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Scordatura tuning "cannot be done" on modern instruments? Not quite true in my experience...


Guest heartbaroque

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Guest heartbaroque

I just recieved a new cd set yesterday of Biber's Harmonia Artificiosa. In the program notes, a statement is made declaring scordatura tuning "impossible" on modern instruments. Now, it occured to me that what was meant was using modern strings on an authentic instrument, as it goes even farther to say that tuning the G string up to an A or higher would cause the instrument to shatter. Well, I've been doing just that every day for many months now and my modern violin is just fine. Furthermore, I am using hybrid gut core strings, which seem sufficient for the job. I also have no problem with my e string tuned down to D, which is seen frequently in some of the required tunings of the Mystery Sonatas, I think it sounds clean and beautiful. Anyway, I found those remarks interesting... Now, I will add a disclaimer and say that I have not experimented with the more extreme tunings, but so far everything I have tried has worked quite well. I think it would be a shame if modern string players continued to avoid these beautiful pieces simply because the myth persists that it's not "possible" to play them with our instruments.... I think I am on to something here ;)

Thoughts?

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Of course you can. Many synthetic strings, however, will break if you tune them up a whole step. What kind of strings do you use?

I use Zyex strings, and they work well. Gut strings always work well. A friend uses Obbligatos, but I'm not sure if she uses them for long periods. I'm sure you could use (ugh) steel.

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Guest heartbaroque

I use Passione strings right now. The most "extreme" tuning I have attempted is for Sonata XIV from the Rosary set.. requires lower two strings tuned up a whole step to A and E, respectively. I have noticed that after a certain amount of time my bridge begins to lean forward, but not too severely. And I return the violin back to its normal tuning once I'm done.

To the person who asked, strings like Passione have a gut core but are wound with a metal (I believe its silver for that set) so they're stronger and not so touchy like a pure gut string would be.

I suppose it could be reasonable to assume that a perfomer, who has spent their entire career playing an authentic instrument, would not be aware that there are strings available that make playing in scordatura possible. This week gets weirder by the minute...first I was robbed, and now I am in total disagreement with Reinhard Goebel...God works in mysterious ways, indeed :P

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I would think that as long as you are lowering pitch, stress on the fiddle would not be a factor, modern or old instrument.

If you're raising the pitch, then the modern instrument might tolerate the additional stress better than an old, fragile antique.

Now, whether the change in string tension results in retaining an acceptable tone color is a separate issue from stress on the instrument. You might not be overstressing the fiddle by raising the pitch, but do you like the new tone color? That would vary from fiddle to fiddle.

I would think that constant tuning up and down would shorten the life of strings, synthetic or gut core. But strings are expendable anyway.

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Guest heartbaroque

I would think that as long as you are lowering pitch, stress on the fiddle would not be a factor, modern or old instrument.

If you're raising the pitch, then the modern instrument might tolerate the additional stress better than an old, fragile antique.

Now, whether the change in string tension results in retaining an acceptable tone color is a separate issue from stress on the instrument. You might not be overstressing the fiddle by raising the pitch, but do you like the new tone color? That would vary from fiddle to fiddle.

I would think that constant tuning up and down would shorten the life of strings, synthetic or gut core. But strings are expendable anyway.

The tone color on my instrument does not, to my sensitive ears, suffer at all. I'm killing the strings, I'm aware of this- but like you said, they're expendable anyway :P According to his notes from the the cds I just bought, Herr Goebel does not care for the sound of a steel E string tuned down to D...Doesn't bother me one single bit, does not sound harsh at all, at least on my violin. The change in tone color as a result of raising the pitch on the lower strings provides a somewhat diminished projection, but the sound overall is still very clear.

The other thing I neglected to mention is that I am not beginning with the standard A 440 when playing these pieces. I do not use a tuner for various reasons, the big one being a strong belief in developing a natural sense of pitch and not being reliant upon a machine to decide my "A" for me... The second one being that an A that high sounds shrill and unpleasant to my ears, and unless I'm with my usual large ensembles or working on something written in the mid-19th century or later, I'm not going to use the 440 A because it sounds ridiculous... Anyway, getting back to the subject- I swear to all of you that scordatura tuning such as constructed in the Rosary Sonatas, Mensa Sonora and so many other Biber works is completely possible on our modern instruments if you've got the right strings.

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... an A that high [at 440] sounds shrill and unpleasant to my ears, and unless I'm with my usual large ensembles or working on something written in the mid-19th century or later, I'm not going to use the 440 A because it sounds ridiculous...

I've found as I've grown older that two, somewhat contradictory trends are occurring with my hearing: 1) I'm losing perception of the higher frequencies, and 2) my ears are more easily susceptible to discomfort from some, maybe most pitches, even when not especially loud pitches.

Playing with a little cotton in my left ear alleviates any discomfort. But if I didn't have that cotton there, a vigorous style of playing that would have been fine 20 years ago would sound downright ugly and a bit painful to me, today. In my case the problem is not the sounds the fiddle is producing but my left ear's waning ability to tolerate the sounds produced. If I didn't put some cotton in that left ear, I don't think I would be producing a tone which would be interesting and full enough for anybody standing 20 feet away.

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I would think that as long as you are lowering pitch, stress on the fiddle would not be a factor, modern or old instrument. If you're raising the pitch, then the modern instrument might tolerate the additional stress better than an old, fragile antique.

Typically, such instruments might be played with historically lower tuning anyway.

Now, whether the change in string tension results in retaining an acceptable tone color is a separate issue from stress on the instrument. You might not be overstressing the fiddle by raising the pitch, but do you like the new tone color?

Sounds fine. Just try it. And if you don't like it, you can tune the whole thing down.

I would think that constant tuning up and down would shorten the life of strings, synthetic or gut core.

Don't know. My strings may outlive me, although I don't usually leave them with raised tuning when I'm not playing.

Heartbaroque, when I said gut strings, I meant wound gut. I know you use pure gut, but I probably haven't seen one of those for 50 years. Wound gut strings work fine when tuned up 1 step high. Some synthetic strings, however, will break after a short time.

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1) Note my post on Violino Piccolo.

2) Tuning down, Stark or Heavy strings may help. Tuning up

light or light strings may help. For more than a step up,

viola strings strange as that sounds can help.

Scordatura is fun! It bends your ear in strange ways, never a

bad thing! And the music can be very interesting.

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Guest heartbaroque

1) Note my post on Violino Piccolo.

2) Tuning down, Stark or Heavy strings may help. Tuning up

light or light strings may help. For more than a step up,

viola strings strange as that sounds can help.

Scordatura is fun! It bends your ear in strange ways, never a

bad thing! And the music can be very interesting.

It bends your ears and your brain- although I was surprised at how quickly I adjusted to reading the music. Thanks for the ideas with different strings...I'll have to do some more experimenting.. B)

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  • 1 month later...

I heard a couple of expert Irish fiddlers talking on the radio the other day: "I notice you have your fiddle tuned flat", "Yeah, it sounds better that way" "I think they all do".

My current fiddle doesn't, but I find a lot of fiddles do, for Irish music. The Irish pipes are often in flat keys, sometimes very flat, and fiddlers would happily tune down for a "flat session".

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