeister or Kirnberger or 1/4 comma meantone if anyone really wants to know. I do not have any experience setting equal temperament by ear though.

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Tom,

    Oops, my bad ... my apoligies ... the tuner used the 8' Prin. as reference in regards to matching with the A-440 tuning fork ... the rest of the organ was tuned against the Principal at 4' pitch.

    We have discussed the concept of moving the pipework (and console) out of the upstairs side gallery and onto the east wall - but like most projects that involve music in our church, there is never enough $$ available ... but we have a brand new $115,000 elevator now ... ... go figure
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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Well, is the elevator for handicapped and/or elderly folks who otherwise couldn't come in? Because in that case I could understand. If it's not, then I don't understand.

    I wonder if piano tuners tune pianos differently depending on what other instruments will be playing at the same time. I know that major orchestras tune to A-442, so I assume their pianos are tuned to that. (I used to play oboe, so tuning was important to me when making reeds...)

    As I understand, there are so many variables that it must get extremely complicated. Weather and temperature, the instrument itself, what instruments are to be used in conjunction with it, the acoustics, the materials... It's quite an amazing skill to be a tuner, I think. I bet one could get a lot of different opinions on how it should be done...

    I think when I talked to my piano tuner friend, he said that if the piano isn't stretch tuned, it sounds dead; it doesn't have any brilliance to it.
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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rojo View Post
    Well, is the elevator for handicapped and/or elderly folks who otherwise couldn't come in? Because in that case I could understand. If it's not, then I don't understand.
    Long story short -

    Because of the new laws that may or may not require publicly accessed buildings to be "wheelchair compliant", the church felt it was best install an elevator. The congreational vote was 53% in favor, 47% against, after a very heated, almost argumentative, congreational meeting that lasted well over an hour. About 3% of the existing 450 parishioners will actually use this contraption. We got along just fine without it since 1965 when the building was erected.

    Again, any additions to the pipe organ, or enhancements for its console, are once again 'back burnered' for yet another 2 years ... I've been trying to bring the organ project to fruition for 14 years now, and each and every time another project takes priority, and we have to wait again.
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  11. #11
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Well, not to get involved in your issues, Kh, but I believe wheelchair accessibility is important. I'm not handicapped myself, but I know all about it. I'm sorry you will have to wait another two years though, and I can certainly understand your frustration. Fourteen years is a long time!

    Ok, back to tuning...
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    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Ok, I've read a couple theories on stretch tuning, but I can't find either thing so I'll try to tell it as I remember it. There are, I believe two theories on it. The most prevalent theory is that it has to do with the way piano strings act when they are tightened to play the higher notes. As I recall, they start to act like metal bars rather than strings, and I believe that some of the overtones are out of tune with the fundamental pitch. I might be getting this skewed as I'm just saying what I remember. Perhaps someone else can correct me if I'm wrong. When we listen for tuning, we listen to overtones, and on the upper notes, there are some overtones that are, I believe, sharp. So the piano is tuned sharp enough on top for these skewed overtones to sound in tune. (I think that's it.)

    Another theory I read somewhere is that the human ear simply prefers tuning that stretches on higher notes and that instrumentalists will automatically do this. I remember when I read this I agreed with it. Organs are not stretch tuned, and there are times when my ears want it. I've long wanted to experiment with doing this on an organ but have never had the chance. My theory is that when organs were tuned completely by ear, the tuners would automatically tune to the sharp side on the high notes. I just know that there are times when I hear pipe organs tuned with electronic tuners and they sound flat to me on top although the tuner says they are in tune. I believe that some ears, at least, prefer stretch tuning. I myself feel that it's likely that what is natural to the human ear is something that is not technically perfect according to computerized calculations. But there are people who violently disagree with me on this.



    Tuning is a complex subject, and Rojo, I don't mean to sound annoying, but often instrumentalists do not really understand tuning. People nowadays think equal temperament, like a piano, is in tune and it is not, not at all. But this out of tune sound is what modern ears are accustomed to. Pure intervals are different than those on the piano, especially thirds, but also fifths. And you cannot play pure intervals all the time, though I've talked to a lot of instrumentalists who think they are. Impossible. If you did, your tonic note would wander all over the place during a piece. It takes a very sophisticated understanding of tempering (playing intervals PURPOSELY OUT of tune) to know how to keep pitch steady.

    Perhaps it should be a part of all music education that musicians must learn how to set a temperament and tune a harpsichord by ear.

    Lars, I've been thinking about your wandering divisions. I don't think it's because of using an electronic tuner to set the pitch, but it probably does have to do with your tuner's technique. I'm assuming your instrument has tuning slides for the most part. When you are moving the tuning slides, there is a certain amount of "wiggle room" or a certain distance that the slider can move and the pitch stays pulled in tune. Depending on how a tuner adjusts within that "wiggle room" the organ could be more prone to changing pitch. Another thing has to do with what was tuned to what. If the whole organ was tuned against the electronic tuner, then the problem probably lies with the "wiggle room" issue. However, often a tuner will temper just the reference rank, the 4' Principal, and then tune the pipes from one another. Some ranks pull others more or less strongly into or out of tune, or to put it better, some ranks are more maleable, or more willing to be sympathetic to another rank and pull in tune when they are really not in tune. An experienced tuner will notice which ranks do this and resort to all kinds of tricks to avoid it.

    However, all that said, what you seem to be describing is just a pitch difference between divisions. I think probably if you checked with an electronic tuner, you'd find that the Great has not gone flat, but the Swell has gone sharp. Is it possible that you are just having hotter weather than usual and for one reason or another there is more of a temperature difference than usual? It could be as simple as that. I don't think it has to do with tempering by ear vs. tempering electronically.

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Dressler View Post
    Lars, I've been thinking about your wandering divisions. I don't think it's because of using an electronic tuner to set the pitch, but it probably does have to do with your tuner's technique. I'm assuming your instrument has tuning slides for the most part. When you are moving the tuning slides, there is a certain amount of "wiggle room" or a certain distance that the slider can move and the pitch stays pulled in tune. Depending on how a tuner adjusts within that "wiggle room" the organ could be more prone to changing pitch. Another thing has to do with what was tuned to what. If the whole organ was tuned against the electronic tuner, then the problem probably lies with the "wiggle room" issue. However, often a tuner will temper just the reference rank, the 4' Principal, and then tune the pipes from one another. Some ranks pull others more or less strongly into or out of tune, or to put it better, some ranks are more maleable, or more willing to be sympathetic to another rank and pull in tune when they are really not in tune. An experienced tuner will notice which ranks do this and resort to all kinds of tricks to avoid it.

    However, all that said, what you seem to be describing is just a pitch difference between divisions. I think probably if you checked with an electronic tuner, you'd find that the Great has not gone flat, but the Swell has gone sharp. Is it possible that you are just having hotter weather than usual and for one reason or another there is more of a temperature difference than usual? It could be as simple as that. I don't think it has to do with tempering by ear vs. tempering electronically.
    Thomas,
    Thank you for a wonderful explanation of this. I am still mystified by the Swell going sharp - the swell box sits abuts the west wall (concrete block), so I always thought pipework would go flat when it got too warm. Today, the organ made a liar out of me ... this morning the entire instrument was in perfect tune with the two division right on just like after a fresh tuning session. We did have a horrendous amount of rain (2"-4") in 5 hours Saturday afternoon. A certain amount of humidity is going to get inside (the building is far from being air-tight, but has central A/C), so is it possible that relative humidity inside a building can also affect the organ tuning?

    Now that you mention certain ranks being sympathetic to others, I remember the tech mentioning that, especially while tuning the celeste rank. Apparently those two ranks are mounted next to each other, which I assume is not the desireable method. Seems the air movement between the two, being so close, does have this pulling effect. A couple of lower pipes in the Principal, because of their placement on the chest, are also in closer proximity to their neighbors. The last 12 of the Principal are part of the working facade in line with the 12 note 16'Gedeckt.

    The tuner also mentioned 'sagging languids' on the Principal rank - not sure what this means, or what effect this has to tuning or the listener. All pipework is metal except for the 16' 12 note extension of the Gedeckt.
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    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Thomas, did you read the link I posted about stretch tuning? I thought it summed it up fairly well. As well, there are heaps of sites on the web that explain what it is...
    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Dressler
    Tuning is a complex subject, and Rojo, I don't mean to sound annoying, but often instrumentalists do not really understand tuning.
    I would think that there are some instrumentalists who know about various tuning systems, and some who don't. It is a rather specialized interest, and not really necessary for every musician to know, be it an organist, a pianist or what have you. Most pianists just call their professional piano tuner; they're the ones who have the experience to know the most on the subject. Instrumentalists take their instruments to qualified luthiers and instrument dealers etc. who are also specialists. However, all string (guitar included), wind and brass players know how to keep their respective instruments as in tune as possible. They're the ones who know the tuning problems and intricacies of their instruments, and are constantly checking and making adjustments to their embouchures, finger placements, string tensions, etc.. So imo, I don't think it's fair to proclaim that most instrumentalists don't know about tuning. It would be more fair to say that most instrumentalists don't know about tuning systems. Although there are surely many who do. Who really knows the numbers. What about all those instrumentalists who play on (copy) period instruments? I bet they know about tuning systems. Also, string and guitar players all have to learn how to tune their strings, so they probably know a lot about the principles of tuning.

    Perhaps it should be a part of all music education that musicians must learn how to set a temperament and tune a harpsichord by ear.
    With all the things musicians have to learn, I think this may be asking a bit much. Personally, I'd rather leave my piano tuning up to a specialist; a professional tuner. With all the hundreds of instruments they have seen and dealt with, they know best. It's what they do. And I believe a good one will listen to the owner about what problems occur.

    Maybe it's rather like driving. One can know what needs attention and fixing in one's car, and yet one doesn't need to be a mechanic in order to be an excellent driver.

    I'm not an organist though, so I have no idea what issues crop up for an organist tuning-wise. I think maybe I should have addressed my original query about what issues instrumentalists encounter when playing along with organ to instrumentalists... sorry about that. *goes and hides on the classical board*
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    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Hi Rojo,

    I guess in keeping with the thread's title, I have done some vexing! Sorry about that. I guess it's my own vexation taking itself out on the wrong person. I've played too many times with instrumentalists who drove me crazy about tuning, but no, it's wrong to make blanket statements.

    Let me see if I can fix this.

    I do, really and honestly, believe all musicians should be taught at least the principle behind tempering a keyboard and maybe even to sit down and do it. The reason is that a true understanding of temperament would help a choir, for instance, deal with the wandering pitch problem when they sing a capella, and would help string players keep their pitch when playing quartets or other pieces with strings alone. I don't mean this unkindly, I mean that I believe it is a failing in modern music teaching. Once equal temperament became more or less standard, musicians did not learn so much about this.

    Ok, let me explain. One would think, all things being equal, that we would prefer to hear IN TUNE intervals. And I remember all my years as a trumpet player (8 years) of people talking about this mysterious "in tune" thing. As far as I could tell, the piano was "in tune" and that was what we were supposed to sound like.

    It was only later, when I began to learn about early keyboard technique, that I learned the intervals on the piano are not in tune, none of them. What we have nowadays are a lot of confused musicians who never really know what real in tune fifths and thirds sound like. Now string players are more sophisticated than other musicians when it comes to this, and I will say that very advanced strings players DO know about tempering. Some string players temper the fifths on their strings when they are tuning. What does this mean? You tune a purely in tune fifth, and then you make it ever so slightly out of tune.

    I am not saying that keyboard players are "better" or something like that. What I'm saying is that some of us confront this issue more than most other musicians, and that is those of us who play the harpsichord and have to tune all the time. Pianists do not, and they tend to be the most ignorant of all musicians when it comes to temperament. They call the piano tuner, he tunes it, and it's "in tune." Wrong. It's OUT of tune if equal temperament is used, actually more or less out of tune no matter which system is used. Many of us, especially harpsichordists, prefer older tuning systems because at least SOME of the intervals are in tune, whereas in equal, they are all out, thirds more than fifths. Keep in mind that it's a misunderstanding that Bach promoted equal temperament with the Well Tempered Clavier. The evidence is that while the idea of equal temperament was known, Bach specifically avoided it. Well tempered and equal tempered are two different things.

    String players have the most trouble when they play with a piano or an organ, because they like "just" intonation, where there are in tune intervals. The unfortunate thing is that on occasion I've played with good string players who were not advanced enough to understand tempering systems and they complained constantly and blamed me for not having the instrument in tune. If they actually knew what they were talking about, they'd have understood the problem. This is why I say ALL musicians really should understand keyboard tempering.

    I also say this for choir singers and string players who play in string only pieces because once a musician has learned to hear a TRULY in tune fifth and/or third, then they prefer to use them all the time. What happens then? The pitch of the piece actually RISES rather than falls. Falling pitch comes from singers who are not supporting their tone, but rising pitch comes from singers who are acutely aware of tuning, but not educated enough about it to know when to sing OUT OF TUNE ON PURPOSE.

    If you're playing in an orchestra, it tends to be less of a problem because the woodwinds and brass automatically keep the pitch from wandering. They cannot adjust pitch as much as a singer or string player, and their instruments anchor the pitch, keeping the string players from wandering.

    String players who do quartet playing become very aware of these issues and they become very good at negotiating temperament. I've heard some quartet playing that set my teeth on edge, but mostly I like it a lot because of the awareness of tuning and temperament. I've heard some recordings of quartet playing that were gorgeous in their awareness of tuning issues. (And that means NOT in tune ALL the time.) But I would venture to say that any of these players at least know the theory of how to tune a keyboard, and very likely could do it.

    I have actually heard of string players setting electronic tuners on their music stands to help them keep their pitch during performances. Interestingly, these tuners are NOT set to equal temperament, but Kirnberger, from what I've heard. While I find that interesting, I also feel it's a horrendous statement about their training. It is not all that difficult to learn the basics of this. I'm not special as a musician, I just took the time to learn some of the theory involved and how to do it. It didn't even take that long.

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