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Tuner Dependance


Austen
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Well, this discussion did it to me. There's a tuner sitting with my music paraphernalia since a few hours. I haven't had a chance to use it but I pulled it out a few minutes ago and tried singing an A. Not bad: I sang Bb. Next, I found myself singing LOUDER to make it sharper (I guess I still associated "A" with something above Bb) -- maybe from the winds experience. And I haven't even gotten to the violin. But that tells me something about control and distraction as well. I have been singing a lot longer than I have been playing the violin, and coordination went down as I tried to adjust my singing to getting the needle to point where I wanted it to point.

I suspect that like any tool, the tuner is a tool that can be used, misused, or used creatively and imaginatively. I intend to do the latter. I'm not getting a lot of feedback to my own playing, and suspect that on some occasions I have gotten into a loop. I hear myself playing the same scales every day, and after a while I play to the memory of my past playing, thinking that this is what it's supposed to sound like. I copy myself. Of course nowadays I also use sympathetic vibrations of open strings, the overtones and so on, and I know enough not to become hooked on the tuner, and I know that there are different types of intonation. But it's a tool, it's a plaything, there's a bit of biofeedback in a sense, and jaded perspectives can be refreshed by seeing an old thing from a new angle. I would be hesitant about an absolute beginner using a tuner because of the dependency issue, and because a solid relationship with the instrument should establish itself first. You can't do that if your attention is distracted from the sensations and sounds of instrument and hands in the beginning.

I've been playing with this thing for 10 minutes and already I'm finding a thousand uses. Apparently I laugh at C#. That's frivolous. Singing an arpeggio my third is consistently sharp and the fifth is consistently flat. Going down a fourth from the tonic or up a fifth yielding the same note, of course, gives the same results: flat. I'm not perceiving these intervals anywhere as well as I thought I was. Truly a handy biofeedback tool. What results will come on the violin. Was it my voice or my perception of fifths and fourths? Does it only happen in the key of A. Of course with the violin there is again the resonance of other strings etc. But if I'm playing a run or a melody with arpeggios, will the perception of "fifthness" come in, or the resonance of the strings? What notes am I hearing in my head before I play, and should I be hearing those notes or have I been hearing them slightly off all along?

I can see many uses. But I would caution anyone including myself that it's a tool, and a tool should not become a crutch. I would want to spend a LOT of time away from it. But right now I'm like a little kid with a toy.

Tried the A again. Bb. At least I'm consistent. Or living in the baroque era.

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When the ear listens for a pitch, the BRAIN decides what it hears. No one understands how the brain can discriminate, say, where a needle is heard dropping to the ground. No comupter can do this feat. In contrast, the tuner ONLY hears the base frequency. The ear hears all harmonics and overtones. Mind you harmonics are NOT really exactly mathematical multiples or fraction, but due to string tension, construction, etc, they deviate a little. That is why in acoustics, we call these partials, not harmonics or overtones. The brain determines the pitch according to these partials, the tuner decides the pitch upon the base frequency. Therefore the "pitch" you hear is different from what the tuner hears.

Also, in telephony, due to narrow bandwidth for resource saving, a technique was actually found that a LOWER frequency (a base frequency) can actually be caused to be perceived by the brain through the combination of two higher frequencies. In such case, the ear will hear one pitch, which the tuner cannot hear at all.

Another problem is, when a sound having a very small amplitude, the ear will hear a pitch much lower than what it actually is. However, if the correct pitch is heard at a higher amplitude first, the interpretation of this very soft note will be more correctly interpretated.

There are very many way why the tuner will hear a very different pitch from the ear. If you depend your pitch on the tuner, you actually do not know what you are doing.

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Electronic tuners are great for settling arguments between players of differing audial abilities, and for obtaining a sort of consensus in a group where individual instruments show much variance as to timbre.

That said, I feel compelled to add that the worst use of an e-tuner was in a quartet where the first violinist routinely plopped a tuner in front of a highly capable cellist, announcing, "This is right. I tuned to it at home."

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Quote:

a technique was actually found that a LOWER frequency (a base frequency) can actually be caused to be perceived by the brain through the combination of two higher frequencies.


Is this the same as a differential -- or something else?

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DA, actually these were two different issues. One is the differential you mention, the other is a "study" which found out that although the frequency range of the telephone system cannot be below 300Hz, the listener can actually percieve much lower frequencies through hearing the higher overtones of the base frequency. I cannot locate this report now, it was long ago when there was no internet. Sorry I did not state it correctly, the technique may have little to do in telephony.

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Well, here is a summary of my experiment with the tuner and the violin. I think that first and foremost it got to me listening with fresh ears. I didn't find myself depending on the tuner so much as questioning it, and that brought me right back to listening to the sound I was producing. My offspring, who is on the first leg toward a profession in music, was a bit alarmed by the sudden appearance of a tuner (what is mother up to this time?) and cautioned me that it's not about note recognition but interval recognition. I knew that already, but am still proud of being able to hum a A alternatively as G and Bb (I'm getting close!) He had the impression that when I was adjusting my pitch that some of the interval concepts I was adjusting to were a bit iffy. I kept his observation mind, that when I adjust my pitch while playing my concept of some intervals is not as accurate as I would like to believe.

In one sense the tuner played the same function as recording your playing: some external feedback that makes you check whether you're doing what you imagine you're doing. I kept firmly in mind that first of all tuners are not "accurate" in all instances, and secondly we don't play to tempered scales. A half step is not always precisely half of a tone. But when that little green light failed to come on I started to have a dialogue with my other senses. Play the Db scale, the Db is "green" but the Eb is "red" - play Db + Eb = major 2nd; listen to it without the tuner and how does it sound? "Note quite as nice as it could." Meaning, I've got the relative pitch somewhere in there, but not accurate enough. Play it to please the tuner. Repeat while not looking at the tuner. It sounds more pleasant, warmer, more right. In all instances my resource were my own senses, my experience in everything I've ever heard in good music, and in this way the tuner actually pushed me back to using my ears. When I had begun on the violin every sound sensation was so fresh that I heard "more" than I do now. I remember hearing qualities to a note played in tune, I suppose overtones, when there was no direct match to open strings. I was starting to hear these again as I compared what the tuner was telling me and what I thought was already right. A couple of times I was relatively in tune, but refining made it "sound nicer" to my ear.

My exploration also led me to find some things to work on, which I can do without a tuner. There were fingerings that had once been a huge stretch for me, and apparently still conditioned to thinking of these notes as almost impossible to reach - as a result the big physical stretch I was doing resulted in sharp notes. For notes in the higher registers, I was playing them sharp because I perceived them as being "really high". From tuner I checked with the open string - then checked my concept of the note (it was in a piece) and this over-sharp D seemed the norm to me. Because all the other notes that followed were correct relative to the D I had not really noticed, except that once the melody resumed on an open E it had always been mucky. That in turn got me more aware of "tone colour" because the over-sharp high D felt yellow and shrill in comparison to the correct D. From that point on I'm far away from the tuner, and into new impressions and sensations and a better awareness. There was a lot more, but I just wanted to make a brief sketch of the different ways that the tuner impacted on my impressions in ways that went beyond trying to play in such a way as to keep the light green.

So all in all I found it a useful tool, but I also think it important that I was thrown back to my ears and pitch nad tone memory as my primary resource. I don't know if it would have been good to be near a tuner as a beginner and perhaps never develop the more direct experiencing of the sounds of the violin and really listening. Personally I'm not planning to spend a lot of time with it, but to use it as a backup resource.

This reminds me that our accompanist once told me that one of her piano students was incapable of playing without a metronome, and seemed to have developed a metronome dependance. I gather that she was quite against the use of a metronome as a habitual thing. It probably comes down to how you use any tool.

Karla and Austen, I'd be interested in knowing just how you use the tuner when you do use it: i.e. do you have this back and forth thing going on that I described or another way of relating and playing?

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> The harmonic (any harmonic) is actually a little bit flat.

That is not exactly the reason. The reason why a harmonic are OFTEN flat is because unless it is the highest note in a melody, you do not usually play a harmonic. And if it is the highest note, you probably will need to play it 21.51 cent sharp. Therefore it will sound flat because it is not sharp by that amount. However, there are keys when the harmonic will be perfectly (almost) in tune, e.g. in a piece in D major, like the Beethoven concerto, octave harmonic on the A string is in tune. E is completely out. Piano tuners tune by harmonics, so pianos are more sharp on the lower register than the higher register notes. I remember the first time I bought a piano, got a piano tuner, warned him not to make the high notes flat, and this he actually did, I felt like I wanted to throw the whole piano out of the window. I was residing on the 11th floor then. Later I found all pianos are flat on the higher notes, but not that much to cause it to sound flat in a performance. The ear is used to excuse itself for a note being out of tune on an open string, including harmonics. That is why nobody seem to find the piano out of tune, it has ALL open strings. That is why in a performance, YOU must be in tune, the open strings are mostly ok to be out of tune - there can seldom be a moment when all the four strings in tune simultaneously anyway. But harmonics sound out of tune for a different reason. They (often) really need to be 21.51 cents sharp, e.g. bar 38 of Brahms G sonata 1st mov. But when they do not require being sharp, they are just beautiful, e.g. end notes in Meditation.

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Actually, harmonics in a real-world string will be slightly sharp relative to their "theoretical" pitches. The stiffness of the string is the cause of this "inharmonicity". Pianos tend to get slightly sharper as you go up the keyboard and flatter as you descend - the octaves are "stretched." The reason for stretching octaves is that when tuning octaves you tune the fundamental of the higher pitch to the (slightly sharp) first harmonic of the lower one. This stretched octave sounds "in tune" because we don't hear interference between the two. If we were to tune an octave simply by doubling the frequency of the fundamental, the higher note would not quite match the lower note's first harmonic and the result, though accurate in theory, would sound out of tune.

This subject is usually only important in discussions of keyboard instruments, due to the large size and stiffness of the strings. While the effect also occurs in other strings, the effect on a violin string would be too small to be significant.

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>Pianos tend to get slightly sharper as you go up the keyboard and flatter as you descend - the octaves are "stretched."

Hmm.. So my problem was with THE particular tuner (man), not the theory behind it. Just downloaded a few FFT freeware programs and checked on my piano (Petrof 6'8"), the harmonics I cannot see them shifted, and A110, 220, 440, 880, 1760 did not show an deviation. But my daughter who has absolute pitch says the C is sharper in the lower register. Will check again when I have more time. Wonder if anyone can find some measured data.

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Is recording oneself really the best way to judge one's playing? If a very good player doesn't like what he sounds like in a recording, it seems to me it might be due, at least in part, to the way the microphone colors the sound.

When I was a Suzuki student our group was invited to play for a bunch of Sony execs who were demonstrating a certain DAT recording device. Having never heard a DAT recording before I expected it to be a fair reproduction of the sound we heard, but in fact it was very thin and rather shrill. While I don't deny that listening to oneself while playing is psychologically quite different than hearing a recording of oneself, the differences I heard in terms of sound quality were significant enough that I seriously doubt a psychological explanation is sufficient.

The violin is one of the hardest instruments to record such that it sounds pleasing to the ear, and there's much about the violin's sound that cannot be reproduced by current technology.

One might still be able to detect when one is out of tune, but if talented players don't like what they hear in their own recordings then I doubt very much it's due to lousy intonation. In fact, I'd say the ability to dislike one's recordings is more a testament to one's hearing abilities than it is indicative of deficiencies in that regard.

PS - Take a look at the MP3 file I've attached. It contains two digitally generated A440 sounds, the first a sine wave and the second a sawtooth wave. Try tuning your violin to the first and see how much harder it is than tuning your violin to the latter.

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So just an FYI to ad to this since I am the one that began it all (technicall speaking) and since someone ask... I rarely use the tuner during practice and I don't recomend that it is used all the time. I use it during my scale work sometimes to make sure that I am starting correctly and to check up on what I think is right. It's good for fine tuning and it is also good for setting people who are very confused about relative pitch more straight. Other than that I don't use it too much. It would drive me insane.... I have enough to worry about with bow hold and bow movement, etc to constantly also check in with pitch outside of my ear.

The other thing to say here is that both Austen and I are using Korg tuners but we also have a device on them that hooks to the violin and measures the pitch via frequency instead of sound. I think the response and accuracy is better than what you experience by using just the tuner alone. It is a really cool device.

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I've used electric tuners and pitch forks (tuning forks!). I prefer pitch forks for the simple reason that they don't remind me of a casio watch and I tend to misplace them. They also can be used in hot places to poke people.

I've practice some pieces deliberately sub pitch at times if performing required energy I just didn't feel I had. The higher pitch at concert time tended to liven me up and hopefully the performance.

If not turner is handy, I use the old rusty singing routine--sing the pitch and tune to it.

As for using recordings in practice,

one thing to always keep in mind is the type of recording you are listening to. Each one colors or represents the sounds in a different way. With digital, there are some natrually occuring sounds as well as musical instrument sounds that require sampling rates far above what most domestic recorders will allow, with tape, imperfections , speed fluctuations and a whole host of things can taint the playback sound.

Listening to a recording of yourself should really only be used to listen for specific things, such as meter, rythm, relative dynamics (even that can be sketchy) and phrasing.

With very good recording devices you might be able to analyze intonation, but most home recording devices will not give you a very fair representation of that either. Some tape systems will actually introduce a "flutter" at the range of the violin, which may give you the impression of intonation problems, when there are none. Or, make you sound like you have a vibrato that was cultivated in zero gravity.

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