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Advantages of Equal temperament tuning


pold
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I know that when we tune (unlike pianists or fretted instruments), we get pure 5ths, so we don't use Equal temperament. When we tune the A string we use a tuner, a fork, a piano, an oboe etc. But to tune the other strings D-G-E, we simply rely on our ear until we feel perfect 5ths (Just-intonation) and the 'beats' disappear. This is faster than using the digital tuner for each string. And that's the reason why in orchestras they try to avoid open strings as much as possible. In the end, our open strings (excluding the A) will clash slightly with the piano. But how often do we play open strings anyway?

When we practice scales, we get used to a finger placement that is going to be slightly different from the placement that we use when we rehearse with a piano. Don't you think it would be a good idea for violinists to use the digital tuner for each string, instead of relying on our ear (perfect 5ths)? I know it would take more time than tuning by ear, but there are advantages: 1) we don't need to avoid open strings. 2) When we practice scales on a drone note given by a digital tuner, we get used to the same finger placement as if the drone note was given by a piano.

In the end, if we use Just-intonation, and we use an open string as a drone note, this is going to be slightly different from a piano. Let's say that I am practicing a D major scale according to an open D on my violin, that D will be different from a D in a piano, therefore I would get used to a finger placement that I won't use when playing with a piano. So, what do you think? Is equal temperament the way to go, when tuning each open strings?
 

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In my experience, pianists giving an A for tuning normally play the D below as well, often with an F or an F# between.  So the violinist is tuning the two middle strings to the piano. The outer two strings will be tuned by ear, but whether that gives "just" or "tempered" pitches may well vary from player to player;  in any case the difference is a very few cents.  But when you're playing in A major, where do you place the C#? This is where there is a real divergence. My impression is that players in (say) a quartet are willing and able to go flatter than when playing with a pianist.  But I'm not sure this is consciously thought of as a choice of "just" over "tempered".  Could be simply a knack for getting in tune with the environment.

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This was hacked to death a couple of years ago.  You can't win arguing with people of different persuasions on the matter.

 

My conclusion, briefly, is the goal is to give the best illusion of good intonation.  In other words, the best we can do is sound as in tune as possible as much of the time as possible.  Part of that is not only sounding in tune when playing by ourselves but also when we have to adjust with other players.  Some people do these things better than others.  The way I do it is to be aware that each key requires different placement of the fingers on the strings in order to give the same pattern to each key;  you simply will not sound in tune if you put a finger down in the same place for all the scales.  Specifically the thirds, sixths, and leading tones of major scales need to be edged higher.  The third in a minor scale edged lower.

 

Trying to actually play tempered is impossible for people who don't have perfect pitch, and people who do have perfect pitch don't do much better, often sounding dull and mildly out of tune.  The violin isn't made to be played tempered, all the time at least.  Sure we have to work with a piano; that's one of the areas that separates the people known for good intonation from those who aren't.  And there are times when a group such as a quartet have to think tempered and others when one or more of the players can think natural pitch.

 

Tuning the strings as well as possible to tempered tuning (using a tuner) is another matter and works very well, particularly when you have to use the open lowest striings of the violin, viola, and 'cello.  A quartet the most familiar to me, the La Salle, went to great extremes to tune to their own brand of tempered tuning.  I tuned that way for years with very good results.  Now I do it a different way, but I make sure the G is on the high side of normal.

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This was hacked to death a couple of years ago.  You can't win arguing with people of different persuasions on the matter.

 

My conclusion, briefly, is the goal is to give the best illusion of good intonation.  In other words, the best we can do is sound as in tune as possible as much of the time as possible.  Part of that is not only sounding in tune when playing by ourselves but also when we have to adjust with other players.  Some people do these things better than others.  The way I do it is to be aware that each key requires different placement of the fingers on the strings in order to give the same pattern to each key;  you simply will not sound in tune if you put a finger down in the same place for all the scales.  Specifically the thirds, sixths, and leading tones of major scales need to be edged higher.  The third in a minor scale edged lower.

 

Trying to actually play tempered is impossible for people who don't have perfect pitch, and people who do have perfect pitch don't do much better, often sounding dull and mildly out of tune.  The violin isn't made to be played tempered, all the time at least.  Sure we have to work with a piano; that's one of the areas that separates the people known for good intonation from those who aren't.  And there are times when a group such as a quartet have to think tempered and others when one or more of the players can think natural pitch.

 

Tuning the strings as well as possible to tempered tuning (using a tuner) is another matter and works very well, particularly when you have to use the open lowest striings of the violin, viola, and 'cello.  A quartet the most familiar to me, the La Salle, went to great extremes to tune to their own brand of tempered tuning.  I tuned that way for years with very good results.  Now I do it a different way, but I make sure the G is on the high side of normal.

Thanks, I am interested in open strings only, I know that we adjust to any context. I want to see if there is any consensus or any agreement on the open strings. It looks like there isn't, in the same orchestra you might have someone who tune not only the G, but even the D and E according to digital tuner, the other half goes by ear, and the director doesn't even know that...so when the orchestra plays an open E or D, even if is a short note, is going to sound kind of ugly, don't you think?

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I believe a section of 16 1st violins is going to average out all but the worst pitch; certainly less so on an open string of course.  I don't think open strings played in short bursts are ugly because of pitch differences.  After all, when vibrato is used there are likely no two violinists playing exactly the same pitches EVER except in passing.  That seems to be part of the richness of the orchestral sound.

 

It's been a long time since I played in a fine orchestra.  I don't know how different things might be or if there have been certain trends developing.  For some years open strings were frowned on, and probably still are.  The open E in particular can stand out like a sore thumb but I just don't see the problem stemming from the pitch.  

 

I came to the conclusion that intonation in section violinists is not the most important factor to worry about, and intonation gets more important the less number of instruments are involved:  progressively more important in chamber orchestras, then quartets and soloists.

 

I've always thought it is next to impossible to have 2 to 4 or 5 unison players because it is too small a number to disguise the variations in pitch from vibrato alone, even if everyone has fine pitch otherwise.  Probably one reason why quartet violinists develop less wide vibratos than do soloists.  The less number of instruments the longer the players need to be on the exact pitch, and the more important good pitch is.  (It's only my theory, of course.  I don't know that I can prove it.)

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I believe a section of 16 1st violins is going to average out all but the worst pitch; certainly less so on an open string of course.  I don't think open strings played in short bursts are ugly because of pitch differences.  After all, when vibrato is used there are likely no two violinists playing exactly the same pitches EVER except in passing.  That seems to be part of the richness of the orchestral sound.

 

It's been a long time since I played in a fine orchestra.  I don't know how different things might be or if there have been certain trends developing.  For some years open strings were frowned on, and probably still are.  The open E in particular can stand out like a sore thumb but I just don't see the problem stemming from the pitch.  

 

I came to the conclusion that intonation in section violinists is not the most important factor to worry about, and intonation gets more important the less number of instruments are involved:  progressively more important in chamber orchestras, then quartets and soloists.

 

I've always thought it is next to impossible to have 2 to 4 or 5 unison players because it is too small a number to disguise the variations in pitch from vibrato alone, even if everyone has fine pitch otherwise.  Probably one reason why quartet violinists develop less wide vibratos than do soloists.  The less number of instruments the longer the players need to be on the exact pitch, and the more important good pitch is.  (It's only my theory, of course.  I don't know that I can prove it.)

 

Thanks, I don't have any answer or solution, I am curious to see what people think. The advantage of tuning the open strings in perfect 5ths, is that is faster, more practical. But at the same time, if many violin players correct the open G a little higher, and the violiists/cellists do the same for the C, I wonder if it is the case that all players now should tune each string to Equal Temperament. Other things to consider is that with smartphones apps you can do it wherever you are, and it seems that an increasing number of players will end up with Pegheds (or similar brands) in the future, making tuning much easier than it is now.

 

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I don't think orchestral string players use digital tuners.  They take an 'A' from the oboe (who uses a digital tuner) and tune perfect fifths off of that.  Remember that an orchestra is not a tempered instrument.  All of the winds (as is especially apparent with the horns) are based off of the overtone series.

 

In some keys, there is a definite advantage to tuning the fifths slightly narrow (so that my C-string isn't so far away from the violinists' E-strings).  In most situations though, we just adjust whatever the brass/bass sections are doing in terms of intonation.

 

Last time I played Webern SQ op. 28 we used a tuner to tune our open strings.  I think it just led to fewer surprises.

 

As DGV points out though, equal tempered P5 are less than 2 cents narrow (the m3, M3, m6, M6 are the crazy intervals).  And as Will L points out, use of open strings in an orchestra is a stylistic choice.  (But it still matters how your instrument is tuned, because the 'ring' is dramatically different.)

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I have a multi temperament tuner that I use set to Pythagorean .  It should give clean perfect fifths and it registers a well tuned instrument correctly.  I had to call my old theory professor to double check for the correct temperament.

The truth leis in the fact for almost all instruments the idea of being exactly in tune is a goal rather than a reality.  If you had a scatter plot of each pitch in a given piece showing how high or low you were from the mark the best one can hope for is a smaller standard deviation !  Academically and intelectualy it is good to aim for perfection, but artistically it can get in the way if it becomes and end in itself.   As an aside I think the Budapest Quartet used to claim they played in equal temperament .

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  As an aside I think the Budapest Quartet used to claim they played in equal temperament .

 

They played or they tuned in equal temperament? When they say "they played", they might mean that they were just relying on the open strings tuned in Equal temperament, who knows...

 

 

 

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If they did that, their chords would have been terribly out of tune.  You don't want to play a major 3rd or minor 6th in equal temperament.

 

That is, as out of tune as every piano performance is?  Yet string players do play with pianists and do get in tune with them. 

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Signed up just so I could reply to this thread.  This is a topic of great interest to me, and I've done a lot of googling on the subject.  It's something I feel the vast majority of musicians are woefully under-educated on (maybe because the vast majority of teachers don't know the details well enough to teach in concrete terms).  I stumbled across these videos on intonation and they were a revelation to me, completely changing how I thought about intonation:

 

http://www.violinmasterclass.com/en/masterclasses/intonation

 

I would recommend watching every video, including the Exercises and Master Classes section.  Sassmannshaus covers many of the topics mentioned in this thread--when to use Pythagorean or just intonation (a particularly cool example of the Bach G minor Sonata in one of the videos), expressive intonation (high leading tones, etc.), tuning in a quartet (use "tight" fifths between D and G and A and E), and playing with a piano (use Pythagorean except when you have sustained notes with the piano--then use equal temperament).

 

And another very thorough post I just found today on the topic of tuning:

 

http://baylakeyes.com/2013/06/three-systems-of-intonation/

 

I started tuning closer (but not quite) to equal temperament using a tuner and have noticed a difference in orchestral playing--the occasional open G or D I use are no longer out of tune like they often were before (or at least, they're close enough to be comfortable).

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Tuning to perfect 5ths can run into problems when playing Bach solos.  Take the Andante from the A minor Sonata for example.  You really want to tune in tighter 5ths for this one.  In "Before the Chinrest", Stanley Ritchie discusses a section on how to tune tight 5ths for playing Bach.

 

To my ears, expressive intonation just sounds out of tune.  It's okay to use it sparingly.  But when every leading note sounds as if they are just a quarter tone below the tonic, it drives me nuts.

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I started tuning closer (but not quite) to equal temperament using a tuner and have noticed a difference in orchestral playing--the occasional open G or D I use are no longer out of tune like they often were before (or at least, they're close enough to be comfortable).

 True.

 

Tuning to perfect 5ths can run into problems when playing Bach solos. 

Yes, this is true for any solo with lots of chords using at least two open strings together. But if there is only one open string in the chord, then, maybe Equal temperament would be ok?

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 (But it still matters how your instrument is tuned, because the 'ring' is dramatically different.)

This is a good point which I had never considered in the matter of tuning.  Most of us are aware that intonation and the "ring" are related, but I wonder what a section of violins tuned tempered would sound like in comparison, or if we could distinguish.

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The equal temperament 5th is nearly perfect. Unless you play two open strings at the same time with perfect bow control for a long duration, people cannot tell that the fifth is tempered.

An equal tempered fifth is about two cents narrower than a just fifth, so for example, a violin E string tuned a just fifth above the A will be two cents sharp relative to equal temperament. But the D string tuned a just fifth below the A will be two cents flat relative to equal temperament. And the G string, tuned a just fifth from that 'two cents flat' D string will be four cents flat from the A string, and six cents flat from the 'two cents sharp' E string.

I'm reminded of the quote attributed to Senator Everett Dirkson, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money."

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An equal tempered fifth is about two cents narrower than a just fifth, so for example, a violin E string tuned a just fifth above the A will be two cents sharp relative to equal temperament. But the D string tuned a just fifth below the A will be two cents flat relative to equal temperament. And the G string, tuned a just fifth from that 'two cents flat' D string will be four cents flat from the A string, and six cents flat from the 'two cents sharp' E string.

I'm reminded of the quote attributed to Senator Everett Dirkson, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money."

 

Exactly.  That's why there is nearly no practical reason to tune to perfect 5ths.  Tight 5ths work for a lot of music and in all kinds of instrumental combinations.

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Tuning to perfect 5ths can run into problems when playing Bach solos.  Take the Andante from the A minor Sonata for example.  You really want to tune in tighter 5ths for this one.  In "Before the Chinrest", Stanley Ritchie discusses a section on how to tune tight 5ths for playing Bach.

 

 True.

 

Yes, this is true for any solo with lots of chords using at least two open strings together. But if there is only one open string in the chord, then, maybe Equal temperament would be ok?

 

I've had other musicians express reservations about tuning strings in equal temperament, saying how chords with multiple open strings would sound bad.  The truth is, equal temperament is not that "out of tune".  Even the best violinist will often be more out of tune than the difference between equal tempered fifths and true perfect fifths.  What it does do is enable you to play in tune more of the time with less effort.

 

To my ears, expressive intonation just sounds out of tune.  It's okay to use it sparingly.  But when every leading note sounds as if they are just a quarter tone below the tonic, it drives me nuts.

 

That's a good point.  Maybe a bit like overdoing it with the syrup.  But used in the right places it can be just that thing that makes a listener go "ahhhh" (example: 

)
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There are quartets that tune each string with a KORG.  I don't want to name names, but some are among the biggest names. 

 

The way I see it, (apart from open strings), you can put your finger where you want the note to be for almost anything you play.

A lot of music (that is violinist, violistic, or cellistic) will have double stops/chords with 2 open strings, which vibrate very "openly" on our instruments, and can be very painful if they are out of tune. 

 

And to go off on a tangent:

People often talk about raising the intonation on a leading tone to make a note more expressive.

That leading tone is most often the major 3rd of the dominant chord.  According to Pythagoras, a major 3rd needs to be played slightly LOW for a chord to match the overtone series and ring true. 

Many musicians make the sacrifice of a note which is out of tune to the chord, but expressive to their melody, in this case.  Others hate the idea. 

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There are quartets that tune each string with a KORG.  I don't want to name names, but some are among the biggest names. 

 

I would be kind of surprised if many if not most professional quartets tune by tuner.  It's a lot more precise than doing it by ear.  Quartets especially can't tune to perfect fifths, because of the huge gap between viola/cello C and violin E's.

 

And to go off on a tangent:

People often talk about raising the intonation on a leading tone to make a note more expressive.

That leading tone is most often the major 3rd of the dominant chord.  According to Pythagoras, a major 3rd needs to be played slightly LOW for a chord to match the overtone series and ring true. 

Many musicians make the sacrifice of a note which is out of tune to the chord, but expressive to their melody, in this case.  Others hate the idea. 

 

You often need to make conscious decisions on which system sounds best for a given context--for sustained notes against a harmonic background, a Pythagorean or expressive (raised) leading tone would sound terrible.  So in those cases you need to use Just intonation (lowered 3rd).  On the other hand, for faster moving or unharmonized notes, a raised 3rd sounds better.  It's all about compromises that lead to the most satisfying sound.

 

This video explains this concept wonderfully: 

 

Sorry, not trying to be a shill for Sassmannshaus's website or anything, but the videos really do a great job of explaining these complex topics in a way I found very easy to understand.

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In entry 25 of his internet "course" of 100 short "lessons" David Finckel former cellist of the Emerson Quartet advocates tuning ALL your open strings with an equal temperament digital tuner (

). I believe he said that the Emerson did it this way - it avoids arguments. Even though I had been tuning all my non-A strings by ear since my pre-teen years in the early 1940s, I decided to go with Finckel's suggestion a few years ago.

 

Now D'Addario sells a vibration-sensitive ns microtuner that can be mounted on the body (near the neck) of your violin or viola and (with a different bracket) on the bridge of your cello (or on your guitar). It is unaffected by air-borne sound waves, so you can tune with it even while the cannons are going off or the trumpets are practicing.

 

Andy

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