440 or 442?

May 11, 2007 at 05:00 AM · I think most orchestras in the U.S. tune to 440 but I've heard that some are starting to go up to 442. I know its a small difference but some pianos that I've played with are at 442 and its just enough to throw me off since I'm used to 440. Should I try to get used to both of them?

Replies (77)

May 11, 2007 at 07:08 AM · Lots of orchestras tune to 442. According to a well known orchestral violinist I know, Boston Symphony Orchestra tunes to 444, NY Phil tunes to 443, and Berlin Phil tunes to 445. I personally really don't like 440 - I tune usually to 443 or 444 when I practice.

May 11, 2007 at 08:13 AM · A related question for you classical types: (you KNOW who you are!)

When a string soloist plays with an orchestra, does the soloist ever tune a few cents sharper? In other words, the orchestra at 440 and the soloist at 442 or 444?

I would think that would help the soloist stand out just a wee bit more, and also make him sound slightly brighter, or more cutting, than the section.

Is this ever done, or even standard practice?

What about with a piano soloist, where the equal-temperment is already mucking things up?

May 11, 2007 at 10:15 AM · >When a string soloist plays with an orchestra, does the soloist ever tune a few cents sharper? In other words, the orchestra at 440 and the soloist at 442 or 444?

Some soloists in fact do that, and it can be heard on several CD recordings. Honestly, I hate that kind of thing. There should be other methods to make oneself heard than playing out-of-tune.

I have heard, however, from a singing friend, a trained soprano, that her teacher told her as a rule to sing "rather sharp than out-of-tune". Surely flat intonation literally is a downer.

As regards the original question, most orchestras I played in used a' = 442 Hz. That pitch is as good as standardized in Germany. If a concertmaster or conductor wants to play below that, usually the woodwinds immediately start complaining.

Best,

Friedrich

May 11, 2007 at 12:44 PM · The Eastman School groups tune to 442. I like things a little sharp, myself, but work hard to go with the flow if with people who don't care for it.

May 11, 2007 at 12:47 PM · My orchestra tunes to whatever A the concertmaster plays for us to tune to.

May 11, 2007 at 01:38 PM · I've generally played in youth orchestras and uni orchestras that tune to A=440htz. My local symphony orchestra tunes to A=442htz... or whatever the oboist decides (When I go to my lesson, if I don't have my tuner with me, I often have to use my teacher's A which she affectionately calls "Joel Pitch" after the oboists name)

Good fun for the oboists is to tune the winds to A=440, the brass to A=441 and the strings to A=442 to see if anyone notices

May 11, 2007 at 03:35 PM · Ben - that sounds like somethng Schoenberg would have wanted for his music.

May 11, 2007 at 04:18 PM · The San Francisco Symphony tunes to 442, at least that's what my teacher said when she saw their audition packet.

May 11, 2007 at 05:34 PM · So, what's wrong with 440 anyway? Why have orchestras been doing this?

As far as I can tell, all of my local groups are still at 440.

May 11, 2007 at 05:55 PM · I'm a Classical type.

We tune at 440, but some members of the wind section tend to drive the pitch sharp RIGHT AWAY.

We have occasionally had a string soloist tune &/or play a little sharp. To me it doesn't sound "bright" or "brilliant" or "cutting," it just sounds sharp. Sharp is not the same thing as in tune. Wind soloists tend to play sharp more than string soloists, in my experience. (This also happens with wind soloists in orchestras -- you can hear it notably on many Vienna Philharmonic recordings.)

When Midori played with us, she did NOT play sharp, even though the usual suspects in the wind section did.

When we have a piano soloist, the concertmaster plays an "A" (officially 440) on the piano. The oboist tunes to that, and the orchestra tunes to the oboe. I sit next to the oboist and can see that his tuner is calibrated to A-440 and also that he gives all three A's in tune, which is interesting because sometimes after the brass and woodwinds tune, his A sounds like it's out of tune; but in fact it's the same pitch he gave before.

To answer your question, though: I would say yes, get used to both. If the piano is tuned to 442 and your ear is tuned to 440, YOU will be the out-of-tune one. Same for if you audition for an orchestra. (I once had to play my concerto with piano in the finals of an orchestra audition: the room was cold, my instrument was flat, and the piano was SHARP. I kept trying to get up to pitch, but I know that my perception that the piano was sharp hindered me. I couldn't quite manage it, and was told afterwards "Sorry, your intonation with the piano was the deal-breaker." Insufficient adaptability = lack of career advancement, in this case at least. Get used to being flexible, that's my $.02.

May 11, 2007 at 06:34 PM · Allan, I believe a good rule for soloists is to tune to the highest A that they hear when the orchestra is tuning. I would think that if the soloist has perfect pitch (as many do) then the orchestra would have to cater to them, so 440 +/- 1.

May 11, 2007 at 07:23 PM · Chicago is 442.

May 11, 2007 at 08:01 PM · I'd like to know why people are so fascinated in what tuning people use. Does anyone have a reason why this is such a hot topic for musicians?

May 11, 2007 at 09:14 PM · From: Skowronski: Classical Recordings

To: Nathan Cole

Nathan: We knew that Mr. Skowronski was a viable 'trend setter' as he established using at least an A-442 way back in the 1970s. In fact, a 'brutal' but highly regarded NY critic and Skowronski crossed swords over the faux-matter, which caused a few of Skowronski's recordings to be lambasted and branded for totally 'out-of-tune' playing (anathema) by the solo violinist.

But, NOW, its the 21st century and "years ago a glimpse of stocking was thought of as something shocking, but heaven knows,"......etc., etc.!!

True 442+ regards,

Skowronski: Classical Recordings

Evanston, IL

May 11, 2007 at 11:26 PM · "So, what's wrong with 440 anyway? Why have orchestras been doing this?

As far as I can tell, all of my local groups are still at 440."

From what I remember, the reason for the higher frequency A is to make the sound brighter. You must realise that the pitch A is a frequently changing thing.

In the baroque time, there was no standard A pitch. Generally, it was whatever the organ was tuned to. Sometimes this could be as low as A=410. The strings of the time couldn't handle the same tensions either, so it made sense for it to be lower. As the technology increased, they were able to make a brighter sound by heading upwards, until we averaged out at around 440 for a little while, and that has become pretty standard. Then the top orchestras decided to head upwards a little bit for a bit more of a brighter tone.

Personally, I don't think that we should head much higher than 442, simply because we will eventually be playing so out of tune from what the piece was written for it doesn't make sense anymore.

May 11, 2007 at 11:49 PM · In general, 442 these days.

I'm reminded of the LA Phil auditions I've taken. At the last one they had a little bell they donged, right at the side of the backstage area, before each candidate entered to play. It was a 442 A, "Tune to this," the proctor admonished everyone.

I just bring a chromatic tuner to every audition to make sure I'm at 442. You really don't want to step out there and be slightly flatter than everyone else.

May 12, 2007 at 02:15 AM · A SHORT HISTORY OF PITCH:

1859 - French law set A435

1885 - Vienna conference set A440

USA before 1917 used A435

1917 - American Federation of Musicians A440

1920 - US government set A440 as legal pitch

1939 - International acceptance of A440

1989 - European Common Market selected A435 as

the standard for all Europe.

Note: All of these laws have always been ignored by professional orchestras throughout the world.

May 12, 2007 at 03:31 AM · 442 is pretty common nowadays.

Mathematically, C at 256Hz is a correct pitch but i seriously doubt that putting A at 430Hz will ever catch on at the orchestral level.

May 12, 2007 at 12:12 PM · I used to play in an orchestra where the principal oboe got A440 into our contract. That was fine until Richard Stoltzman came for a concert with a shorter barreled clarinet that needed to tune at A442.

May 12, 2007 at 12:36 PM · My school orch tunes to what ever the concertmaster has tuned to, and its usually like 442-444. Even at home when practicing, i feel that the A440 tone that comes out of my metronome sounds so flat and dull (even though i know it isnt). because of that, i always tune slightly higher then the A440 tone. A442 just sounds better, to me, that is...

May 12, 2007 at 12:46 PM · We tune to 440.

May 12, 2007 at 09:05 PM · Many years ago I was taught that the reason conductors want higher tuning pitches is because string instruments are louder at higher pitches while wind instruments do not get louder at the higher pitches. This means that orchestras playing at higher pitches have a more prominent string sound.

Is this true?

May 12, 2007 at 09:43 PM · Nate--Boston tunes to 444? That is unbeLIEVably high.

I like 442.

May 12, 2007 at 11:04 PM · i think this is the reason why the great european orchestras like the berlin and vienna have such a different sound then american orchestras.. they tune as high as A445 most of the time...

May 12, 2007 at 11:55 PM · Why not use high-tension strings instead?

May 13, 2007 at 12:05 AM · Hi,

I am sorry and I will sound like a jerk for saying this, but in the end, it makes no difference. One should be able to play at many different A's, whether is may be for modern playing or that of any era of performance practice. If you can't play in tune to different A's, then you are not listening for the right things.

Cheers!

May 13, 2007 at 12:21 AM · Hi Andrew, that is what Sidney Harth told me a while back. Yes 444 is quite high, doesn't Cleveland tune to 440? Good points Christian, I completely agree with you.

May 13, 2007 at 12:32 AM · Nate, how is Mr. Harth doing? It has been three years since I've seen him...

May 13, 2007 at 12:55 AM · Hi everyone, thanks for your input. I know its really important to be flexible and I wish different calibrations wouldn't matter, but as much as I'd like to (sometimes) I can't just turn off my pitch memory. For the most part I think I can play with different calibrations; it just takes some focus. I tend to have problems with long shifts or isolated entrances if I'm not careful. Maybe I should just learn all the music twice?

May 13, 2007 at 05:22 AM · I used to envy those with perfect pitch but now i pity them. Floating As must really grate on the nerves...

May 13, 2007 at 06:17 AM · In the end, you must be able to react to what you hear. The chances that your A will match the general pitch half an hour into the concert are next to nothing, no matter where you tune. The CSO's 442 is one choice among many, but we could just as easily call it 440 or 444. I've never found that my open strings have proven the difference between being in or out of tune. Personally, I'm glad we don't tune any higher because the violins ring better closer to 440. But true 440 for us at this point would cause more problems than it would solve.

There will always be those players who want to blend, and those who don't.

May 13, 2007 at 04:52 PM · Hi Andrew -- I also haven't seen him in years. He had some health problems a couple of years ago, and obviously went through a very tough time losing his son.

May 14, 2007 at 03:30 AM · Wish I could hear the difference between 440 and 442. I envy you.

May 15, 2007 at 08:35 AM · Ian wrote:

"i think this is the reason why the great european orchestras like the berlin and vienna have such a different sound then american orchestras.. they tune as high as A445 most of the time..."

Funnily enough, European orchestras tend to sound quite a bit darker than American ones. You'd think they'd tune lower.

Standard pitch in Germany is 442-443, and everyone says the Berlin Phil tunes at 444 (I think) for that extra 'edge'.

Christian, I was one of those who was really thrown by the shift from 440 to 442/443. I think it came from expecting to hear (or better feel) a certain tone colour, not getting it, and becoming very confused. I've adapted now, but I do need a few minutes before I do a studio gig to get myself back to 440.

May 15, 2007 at 09:44 AM · I have a theory that no human being can tell the difference between 440 and 442 in any context whatsoever.

May 15, 2007 at 11:35 AM · Hi,

Megan - I understand. I used to get thrown off by trying to play to some inner concept of pitch rather, like Nathan said, to what I was hearing and resonance. Listening for the right things helps. I guess the small difference makes the necessity to correct notes a little more prominent with changing A's as distances change, but that I overcome better. I find that Nathan's perspective solves many issues. I guess my answer was jerky - perhaps tired that day form hours of students finding excuses for stuff instead of getting it done...

Jim - actually, after a while you can, but one hundred percent certainty is not an absolute. But, often these days I can guess and be right quite a bit of times. I guess that you ear becomes sensitive, though for most people it makes no difference.

Cheers!

May 15, 2007 at 06:36 PM · Christian,

I definitely agree with what you're saying, and with Nate. One should be able to adjust to all sorts of different A's - without it, you're lost in the professional world. It's puzzling why that can be so difficult. I wonder if it really comes down to resonance - you get used to your violin resonating a certain way when you play at a certain frequency. I'm glad Nate mentioned that violins resonate better at 440 because I've always felt the same way and wondered if I were just hearing things. When you retune your violin, the string resonances are the same but the violin's own resonance is now different - and I think that can be confusing. For me, funnily, I think it might even be less of a question of pitch than one of resonance - I don't remember the sound of a note as much as the way it affects my violin...hard to explain.

In situations where I'm surrounded by harmony, or where I'm in a section, I really don't find different pitches (well, slightly different pitches) to be a problem - but the first few measures of something, or exposed passages, or solistic settings make it all much more difficult.

-------

(For the record, an orchestra never adjusts its pitch to the soloist's 'A-of-choice', as somebody suggested above!)

May 15, 2007 at 08:40 PM · Jim I think there are some professionals with perfect pitch that can hear the difference. Someone in the Chicago Symphony like Nathan with trained ears I'm sure can hear the difference.

May 15, 2007 at 10:29 PM · Actually 440 to 442 would be in the neighborhood 1/7 of a quarter tone so I retract my theory :) It might be easy to do, at least in some contexts in a lab.

I was thinking that at 442 two cycles happen in about 0.004 seconds (tcyc = 1/f). It's interesting that there's no other way we could physically perceive that short of an amount of time.

May 15, 2007 at 11:04 PM · Eugene Ormandy once conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on the radio, with Larry Adler as harmonica soloist, in the Vivaldi Violin Concerto in A Minor. Adler insisted on giving the pre-concert A to the orchestra. When Ormandy demurred, Adler explained that the mouth organ was a fixed-reed instrument and couldn’t be tuned – the orchestra had to take its A from him. “Mr. Ormandy,” Adler said in front of the whole orchestra, “If you feel you can’t conduct for me, we will play it without you.” Ormandy went through with the concert, but the two were not to speak again for many years.

May 15, 2007 at 11:22 PM · Brownie McGhee knew he had to tune to Sonny Terry...

May 16, 2007 at 01:22 AM · I'm allergic to 442. It makes me sneeze, and wake in the middle of the night grinding my teeth.

May 16, 2007 at 03:14 AM · There goes my new theory that there's no other way to phyically perceive that then. I'm not going to win a Nobel Prize at the rate I'm going.

May 16, 2007 at 04:28 AM · Greetings,

I`m 42 today and it feels a hell of a lot worse than 40,

Cheers,

Buri

May 16, 2007 at 05:24 AM · No worries, there, Buri. I'm currently "tuned" to 449.

Funny thing: Those pegs keep on turnin' every year, but I don't seem to be getting any brighter!

Maybe a few more cents will do it.....

May 16, 2007 at 05:46 AM · The more cents you have the brighter people think you are. Doesn't take a lot of sense.

June 10, 2007 at 08:58 AM · 442 is better than 440, but not more !

June 10, 2007 at 10:43 PM · As odd as it sounds, our quartet's tuning is a bit of a different system than most orchestras'.

First, I (no one else) tune by ear. This is easy because I have close to perfect pitch (although it isn't PERFECT perfect). Second, our second violin tunes the best he can to my violin within a reasonable amount of time. Since he doesn't have fine tuners, this is the instrument we tune to. Basically I tune twice, first to my own ear and second to him, who tuned to me.

You could think of it this way: I act as the tuning fork, which provides a pitch, and he acts as the oboe, which is difficult to tune and becomes the tuning standard. I guess it doesn't sound so awkward...isn't that pretty much how the orchestra tunes? :)

June 10, 2007 at 11:06 PM · Greetings,

my personal opinion, but a quartet is slightly better tuned upwards from the cello rather than down.

Don`t suppose it matters much if you are all the same...

Cheers,

Buri

June 11, 2007 at 12:02 AM · Just a bit of how we got to A=440. Adelina Patti--the famous soprano of the late 19th century--loved the way her voice felt when she sang at Covent Garden--all opera houses had their own A. So she went down to the oboist and asked him what he tuned to--he told her 440 and she always requested it wherever she went.

June 11, 2007 at 12:19 AM · to Stephen...I'm confused.

to Jay... I was just thinking about something very similar the other day when I tried to explain to my mom how trumpets, saxes, horns, and clarinets are in a different key from the typical C instruments. I tried to explain it by proposing that maybe the instruments were invented before a common key for that instrument was really established, and then eventually a certain company dominated the market with their key becoming the dominant key for that instrument. If anyone knows the real reason, please share it. My imagination likes to convince myself it knows everything sometimes, and this is probably not true.

June 11, 2007 at 05:25 AM · I thought 440 was something that developed in the 20th century...

June 11, 2007 at 03:52 PM · I like to play along with soundtracks. The newer ones seem to be in tune (they're on CDs)...but the older cassettes are normally either way sharp or way flat, but never more than a half-step, unless I'm playing those in the wrong key! :)

June 12, 2007 at 02:38 AM · I'm allergic to 442. It makes me sneeze, and wake in the middle of the night grinding my teeth.

She goes Four...forty...CHOO!

June 12, 2007 at 03:44 AM · Most music schools tune their pianos to 442 nowadays. All the orchestras which I have recently played with have tuned to 441. I tune my fiddle to 441, I think that it projects a brighter sound and is just personal preference.

June 12, 2007 at 04:21 AM · Greetings,

442 is standard in Japan. All pianos are tuned to it.

Cheers,

Buri

June 12, 2007 at 06:31 PM · I think my high school's piano was tuned to a 430, a 420, and a 435.

June 13, 2007 at 08:26 AM · Sounds like my piano's current status.

June 14, 2007 at 02:12 PM · Anyone have any idea how much it costs to hire a piano tuner, and how long it takes them? It's a very tedious job, so I can imagine it would cost hundreds of dollars.

June 14, 2007 at 02:24 PM · My first tuning with this tuner cost 120 dollars and then 88 after that so long as it was within the year. If it's out too far they have to retune it twice.

June 14, 2007 at 03:58 PM · Wow. If I were a piano tuner, I would surely charge more. How long does it take? My brother tried it once for fun, did a few strings, which took all week and maybe two weeks, and gave up. The 440 zone sounded pretty good for a few weeks.

June 16, 2007 at 02:05 PM · 440...my preference.

Dean

January 18, 2008 at 10:02 PM · Slightly off topic, if not off key:

[Thomas Beecham] was rehearsing with violinist Jacques Thibaud. At the start of rehearsal the oboist, as usual, sounded an A so that orchestra and soloist could tune up. But he was nervous and his A wavered, over quite a range. Shir Thomas turned to Thibaud with a broad gesture. "Jacques, take your choice!"

From Nathan Milstein's book, "From Russian to the West."

January 19, 2008 at 04:14 AM · I occasionally have my students play with CD accompaniment during their lessons. There is a difference in pitch from one publisher's CDs to the next. It's no big deal but it would be nice not to have to re-tune.

November 1, 2016 at 01:49 AM · Does anyone know anything about the vibration rates of the human body? Do brain waves oscillate at any kind of constant or within a given range? What about cell nuclei? How do emotions travel through the body? How do vibrations affect the chemical reactions in our membranes? Maybe you see what I'm getting at. If there's an A that harmonizes more with our natural physiological vibrations, that's the one I'd like to be tuning to.

Any informed thoughts or better yet, "peer reviewed" medical or biological research along these lines would be much appreciated.

November 1, 2016 at 02:18 AM · Considering the progression from A 415, I guess we just live faster.

Today is Halloween, so this old thread came up as a ghost?

November 1, 2016 at 10:36 PM · I had once heard that it was in the Munch years that the BSO tuned especially high, although perhaps it started earlier, with Monteux. Anyway, this source suggested that Seiji took it down a notch, perhaps to 440. I listen to them nearly every week but don't usually detect these changes without vigorous resetting.

Once I did hear the Vienna State Opera do Mozart, and I was surprised how unlike their usual VERY high pitch they sounded. I'd been rehearsing that day so I wasn't completely at sea. But the conductor may have brought it down closer to their version of A-flat as a gesture to authenticity, or to preserve the health of the harpsichord.

At the end of the day, we violinists have to remember that playing out of tune is unnecessary when we have the option of playing sharp.

November 1, 2016 at 10:42 PM · I don't see the big deal of going a few Hz in either direction of 440, but I must say that I was quite jarred the first time I heard a chamber orchestra play using a baroque tuning, but as time went on I got used to it. I can't imagine what it would be like to play in such an ensemble at first.

November 1, 2016 at 11:09 PM · My left-ear digital hearing aid resonates at 440 Hz, so anything else might be good for me.

Just saying!

I've had them for less than 2 years, so would not have commented thusly when this thread originated.

The burdens of "absolute" perfect pitch. Not a problem of mine.

November 2, 2016 at 01:35 AM · 432 better. I heard that if you tune your violin at 432hz the notes will resonate with the harmony of the universe, happiness will flow through you as you realize the presence of the holy spirit in you, you will understand we all are an absolute consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, life is only a dream and we are the imagination of ourselves.

It will also annoy people with absolute pitch. That is cool too.

November 2, 2016 at 05:45 AM · Ahhh just to clarify for people not familiar pitch levels:

"Considering the progression from A 415, I guess we just live faster."—this is not right!

There is no progression from Baroque 415 to Classical 430 to modern 440+...You can find regional As from ~392 Hz to ~466 Hz all over Europe, and towns often had a different church pitch and court pitch. A lot of towns ended up with high pitch level because they cut down their organ pipes to use the metal in the 30 year's war...

A432...if you chant om long enough on this pitch you'll reach enlightenment.

November 2, 2016 at 12:19 PM · All that stuff about a biological basis for A=440 sounds like total nonsense to me. Next people will be saying that we should tune our violins more sharp or flat as we age, or that people of European descent should tune to a higher frequency than those of other origin, or that shoulder rests prevent high frequency vibrations from stimulating your cranial nerves.

January 6, 2017 at 08:38 PM · Tuning to one note does not mean that every other note will be in tune.

The factors here are extremely complex and will vary significantly among the finest musicians.

An A, at whatever frequency, will function differently if it is a 3rd or a 5th of a chord. This sets-off a chain reaction: Whatever tuning is set at the beginning of a performance, it will drift.

Good intonation is a consensus made by people, not machines.Audiences measure a pleasurable performance by perceptions of emotional communication - not microscopic differences in the starting pitch -

January 6, 2017 at 09:00 PM · Also: who cares? :D

Paganini tuned at a guess to 435, but nobody plays it like that. :)

January 6, 2017 at 09:22 PM · I see from the Boston Symphony website that they now ask for 441.

January 7, 2017 at 03:50 AM · High tension strings, higher tuning frequency. Sounds like a recipe for a disaster. Luthiers will be very busy with arch correction and sound-post cracks in near future. And this all because of piano producers?

January 7, 2017 at 12:56 PM · My piano, a 50-year old Rippen (Dutch), is tuned to A432 (middle C=256, a scientific choice!), which I find is a very comfortable pitch for the violin. Tuning the violin down from A440 to 432 (about 1/4 tone) is easy enough and the tuning remains stable, unlike tuning down to A415 where tuning wanders until it eventually stabilizes quite some time later.

However, in my opinion the best intonation often comes from the unaccompanied human voice. I heard an example last Tuesday in a lunch time concert in Bristol Cathedral: a 36-voice a capella youth choir from a Lutheran college in Brisbane on their European tour (20 concerts in England, France, Germany and Austria in 3 weeks). Their intonation, attack, dynamics, tone, precision and professionalism could not be faulted. They performed their hour-long programme of mostly modern and quite complex music, about a quarter of their current repertoire, entirely from memory. Later on that day they sang Evensong in the Cathedral, which I was unfortunately not able to attend. The choir took their pitch from the Cathedral piano, which is at A440.

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