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First time tuning in just fifths

July 27, 2022, 4:41 PM · Tuning is so interesting.

It really is interesting that now that my strings are perfectly in tune, my G string is noticeably flat compared to the piano G.

I've known for a while that the 'maths' in music doesn't quite add up, but experiencing the discrepancies first-hand is really eye-opening (ear-opening?).

Replies (15)

Edited: July 27, 2022, 4:53 PM · Supposedly, Casals liked to boost his C string a little, probably for that reason.

Also, it is possible (worth investigating, anyway) that your sense of pitch varies depending on how loud the tone is. What is right next to your ear might sound a little flat. See if you get the same effect with someone else playing the violin. Or you playing, with an earplug on the left side.

Edited: July 27, 2022, 5:11 PM · Kennedy, of course you are right - and it is worse for viola and cello whose lowest string is C, a fifth below G.

When playing a string instrument with a piano I have always tuned my lowest string to the piano because that is the one note I cannot adjust by finger when playing. And when playing in string ensembles it pays to check your group's harmonies, because pitches that "sound in tune" in melody will often likely not be in tune in harmony. (It is one of the "devils" of amateur performances of Mozart string music!)

Think of the "circle of fifths" as a fairly tight spiral - just not tight enough.

July 27, 2022, 7:14 PM · This is why many violists and cellists eventually learn to tune by ear in "tight fifths" which are in between just fifths and equal temperament fifths. The idea is to avoid sounding out of tube with violin E strings. I typically aim to have my viola C string about 4 cents "flat" on a tuning app, which puts it the same distance from the equal temperament note as the violin G strings.
July 27, 2022, 11:37 PM · If you tuned to the piano A, then did perfect 5ths for the other strings, then the open G will be 4 cents (4/100 of a equal-tempered half step!) lower than the piano G. If you can hear that difference you have excellent pitch discernment. Congratulations, or rather a warning, that these pitch problems will plague you forever.
Recommendation to Violists or Cellists working with pianists; perhaps tune to the piano D instead of A
July 28, 2022, 12:22 AM · How do you know the piano is in tune?
July 28, 2022, 2:47 AM · Well, it's a digital keyboard, so it never really goes out of tune.

I also confirmed with a tuner, so I don't think there's much room for doubt.

Edited: July 28, 2022, 4:20 AM · Why do we have such blind confidence in electronic keyboards and tuners?
Do they all have the same microchip, and who makes it?
July 28, 2022, 6:23 AM · Not so many years ago a "tuner" was a human being. More trustworthy than a microchip?
July 28, 2022, 8:30 AM · Adrian, I don't know if they all use the same microchip - BUT - every electronic tuner I have been exposed to (always at A=440 Hz) has been in perfect agreement" - even the keyboard I managed to "score" on line for about $75 + shipping last year.
July 29, 2022, 10:22 AM · I doubt there should be much variation in tunings from one keyboard or chip to the next. There’s no inharmonicity in a keyboard (as far as I know).

The math is pretty simple: we all know an octave is a simple doubling of frequency. If you increase each half step by the twelfth root of two you should get equal temperament. I’d be curious to know whether the high treble is stretched a little to accommodate our preference for slightly wide octaves.

I’ve seen a study that suggests the best aural tunings and top tuning software are about equal. In real life, tuners vary in bit skill and diligence.

Edited: July 30, 2022, 3:37 PM · Scott that seems so obvious, but I showed my previous digital stage piano (Yamaha P-155) to my piano tuner (a veteran guildsman), and he said "I'm always surprised how many of these keyboards are out of tune." I was slack-jawed in surprise, but he proved it to me. He played a few thirds in the middle of the piano, and he said, "See, here this one should beat X times per second and it's only beating Y ... it's wrong." So the question returns to how they do the sampling and the modeling. Is it intentionally slightly detuned to make it sound more realistic? Hard to imagine they would directly sample a piano that is not itself in very good tune.
July 29, 2022, 9:52 PM · Paul, it’s hard to know what he really means. I don’t think an electronic keyboard is equivalent to a piano because it lacks inharmonicity. Hard to say.
Edited: July 30, 2022, 4:41 AM · Talking of a digital piano whose notes are sampled from a real one, I was wondering if every key on the keyboard is played individually by some patient and even-fingered pianist, or whether only a limited number are sampled and their pitches digitally altered?
July 30, 2022, 8:38 AM · Steve,
Yes, modern practice is to record every note of a perfectly prepared top concert grand, even for a very small hybrid. So I suppose in that case there would be inharmonicity and thus a wider octave stretch.
Depends on exactly what type of digital keyboard it is.
July 31, 2022, 2:30 PM · If you haven't read it, a great read on this topic is Ross Duffin's "How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care)"

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