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Little John

Mean Tone, Centre Point And Playing With Others

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Posted (edited)

I'm thinking of having one of my duets tuned to fifth comma mean tone. The two questions I've been thinking about are (1) what keys will I be able to play in and (2) how will it sound with other instruments? To help me understand these questions I've drawn up the table below.

 

(1) I've opted for two flats and three sharps, putting the wolf fifth between G# and Eb; which is where the table breaks the "circle of fifths". Assuming one can use only scales that don't cross this break, that nevertheless leaves six keys for every likely mode. These are shown in the lower part of the table. They seem to cover all the keys I'm likely to want (for folk music, at any rate, which is 95% if what I do).

 

(2) I've seen reference elsewhere to centring the mean tone tuning on G. This seems logical since, if one is playing with melodeons in particular, G maj is the most common key, and D maj the next. However, as the table shows, the notes of the scale are not equally distributed about the key note. The result is that deviations from equal temperament become quite large in these keys when centred on G. They are minimised by centring on A.

 

Fifth comma mean tone.pdf

 

So I have two questions for the community. Firstly, for those with more knowledge of temperaments than I, does this make sense or have I missed the point somewhere? Secondly, for those with experience of playing mean-tone tuned instruments alongside ET instruments, how noticeable are these deviations from ET? Is 19.2 cents tolerable? What about 28.8 or 33.6 cents?

 

Apologies if this has been covered before. I have seen (and even contributed) to other discussions of mean tone tuning on this forum, but I don't recall these specific points being discussed.

 

LJ

 

[Edited to add the table as a pdf. It didn't work pasting it directly.]

 

[Edited to remove a couple of erroneous minus signs in the table.]

Edited by Little John

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What kind of Duet is it? If it’s a Hayden with enough buttons to duplicate enharmonics at both ends of the rows of buttons, then you can tune them appropriately so that you have, for instance, both an Eb at the left end of the buttons and a D# to the right.

 

I don’t know enough about the other Duet systems to know if a similar idea would apply.

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David - It's a Crane, so no duplicated accidentals. I don't see this as a big problem. About the only thing I can see is that I couldn't use a B major chord since the Eb is about 58 cents sharp of the missing D#. On the rare occasion that might happen I could use an open B or a B minor instead. This is likely to occur only in an E minor tune when the choice of B minor or B major is a stylistic one anyway. Others might prefer a D# to an Eb, but I do actually use Eb a few times, especially in the bass.

 

This would also apply to a Maccann duet, which likewise doesn't have duplicated accidentals.

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OK, so I've discovered mistake no.1! In my previous table I gave the deviations from the notes given by true or "just" fifths. Since ET is itself twelfth comma mean tone, the difference between a 1/5 comma fifth and a ET (1/12 comma) fifth is 2.8 rather than 4.8 cents. Amended table attached.

 

I also found an earlier thread on this subject which does give some people's experience of playing with others (which was generally reassuring). However, I found the various comments about which note to use as the centre or "root" (i.e. which of the notes should be perfectly in tune with its ET namesake) confusing. It still looks to me like A is the best choice if your main keys are G and D majors plus related modes and close keys.

 

Fifth comma mean tone V2.pdf

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Geoff W. would be the guy to ask about this, since his ECs are tuned in 1/5 MT. Basically though, using a different reference note is simply going to shift the whole instrument up or down by a few cents. If you can’t decide, perhaps D would be a better reference, being bang in the middle between A and G?

Playing with others, will depend on how many of you there are and your personal tolerance :-) I found playing renaissance music with my anglo in MT (admittedly in ¼ comma MT) and my wife’s EC in ET was pretty excruciating. But I’ve played in plenty of situations with other people where I certainly had no problem with it and nobody even realised my instrument was in MT.

I am just wondering about the Eb, rather than the D# though - I had a huge problem when I played an anglo with only 30 buttons with no possibility to have both and it was the filthy B major chord that broke it for me . For a while, I had additional D# reeds that I would swap over, depending on the situation I was playing in. In the end though, changing to a 38 button instrument gave me the possibility of having both in opposing bellows directions.

Adrian

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Posted (edited)

I've played my 1/5th Comma EC's with other concertina players in Equal Temperament and not noticed a problem, especially in a 'session' situation where other instruments and noise levels cloud the distinctions but that was in keys very close to my centre key ( usually A ) though a problem might be encountered with a fiddle player of very fine hearing.

 

I play in a dance band with Diatonic accordeons , fiddles and French bagpipes mostly in C and G related keys and I do not notice any clashings... which is why I chose 1/5th Comma ... it is enough to smooth out those major 3 thirds which are so horrible in ET especially with a LOUD metal ended instrument, but are so usefull as a quick harmony device on the EC. Same when playing D,G,A sessions.

 

I do not currently have an ET tuned Concertina... though there is a space in my double case, waiting to be filled... hmmmm ;)

 

Using A as the zero is my choice.

Edited by Geoff Wooff

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I have a 1/5 comma meantone anglo centred on G. I find no-one notice the pitch differences in my regular sessions but I am always a little reluctant to give an A for tuning when asked because it is 4 cents out. The concertina is not just sweeter in chords, it seems when playing melody your mind adds up the intervals on the fly and the notes seem sweeter.

 

Having said all that, I would not go out of my way to tune to 1/5th again as the gain is a little too small even though there is no real pain. If I was sure I would be playing on my own for a long time I would shift to 1/4 without a pause.

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Playing with others, will depend on how many of you there are and your personal tolerance :-) I found playing renaissance music with my anglo in MT (admittedly in ¼ comma MT) and my wife’s EC in ET was pretty excruciating. But I’ve played in plenty of situations with other people where I certainly had no problem with it and nobody even realised my instrument was in MT.

 

I would think playing with a fiddle would be much less excruciating than playing with another concertina. I think string players instinctively play in just intonation unless they consciously try to play in equal temperament. Adrian, have you noticed any problem playing your MT anglo along with Susanna’s recorder?

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the useful discussion.

 

For sometime I've been planning on tuning the 'tina I use for song accompaniment (the one in my avatar - a rather nice brass-reeded Aeola) to 1/5 comma MT - discussions like this support the feeling I have that for song accomaniment the sweeter chords will be beneficial.

 

The only issue I have is where to centre the tuning. My singing is around C, G, D, F keys. Any thoughts?

Edited by SteveS

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SteveS - take a look at the attachment in post #4. If my analysis is correct, centring on A gives the least deviation from ET for playing in the keys you mention; plus Bb and A (and related modes).

 

LJ

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I would think playing with a fiddle would be much less excruciating than playing with another concertina. I think string players instinctively play in just intonation unless they consciously try to play in equal temperament. Adrian, have you noticed any problem playing your MT anglo along with Susanna’s recorder?

 

 

From the liner notes to "Indoors" (the first Dappers Delight album; scroll all the way down to the bottom, then go up a few pages), in describing their instruments: "The recorders were made by Adrian Brown between 2004 and 2011 to suit the concertinas." I believe their instruments are about as precisely tuned to one another as is technically possible!

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I would think playing with a fiddle would be much less excruciating than playing with another concertina. I think string players instinctively play in just intonation unless they consciously try to play in equal temperament. Adrian, have you noticed any problem playing your MT anglo along with Susanna’s recorder?

 

From the liner notes to "Indoors" (the first Dappers Delight album; scroll all the way down to the bottom, then go up a few pages), in describing their instruments: "The recorders were made by Adrian Brown between 2004 and 2011 to suit the concertinas." I believe their instruments are about as precisely tuned to one another as is technically possible!

 

Of course! I knew that. I have the CD and read the notes. I’ve even been in Adrian’s workshop. I just wasn’t thinking.

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SteveS - take a look at the attachment in post #4. If my analysis is correct, centring on A gives the least deviation from ET for playing in the keys you mention; plus Bb and A (and related modes).

 

LJ

Thanks - a very useful chart!!

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I would think playing with a fiddle would be much less excruciating than playing with another concertina. I think string players instinctively play in just intonation unless they consciously try to play in equal temperament. Adrian, have you noticed any problem playing your MT anglo along with Susanna’s recorder?

 

From the liner notes to "Indoors" (the first Dappers Delight album; scroll all the way down to the bottom, then go up a few pages), in describing their instruments: "The recorders were made by Adrian Brown between 2004 and 2011 to suit the concertinas." I believe their instruments are about as precisely tuned to one another as is technically possible!

 

Of course! I knew that. I have the CD and read the notes. I’ve even been in Adrian’s workshop. I just wasn’t thinking.

 

With recorders and other historical wind instruments, temperament is really concerned with setting the instrument up to be 'comfortable' for the player, since the fixed temperament you have on keyboard instruments doesn't apply to woodwinds. Ideally a player should not have to make huge corrections to play in the situation they find themselves, whether it be in fixed temperament, while playing with a harpsichord for example, or flexible (ideally just temperament!) when playing with other winds or strings.

 

Adrian

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I don't think that button-pushers necessarily realize that wind instruments have the same flexibility in pitch as violins. Bending notes around to match what else is happening is standard and nearly unconscious.

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