Weird Tuning variation after changing the strings

May 3, 2017 at 01:32 PM · Hi,

I've been using this last year Pirastro's Tonicas in my violin. When I tuned it, I had this android app called DaTuna which shows very detailed the exact pitch you're playing (precision of 0.1 cents). I had and have set it to A442. I first tuned the A string to the A442, and then tried to tune the rest of the strings by ear, which was kind of hard at the beginning. Then my teacher would re-tune it for me to tune it perfectly, by ear of course.

Then I noticed the tuner showed a perfect A442 when I player the A string, green and right in the middle of the bar. Then, the D string was showed flat, a little moved to the left, in orange color, meaning it was flat. The G string was showed also orange, and even more to the left (flatter). And finally the E string was showed sharp and red, a little bit to the right of the center of the bar.

I thought, well, this is tuned by a violinist, it can't be out of tune, so the tuner must be showing a tempered tuning or something like that. Of course the violin was perfectly tuned by fifths by my teacher.

Now the shocking fact. In January I changed my Tonicas by D'Addario Zyex, and suddenly, now, when I tune by ear (I've improved a lot) and also when my teacher does, the tuner shows that all strings are perfectly in tune, green and right in the middle of the bar.

What the heck just happened?


Replies (30)

May 3, 2017 at 02:38 PM · Tuner app confused by overtone series?

The closest thing to a quality chromatic tuner in the form of an app is iStrobosoft, by a company that makes physical chromatic tuners.

May 3, 2017 at 03:14 PM · I think this is the best guess.

Another option is, that your violin has overtones slightly out of the expected order but this effect vanishes with different strings.

These overtones may also effect your tuning by ear.

May 3, 2017 at 06:00 PM · Congratulations. You have re-discovered the difference between tempered (piano-style) tuning and "perfect" tuning. And you are probably ready to ignore your electronic tuner and trust your hearing.

The perfect fifth has a frequency ration of 3/2. The tempered fifth is 2/100 of a half-step shorter than that. Cellists and Violists will sometimes tune their C strings 6/100 sharp when working with a pianist. The tuning problem becomes more severe when playing 3rds or 6ths. jq

May 3, 2017 at 08:34 PM · The app is actually called DaTuner, and it counts cents too, exactly 0'1 cents. It's really precise and the easiest app I've found so far to use. It has a PRO paid version too which includes that strobe thing. You could give it a try and compare them. DaTuner lite is free, no ads, yours costs $10.

JQ, I've always tuned the violin by ear (except the A string of course), plus my teacher would finish it if it wasn't perfect, which was almost always at the beginning. I've never tuned any other string with the app. Overtones do not change the pitch of the fundamental note, right?

If they don't, then the tuner must be listening to the perfect D, wouldn't it?

So, if it shows a D, it has no sense that it's flatter or sharper.

May 4, 2017 at 12:45 AM · Tim, as Joel wrote, it would be normal for the tuner to show the strings to be slightly out of tune when they're tuned to perfect fifths, as perfect fifths aren't exactly in tune with the default temperament on most tuners and that for DaTuner -- equal temperament.

DaTuner has some custom temperaments which are in tune with perfect fifths -- e.g. "Marpurg VIII".

Moreover, the default "in-tune" range of DaTuner is 2.5' if I recall correctly -- this is wide enough for all but the G string in equal temperament compared to fifths.

If you or anyone else can play a stable 0.1' in tune I would be floored. The tuner is also likely defaulted to an averaging setting which is hiding some of the actual variation in pitch, audible or not.

May 4, 2017 at 12:57 AM · I too would be floored if someone could hold a pitch on their violin accurate to 0.1 cent. Pitch is an ever moving target. You can't rely on the plucked open string to tune because it will always be flat compared to a bowed string. And the pitch will rise with more vigorous bowing too. That's why it's always best to tune with a lightly applied bow, and recognize that the result is never mathematically perfect.

May 4, 2017 at 01:39 AM · Well, that's exactly what I thought, that it was showing a tempered tuning, like a piano, so I didn't care that much, besides as I've already said I only tuned the A string with it, the rest by ear.

The thing is that, after changing the strings, suddenly it recognizes all strings as perfectly in tune, and I have not touched any settings in the DaTuner app. And of course the strings after the change are tuned the exactly very same way.

I said the precision of it (cents) because Ms. Leong suggested, or that's what I understood, that I should use a better tuning app. So I replied that DaTuner is a really great app.

May 4, 2017 at 03:35 AM · Well, if nothing helps, reboot your violin.... eh, phone.

May 4, 2017 at 04:13 AM · Hahahaha, I actually shut down the violin when I noticed this bug, but somehow I changed the boot sequence and now it won't boot up, it says 'no hard disk found' right on the fingerboard. Damn... I talked with a friend of mine that knows a lot about computers and he said that it's probably the brige's width, or even the soul, what's causing all this chaos.

May 4, 2017 at 07:47 AM · When you tune by ear perfect fifths from the A, the D should be 2 cents flat(from equal tempered) and the G should be 4 cents flat, the e should be 2 cents sharp, the Tonica are tuning correctly, Its the Zyex that are not correctly in tune.

May 4, 2017 at 07:53 AM · The problem is because your tuner is programmed in equal tempered fifths of 700 cents which are slightly out of tune, not perfect, a perfect fifth is 702 cents, thats what you are tuning when you tune a perfectly in tune sounding fifth, not 700 cents the slightly out of tune equal tempered fifth. If your zyex are tuning 700cent fifths sounding perfect, I would say there's something fishy going on in the overtones.

May 4, 2017 at 01:29 PM · No Lyndon,the violin can't be out of tune, that's a fact. My teacher and I myself have tuned it by ear, so both with Tonicas and Zyex the violin has been tuned by ear in perfect fifths.

May 4, 2017 at 03:23 PM · "When you tune by ear perfect fifths from the A, the D should be 2 cents flat(from equal tempered) and the G should be 4 cents flat, the e should be 2 cents sharp, the Tonica are tuning correctly, Its the Zyex that are not correctly in tune."

What if my tuning app has a setting for: "Intrument - violin; Temperament - perfect 5th" (vs. having it set to piano equal temperament)? Should it still be showing a few cents flat/sharp for the D & G and E strings?

May 4, 2017 at 05:10 PM · If you want to continue to use a tuner (and this is useful sometimes, especially when using it to produce a drone of the tonic), it might be worth investing in one that can hear and produce pitches using Pythagorean tuning. The Korg OT-120 Orchestral Tuner, which I have, is pretty great, and according to the claimed accuracy probably smokes your app (and most other electronic tuners, including some others I have).

Here's the amazon link, for convenience sake:

May 4, 2017 at 09:46 PM ·

May 4, 2017 at 10:54 PM · I'd look for music in 5 or more flats or sharps, and then you won't be worrying overmuch about the precise tuning of the open strings! If fewer than 5 flats or sharps, then avoid open strings by shifting where necessary - the 3rd position is often your best friend here. All this should improve your senses of intonation and proprioception.

Incidentally, the top C and B on some pianos are no more than clicks with no recognizable pitch. An unexpected example of this that comes to mind is in the late John Ogdon's recording of Sorabji's massive "Opus Clavicembalisticum", in which he was playing on a top-of-the-range concert grand (I don't know what make it was).

May 5, 2017 at 12:10 AM · AO, If A was tuned e would be 702 cents higher, 2 cents sharp not 4, D would be 2 cents flat(702 cents lower) and G would be 4 cents flat(1404 cents lower) of A.

You are not correct about piano tuning, all the c's on a piano are tuned in perfect octaves.

May 5, 2017 at 02:37 AM · Edit-apologies to Lyndon, I have internalized the tuning of smaller pianos, which seem to usually have stretched tuning as opposed to a concert grand.

Seems I misunderstood Ricci's tuning advice: I was already tuning in perfect fifths, not piano fifths (which make the G out of tune with the fingered E).

May 5, 2017 at 02:37 AM · I used to tune with the tuner, as precisely as possible, and then when I played, intonation was a struggle. Once I started tuning the d and g flat, and the e sharp, my intonation improved significantly. I have a tuner that also has a violin setting, and it still doesn't get it right. Tune by ear, or adjust per Lyndon's rule. Your intonation will get much better.

May 5, 2017 at 02:41 AM · Jason,I simply said that DaTuner is a really great app, precise and very useful. Of course I'd rather use that thing you said over this app any day, but I wanted to make it clear that the app works perfectly fine. Also it will depend on your smartphone microphone.

Also, you can totally fix the turning notes of an app or a "smart" digital tuner. A "smart" tuner like an app can be set up to detect A442 as exactly the right A, then you can tell the tuner that D must be 294.66, so you have a ratio of 3:2, the perfect fifth, and your tuner will tune your D exactly at that pitch. Nonetheless I really think is very helpful to tune by ear.

May 5, 2017 at 03:03 AM · AO I'm a keyboard maker, I think I know how a keyboard is tuned, while some tuners might tune pianos out of tune, that is not the standard tuning for pianos or keyboards in general, octaves are always perfect, but the fifths within the octave are not always perfectly equal tempered, depending on the temperament.

Tuning an octave slightly out of tune results in beats, only a perfectly tuned octave has no beats, same for fifths.

May 5, 2017 at 03:15 AM · "What if my tuning app has a setting for: "Intrument - violin; Temperament - perfect 5th" (vs. having it set to piano equal temperament)? Should it still be showing a few cents flat/sharp for the D & G and E strings?"

G.A., it's hard to answer the question without knowing how your app defines "Temperament - perfect 5th", but you can use Lyndon's guidelines as a reference, as they're essentially correct. In other words, if you used equal temperament as a tuning guide, and the tuner's temperament is correct for violin tuning, you should get tuning difference as would be expected for equal temperament (in the opposite direction).

Ideally though you would get no differences from violin tuning, so that if you tuned using the device and then played adjacent strings together, they would be in tune and vice-versa.

Looking at the table provided by Instrument-Tuner, an "Equal Tempered, Perfect Fifth" temperament would not be better than equal temperament. "Pythagorean" would actually be correct for the open strings, but "Pythagorean (Perfect)" would not. The values to look for in that table would be: D -1.955, E: 1.955, and G: -3.910 (in other words: -2 cents, +2 cents, and -4 cents).

May 5, 2017 at 09:13 AM · A few points.

- Yes, "perfct fifth" is a musical, not an acoustic, term.

- Bear in mind that electronic tuners and tuning apps are only as accurate as their designs permit. And cheap simple electronic circuits are sensitive to temperature, more so than the good old tuning fork..

- Short, thick trings have harmonics that are theoretically too high ("inharmonicity"). Which is why beginner's scotch tapes across the fingerboard are never in tune on all four strings at once.

- I have a piano tuning app for Windows. It requires sampling different parts of the 7-octave range to establish the characteristics of the strings, before establishing the best tuning curve for various temeramenrs.

- Zyex strings are higher tension than Tonicas and may bend less under the bow for an equivalent loudness.

- Synthetic-cores become uneven and inharmonic with use, faster than gut or steel cores.

May 5, 2017 at 10:13 AM · Anybody know if it is valid to tune my E slightly sharp in perfect fifths tuning?

The other strings are fine (G -4, D -2 cents) but the E gets tuned +4 cents instead of +2 as it should.

I do it because the fingered E string sounds flat otherwise (the fingered G on it will not match open G).



May 5, 2017 at 11:17 AM · What do you mean by fingered E sounds flat otherwise?

May 5, 2017 at 12:16 PM · Surely, the fingered G is where you put it?!

For purely technical reasons (string thicknesses) we usually have to play "sharp" on the E string. We must not expect double-stopped fifths to be exactly in line.

A guitar has straight metal frets, but its bridge is very slightly crooked. Perhaps we should do the same?

May 5, 2017 at 02:05 PM · Now I understand why you should play sharp the E, or actually I can find arguments to say you should play it a little sharper or flatter than the A string, for example playing a fifth.

But the first question is... the difference between gauges in A and E strings is so small I can't see how that could make any difference, or better, the percentage of "out of tuning" you get by playing at the exact same line is very small compared to your playing, that it's not perfect and most of the time out of tune if you really measure with precision each note.

In example, the A in the E string is 880Hz. Understanding that the average violinist is not a robot and his playing is not perfect, he will play that A in a range of 877-881Hz, and now you say something like:

- We should play a little sharper the E string to solve the gauge problem.

I imagine this adds like 0.3Hz or so, and at the end instead of a range of 877-881, you end up with a range of 877.3-881.3Hz. Right?

May 5, 2017 at 02:06 PM · *Repeated message*

May 5, 2017 at 03:21 PM · No, it adds up quite drastically to 2-3 cents, because the steel E is about 55-60% of it's "should be" thickness (aka gut E!)

May 5, 2017 at 04:56 PM · The thicker and/or stiffer the string, the further from the

nut or finger will be the start of the "wave" shape: like a new skipping rope in rather stiff plastic rather than a well used hemp one.

So it's the lower strings which play sharp, compared to what we see in a physics manual.

Also, this end effect will stay constant as we go up the string, so the discrepancy increases.

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