March 13, 2005 at 05:58 PM · I always hate asking students to buy things for their violins, because the instruments themselves are already expensive, but I also don't like the idea of them practicing violins that are out of tune. Do you have your students buy electric tuners, or pitch pipes, etc.?

Replies (97)

March 13, 2005 at 06:08 PM · It is definitly important to have well tuned violins at home...otherwise practice may actually do more harm then good as far as intonation is concerned! Actually, I was just having this conversation with some of my parents yesterday. We spent the last 20 minutes of group class doing a "tuning workshop" for the parents...it was very helpful!

Bottome line...they need to have some sort of reliable pitch source. Cheap electric keyboards, a metronome that plays an A 440, or a tuner are all acceptable. However, I was told yesterday that you can download a program off the internet (for free!) that will play an A 440. Does anyone know what that website is?

March 13, 2005 at 06:06 PM · I do have my violin students buy chromatic tuners for a few reasons. THe 1st reason is so they can keep their violins in tune when they are at home so the strings stretch and I don't have to use half the lesson time tuning. Secondly, this really helps beginners train their ears because they can play along with it. It also helps them learn to tune by themselves. I even use a tuner to tune their violins at the start of their lessons. Some of them are really out of tune, and it's faster to use a tuner.

Don't feel bad about telling parents to buy one for the student. Tell the parents that learning a musical instrument is an investment like a house or a car. You get out of it what you put into it. Suggest that they get a combination tuner/metronome to save money. Also tell them it will help them learn faster by playing the notes in tune right away, and tell them the student will sound better too.

March 13, 2005 at 06:28 PM · Here's your metronome, Mariam, complete with A = 440, choice of click sounds, and the colour of your choice:


(I had to resort to it one day when the battery one was out of batteries, and the mechanical one was "in use")

March 13, 2005 at 06:45 PM · Thanks, Inge! I'll pass that on to my students.

March 13, 2005 at 07:51 PM · I use Violin Tuning Tape. You can order it by mail:

Morgan Masters,

1300 Ute Rd.

North Brunswick, N.J. 08902

I got this tape from Suzuki Teacher-training Seminar. There are listening exercises with instructions for ear training and technique of tuning violin.

March 13, 2005 at 10:16 PM · tuners...

worst things ever invented.


March 13, 2005 at 10:39 PM · I was puzzled why anyone should want anything more than a tuning fork, but did not like to say so because maybe young children cannot hear a true fifth? I don't know as I don't teach.

A teacher showed me nice piece of software called A P tuner which he says he sometimes uses with children - you play the note and the name of note comes up on the computer screen, and when it is 'in tune' a meter needle on the computer screen goes to the center of the dial. Rather fun, I am sure it must be a nice game for children watching the note name change as they play a scale. It also proved to me that tuning the A against a tuning fork is a 'scientifically' accurate way of tuning to A=440, which is reassuring, and a tuning fork is more portable, so seems the way to go, except for those students who cannot be taught to detect by ear when the fifth is out. I did manage to teach my father to hear when the fifths are out. He 82 and a beginner on violin, and he is fairly deaf. So teaching young beginners may be possible too with a little patience.

March 13, 2005 at 10:34 PM · I have a Boss chromatic tuner attached to my music stand. It was very helpful to get me playing quickly when I was first learning to play the violin. I had enough things to worry about in those days. Now, I rely less on it, but I keep it on as a feedback system to reinforce learning the pitch of each note.

March 14, 2005 at 05:41 AM · Lisa, take a star:) I hate tuners...

March 14, 2005 at 06:03 AM · A star for June Rhee, too.

March 14, 2005 at 07:11 AM · I too hate electronic tuners especially as the pitch is unreliable.But leaving the pitch aside lets take a look at the manual manipulation of tuning for a young child (or even an inexperienced adult for that matte)r.I used to start tuning lessons by having them identify the pitch while I was tuning the violin and telling me when to stop.This is good training for the ear but often beginners have problems with turning the pegs or even fine tuners.I've now developed a system which seems to be effective.First they learn to tune the a to an electronic tuner.For the less co-ordinated this can take some time.Even with an arrow indicating whether the note is high or low turning the peg in the right direction can be confusing.Then I tune the other strings and they indicate when to stop.Once they have mastered the a they move on to the other strings still with the tuner and then we check the tuning together at the end.Only once they have overcome the physical difficulties of tuning do they put the two processes together.At least they can tune their violins at home almost right from the start,even the little ones,and life is much easier for me at junior orchestra rehearsals as they are also self sufficient.It is of paramount importance that the tuning be checked after they have used the electronic tuner as I said earlier the pitch is not reliable.The tuner should be used as an intermediate to self sufficiency.

March 14, 2005 at 08:49 AM · I'm not a fan of tuners, because the tuning is incorrect. It is tempered tuning, not true tuning. The only thing a tuner is good for is getting A440 exactly in tune. If you then tune the other strings to the tuner, it will be out of tune, as it's not a perfect 5th.

However, apparently there is a tuner that will tune to true tuning. Korg produce a tuner that has tempered tuning, but if you read the instructions you'll be able to determine the true tuning of intervals. (i still don't like tuners, I'll always use my tuning fork and my ears).

In my opinion, the best tuners are your ears and a well trained mind.

March 14, 2005 at 10:12 AM · Interesting that all the people who "hate" tuners have almost nothing to add as justification. Yes, the best "tuner" is a well trained mind, but "training" inplies a gradual process with aids and tools. The best "aid" would be someone with a trained ear to stand over the student during every moment of practice advising as to intonation. (Should we throw out CD's and other recorded music formats because they might be used as an aid to reading rhythms? What about metronomes? Shouldn't the student simply have a sense of meter?) Tuners are what they are, an intermediary device to learning an instrument that requires tremendous amounts of time and discipline. They will not give a perfect fifth (with a few exceptions), but for the beginning player they can be a guide.

P.S. no stars for those who simply hate or like something.

March 14, 2005 at 02:28 PM · What about the issue of practising scales etc. to a tuner? Some of my more enthusiastic adult beginners like to try this, however I have misgivings as I believe using a tuner can mess up your concept of finger patterns to a degree; rather than wides and closes, the intervals become not-quite-so-wides and not-quite-so-closes because the tuner operates to an equally tempered system. Anyone else got any thoughts on this?

March 14, 2005 at 02:39 PM · My view, based on no experience other than my own, is that while a tuner is fine for tuning, it should not be used for scales. It could become a crutch and would tend to be distracting from other aspects of technique.

March 14, 2005 at 03:34 PM · My concern wouldn't be so much about wides and closes: that varies as you go up the fingerboard in any case. My first violin had a non-standard size and the intervals were larger than for a violin, but smaller than for a viola. I had no problems adjusting between it and a standard violin even as a beginner. A student using a tuner would end up having their fingers the proper distance apart simply because they would have to be at that distance in order to be in tune.

What I'm concerned about is that this is a purely visual input - how is it training the senses of a beginner student? Is the goal in the beginning to be instantly in tune via the aid of a crutch in order to play perfect sounding melodies (intonationally perfect), or is it to learn to play the violin and remain in tune? Is there a difference?

When I began the violin I did resort to a keyboard to check my notes, but that was an ear to hand to ear type of stimulus. I would also check what that first major 2nd of 1st finger would sound like (D,E; A,B etc.) to build up my ear. The other thing that I found immensely helpful was when I was told of the special resonance of the lower string when the 3rd finger is placed properly. Not only did that become a quick way of checking whether I was still in tune and provide an aesthetic pleasure, but it provided a very early awareness of the textures of sound that guide the violinist's ear. If I have as overpowering a device as a tuner, and given that the stimulus to the eye can overpower the stimulus to the ear, would the same awareness have developed?

I have been very tempted to buy one of those tuners now in order to have some extra feedback from another source on my intonation. But I don't know if it would have been good to use in the very beginning. Actually, if used sparingly and in the right way for the right purposes, I suppose it could serve a beginner. But then I imagine a beginner's teacher would need to define and limit its use, or?

March 14, 2005 at 04:38 PM · Thank you for your response ED. Beginners need a starting point of some kind. When the student just barely knows the notes on the D string, how can they be expected to know what a perfect 5th is much less what it sounds like. Tuners also help hear the notes in the higher positions. THey may not be as accurate as the ear, but they atleast give a starting point.

March 14, 2005 at 04:51 PM · Why I like tuners:

1. Since I don't trust my ear...or confuse myself at times trying to get it 'right' on my own...I'd much rather use a tuner and know it's right than frustrate myself to the point that I quit...

2. The one I have attaches to my violin, so I can tune at orchestra practice without confusing myself...(BTW...my tuner gets borrowed all the time by a few who 'despise' tuners...)...

3. I'm also using the tuner to make sure I'm hitting the 'right' notes when playing in upper positions...it's been wonderful...and as my fingering becomes automatic I need the tuner less often...

...yes, I should be able to do all this by ear...but I can't...so if it keeps me playing and aids in my progress...why not? At some point I may get to a place where I can reliably tune by ear, but I'm not there yet...and if I never get there? That's okay too...

March 14, 2005 at 05:42 PM · I'm one of the anti-tuner crowd. I use and teach with a tuning fork for 440 A. Sometimes I have my students buy an old fashioned pitch pipe and use that, but I prefer to have them use just the tuning fork. Traing should be aural, not visual. Training should also be kinesthetic, learning close and wide and developing muscle memory. I do something that Inge likes, teach my students to check for octaves being in tune (compare G third finger on D with G on G). It's good beginning ear training and it gives satisfaction because it sounds pretty. For my students, I tune the violin at first. Later, I play my open string and theirs and ask them whether the sounds are the same or different. Step 2 is asking them whether their string is higher or lower in pitch than mine. Third step is having them tune their own instrument. This can be frustrating because the pitch goes from too high to too low too easily, so I oversee and reassure. The same holds for learning where to put your finger on the string for the right pitch and learning how far to move it to make it in tune. My point is that I teach pitch by aural and kinesthetic clues and avoid dependence on a visual cues from a tuner. I have asked my students whether this method of learning tuning is difficult, and they usually say yes. A few weeks later, when they've made some progress, I ask them whether they remember that a short time ago it was difficult and now it's much easier, and again, they say yes. They really make progress in just a few weeks.

I used to jam with a bunch of guitarists, all but one of whom tuned by eye, not by ear. Each player would have to tune each of 6 strings one at a time, and it took forever. while they were doing this, the guitarist who tuned by ear and I would play the first movement of a Vivaldi concerto or a whole bunch of shorter pieces. I always wonder about people who tune by eye: what do they hear? Can they tell when they're playing out of tune with respect to themselves and with others? I'm afraid not. I believe that they're missing a lot of the fun of hearing the music that they are making.

March 14, 2005 at 06:06 PM · Ed,

I offered no justification because I have offered it already in so many places on this list. If you look at the discussion in the "New at Teaching" thread and if you go back in the archives there are many discussions on intonation that I have participated in with many (very good) justifications about intonation and how it should be learned without an external source. I guess I didn't want to write it all again, and I assumed that most people who regularly frequent this list already know my opinion.

I think the worst thing that could happen is for someone with a trained ear to stand over a student and correct them note by note. I also think it is lousy to use a tape, a recording, a piano, and a tuner. A violinist needs to learn how to hear pitch and to match it. Period. No professional gets to be a professional without that skill. Learning from a tempered tuning machine ain't that skill. No way. No how. Plus, it has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with melodic, horizontal, tension created, tension released playing. Children can learn this without any of these aids and when they do, they play in tune alllll on their OWN.

After saying that, I do have the caveat that I tune my little guys' violins in their lessons until they get to the point when they are learning intervals and can do it on their own. But, if you read my posts, you will see that I teach a relational system of intonation so it doesn't really matter if the violins are perfectly in tune or not. And my kids learn to treat their violins well, so unless the weather changes a lot, or they whack them around, they stay pretty much in tune during the week.

If, after you read some of my posts, you want to have a discussion about it, I'd be happy to email you. I don't want continue to go on about it over and over on the list, however.

I couldn't agree more about the stars on the posts that are agreed with thing. I have spent oodles of time writing detailed teaching posts that have not been acknowledged or have been demerited because people don't "agree" with my opinion. It is ridiculous and meaningless. I think you will find that most of the stars and demerits on this board have been applied that way. But nothing can be done about that either, so it also isn't worth going on and on about.


March 14, 2005 at 07:14 PM · Janet, I like your idea! They do need some source to get that initial A, whether it's an electronic tuner, piano, pitch pipe or pitch fork, and that's a nice way to learn to manipulate the pegs. The manipulation is certainly a separate issue.

Then if they can help you tune the other strings, they are getting the ear training, with some help from you. I will have to try that for my little ones!

March 14, 2005 at 07:16 PM · So, those of you who do not use tuners, do your students just not tune during the week? I have been letting two of my students do this. So far it has been okay, and their violin has never been seriously out of tune when they bring it back to me. They are older beginners (10 and 13) and I am planning to teach them to tune right away. I am not sure how I can do this without them having some way of checking their tuning at home. When I was young my mother always tuned my violin to our piano at home, and my teacher tuned it in lessons, untill a couple years into my lessons when she taught me how to do it myself.

One of my students is using a tuner (just to tune the strings, not to check intonation while playing) and she is doing very well. Her sense of intonation is great. I have noticed though, that her violin is sometimes slightly out of tune (usually sharp) even though she tunes it before coming to her lesson. I didn't know that those things don't actually tune perfect fifths, as I've never owned or used one. Thanks for your responses, I didn't realise this was a controversial issue.

March 14, 2005 at 07:14 PM · Ed, I'll give you one little example from my life. Believe or not... but that's true. My 4 years old beginner before class starts asks his mother to help him tune his violin. So, while his mother working with pegs this guy constantly comments, "higher, lower,..." sometimes singing the correct pitch, until his violin is in tune. Of course, I correct just very little after this tuning, but this guy knows exactly what tuning he wants and I feel that my work is right... And for those, who still feel some problems at home, I give a tape (I described above) for ear training and at the same time for helping with tuning at home. Actually I allow students to interrupt me by phone calls any time and ask questions... If I am busy, they contact to my assistant (my daughter:).

March 14, 2005 at 11:21 PM · Greetings,

I agree with Lisa`s post excpet...

>No professional gets to be a professional without that skill.

Some profesisonals do get there wihtout hearing whta they are going to play. I suspect the number is actually quite large and is a sufficiently severe problem to justify being be discusse dat some length in Kieberman@s book `You are your Instrument@ as just one exmaple.

I am afriad what a lot of player sget in the habit of from a oyung age is lots of mechanicla work whoich gets the finger sin just about the right place in response to the feedback from symbols on the page. They then evaluate after the act but probvably don`t corretc. When working in orchestra or whatever thefeedback then bemes more complex and the abilty to respond to feedbakc rtaher than be proactive becomes very advanced but doesn`t relaly change its nature.

I would also idly speculate that this is why there apperas to be more emphsis on `hours practice` these days. The appraoch described above take s longer... Or maybe even in the past more work was done in the head which gave the impression of less hours.



PS I think a tuner can be used in scale pracitc as long as it is a drone on the tonic.

March 15, 2005 at 01:43 AM · I forget who it was who suggested that, having learnt only a few notes on the D string, a beginner cannot learn to recognise perfect fifths. I don't agree with this; my beginners usually stay on open strings for two or three months, and during this time I teach them to recognise perfect fifths using double stops so they can tune their own violins. Most of them can do it confidently within a year.

Inge, about the wide/close issue, because the violin's intonation system is not the same as, say, the piano's, it means that being 'in tune' is actually a bit of a grey area. To be in tune using equal temperament, the wides will be narrower and the closes will often not be close enough for the fingers to touch, at least in first position. However, using expressive intonation (often Pythagorean) the wides are often wider and the closes usually narrow enough to bring the fingers into contact. It will still be 'in tune', but it won't be recognised as such by the tuner. I prefer to teach this system of intonation because I think it instills finger patterns more readily. Using a tuner can jeopardise this understanding.

March 15, 2005 at 01:53 AM · I understand what you are saying now, Sue. Not having had experience with tuners except once when my brother and I were doing a bassoon-recorder duet (both wind instruments) I didn't understand the fine points. Would it not be the same problem when, say, playing scales along with a piano?

March 15, 2005 at 02:01 AM · Greetings,

there is another point about tuning that also feed sinto the discussion of the various systems that doesn`t seme to get mentioned so much: the tempo of the piece creates a necessity for playing `closer` or `further apart.` Casals used t make a big issue of this one.

So maybe somebody can invent a tuner linked to a foot pad so that you can tap in the temo you are using at a given moment and it will adjust accordingly?



March 15, 2005 at 02:01 AM · I have a student like Rita's. He tells his father which way to turn the peg and roughly how much. His sense of pitch developed before he had enough strength and skill with his hands to do the tuning himself.

Electronic tuners don't always tell the truth. Every time I play with a certain friend who uses a tuner, I need to tune my violin slightly flat to be in tune with him.

I also have a private student whose teacher in school put tapes on the fingerboard to show finger placement, but he put one tape in not quite the right place. I told my student to put his finger down where the sound is correct. He does it just fine.

March 15, 2005 at 02:54 AM · Tapes and stickers are a nightmare, not least because they shift around when moistened by sweaty fingers.

Inge, in answer to your question, the piano will indeed sound different. If someone's really having trouble with intonation, I think the piano can be helpful, however in order to address intonation 'violinistically', it's better to learn to rely on your open strings to confirm your intontation.

March 15, 2005 at 07:09 AM · We seem to be pingponging between three different threads here.

a) the use of tuner to tune a violin

b)use of tuner to check intonation

c)use of tapes (which has nothing to do with tuners but with intonation).So I'll address all three in order

a)To me using a tuner in order to learn how to tune a violin is acceptable (see above post).A violin needs to be tuned before every practice session as it is highly unlikely that a small violin will remain in tune from one day to another let alone in the passage of a week

b)Using a tuner to check intonation is not a good idea .After all if you've tuned yuor violin correctly you can check your intonation with the open strings.Building up an inner ear is essential.

c)Using tapes is quite another issue.In my earlier post I was talking about seperating manual dexterity from musical issues.I think that we are all agreed that new material should be presented in a logical comprehensible order.A very young child can use tapes to do finger dexterity excercises in order to have a correct hand position and fingers that are placed correctly BEFORE bowing the notes.This seperates out the left hand and right hand techniques.They are not going to know where to place their fingers without tapes.I've found using this system they have much better and more relaxed hand positions.When the tapes are removed and this can be before the first note is bowed the brain has already registered the position of the hand and the distances between the fingers.

I get the impression from some of these posts that some teachers have parental involvement in both helping with the tuning,presence in lessons and helping with practicing at home.For those of use who deal only with the child and there is no parental involvement whats so ever it is paramount that the child understands what they are doing.Those that dont understand are not going to do any practice.

March 16, 2005 at 05:05 PM · I have noticed a lot of people saying that they have their students tune via tape or piano. I can see the pitch pipe or tuning fork being effective, but most pianos are out of tune, and the speed of a tape affects the pitch. Usually the pitch on a tape is too sharp. I don't understand how that is an effective way to tune.

March 16, 2005 at 06:13 PM · I don't have anything against tuners, but I prefer a piano. May I dissuade all of you who might not know better, don't get one of those four string pitch pipe blowers... students like those, but THEY are most unreliable, and you WILL get a different pitch depending upon the force of your breath.

March 16, 2005 at 06:23 PM · Oh yes, of course. It's the bane of the more primitive wind instruments. I have yet to get a G on both octaves on a tenor recorder that is at exactly the same pitch unless I sacrifice tone quality by using a little bit too much breath or a little bit too little breath on one of them to bring the tone down or up so they match each other. The pitch pipe would have to do the same thing.

March 16, 2005 at 09:48 PM · Yes, what is with the "G" on nearly all pitch pipes? It's almost always off!

My piano, unfortunately, is totally out of tune. It's because it's 100 years old. I'm trying to get it up to 440 by having the tuner come every 4 months. Anyway, it is at least relatively in tune, and you can lift the ornately decorated front panel and see the action of the hammers. It has so much character to it, I wanted the "real piano" for my kids instead of an electronic one. Upon discovering that my boy is extremely interested in it, though, I'm a little concerned about his pitch development. So, I guess I'll keep the piano tuner well-employed!

All that to say, I feel committed to the idea of an acoustical piano. Nothing against electronic ones, I'm just a little old fashioned about having all those strings vibrating. To me, it would be ideal to have the in-tune acoustical piano in the home. But it took us 10 years to be able to afford to acquire even this somewhat compromised piano! The pitch pipe and fork and "A" from the metronome and electronic tuner are all better than nothing, and they are certainly what I have used for quite a long time. I finally bought an electronic tuner because I wanted to be able to tune not just to 440 (which is what my metronome had) but also to 442, which is common these days in orchestras.

So there are my meandering thoughts on the subject!

March 17, 2005 at 07:06 AM · A few months ago, a new fellow with a fiddle came to orchestra rehearsal and sat next to me. We started talking and he said that he wanted to try to play in the orchestra so that he could learn about classical music. This sounded suspicious to me. I told him that we might play something by Moussorgsky, and he said, "Who's that?" Then he told me that he's only been playing violin for about five months, and he's completely self taught. I got more suspicious. He told me that he had played guitar "all my life," and he seemed very proud of himself because he could read music. He started to tune his violin with an electronic tuner, and I saw that he didn't know which way to turn the pegs or whether to use the peg or the fine tuner. At this point, I suggested that he take a few lessons. Then I offered to check his tuning. He thought his tuning would be perfect because the needle on the tuner was right on target when he played an open string. I just listened, and I discovered that he had tuned all four strings exactly one octave too low. I used self restraint and did not laugh at him, although I'm laughing now. He said that he was very embarrassed about his mistake and, once again, I suggested that he take some lessons. A few minutes later he slipped away quietly, and I've never seen him since then.

March 17, 2005 at 10:14 PM · For those of you who do use tuners, do you have any opinion about the Korg OT12? It supports 8 different temperaments, apparently.

March 18, 2005 at 03:11 AM · Greetings,

would that include `generally pissed off?`



March 18, 2005 at 10:24 AM · Laurie - of course a real piano is far better for learners than almost any digital from point of view touch. But why worry about A=440? I see no problem about tuning down a quarter of a tone. I read on http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/music/et.html "Rossing reports Handel's tuning fork frequency to be 422.5 Hz for that A, and the eras of Hayden, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven had pitch standards around that frequency." Why risk instability if not damage to the piano which may already be at a pitch closer to what the 18th & 19th century composers wrote for (unless most of the music you play is 20th century)? Far better to have a piano that is happy and stays in tune, surely? Tuning down a violin is much easier and less risky than bringing up a piano.

Buri's point about tempo affecting intonation is new to me. It would be interesting to have that explained, whether here on on another thread.

March 18, 2005 at 01:07 PM · Hi,

Laurie: the G in a tuner is always off because it is tempered, where as a violin is tuned in untempered fifths, which are slightly larger. When playing with piano it is often a problem. Flesch even recommended to his students to tune from the G. He said the slightly sharp A was less disturbing then the flat violin G.

Buri: HAHAHA! and thanks for the point about tuning at different tempos. I know that Shmuel Ashkenazi talked about this all the time. That the faster the tempo, the closer the semi-tones had to be to sound in tune. And the slower, the opposite.


March 18, 2005 at 06:31 PM · Like John, I've never heard about tempo affecting pitch. Buri, or someone else, would you please explain it?

March 18, 2005 at 10:56 PM · It seems like the G in the pitch pipes is way, way, low, though, even lower than what tempered would be. But perhaps it's just because my ear is so accustomed to untempered pitch.

So you don't think having a flat piano would detrimentally affect my tike's pitch development? I do not have perfect pitch, myself, but it seems like many pianists do. I just would not want the little guy to go through life identifying a G# as an A!

March 18, 2005 at 11:13 PM · I've never used a tuner in my life. I could tune my violin myself by ear by the time I was seven. That's because my teacher TAUGHT me how to tune. He took a whole lesson, would un-tune it, then hand it to me and guide me through the process until I had it down cold. Some may think this is harsh, but if a student can't tune himself or herself by their second year, either the teacher has been lazy about teaching them to tune, OR the student has no business playing the violin. They should instead take up something like piano, or chemistry.


March 18, 2005 at 11:18 PM · Hi,

Laurie, on the subject of flat pianos, I posted something a while back. Yes, it could affect the development of perfect pitch and center it on an incorrect pitch. John Shirley Quirk, the famous English singer told me a story regarding this. He has perfect pitch, but everything is low because the piano at home was flat. So, his inner ear is off and he is constantly adjusting. Amazing artist and intonation to say the least, but annoying. So, yea...

As for tuning pipes, well... it's hard to get a pipe in tune, hence the problem with organs. The dimensions for something to be in tune has to be so precise that it's ridiculous. So, it can easily be off if the lenght or diameter is even slightly not exact.

Hope this helps!


March 18, 2005 at 11:42 PM · So Benjamin, do you have perfect pitch and just use the A in your head? I have relative pitch, so I have to have some reference for A.

Christian, that's my concern!

March 19, 2005 at 12:03 AM · Actually, yes I do. But if you need a pitch reference, I would suggest a tuning fork.


March 18, 2005 at 11:42 PM · As this thread shows, the subject of perfect pitch is controversial. My view is that it is convenient but unncessary to be able to tune a perfect A=440 without a tuning fork. If you tune your violin up or down, your intonation does not suffer, does it?

It is true that if the only music you ever hear is on the low piano at home you will not be able regognize A=440. When I was young our piano at home was low, and for a while I carried around a tuning fork in my pocket, and played a little game of trying to learn to sing a 'concert pitch' A, which worked fairly well.

For an old piano, unless you go to the expense of replacing strings and peg block, the chances are it will never settle down - I am not a piano tuner but that is my experience. And there are other risks, the most obvious being in a damp climate where strings get rust-tarnished and can break. Besides, tuning up can distort the structure, even with, and especially without an iron frame; it can further distort the soundboard (which is supposed to have a crown, but old pianos tend to lose that); and the peg block can get tired so that it never stays in tune.

A few musicians tune to the pitch which the composer was likely to have used. Of course the Berlin Phil. was notorious for their A=445 or 446, but several articles on the net point out other variations, one giving various levels for American orchestras in 1971. The following link gives a list of older levels http://www.mozartpiano.com/pitch.html

So as far as I can see, A=440 is (a) arbitrary; (b) possible to learn with a little effort, even with a low piano at home; (c) IMHO not worth risking spoiling a piano for.

March 19, 2005 at 02:28 AM · Benjamin said, about people who can't learn to tune their violins in a year or so, "They should instead take up something like piano, or chemistry." Hey, I play and tune my violin, and I majored in chemistry.

I agree that people who can't learn to tune by ear should study an instrument other than violin, such as piano or a fretted instrument. I start my students on ear training from the very beginning. When they start playing scale fragments, they're often out of tune, but when I play with them, they can match their note perfectly to mine. I suppose that if I had a student who could not do that after a while, I would have to recommend that they study a different instrument. I've never had a beginning student like that, not even adults who come to me with no prior training in music. I think this is pretty remarkable. Have other people had similar experiences? Any comments?

March 19, 2005 at 03:26 AM · On second thought, I'm not sure if I'd want someone who can't tune a fiddle handling chemicals. But I'm sure there have been some first rate tone-deaf chemists. By the way, chemistry was my favorite non-music subject in school, so I wasn't slamming chemists. Chemistry is like magic!


March 19, 2005 at 03:43 AM · Chemistry is great, especially when some liquid changes color. From clear to red is my personal favorite.

March 20, 2005 at 04:32 AM · Borodin was an organic chemist and a world authority on aldehyde chemistry in his day. I suppose that he could tune his fiddle, if he had one and if he tried. Some skills are transferrable, like using stopcock grease on a sep funnel and applying peg dope to violin pegs. Lots of scientists and mathematicians are amateur musicians. The harmony of the spheres, and all that.

Jim, chemistry isn't as much fun as it used to be, watching colors change, etc., because of increasing safety concerns in the lab. I remember the joy of dumping dry ice in the sink and watching the "fog" rise. Now the teacher does it, while wearing safety goggles, and the students stand back and watch.

March 20, 2005 at 05:07 AM · Yep dry ice is a hoot too. Try to get yourself some liquid nitrogen though. Hoo boy!

March 21, 2005 at 01:20 AM · The most interesting scientific studies I've seen so far have all come from my refrigerator. Things magically change color in there all the time.

March 21, 2005 at 01:31 AM · my teacher only gives us electric tuners before contests and concerts. he wants us to be able to hear the notes good on our own so we can be good at that. hmm..i would tune by myself and then use the tuner to see how close i got to perfectly in tune then keep doing that so i can get better but i wouldnt totally just lock on to an electric tuner you should use it to develop a good ear

May 23, 2005 at 04:20 PM · >Interesting that all the people who "hate" tuners have almost nothing to add as justification.

To use a tuner implies that the person using it is playing in "tempered" intonation. Singing and violin playing are not tempered. The violin is not tuned tempered first of all, we (I) tune it in pure fifths. Singing is not tempered. The reason why singing and violin are not tempered is because music intervals are "pure", meaning intervals between notes are formed when the frequencies form simple mathematical ratios. Then, why are there "tempered" intonation, everyone will ask. The reason is this, and there has been "tempered" instruments since creation -

Consider a class of pupils. If all the pupils are "short", but every one of them are same in height, then no observer can "observe" that those pupils are short. You need someone tall to make that conspicious. Same to music. The reason why there is "tempered" music is to demonstrate the solo as "sharper" amongst the instruments. It gets by like this. Since there are two different "scales" because individual notes in the "same" scale are different, some notes are sharper in the "tempered" system, others sharper in the "pure" system. If I were the composer, and if I pick the "flattest" note in the "pure" system, and tune the whole scale, so that this flattest note is same pitch as the corresponding note in the "tempered" system, then I am now successful in rendering the whole "pure" scale sharper than the "tempered" scale. This is why it sound boring when an assembly consists of only tempered wind instruments. I can also tell you, tuning the whole solo intrument sharper does not work.

I have made analysis of quite a few pieces of music, including the Air on the G string, and the WHOLE violin concerto, "Butterfly Lovers", and I played these and showed that my calculations are correct. Ever wondered why, one single note, A 440 became the standard. You can make it 432, higher or lower, it does not change the way how it works. And it works with Bach, even the Beatles, which I worked out on quite a few songs.

Therefore, if you play violin, do not use a tuner unless you work out on Excel or something elase to find out all the values in "cents" the deviation, or else learn the flute or oboe instead of the violin. To say "hate" tuner is not that correct. It is just not appropriate, whereas, to play a tempered instrument is much less gratifying than the very blessed violin.

May 23, 2005 at 06:16 PM · Hi Linus,

You make some interesting points, some of which I am in agreement with or understand, and others I am not sure I understand.

"Singing and violin playing are not tempered". I agree, except that I would add "inherently" as it is clear from listening to the symphony that it is often tempered anyway.

"Then, why are there 'tempered' intonation, everyone will ask. The reason is this, and there has been "tempered" instruments since creation."

Your statement is circumlocutive:-). A better explanation would be that compromises in temperment are useful for simplification of the mechanical structure, and logical structure of many instruments e.g. piano, guitar etc to fit into a 12 tone chromatic system (rather than having sharps and flats different etc.... ) Interestingly, once you have a tempered system (provided it is not equal tempered) then you can have "flavors" to your chords---A-major key different from C-major etc in the "flavors" available. Try a harpsichord to get a feeling for this. (Or many pipe organs).

The bulk of your point I take as this: that if the harmonic baseline (the orchestra) is playing tempered, then the violin should never play flatter than the orchestra--only even with or sharper. Your hypothesis is that this will give an edge to the solosist. Interesting idea, but I disagree as to whether this is normal or even acceptable. Or perhaps you are talking about very small sharpnesses that I don't hear.

At a recent concert there was a "Nay" played along with the Westchester symphony. The nay is an end-blown reed flute. Like all blown instruments, it does *not* have fixed pitches, but does have a natural intonation (the holes)--in this case one which the orchestra was clearly not accustomed to. It was exceedingly obvious that they were out of tune relative to each other at times--and I am not so sure that this was good--though it did make the nay conspicuous--sometimes flatter, sometimes sharper.In this particular instance I am not sure whether it was intentional. When the Nay stopped and the orchestra played without it (like a counterpoint or echo of the melody) the orchestra was not following the same intonation--it was on a conventional "western" scale--or so it sounded.

When Bell played his solo the same day (next on the program) he was noticably on pitch--to the extent that when he played a parallel with the the clarinet he was dead on--except for one solitary note--(which may have bewen the clarinet not Bell). Juxtaposed to the Nay I have a hard time seeing the validity of the idea that the solosit is "sharp" in a well-played performance.

I think we are generally so used to 12TET that we adjust our ears to it--even violinists. A good way to check this would be to give a violinist a zither and tell him/her to tune it diatonically without any aids--then measure the results. I have not done this but would like to--it would be instructive for sure!

Another thing I do not understand is your contention that "tempered wind instruments" sound boring. I never played (in an official way) any winds except recorder and other whistles--but when I try to play tuba, bugle, clarinet, flute, etc it is a real comeuppance--they are harder to "pitch" than a violin. They are not "tempered--you have to work to get th on the pitch you want. Just listen to a junior band performance--it feels drunken--no one is on the same pitch.

Perhaps some wind performances are boring--but I do not think intonation alone can be to blame.

On the issue of having two instruments putting out slightly different pitches, there are many nuances to that. For instance if you are say 0.0025 (1/4%) off at 100 hz, then your beat frequency will be 1/4 Hz, which is 15 beats per minute. The same percentage applied to 500 Hz leads to a beat frequency of 1.25 Hz, or 75 beats per minute. The effect on the "ear" (the brain acutally) is very different. The rate of the "thrumming" affects the level to which you percieve dissonance. So being "out" means something different at high vs low pitches----this is the one part of music that is not logarithmic!

If you try to keep a mandolin in tune you will know what I am talking about. The most annoying sound is having the two g strings slightly out, the thrumming can be unbearable.

It also turns out that over the frequency range of the violin, the difference between "perfect 5ths" vs "tempered fifths" is less of an issue than it would be at higher or lower ranges--a lucky coincidence. Try it out--you will see what I mean:

660 vs 659.25 beat .75 Hz

440 vs 440 "zero-beat"

293.333 vs 293.6645 .33 Hz

195.556 vs 195.998 .442 Hz

Notice that the beat frequencies are in a narrow range--between 1/3 and 3/4 hz (20 to 45 BPM). The most dissonant rate is more like 1 to 2 Hz--more and you begin to feel like a semitone diad, and less and the timescale is long enough that one accepts the "in tune" nature.

When you tune a mandolin, you can hear the moment you get to a true zero beat--the instrument "quiets". Yet in practice you are happy to have the beats "go away"--even though you are still at 10 BPM difference--it is still "in tune" but has more flavor--an odd sort of thing really.

"I have made analysis of quite a few pieces of music, including the Air on the G string, and the WHOLE violin concerto, "Butterfly Lovers", and I played these and showed that my calculations are correct. Ever wondered why, one single note, A 440 became the standard. You can make it 432, higher or lower, it does not change the way how it works. And it works with Bach, even the Beatles, which I worked out on quite a few songs."

I would like to understand what you are talking about here--but could you elaborate? Could you post the calculations?

Thanks for the valuable addition to the thread.



May 23, 2005 at 09:33 PM · I have an electriconic tuner/metronome. For me, it is useful for tuning the instrument, and it is helpful at the beginning of the practice for finding E on the D string, if I'm having trouble finding it. I don't use it to check my positions while I'm playing, though. It would be too distracting.

My teacher hasn't taught me to tune yet, but I found trying to do scales without being in tune to be counter-productive. Fine tuners make tuning easy. I tune the A string first, checking it with the tuner, and then the others, starting with G, also checking them with the tuner, but trying to do it by ear, first.

I'm sure it would be better to tune completely by ear, but I'm not experienced enough. I aspire to it some day, and to be able to sing a 440 A, like my teacher.

The metronome is great. Period.

May 23, 2005 at 11:24 PM · I think a tuner is a tool, and, as with other tools that you use in the beginning, you become less and less dependent on it as you refine your sense of pitch. I used a pitch pipe in the beginning (that was in the Stone Age, before these fancy schmancy chromatic tuners!), but now I use nothing except the oboe in orchestra or whatever "A" is being offered for the day.

May 24, 2005 at 05:51 AM · Bill, I can give you scores of examples. But it will mean nothing if you do not play according to it and find youself sounding like Heifetz.

Can you tell me which piece you play best so I will work it out for you?

You can also hear this: practised 50 minutes, made a recording, found it bad and did again the next day. It is not meant to be perfect, but show a violinist's dream realised: Play in tune - anytime.


May 24, 2005 at 02:58 PM · Hi Linus,


http://www.putfile.com/media.php?n=Beethoven_Violinissimo "

You definitely sound sharp :-)

"Can you tell me which piece you play best so I will work it out for you?"

I don't play any pieces best--I am a good listener but a dreadful player.

What about "calculations"? Can you show me your calculations?

Best regards,


May 24, 2005 at 03:13 PM · To Deborah Mitchell,

1st, thanks for your blog!

Regarding the productivity of scales without being in tune, I agree! But as far as tuning your instrument goes, I don't like what you are doing. I think you are ready to do if for real (I only say this 'cause I read your blog:-).

If you start at the 'A' string, you should work down to D and then G--not do A, then do G, then D--you will not get G to be matched to A then.

You can hear a "fifth" interval already--in fact I bet you can hear all the intervals already. You just have to try them.

An easy way to do this is to put a finger (doesn't really matter which one) on the "4th" finger position of the d string. Where is that ? it is where you get an 'A' that matches the A-string. Then slide your finger--slide it while bowing--and hear the dissonance develop as you go flatter---then keep moving, and you will start to hear a more consonant sound as you approach one tone away ('G') and keep sliding--you will hear more dissonance--and keep going, and you will find another consonant spot and so on until you have two open strings.

Now, to get the open string consonance (a "5th") you may need to strum the violin like a lute, and turn the fine tuners--again you will hear the consonance/dissonance business.

The hardest part of violin tuning is learning how to be firm yet gentle with the friction pegs.

As far as finding E on the D string is concerned, you do not need a tuner for that--just sing "doe a deer" and you will know that interval. In fact if you do this, you will be able to notice when your strings are out of tune realative to each other as you go up your scale....



May 25, 2005 at 04:28 AM · Bill, well done, first time I read on a violin forum someone saying, yes, a playing is sharp, implying that it was AIMED, or correct to be sharp. Can you elaborate and tell me honestly that if I play those "sharp" note to become "not sharp" and like the piano, do you think they will sound "wrong - flat?". Can you also honestly tell me if you find in any POP music, or (best)recordings by Heifetz, that they are also "sharp" in this manner? To correct you a little bit, only all the notes above A440 (sort of) are sharp, all the notes beneath are flat, which you did not notice. That is why we choose A440 in concert, or the A440 has chosen us.

I am sure you know my calculations, they must be same as yours:

Octave 2/1 error 0c

Perfect 5th 3/2 err 1.96c

Major 3rd 5/4 err -13.67c

Minor 3rd 6/5 err 15.64c

Semitone 27/25 err 33.24c

Minor 2nd 16/15 err 11.73c

Chromatic Semitone 25/24 err -29.33c

Whole tone 10/9 err -17.6c

Big whole tone 9/8 err 3.91c

Something special: extended octave 81/40

A "chromatic semitone" is what to add/subtract to the interval to make it augmented/diminished, minor/major; or change between a semitone/big whole tone or minor 2nd/whole tone.

The reason why the so called "Pythagorean" scale does not work is because it consists of wrong placements of half and whole tone/big whole tones. By putting them right, you get two different major scales, one with the 2/1 octave, another with the 81/40 octave. The Beethoven Concerto used the latter octave. Any violinist working too hard to "perfect" his octave will play this concerto out of tune.

May 25, 2005 at 05:34 AM · Thanks, Bill,

for your suggestions. I'll try them next time.

I was very pleased today, because my teacher checked my violin, and it was almost perfect, except D was a tiny bit sharp.

I have a question:

Will it stay in tune better as I use it more?

(Edit: Spelled "Thanks" correctly. Also wanted to say I'm glad you are enjoying my blog, Bill.)

May 25, 2005 at 11:39 AM · Pauline's guitarist turned self-taught violinist is wonderfully authentic. The acoustic guitar is generally tuned to transpose an octave down and he evidently tuned his violin to do likewise.

May 25, 2005 at 04:28 PM · Hi Linus,

Actually, I did hear you flat as well as sharp. What are you doing with the MIDI? Did you program the accompaniment to 12TET? The effect you get sounds out of tune at times. Best example is two-thirds through your recording, where the soloist climbs the scale in a sawtooth pattern---it sounds way out there. After listening through, I compared yours phrase by phrase to a Josh Bell recording I have on hand, and I must say that Bell's intonantion sounds better to me.

Now what we have to deal with is the "expected" versus the "correct." If you listen to a different tuning scheme from what you are used to, you will sense an out of tune feeling. But if it is consonant, you will eventually adjust and begin to hear and even anticipate the new intervals. I suppose some of that might be going on here, but I am not convinced of it in every part.

I will say that it seems that you can be right on pitch for much of it--so I wonderthen how you trained yourself to do this? How do you check that you are on pitch?

Your tuning scheme is one of many "just" schemes. The extended octave business looks to me like nothing more than an attempt to allow the syntonic comma to just "be" rather than tempering it out----the problem is that the true octave is a foundation of musicality in essentially all musical systems--it is the most universal aspect of tuning--whereas intonation within an octave is very fluid from place to place and time to time.

I am still not sure what you mean by "sharp above 440" and "flat below". I heard flat-sounding notes on your a-string as well as on your d and g strings.

If you are interested in just intonation, then you must go check out the "just intonation network" (they have a website) and you should also listen to Dante Rosati's totally cool 21 tone JI guitar at:




May 26, 2005 at 05:05 PM · >I did hear you flat as well as sharp.

Without flat there is no sharp. There will be no tall boys if there are not also short boys in a class.

>Did you program the accompaniment to 12TET?

I did nothing to the midi, so it is 12TET. There are wind instruments in any orchestra, so 12TET is just fine.

>The effect you get sounds out of tune at times. Best example is two-thirds through your recording,

12TET is meant to be out of tune, but it is there to act as a reference to the pitch of the violin which goes sharper or flatter. The violin has to be out of tune sometimes, because not all the four strings can be in tune any time, one, or two, or three, or all four may be out of tune any particular moment in any piece of music.

>where the soloist climbs the scale in a sawtooth pattern---it sounds way out there.

Any music that modulates will be "more out" because the music will go sharper, or flatter to create the contrast. Why else should music modulate? We all know the higher strings of the violin are sharper, the lower strings flatter. If music modulates to the fifth, it essentially goes up one string, which means sharper (depending on the scheme of the scale).

>After listening through, I compared yours phrase by phrase to a Josh Bell recording I have on hand, and I must say that Bell's intonantion sounds better to me.

We can always work to hide the out-of-tune-ness, given enough time. Even 12TET can be made to sound in tune. It all depends what you are looking for. I have no time to practise, I wish I have. I never said no one can play in tune. What I say is this is the SCHEME I find to sound in tune.

>Now what we have to deal with is the "expected" versus the "correct." If you listen to a different tuning scheme from what you are used to, you will sense an out of tune feeling. But if it is consonant, you will eventually adjust and begin to hear and even anticipate the new intervals. I suppose some of that might be going on here, but I am not convinced of it in every part.

No, I do not adjust to the tempered sound. I used to teach a choir, and once called together 4 different choirs most members sang with me first time. I made them sing a canata with "KEY CHANGE" for the first time in their life. I did it with them without piano accompaniment until 12 hours before the on-tour performance. Once I start, the last note will be spot-on like I knew it, I do not sing out of tune. I aim the choir also not to be affected by the piano. We saw tears in every eye during our three performances, and we did about ten more afterwards. Our pastor confessed he cried boisterously each time. Our choir could not believe they were doing it.

>I will say that it seems that you can be right on pitch for much of it--so I wonderthen how you trained yourself to do this? How do you check that you are on pitch?

I shut myself up in a country house for three years withou a TV, radio, tape recorder or even telephone (at that time I really did not have a telephone). So I "saved" my ears. You do not need to "train" your ears. You can only destroy it.

>Your tuning scheme is one of many "just" schemes. The extended octave business looks to me like nothing more than an attempt to allow the syntonic comma to just "be" rather than tempering it out----the problem is that the true octave is a foundation of musicality in essentially all musical systems--it is the most universal aspect of tuning--whereas intonation within an octave is very fluid from place to place and time to time.

Can you show any basis for saying the "true" octave is "the foundation..." other than it is simpily "believed" to be so? Are you so sure there is no mechanical issues how pitch perception is being affected?

?I am still not sure what you mean by "sharp above 440" and "flat below". I heard flat-sounding notes on your a-string as well as on your d and g strings.

If the octave in tempered is 2/1, violin is 81/40, obviously there is one note above which the violin is sharp, below is flat.

If you are interested in just intonation, then you must go check out the "just intonation network" (they have a website) and you should also listen to Dante Rosati's totally cool 21 tone JI guitar at:


I was among that tuning crowd and joined conferences and was speaker at a few of those. Sorry that many those guys cannot sing what they propose, and may even be "damaged" way beyond repair by their fallacious experiments. To be able to produce a close temperament you need 52 just, 21 is way too crude.

May 26, 2005 at 10:39 PM · Hi Linus,

Thanks for your reply.

>>"I was among that tuning crowd and joined conferences and was speaker at a few of those."

OK, then I am honored to be conversing with you :-)

On with the discussion....so I guess I really do not see the musicality in what you are doing--in the context of the recording I listened to. If the soloist is playing in JI, and the accompaniament is in 12TET, then you have discordance--rather than developing harmonies and progressions, resolving to a chord etc, you end up with dissonance--there is no chance for assimilation of the tonal system, as the instruments are at odds with each other. I think you need to make the "orchestra" match the soloist. I think the "stretched octave" has the same fundamental problem---especially the idea that (arbitrarily) the match is at 440----that means you are more and more "out" the farther out from 440 you go--so again, as the melody moves up and down, the harmonies fall apart. This is especially troubling for a Romantic piece--maybe you can find something a-la Partch that works....

The idea that 21 tones is too coarse is another strange idea--why? You are using fewer than that in your piece here---were we talking explicitly about "close" temperment?

Dante's works are a good example of the harmonicity achievable in a different tonal system---1st time one hears it (coming from the "regular" music universe as I do) it sounds a bit "out". But then it all comes together--the harmonies are real----I do not get that on your recording in general---there is no consistent tonal development. In fact between Indian music and Dante, I can now more closely discern the enharmonicity present in a regular guitar.

Would you consider re-making the orchestration to match your tonal system? I do not understand why you insist that the brass and other wind instruments are inherently 12TET. Where are you getting that idea?

As far as hearing the right pitches, I suppose the sequester would work.

I do find that if I play the violin or viola by myself for an extended period--my own improvisations-- I seem to wander away from the 12TET--to the point that I notice that I must re-adjust when I join with a guitar or a mandolin etc. But remember, I am not a good player--only a good listener--a good player probably has a different take on this "adjustment" process.

Best regards,


June 3, 2005 at 09:37 AM · >I really do not see the musicality in what you are doing

Why would you "see" musicaliity?

>Dante's works are a good example of the harmonicity achievable in a different tonal system---1st time one hears it (coming from the "regular" music universe as I do) it sounds a bit "out". But then it all comes together--the harmonies are real----I do not get that on your recording in general---there is no consistent tonal development. In fact between Indian music and Dante, I can now more closely discern the enharmonicity present in a regular guitar.

After one performance, someone commented, "I heard other violinists who played out of tune. I am sure the violinists heard themselves out of tune also. What I do not understand is, why they do not correct those notes." Now you said it. You can hear him out of tune. So why does he not correct it?

Your problem is, you were "told" that music notes happen to consist of harmonics, and these "can" match, "enharmonicity" you call it. But why should they match to produce Beethoven? If you look for notes that suit "your" frequency expectations, you will find it somewhere, but not in my performance. Some people look for very young prodigy, and they find satisfaction seeing a 3-year-old playing paganini, because they "discovered" that this is exceptional. They possibly find the same satisfaction in another child performing difficult acrobatics, and it is not music they are looking for.

When is the last time when someone played the violin and then you hear someone said, "I never realised the violin sounded so good / sad / pretty, or when they hear Meditation said, "how sad this piece really is." Most of us are "TOLD" that the piece is sad. And when we hear it, we "KNOW" this as sad instead of feeling sad for it.

Sorry, I believe the comments of very small children. Couple days ago, I heard someone said exactly that to my Meditation, and my daughter accused me for causing the Mendelsohn concerto to ring non-stop in her head for many days, same another girl said a few years back. Children replayed my recordings days on end, and "unmusical" friends came to copy my music on Flash RAM sticks, these all happened even just very shortly ago. Unfortunately, you might probably have lost those feelings. I could not say strongly enough how a person's musical perception can easily be destroyed.

>Would you consider re-making the orchestration to match your tonal system? I do not understand why you insist that the brass and other wind instruments are inherently 12TET. Where are you getting that idea?

Thinking in your direction, there should be no joy at all hearing the piano, so piano should never have any big repertoire. I could of course adjust all instruments, it is a hugh job, the 16 midi channel does not suffice (I did one piece on separate files). Every same note is different in a different part. But nowadays many orchestral strings play tempered, due to the negligency or ignorance in other virtues over just good sight-reading. And if you saw how oboist and clarinetist tuned their instruments, meticulously with ladies' nail vanish, you'll know ET means business.

I said "wind instruments", I did not say "all wind instruments". But wind instruments easily fall into ET since they do not have the "incentive" brought about by the "open strings".

To describe being "well-tuned" in your way of thinking is same as someone who said somewhere, "you get one very loud violin".

June 3, 2005 at 03:09 PM · What are temperments?

Never heard of them

June 3, 2005 at 05:16 PM · Hi Linus,

Please understand that I am not asking you to defend yourself--rather to explain yourself--I mean no harm:-)

A lot could be written about what constitues music. I do not want to go into a treatise on that in this thread.

I am neither defending nor attacking 12TET. And please understand that I am very open to alternative tonal systems. I enjoy listening to all sorts of stuff--even stuff that is frankly unenjoyable--because I can learn something from it.

Specifically in the case of your recording I am questioning the thematic consistency of using an unconventional tuning on top of a conventional 12TET. It does not work for my (mind you,open-minded) ears. The problem is that the Beethoven concerto is an inherently *harmony* dependent work--there is way too much known about his work--even from his day--to reject harmony. Now whether it is just harmony or slighlty imperfect tempered harmony, there is room there---but to impose one system on another with no consistent harmonic relation--which is what happens with your stretched octave--different relation at each distance from your chosen tonic---I feel (my opinion) that it does not work.

I would like to hear your approach put together with an original composition. Then we can see it without the reality of expectations built from experience.

Best sincerest regards,


June 4, 2005 at 07:09 PM · Bill, I just put the Air by Bach with pitchwheel adjusted tuning, and you may use a MIDI sequencer to silent except only one strings a time to compare to the harpsichord, and see if that is how exactly (almost) how the string players will play, in complete disregard of the out-of-tuness or the ET harpsichord. This is an old file, and I do not guarantee that all the notes would be correct. No time to check. All the pitchwheel values should be added by 720, since I used it to play with my violin in a lower key as "Air on the G string", and the present values would therefore be fine.

There is such a thing as violin sonatas, and the violin will not bother how any piano would be messed up by some amateur tuners, they are not going to follow their mess, and the violin will play in tune. Same thing here. Whether it be ET or just simply tuned badly, the strings will just play in tune, as the composer had in his head. Wind will be no different from a piano. You replace the harpsichord with clarinet, oboe and bassoon, and the effect will be same.


find Bach_Air_tuned_for_comparison.MID in "documents".

June 4, 2005 at 07:34 PM · I went, I looked, I did not find. I don't know if it's been covered but I don't think ET was used until the piano came along. The phrase 'ET harpsichord' jumped out at me.

June 5, 2005 at 01:26 AM · It is there for anyone who has a sequencer to disable other parts and to notice how the string players would struggle to play non-ET.

The tuning of the keyboards is an lost art. The art is not how to tune, but how to make the least mistake in the whole piece. And the harpsichord would have to be tuned all the time. In contrast, the organ will just would have to have very many staves.

We cannot make any statements to misdlead the audience to think that whenever there is a harpsichord in concert, you get perfert intonation, in particular, in todays concerts.

The harpsichord today had better tuned in ET, unless you can show me you know how to tune it properly.

June 5, 2005 at 02:07 AM · Just found an wav file of the Air, why don't you try compare part by part with a sequencer, putting each part to solo one after the other, and watch how close my tuning agrees with this quartet.


June 5, 2005 at 02:21 AM · If you ever "doubt" you own ability to detect any "difference" in intonation, try this:


Listening any longer will surely turn you into flutist rather than a violinist.

June 5, 2005 at 08:19 AM · Linus, can you put the Air file somewhere besides MSN groups? MSN is bugging me to join just to get to it. I don't know how many pages of information I will have to fake to get there.

June 5, 2005 at 11:14 AM · It seemed difficult to do this simple thing. Can you let me know an email address so I send it to you, very small file.

June 5, 2005 at 11:10 AM · From Danielle Goatley

>What are temperments?

>Never heard of them

When we tune the violin, two adjacent strings form perfect 5th, the strings sound together giving a "smooth harmony" because the frequencies of the two strings give the ratio 3:2 (or 3/2). Similarly, if we place our fingers to make intervals on two string as major or minor 3rd, you get ratios 5/4 and 6/5 respectively. However if we break these intervals equally into their number of "half-tones", they are quite different from one another, or if you divide the octave into twelve equal parts (Equal Temperament, that is). So unless a violinist plays in strict ET (and tune his strings in a different way than how we normally tune them "well"), he will find the notes sounding odd all over. Ways of getting around this is called "temperament", sort of.

The following is a list of intervals, and how much bigger or smaller these are compared to your equally divided (ET) electronic keyboard, unit is "cent", one octave is 1200 cents, or one half-tone is 100 cents. That means the electronic keyboard or the electronic tuner is that much OUT of tune:

Oct 0

P5 1.96

P4 -1.96

Maj3 -13.69

Min3 15.64

Min2 11.73

Chromatic semitone-29.33

Semitone 33.24

Big Whole Tone 3.91

Whole tone -17.6

Comma 21.51

Aug6 -44.97

Dim3 31.28

June 5, 2005 at 03:34 PM · What is a Big Whole Tone? How does it differ from a Whole Tone?

June 6, 2005 at 01:21 AM · A "big whole tone" is a name given to discriminate against the "whole tone". If you tune your first finger in first position the note B on the A string, you can either tune it as a major 6th from the open D, then between the open A string and your B it is a "whole tone" which has a ratio 5/3 in their resp frequencies. But if you tune your B to the open E string instead making a perfect fourth, you get a higher B, now between your open A and B you have a "big whole tone". The ratio of the two frequencies is 4/3. The size of a whole tone is 182.4 cents, the big wt is 203.9 cents, about 11% difference. When you tune for a major third, you definitely get one wt and one bwt, TWO DIFFERENT whole tones. That is what you are doing trying out on a so called "Pythagorean" scale. DON'T do it, because your first finger will be higher on the 2nd note, and lower on the 6th note without the player knowing it and ruin his subsequent judgements. The "Pythagorean" scale is not present in any popular/traditional music.

June 6, 2005 at 02:30 AM · The pythagorean scale is different from 'just intonation', which has a modified 3rd and 6th if I remember right, for the sake of polyphony. Your statement that it isn't present in any traditional music is simply false. All western traditional unaccompanied singing will use it. And an accompanying singer will use parallel 4ths for harmony :)

Is your point that violinists should play in equal temprement? Is that what you're trying to say? As I said in some thread, I doubt that's possible. An aural/mechanical problem. Also, there are obvious asthetic advantages (potential anyway) to not being stuck to ET.

June 6, 2005 at 02:27 AM · Jim, What is your definition of the "Pythagorean" scale?

Violinist cannot play in strict ET because 1. the open strings are tuned as pure 5ths, 2. The ET cannot be naturally derived inside the mind. 3. No fun (boring).

June 6, 2005 at 02:55 AM · There are lots of way to define it - in terms of ratios, how it was discovered, it's relation to other scales, etc. I would just say it's the scale that follows the same physical laws the human body.

It would be interesting if someone would find out that the 'blue third' in American traditional music is the same thing as the too flat third in the Pythagorean scale and the harmonic series. That's also a good example of expressiveness going away if you were to adhere strictly to ET, etc.

June 6, 2005 at 03:02 AM · Jim, you are just another "very confused" violinist. There is one very "popular" way to get "a Pythagorean scale" by playing the first note, "do", on an open string, the next two notes tuned to an upper string, the third note to a lower string (octave), the fifth note "so" to an upper string, the sixth note to a lower string, the seventh to an upper string. Then the octave, of course, to a lower string. This way you get a scale, from the first note "do" up, with intervals bwt, wt, min2, bwt, wt, bwt, min2.

The reason why this is popular is because you can get easily the G, D, and A major scales without too much trouble - you can't find a lower string than the G string, but that is ok since the third finger should be about the same on the G string as on the D string.

Look carefully you got 3 BIG and 2 "regular" WHOLE TONES.

By randomly swapping the wt and bwt's around you get all different kinds of what you call "Pythagorean" scales (per your undefinitive definition) all sounding very funny. But all sounding odd, and very damaging. When therefore can you start to make Meditation to sound "sad", or the Spring Sonata to sound energetic? A scale can only be correct (in how the bwt / wt, and the semitone/minor 2nd's) when arranged per each particular piece of music calls for.

June 6, 2005 at 05:29 AM · Have fun being the expert.

June 6, 2005 at 03:20 AM · I apologize for asking for definitions. I am an engineer. This is how I work. I forgot I am in a violinist forum now.

June 6, 2005 at 05:32 AM · I come from a professional engineering background as well, but I chose the definition I gave you because of many ways to 'define' it, it was the appropriate definition for the context. Meaning, if you want to understand why traditional singers use the Pythagorean scale naturally, it's pointless to talk about ratios.

June 6, 2005 at 03:49 AM · Jim, nice to meet you. How much do you play the violin? Do you play/sing jazz/blue/what? I don't mean anything bad, if only you research and find out the magnitude of this "confusion" which was there, the Chinese started to calculate the ET up to over 200 decimal places 5000 years ago.

June 6, 2005 at 03:58 AM · I only know the western history of it, and just a little. I played through college, because I had a scholarship, then quit for many years, took it up for about two months again more recently, then realized it wasn't as much fun as it used to be, like a lot of things :)

June 6, 2005 at 04:02 AM · What scholarship did you have? I had a scholarship to study at Guildhall school, London, as an advanced violin student after I played in our local orchestra for three years. Now I am electronic design leader, mentor to a few young engineers in China.

June 6, 2005 at 05:33 AM · Linus, it was a scholarship to just play violin in the orchestra in a state school. A lot of us had them. It doesn't make much sense, but that's the way they spend tax money. As an engineer I was involved in many kinds of projects, had some of my own, and am now pretty much out of circulation.

June 6, 2005 at 06:09 AM · If you tell me which piece you play I can show you how to play it in tune. BTW I tuned a few Beatles pieces and they match them singing quite well. The Blues made use of the very big errors to create its distinct flavor: Dim5 31.3 cents, Aug6 -45 cents, Aug2 -46.9 cents.

June 6, 2005 at 06:18 AM · Paul McCartney and I would be more interested in the 200 decimal places 4000 years ago in China thing. Elaborate please.

June 6, 2005 at 07:19 AM · Jim, You will find a lot of information in the tuning list, or if you prefer, other disbelievers to join them if you choose.

From: peterimig@...

Date: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:20 pm

Subject: Re: [tuning] Re: W.O.O.T. Festival up and running!!! peterimig@...

Send Email

Just a note here: This was posted to a couple of other more "experimental"

mailing lists that i am also on, and the average reaction was like


Scales? Bah! These wackos have gotten it all wrong..."

--> This is the average opinion of people, that are not knowing, what they

are talking about. Tuning is a more than 2000 year old science, which

startet with pythagoras and the ancient greeks, or even earlier in China.

The Tuning mailing list contains rubbish mails, but there are serious

scientists amoung us.

Peter Imig

June 6, 2005 at 07:17 PM · Linus,

I am afraid I am not really following you--what is your point? I can't get to your "Air" file, so cannot compare it to anything.

Of course I don't doubt one's ability to hear/feel--even see--differences in intonation.

Other than coming in here and being Mr. Professor, I really have not gotten anything new or well-presented out of you. In other words, what is your thematic point--going back to your post with your recording of Beethoven.

What's with all the "professional" engineering bluffery?! Do you expect that to impress anyone? What does that have to do with this? Is that an "authenticating document"? Will you send along a copy of your license to prove it (as if we even care!)? If so, then you need to give some better information to us, before we give you any.

Intonation, tuning--all very interesting and fascinating--but it is not interesting to go nowhere--I get the sense that you are trying to "educate" us about something that we "do not understand" --- only it is you that does not understand--we do not need to be "educated" or indoctrinated--we are interested in discussion and ideas--but if you cannot present your ideas in a clear, readable, sensible manner, then there really isn't going to be any dialogue.



June 6, 2005 at 07:03 PM · I came to the same conclusion.

June 7, 2005 at 01:04 AM · I already told you that I play with a bigger octave, and that a pure intonation does actualy go well with ET, which you discounted immediately in my face because of your own paradigm prevented you to believe, which I can show you in two major violin concertos, which is so obvious beyond dispute because the fact and the proof (the size of the repertoire) stand right in front of you, and that there is a fixed structure that is decided by the music environment for which reason I can show you only if you just tell me a piece you play and I can help you to make it sound better.

And would you not find it a little disgusting if people begin to show their PhD's in the forum?

It would be difficult to show you why the sun comes every morning from the east if you discount totally the possibility that the earth could be round. I am sorry that I cause you to get upset for any reason, or bring up topics that does not get along well with you.

On another hand I cannot list out what you already show that you are not ready to believe, unless you are willing to experiment on it instead of just criticizing.

June 7, 2005 at 01:21 AM · You need to just write a paper we can read. Ta.

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