Jump to content
Geoff Wooff

Why Are Accordions Tuned To 442Hz These Days?

Recommended Posts

....up as far as 442 for added brightness.... but any further than that and some disquietitude will start to creep in when playing with other instruments that are at 440.

As with so many things, perceptions may vary.

 

I remember one country dance night when I brought my new concertina to play along in the band as usual, but the fiddler (a classical violinist) quickly and firmly told me to stop... because I was out of tune. I myself couldn't hear any dissonance, but I later checked and found that my concertina was tuned to A=441. Ouch!

 

FWIW, no one else in any other situation ever complained about that concertina.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, "Concert pitch" is a funny thing. Obviously, it's absolutely essential if several or many instruments are to make music together, otherwise harmonies and unisons would be impossible to achieve.

But on the other hand, the "official", absolute concert pitch for large orchestras playing academic music has varied over the years and centuries from about A=435Hz to about A=444Hz (or even more) since the Baroque period. The main thing was that all the members of an orchestra tuned to the same pitch.

In the Classical period, I've read, there were even different "official" concert pitches in the different musical capitals in Europe, and when Beethoven arrived for the final rehearsal of his 1st piano concerto, he found the piano tuned exactly a semitone below the pitch the orchestra was using. (So he transposed the piano part of his concerto in C major to C# major on the fly!) Must have been a French piano tuner working in Vienna, or something!

 

One reason for the modern "inflation" of concert pitch was given me by my late son-in-law, an orchestral hornist. As he saw it, the trend came from the string players, whose instruments sounded "better" at a higher pitch. This means that quasi fixed-pitch instruments (those with only limited tuning ranges) like oboes, clarinets and the brass, have to have new instruments built to the current pitch (whereas, ironically, the string players could retune by any reasonable amount at any time). So the official concert pitch becomes cemented for a while.

 

Does the absolute pitch matter, as long as all members of an ensemble are using the same one? Some say, yes, and point out how pleasing Bach sounds played at the "mystical" pitch of A=435. However, they forget that orchestras that use this historical pitch also use historical or reproduction instruments, with the string section using gut strings, the brass and horns using natural trumpets and hunting horns, and the woodwind playing wooden flutes and keyless oboes. So the importance of a standard pitch lies merely in coordinating the tunings of the orchestral instruments, and is more or less arbitrary.

In informal settings, where a violinist and a singer join up with a pianist in a venue that has an old, detuned piano, the violinist tunes to the piano (and Herz be damned!) and the singer adapts instinctively. However, if the piano is seriously detuned, and a flautist joins in, there are problems when he reaches the end of his tuning slide! (I've witnessed this happening!)

 

So sometimes concert pitch is relevant, and sometimes not. If we have a folk group with fiddles, guitars, mandolins, harps, zithers, double basses, and then one fixed-pitch instrument - say, a concertina - joins in, the others just tune to that, whatever pitch it's in. Easy.

In an orchestral setting, with various brass and woodwind instruments, the quasi-fixed-pitch instruments must all be built to the "official" pitch (though perhaps a difference of a couple of Herz can be accommodated - any wind players like to comment?)

 

So just as official concert pitch was different in each epoch, and formerly in each city, it now seems to be different in each musical sub-culture.

The classical orchestras are under pressure from the predominant string players to go higher, whereas the folk musicians - using the same A=440 concert pitch that was usual for much of the 20th century - are stabilised by the predominance of fixed-pitch instruments like bagpipes, flutes, accordions and concertinas.

 

It therefore comes as no surprise that CBAs may be tuned to A=442 or 444, because they are the free-reeders that are most likely to have to do with orchestral music; whereas the melodions are still in 440, because they are mostly used in folk contexts - as, of course, are the concertinas.

 

Just some musings - hope they make sense!

 

Cheers,

John

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think you're all overlooking the obvious: the accordion manufacturers got so tired of hearing the phrase "Why, for two cents I'd..." that they finally snapped and gave two cents to everyone.

 

No idea why they were hearing the phrase so much, though.

 

B)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know this is a free reed forum, but I couldn't help comparing what has been described above, to Highland Bagpipes over the last 100 years. They used to be pitched in A (440). In fact the music is still written in A. Then the creep upwards. In the 1960s it was very close to Bb (466). During the last 30 years it has gone from about 474 to 480. Some bands are using pipe chanters in the mid 480s. Usually, every piper in the band has a chanter pitched the same so the effect within the band is not chaos. The intention is similar to what I have read in this thread.....to make the instrument stand out by being clearer and brighter. The main benficiaries are the makers who are kept busy making new chanters for bands trying to keep up. Personally, I am against the tendency for any musical instrument to be involved in "pitch creep."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 9/10/2014 at 8:30 AM, ceemonster said:

[[[so, I come back to this little CBA, which I have just peered Inside of, it has only two reeds per melody note....switchable for one or both reeds going.... the One reed voice is consistently + 17 cents sharp ... I assume the Wet reed is sharper.]]]

 

remember when i said there is a trend to drier? 440 is the "modern" trend. that is more "tasteful" tuning. 442 is "old-style," though not the really THICK old style....

 

well, if you don't like your 17 cents, you could have it cut it in half, to 8-ish. I personally love the 6-8 cents range. still a tremolo there, but light.

 

old thread - however it seems appropriate to mention that these ominous 17 % were apparently not part of the tremolo or wet tuning, just the offset of the single voice - 

 

combing this with the request as to the outcome of this affair: did you have the instrument retuned, Geoff?

 

Best wishes - 🐺

 

Edited by Wolf Molkentin
grammar :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
59 minutes ago, Wolf Molkentin said:

 

 

 

combing this with the request as to the outcome of this affair: did you have the instrument retuned, Geoff?

 

Best wishes - 🐺

 

Hello Wolf,  

well, the  444hz. accordion  went back to the shop  and the owner  sold me a new  box   that he  tuned  down  to 440hz. from  the 442hz. that it came  in from the manufacturer.  Quite a few  chromatic  button accordions  have come and gone  since  then  and I now  play  a  small Italian  5 row/96 bass  made in Castelfidaro  which  was 440hz  from new.  I also have several  vintage  models  with  'diapason'  from  435  to  440hz. but  have , so far, avoided  those  boxes tuned  above 440. 

 

France is full of secondhand  accordions  at reasonable prices but  it is a minefield  where   'Quel diapason ?'    has to  be my first question... which can in itself be too much  for  someone selling  grandfather's  old squeeze box.

Edited by Geoff Wooff

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sadly I find in some of my local sessions there are either badly tuned instruments or badly tuned ears on the players so the actual instrument tuning is the least of my worries.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×