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The Awe of Tuning

Jagan Nath Khalsa

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Published: October 13, 2015 at 10:13 PM [UTC]

I'd like to say a few words about tuning up, and am interested if other people have ever written about it in, and who else has thought about it.

AWe all tune up before starting a concert. Many of my music partners over the years are prosaic about it. They tune as quickly as they can. Their final sound is a loud chord against a couple of strings. They tune up to the note quickly, are satisfied, and don't check all strings again, even after they have adjusted the other strings. They don't savor the delicious sound of the pure fifths resonating. When tuned perfectly, you can hear the difference frequency as a low growl. It's vivid if you tune in to it.

A friend of mine once heard me tune up and said it was "like the chakras coming into alignment".

I consider tuning up as a reverential moment. I feel that the care and peacefulness you give to tuning up tells the audience you really care about what you are about to play, even before they've heard a first real note from you. One should not be shy about taking one's time here. It gives the audience time to breathe and get ready to receive what you are about to offer.

I can imagine that some players don't want to "stick out" --- to be caught alone after their partners have ceased to tune. I say relish it. When you are at last in tune, let that sound taper away. You are in resonance. Don't slap your bow on the string. Usher in a moment of silence. All is still. Breathe. Look at your partners, and commence the magic. There is time. Take that time.

Posted on October 13, 2015 at 11:38 PM
For orchestral tuning, I do enjoy the sound. I was taught from early on to tune quietly in the upper half of the bow. It is easier to hear myself and allows my neighbor to also focus on their sound. My violin is pretty stable, too, and often after the initial tune-up, whenever the orchestra re-tunes all I need to do is lightly check the D/A P5 and then touch G and E to make sure they are "fitting" into the general body of sound.

From Jagan Nath Khalsa
Posted on October 14, 2015 at 12:12 PM
I was thinking about chamber music performance and solo work in my blog entry. Tuning up in an orchestra setting is more "business-like" and less "magical". Still, a gold brick wall is made of small gold bricks, so if everyone has a consciousness about it, it will have its effect. Lightly, upper half, be conscious of your partner -- all good advice.
From Paul Deck
Posted on October 14, 2015 at 1:47 PM
There are certain parts of violin playing and practicing that have a meditative quality, and one of them is tuning. Your essay captures that feeling nicely. There's even an "om" quality about drawing the imperfectly tuned string into pitch. When you get it just right it doesn't just sound good, it feels good. Can't help but say that it's SO much more enjoyable with gear pegs!
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on October 15, 2015 at 11:17 PM
When I get my fifths tuned perfectly, it doesn't sound like a low growl to me. For me, attaining a perfect fifth is when the growl goes away, and is replaced by a long, slow wave that sails out into the universe and comes back a second or two later. Total serenity and bliss.
Posted on October 16, 2015 at 10:56 PM
When one of my son's was about 8 years old, he took up the viola and was very accustomed to hearing me practice my violin. At various times, he would say to me that he wanted to learn "that tune that I always play at the beginning of my practicing." I couldn't figure out what this was because I of course don't always start with the same warm-up or piece, so I told him to come tell me when I was playing it and I would teach it to him. So a couple of days later I was tuning up and he came running and said "That's it! That's the tune I want to learn." It was one of my favorite moments as a parent.

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