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A Plus C On The Right Hand Side Played Together = Weird Overtone

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I was just playing "Drink To Me Only" on my English concertinas which features an A and C played in harmony on the right hand side.


The strange thing is that I'm getting a weird and quite unpleasant overtone on all my instruments (Lachenal, Marcus and Jackie) when I play these notes together.


Is this a known phenomenon?



Edited by Daddy Long Les
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A to C is a minor third and that should not be as grating as A to C# (the major third) ,in Equal Temperament. However, chord intervals on concertinas can be a bit 'In your Face' unless they are sweetened. This is why I always use a Meantone Temperament on my own EC's.

Plenty of talk about this here ,search the forums.

Edited by Geoff Wooff
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It depends on who you'll be playing with. If you're accompanying singers, meantone is by far the best solution. If you have to play with guitarists, you're stuck, because guitars have to be in equal temperament.


You need to measure the actual frequencies of your As and Cs.


I love this demo of the effects of different tunings on a piece of real music:







This is something different - 19-tone equal temperament effectively gives you meantone and more:




It would be possible to make a concertina that way.


This website demonstrates the effect of different tuning schemes by synthesizing dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of different versions of Pachelbel's Canon:




Most of them sound like the sort of thing a film-maker would use to depict the sound perceptions of a psychotic serial killer, but there are a few that provide genuine moments of musical illumination.

Edited by Jack Campin
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Please explain the difference between the two temperaments. This is a whole new world to me!!


In my singing world, thirds are the most obvious and natural harmonies of all!


If Meantone is better, why aren't all concertinas tuned in this way?

In the singing world you are probably using perfect thirds with other intervals when singing 'barber shop' or close harmony Folk songs.


The real beauty of the the EC Keyboard is its fourteen tones to the octave which allows for a greater range of usuable keys with a Meantone temperament. Some people favour 1/4 comma meantone with its perfect major thirds but I compromise slightly by using 1/5th Comma ( also called homogeneous Meantone) and whilst an increased sweetness is still available I play my concertinas with all sorts of emsembles and sessions and ,so far, nobody has complained... it is far more likely that it will be me who complains about the tuning of others.

Read my article on the subject in 'Concertina World' ( magazine of the International Concertina Association) issue CW461 of March 2015.


I have been using this tuning for the last 30 years .


"Why aren't all concertina tuned this way ?"... I don't know but could it be Fear from those who have never experienced an instrument in a sweet temperament? For me it boils down to one thing; the thirds on an EC are a very handy harmony to play but when they shreek at you in Equal Temperament you are disinclinded to use them... whereas I can, and do, use them a lot , because of the Meantone tuning, and this frees me to go almost any where I want with harmonising .


Caveat; I tune my own concertinas and experienced Meantone in old original condition instruments so I had a foot in the "I think know what it will sound like when I tune my Aeola this way" camp. And I have never looked back.

Edited by Geoff Wooff
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How far you can discriminate among different kinds of "third" depends on:


- the absolute pitch of the notes (you have the sharpest perception in the mid-range)


- how long the notes sound together (the longer, the more obvious)


- the timbral complexity of the sound (flute-family instruments are the most critical, concertinas not far off, and bells have such complex overtones and transients you can hardly hear any harmonic effects)


In practice with normal instruments you can't tune every interval to a pure small-integer ratio ("just intonation") since you don't have enough buttons, keys, strings or fingerholes, and for most musical idioms you wouldn't want to.


For Western music, there are three main competing tuning systems.


- Pythagorean, used in the Middle Ages, which makes fourths and fifths sound terrific and thirds rather horrible. Mediaeval music uses lots of fourths and fifths and not many thirds so this is fine.


- Meantone (of several varieties), invented in the Renaissance, which makes thirds sound great (at least in the commonest keys), fourths and fifths okay but not awe-inspiring, and keys with lots of sharps and flats weird and creepy. Which is fine, since Renaissance and Baroque composers used lots of thirds, not many isolated fourths and fifths, and liked to have some keys sound weird and creepy.


- Equal temperament, invented in the late Baroque but not properly implemented for real until the 20th century, which makes all harmonies sound okay but not awe-inspiring, and all keys sound similar. Which is fine, since post-Romantic composers like to modulate all over the place without the tuning system dictating how the music feels when they do it. (Look at something like Robert Simpson's book on Bruckner - unless you have a guide like that, you'd never guess how many and how distant his key changes are).

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Excuse my ignorance, but surely a 1/3 interval is a fixed mathematical ratio of frequencies. Any note other than this precise 1/3 is not a 1/3 but nearly a 1/3? So these alternative turnings are actually mis-turnings which may happen to sound harmonious.

Hence the word 'Temperament' in the meaning of "adjustment or compromise"


On the chanter of my Irish Pipes I can achieve perfect intervals; as in perfect Second,Third, Fourth,Fifth,Six and Seventh... even most of the other chromatic scale can be made perfect BUT only in relation to the one fixed pitch of the drone. This means that although the harmonies for a very confined group of related Keys are as pleasing as possible, when one changes the Mode, or starting position of a tune, the character of the melody can change and the emotional effect of the result can be felt.


Of course in the pure sense these Pipes are only 'In Tune'in one key although there are ways of slightly adjusting the pitches by using alternative fingerings to improve the situation. As a keyboard instrument like the concertina is expected to play in many different keys without recourse to pitch adjustments on the fly,as is available to the Violinist for example, some degree of 'Temperament' is needed.... so making compromises away from a perfect interval scale necessary.


Equal Temperament has just one perfect interval The Octave. 1/4 Comma Meantone has two perfect intervals ,octave and major Third... however the number of sweet Keys becomes limited. On the English Concertina these Key limits are extended in each direction by the inclusion of seperate pitches for D# and Eb , G# and Ab.


Note; I play my EC's in melody with self accompaninment, as well as single melody line. In single line playing I find very little problem playing in Eb,Bb,F,C,G,D,A and E major's and relative minors.... but in a chordal sense when choosing to use more than a simple 'three chord trick' problems can arise on the flat and sharp end of this range.

Edited by Geoff Wooff
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Yes fascinating. Reminds me of the hours I used to spend tuning my Pedal Steel Guitar with the Peterson tuner. All the unbent strings first - various degrees flat and sharp and then the same with each pedal and knee lever depressed. A major task but worth it in the end. :wacko:

Thanks everyone for your input on this. Geoff, your article made very interesting reading.

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It's been mentioned here before but Ross W. Duffin's How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care) is essential reading on this subject. In fact I can think of no finer instrument than the concertina to illustrate the book's basic premise - is there any other musical instrument where ET thirds stand out more exposed, naked and ashamed?

If playing an anglo in a limited number of keys, I can't understand why anybody would prefer ET over a tempered tuning? On English system concertinas with their possibility of having 14 tones to an octave, the case is surely even stronger? As Jack pointed out, although it was well understood as a theoretical temperament, ET never really became a standard until early in the 20th century and was largely rejected in practise as a matter of taste.

Please excuse the evangelism - I just find it such a no-brainer :-)


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is there any other musical instrument where ET thirds stand out more exposed, naked and ashamed?

Yes. Basically, all the modern fretted stringed instruments are locked in the ET system. The frets are spaced an equal-tempered distance apart, because each fret has to serve for all strings, and the fret that yields a third on one string in one scale will yield a different interval on a different string, or on the same string in a different scale. So a classical guitar, which is intended to be played in a wide range of keys, is no "better" than a piano or concertina in terms of temperament.


However, there are other fretted instruments that tend to be played mainly in two closely related keys (e.g. C and F or G and C), and they have the advantage over the concertina that their tuning can be tweaked to optimise them for the key of the piece you're about to play. The 5-string banjo and the Waldzither are two such instruments. I play both of them predomiantly in C and F, and on each of them there's one string that I don't tune to my (ET) electronic tuner. In each case, it's the string where a "shreiking third" occurs in ET. When I tune it by ear, it registers a few cents flat on the electronic tuner, but when I play, it sounds dead on.


I have one banjo that doesn't require this tweaking. It's an early 20th century zither-banjo, and it has a staggered second fret - the part of the fret under the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings is equal tempered, but the part under the 1st string is closer to the nut, i.e. it frets slightly flat of ET. And 1st string, 2nd fret is the note E, - the third of the very frequently used C-major chord!




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C, E flat and G walk into a bar and the bartender says: “Sorry we don’t serve minors”, so E-flat leaves, and C and G have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished and G is out flat. F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough.

D comes in and heads for the bathroom saying, “Excuse me. I’ll just be a second.” Then A comes in, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor. Then the bartender notices B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and says, “Get out! You’re the seventh minor I’ve found in this bar tonight.”

E-Flat comes back the next night in a three-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender says, “you’re looking sharp tonight. Come on in, this could be a major development.” Sure enough, E-flat soon takes off his suit and everything else, and is au natural.

Eventually C sobers up and realizes in horror that he’s under a rest. C is brought to trial, found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of D.S. without Coda at an upscale correctional facility.

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One of the interesting things I've found is that a lot of the unpleasant harmonics are most evident when you are right on top of the instrument.


I'll ask people to compare two notes (that is to say, the same note, but two different reeds), and often the one I like more is *not* the one that sounds better 10 feet away.


Similarly, I can listen to Jody Kruskal play a passing close third harmony and it sounds great, but playing the instrument that close third (admittedly, not as passing as Jody can play it) just *grates*.

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So, just to be clear. If, as seems likely, my English Concertinas are all tuned in Equal Temperament, am I OK to leave them as they are if I only intend to play on my own and to also avoid harmonies in thirds.


Would my single note melody lines sound odd if I have the instruments tuned to Meantone Temperament?


I don't want to do anything drastic here unless it's completely necessary - to say nothing of the cost of having all those reeds re-tuned!!

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