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Author Topic: Tuner accuracy  (Read 3342 times)
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Whitbey
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« on: Nov 17, 2017, 09:33AM »

I am questioning tuner accuracy. I have noticed when certain people give a tuning note for the orchestra or band that many are not the same. The oboe at an orchestra is always sharp. When she gives the note it is interesting to watch ever person up and down the brass row and some of the woodwinds that I can see push in.

Curious who else deals with this and how much variable is in the tuners?   
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« Reply #1 on: Nov 17, 2017, 09:48AM »

A good oboist will check her/his tuning with an accurate electronic tuner, and make sure the pitch is a true 440Hz.  This is the agreed standard in the United States.  I know that some orchestras (particularly in Europe) tune a few cents higher (the violins seem to like this?); I'm not a fan.  My factory-tuned trombones like 440!   Clever
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« Reply #2 on: Nov 17, 2017, 10:37AM »

Not all tuners are created equal! The cheaper tuners that have lights as indicators leave too much wiggle room. I use this for my 6 string bass and for orchestra.  https://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=korg+orchestral+tuner&tag=mh0b-20&index=aps&hvadid=78065329460907&hvqmt=e&hvbmt=be&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_8pe1ir4ian_e
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« Reply #3 on: Nov 17, 2017, 10:45AM »

Of the three tuners I have there's about a +-1Hz window at 440 from highest to lowest.

It's not random error. The low one is always the low one and the high is always the high.
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« Reply #4 on: Nov 17, 2017, 12:52PM »

Use a drone to develop your ears in the practice room, and when the oboe plays, definitely don't use a tuner. You have at least two slides and both of your ears. That said, usually tuners that use vibration rather than a mic input are more accurate. Overtones and other musicians will cause havoc with a mic based tuner.
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Whitbey
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« Reply #5 on: Nov 17, 2017, 01:13PM »

Use a drone to develop your ears in the practice room, and when the oboe plays, definitely don't use a tuner. You have at least two slides and both of your ears. That said, usually tuners that use vibration rather than a mic input are more accurate. Overtones and other musicians will cause havoc with a mic based tuner.

That is my problem. You sit there and wait for the entrance and my ear says the note is where it should be and they are a mile off. When I push my tuning slide in a half inch my ear and hand wants to fix it. The other day I took my pitch pipe up to the oboe players tuner. That tuner was flat while the two viola tuners one row up were right on.

I figure if I could understand the variations then I could say something to the conductor politely.   
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« Reply #6 on: Nov 17, 2017, 01:32PM »

That is my problem. You sit there and wait for the entrance and my ear says the note is where it should be and they are a mile off. When I push my tuning slide in a half inch my ear and hand wants to fix it. The other day I took my pitch pipe up to the oboe players tuner. That tuner was flat while the two viola tuners one row up were right on.

I figure if I could understand the variations then I could say something to the conductor politely.   

There is a way to calibrate the frequency of A. Maybe they are set in different places. Maybe there is a flaw with the device. Maybe the oboist just plays not in the center of the pitch. Also, some tuners are more sensitive than others. The Snark tuners have a pretty wide band of what is considered "in tune". Some tuners allow you to specify how many cents off of nominal is ok. My Adroid app Tunable has a Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced settings, with +/-10, 6 and 2 cents respectively. The Snark won't get down to showing that.

Here's a screen shot from my phone. I was trying to play with no hands and do the vulcan mind meld screenshot thing at the same time. The dark green band is 12 cents top to bottom, you can see how much I waver. This is the intermediate setting. You can't get this kind of detail on a Snark.

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Le.Tromboniste
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« Reply #7 on: Nov 17, 2017, 02:17PM »

I am questioning tuner accuracy. I have noticed when certain people give a tuning note for the orchestra or band that many are not the same. The oboe at an orchestra is always sharp. When she gives the note it is interesting to watch ever person up and down the brass row and some of the woodwinds that I can see push in.

Curious who else deals with this and how much variable is in the tuners?   

Yeah, having a bad oboe player give the A is always ******. On the other hand, it's her job to give you the A and your job to take the A she gives you. If she's sharp and you're okay, well she's right and you're flat, and that's the way it is (sometimes, unfortunately).
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« Reply #8 on: Nov 17, 2017, 03:08PM »

That is my problem. You sit there and wait for the entrance and my ear says the note is where it should be and they are a mile off. When I push my tuning slide in a half inch my ear and hand wants to fix it. The other day I took my pitch pipe up to the oboe players tuner. That tuner was flat while the two viola tuners one row up were right on.

I figure if I could understand the variations then I could say something to the conductor politely.   

The problem described here is not about tuners, but about not being able to match pitch. While waiting for an entrance your brain and ears should be telling you your entrance pitch as dictated by the ensemble around you, not your internal or tuner based absolute. And if during tuning the oboe gives you a wonky A, and the strings and everyone else matches the wonky A, but you either know the drone tone from 440 or are using a 440 tuner and not matching the wonky A with everyone else, then you are not matching pitch.

You should tune to drones to help you hear and match pitch (or play intoned intervals) -- not to memorize what a given pitch sounds like.

So, again, same solution, but change your drones to A444, A438, A442, etc, and just get used to it. Pitch changes, and you play one of the instruments that is easiest to match anyone with.
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« Reply #9 on: Nov 17, 2017, 03:19PM »

When I push my tuning slide in a half inch my ear and hand wants to fix it. The other day I took my pitch pipe up to the oboe players tuner. That tuner was flat while the two viola tuners one row up were right on.   

Also, if the tuner is flat, why are you pushing in? Or is it that it shows the pitch pipe is flat? It's probably set to A442
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« Reply #10 on: Nov 17, 2017, 03:33PM »

Yeah, having a bad oboe player give the A is always ******. On the other hand, it's her job to give you the A and your job to take the A she gives you. If she's sharp and you're okay, well she's right and you're flat, and that's the way it is (sometimes, unfortunately).

Exactly.

Thank you.
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« Reply #11 on: Nov 17, 2017, 03:50PM »

Also, if the tuner is flat, why are you pushing in? Or is it that it shows the pitch pipe is flat? It's probably set to A442

When the tuner reads flat, raise the pitch to match the tuner. It makes sense when you work out the geometry.
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harrison.t.reed
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« Reply #12 on: Nov 17, 2017, 06:38PM »

When the tuner reads flat, raise the pitch to match the tuner. It makes sense when you work out the geometry.

The tuner reads flat if it is tuned sharp, but OP said the tuner was flat. A tuner tuned sharp to A442 would read A440 as flat, so you push in. Based on the confusion over just this, I think that the OPs orchestra has people with tuners out, not listening, and some tuners are 440 and others are at 442.
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« Reply #13 on: Nov 17, 2017, 09:33PM »

Tuners are great for home practice, however noting beats training you ears.  Tuners should never be used in an ensemble unless everyone tunes to the same tuner.  Learn to hear.

All that aside.  Modern digital tuners (could include those with analog meters)are pretty accurate.  They are based on similar technology that keeps quartz watches within a second or two a week.  If you have a noticeably bad one, it is likely to be 1 in a million or thereabouts. If you suspect you do, go and buy another one.  I recently posted a thread about tuners you could buy at 2 for $10 (shipping included)  The 2 I got were smack on.  As are the other 4 or so tuners I have rattling around my house.

Basically they are just playthings.  I use them to test my speed accuracy.  For real tuning I use a whatever - mostly my little keyboard.  I play a note an try to match it.  I'll also try to match all the notes in the arpeggio using the note on the keyboard as the root.

I can't remember a concert or a dance I've played in the last 2 years where I have not adjust my tuning at some point in the event.  You absolutely need to be able to tune to circumstances by ear.  It is totally useless to tune to an accurate tuner if most of the other players are playing 20 cents off - and chances are they will be.

As trombonists were pretty luck.  Just tune your horn a bit sharp and adjust with your slide.  However, to do this you must practice.  Even still, it's likely that you would have to make a tuning slide adjustment during any event that lasts long enough for the weather to change.  Like a 3 hour dance.


Tune by ear.  Tune early - tune often.
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« Reply #14 on: Nov 18, 2017, 01:54AM »

I'll just add to Harrison and BillO's great comments that not only is using a tuner on the fly bad because it doesn't take into account that others might be out of tune and you might need to match them anyway, but more importantly, it doesn't take into account that we never, ever play in equal temperament. Equal temperament is for pianos, not for orchestras. We play movable just intonation on an equal tempered scale.

In other words even if the rest of the group plays exactly in tune, and you are exactly spot on with your tuner, you'll be out of tune most of the time, because your tuner doesn't care about harmony and won't tell you to lower/raise your thirds by 14 cents or very slightly raise your fifths and lower your sevenths...

Use your tuner to tune your instrument when you're alone and find the default slide positions on your horn for that basic equal tempered scale. Then leave it in the case, use drones to practice pure intervals over that scale, and use your ears to play in tune in ensembles.
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« Reply #15 on: Nov 18, 2017, 04:38AM »

We play movable just intonation on an equal tempered scale.

I like the way you put that!  :) Good!

Concerning tuner accuracy, I have not actually used a tuner in many years now. I just don't find them useful. However, watching others use a tuner, I find it amazing how after using a tuner many people don't actually match the tuner when they go back and play a note again after say, 30 seconds. I also find it amazing how when, during that group tune-up, lots of people play along with that tuning oboe (or clarinet or whatever) and don't actually match it by ear either. One problem is that you get lots of people playing that tuning A, not matching the oboe, and then just simply don't move, or they hold their off-pitch making it very difficult for the rest of the group to find that original oboe pitch. You only really need less than one second of sounding a pitch to see if you match or not. More than that, you're just getting in the way. Or, go do some serious long tone work if it takes you longer than that to physically stabilize your buzz.
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Whitbey
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« Reply #16 on: Nov 18, 2017, 07:48AM »

We played the orchestra concert last night. The trumpets could not go high enough to make pitch and went off crazy like trumpet players can. They put another tuner in front of the oboe and everything was fine. Moral of that story is quiet logic is no match for crazy.

I was happy.

I was trying to practice playing sharp to try and convince my ear that it was ok. Was not going well. So getting back to A 440 was nice. Maybe I should have posted this question in a different section on how to play off pitch so you match a band.

On a lighter note, I realized in the 5 sharp part of the piece that an A# in alto clef is on the same line as Bb is in bass clef. It is hard to un-see things like that.     
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« Reply #17 on: Nov 18, 2017, 08:39AM »

I was trying to practice playing sharp to try and convince my ear that it was ok. Was not going well. So getting back to A 440 was nice. Maybe I should have posted this question in a different section on how to play off pitch so you match a band.  

You don't play off pitch, you play on a different pitch. 442 is a really, really common pitch to tune to. Several music schools tune their pianos to 442 now. 441 is becoming very standard for concert bands because most percussions are tuned to 440, and if your piano is at 442, tuning the band at 441 is the best solution to avoid having either sound of tune. Many major orchestras play higher than 440. Some as high as 445. Under Charles Dutoit, for a while the orchestra was tuning so high that Pierre Beaudry had his tuning slide shortened to have some wiggle room. And in the world of early music, we have folks playing at everything from a=392 to a=520 (which is a span of roughly an equal-tempered major third). Playing at a=430 isn't forcing or convincing yourself to play everything flat, it's just playing in tune at a=430. And we play in different tuning systems, meaning even at the same reference pitch, what "playing in tune" means varies widely in terms of the pitches/slide positions we actually play. It is not uncommon for me to play slide trumpet at a=520 in pure intonation in the morning, then play sackbut at a=466 meantone, and later at a=440, all on the same day, with occasional a=430 in some well-tempered system or equal temperament thrown in there.

If your ear can't handle small variations in reference pitch, train it, because you'll almost never play at precisely a=440.
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« Reply #18 on: Nov 18, 2017, 11:09AM »

I disagree that we "never play in equal temperament."

I have heard a trombone soloist play something like just intonation with a piano and it was absolutely horrible.

There are plenty of times when equal temperament is totally appropriate.  Most of my gigs include a piano.  I would not intentionally play out of tune with the piano.  I guess you would.
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« Reply #19 on: Nov 18, 2017, 11:31AM »

Also, fwiw, you can use Tunable to tune to just intonation. I second the recommendation for it very highly for anybody with a phone of reasonable quality.  It works exceedingly well with my Motorola (Android) phone. 
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