Viola tuning for orchestra
I find that when I am playing in an orchestra, my open "C" on the viola sounds flat. I've been advised to tune narrower fifths, and I understand why, but the question is, by how much? What I'm really interested in learning is whether there are any pro orchestras out there who define this for their players, such as "Tune D up by 1 Hz, G by 2 Hz, and C by 3 Hz" or such. Because it seems to me that if every player is making his or her own decision about that, then nobody will be "right" at all.
A common topic: Your perfect 5th C string is Not technically out of tune; it is 6 cents (Not Herz!) lower than piano-style equal-tempered tuning that the woodwinds are designed to play. That 6 cents difference is about the same as the limit of human pitch discernment (about 1/20 of a half-step). How the cellos tune the C string depends on the key and the context. When doing chamber-music with a pianist, definitely tune the C string to the piano. Trust your ear. jq
This Micro tuner from SHAR ( https://www.sharmusic.com/Accessories/Metronomes-Tuners/NS-Micro-Tuner-by-D-Addario-for-Violin-and-Viola.axd ) clips on the body of a violin or viola - however, if your viola thickness is a bit fat it might not fit - so try looking at the clip-on model that clips to the bridge and also works on cello and bass ( https://www.amazon.com/Planet-Waves-PW-CT-13-Micro-Universal/dp/B00SJWF0BU ). These devices receive input from the instrument by conduction through the wood and are not affected by any sounds in air.
I cannot begin to imagine the response if the players in a professional orchestra were instructed how to tune individual strings. The music director determines the A to be used (440, 441, 442--alas), the oboist gives the A with the assistance of a tuner, and it is presumed that people's ears are good enough to take it from there.
Mary Ellen I agree it seems a little authoritarian, but what I'm really getting at is whether there is any consensus, whether people are taught in conservatory how to deal with this, etc.
In the symphony orchestras I play it is common practice that the brass and woodwind are tuned first, and when they've got that right then the strings tune. Subsequent tune checks during rehearsal are usually for the orchestra as a whole.
Violas tune? ;-)
To be fair, you did ask specifically about pro orchestras. I have no idea what might be helpful or necessary in a community orchestra.
Well actually I was actually curious about pro orchestras, and you answered clearly, so I'm grateful for that knowledge. But it wasn't the answer I was hoping for!! So now I'm walking it back a little. :)
For anyone who didn't get the context for the question:
"a little authoritarian" = completely insulting
Mary Helen wrote: "Unless we're playing on an open string, we're all adjusting the pitch to the moment anyway.". Here's a dumb amateur question. When the orchestra is asked to tune, lets say A:442, all string players will tune their A string, but not the others. Assuming the instrument was originally tuned to A:440 with perfect 5th, isn't that make on violins for instance the open G,D and E relatively out of tune? Isn't that also impact on the instrument's optimum resonance with pulsating tone on double stops on these notes with open strings?
We tune our As to whatever is dictated to us (442 in your example); then we tune our other strings to our A by fifths. There isn't a fixed D, G, E; they also go up when A is 442. We tune all four strings every time we tune.
Tx Mary Hellen, that makes total sense, though I've rarely witnessed it. There's hardly any time to do that in the 10sec of tuning we usually get in our local community orchestra. Luckily we're always tuned to 440 ahead of time!
My experience as a violinist is that I just tune "perfect" fifths, and so do all the other violinists, whereas the violists and especially the cellists are expected to make some kind of adjustment.
It's a great question, and to give you the practical answer in real life, everyone just tunes the way they like and make whatever they have and make it sound it tune. Sometimes if my bottom string is out of tune in context of the harmony I cover it as Mary Ellen described.
Roger, I didn't mean narrowing the fifth in a chamber orchestra; I meant in a chamber music ensemble--string quartet, for example. It has to do with intonation as Paul described. But if I have ever done so, it has been very slight. I do think violas and cellos do it more. But in orchestra, fifths.
Tune the instrument in perfect fifths. Don't use your open strings when you can hear that the open string is out of tune with the chord.
Dorian thanks for that insight -- helpful! Lydia I agree with you except with the open C one has little alternative. Yes you can tweak it up by fingering at the nut but for me it's always been hard to get that right "on the fly."
When you have no choice but to play an open string (G on the violin, C on the viola) and the pitch has risen enough to make the open string sound flat, your two choices are to play very, very softly, or to cover the string as described by both Dorian and me--place the finger right over where the string crosses the nut so that you can raise the pitch of the string just enough to blend.
Yes, I meant they tune in advance (at least that's what I do) and only "re-check" the tuning at the official tuning. That said, I think there would be quite a bit of scrambling if the conductor were to change the tuning at that time!
When we hear the oboe's A, we know that that it will go up as the instrumaent warms up. I can usually guess by how much.
"That said, I think there would be quite a bit of scrambling if the conductor were to change the tuning at that time!"
I asked a pro cellist about this issue. He told me that he always narrows his thirds in ensembles. He doesn't have a strict formula but generally aims for something close to equal temperament.
"...generally aims for something close to equal temperament."
Sorry I meant to say that he narrows his FIFTHS (that is, the tuning of his strings) close to equal temperament. I should also say that much of his work nowadays is chamber music, often but not always with piano.
In sring quartets, even using pure fifths, I find myself adjusting thirds "on the fly", according to the surrounding harmony.
I found a passage in the book "Playing the Viola" in conversations with William Primrose where he suggests tuning the D string to a specified pitch, then tuning the other strings to match, like the violin does with the A. This will raise the pitches of the viola strings slightly relative to the violins. From then on, when I tune for practice, that's how I tune. This makes the A string ever so slightly sharp to the tuner's A (maybe +1 cent). I generally tune before rehearsal starts anyway, using whatever tuning standard is used for my orchestra (i.e. usually A=440, but sometimes as much as 442). Also, I think it was Michael Tree who discussed "narrow fifths" on the G to D, and the C to G, otherwise the G and C strings would sound flat. So I do this as well. For chamber music, when tuning, I always check my C string with the cello's for a perfect match. But even then, in some passages, I may stop my C string just above the nut (as Mary Ellen described) to raise it enough to sound in tune in that particular harmonic structure. Plus, I can give it a little bit of vibrato.
plus one on Lydia’s opinion