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Chris Allert

Just Intonation Suggestions

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since i play irish music, i've been thinking of having my next instrument tuned in a just intonation system instead of equal tempered. has anyone else tried different tuning systems for a c/g anglo which you play mostly in g, d, and a? i would think the most logical approach would be to have all the notes on the concertina tuned relative to d, which would make g, d, and a all sound about right.

 

one thing i'd like to do is play more "piping chords", that is chords that simulate the regulators on uilleann pipes, and these kinds of chords sound a lot better, in my opinion, when they have the beating tuned out of them.

 

what have people here tried and what did you think of the results?

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There have been several fascinating discussions of mean temperament on this forum, most recently last year. Here are two threads that address parts of this topic, that you might find useful:

 

http://www.concertina.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=477

 

http://www.concertina.net/forums/index.php?showtopic=321

 

As you can see from these threads, Paul Groff was much involved in these temperament discussions, and had been researching the types of mean temperament (of which there are many) used in old concertinas. It would certainly be interesting to hear if Paul (or anyone else) has anything new on this topic.

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We've retuned a number of concertinas into various temperaments with the most common one being Werkmeister lll. Doug (our manager) has one of his concertinas done up this way. Very smooth sounding!

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ok thanks for the links.

 

but i'm still a little confused.

 

how exactly were concertinas tuned back in the 19th century? was werkmeister iii most common? or was 1/4 comma mean-tone used more? (and does anyone know how uilleann pipes are traditionally tuned?)

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Maybe this is where the midi concertina might make sense. You could program it into different mean, just, well tempered, werkmeister iii, ect.. tunings to experiment and hear what the old tunings would have sounded like. I don't have, and can't afford a midi instrument but maybe someone out there could experiment and let us know what they think. I know Paul Groff(sp?) was doing some reaserch a while back about tunings and could report to us now about what he has found?. What an interesting topic! Doug Barr

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Guest Peter Laban
how exactly were concertinas tuned back in the 19th century?  was werkmeister iii most common? or was 1/4 comma mean-tone used more?  (and does anyone know how uilleann pipes are traditionally tuned?)

 

Uilleann pipes are tuned in a way that every note on the chanter harmonises with the drones, this approaches just intonation but maybe not quite. An article on the matter by pipemaker Geoff Wooff appeared in Ceol na hEirreann.

 

FWIW, Geoff tuned concertinas for both Mary Mac and Jaqui McCarthy, Jaqui's especially with the pipes in mind. I don't know exactly what his approach is to tuning concertina but I do know his own (english) concertina is tuned to a mean tone comma scale for that bit of added sweetness.

 

As a piper I do know about regulator tunings :rolleyes: and being in the last stages of finalising a pipes/concertina CD I also know about the pros and cons of combining the two and the slight misalignings of tunings between the two instruments that come with the territory.

Edited by Peter Laban

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but i'm still a little confused.

Chris,

 

It's potentially a huge issue, and not at all easy to get to grips with.

 

how exactly were concertinas tuned back in the 19th century?

As is that one, to which the real answer has to be "to 19th century concertina tunings which have not yet been documented".

 

was werkmeister iii most common? or was 1/4 comma mean-tone used more?

"Werkmeister III" and "1/4 comma mean-tone" are merely terms to describe the two most popular versions (today) of the type of unequal-tempered tuning systems that were used before equal temperament took over, but they were not "written in stone" and had many variants. One of the books I have on the subject, full of different temperaments, is as large and as thick as many's a Family Bible.

 

has anyone else tried different tuning systems for a c/g anglo which you play mostly in g, d, and a? i would think the most logical approach would be to have all the notes on the concertina tuned relative to d, which would make g, d, and a all sound about right.

I've tuned several Anglos to 1/4 comma, especially for my late friend Paul Davies, and for the piper/concertina player John McMahon, always basing it on C so that the most-used keys of C, D, G and A are the most favoured. John was so taken with the tuning that he persuaded Dermot Lernihan to get a B/C accordion tuned the same way for the 1986 Fisherstreet album "Out In The Night".

 

I supplied the necessary details for the tuner Brendan Mulhaire to carry out this operation, but poor Brendan was rather taken aback to discover that though the instrument sounded superb in the keys it would be played in, it sounded absolutely horrible played on the outside straight row, but who wants to play a "concert pitch" instrument in B natural anyway ?

 

Help.

I think I've just slipped into a parallel universe?

Welcome, to The Twilight Zone ! :blink:

Edited by Stephen Chambers

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I think this (and customising anglo fingering) is exactly what midi concertinas were designed for - tweaking and experimenting without damaging the precious instruments.

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I supplied the necessary details for the tuner Brendan Mulhaire to carry out this operation, but poor Brendan was rather taken aback to discover that though the instrument sounded superb in the keys it would be played in, it sounded absolutely horrible played on the outside straight row, but who wants to play a "concert pitch" instrument in B natural anyway?

 

But on 4th/5th apart systems such as G/C D/G etc this would not be a problem.

 

I've got the impresion (not here) that equal temperament is seen some musicians eyes (ears?) as being the true standard of tuning. For example I've heard people refer to unequal temperaments as if they were somehow less in tune. In the case of instruments designed to be played only in a limited raneg of keys the reverse is true. In the case of very limited instruments eg 1-row melodeons, and even 20 key concertinas there is little positive reason to use ET at all. I've used 1/4 comma meantone on a few boxes.

 

The most marked effect is that chords sound smooth and calm, and chords played on thge upper octave become useful. Untill you have listened to this it hard to appreciate the difference, which can be quite dramatic. The example which makes it most obvious is the tuning of thirds. In "standard" ET tuning 5ths are only very slightly different from the ideal tuning, so if you play an open fifth on a concertina or piano, you hear quite a pure harmony. The major thirds though are actually out of tune by approximately 14 cents. That is a big diffrerence, and if you play a major third on the same instrument you will hear a much harder sound. This is partly because its a different interval of course, but if you are able to produce a major third that is narrower by about 14 cents the result has the purity of harmony that we commonly experience when we hear a pure fifth.

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But on 4th/5th apart systems such as G/C D/G etc this would not be a problem.

Absolutely, the B row of a B/C should probably be best regarded as being the "semitone" row, rather than as being for playing upon.

 

I've got the impresion (not here)  that equal temperament is seen some musicians eyes (ears?) as being the true standard of tuning.  For example I've heard people refer to unequal temperaments as if they were somehow less in tune.

Certainly classical musicians have been conditioned to believe this for the past 150-odd years. It came about because the Romantic composers wanted to be able to modulate into any key on keyboard instruments, so that Berlioz (in his Treatise on Orchestration) described the meantone tuning of the English concertina as "barbarous". But though equal temperament is equally in tune in all keys, it is also equally out of tune in all keys, which is why it tends to sound rather harsh ...

 

The example which makes it most obvious is the tuning of thirds.  In "standard" ET tuning 5ths are only very slightly different from the ideal tuning, so if you play an open fifth on a concertina or piano, you hear quite a pure harmony.  The major thirds though are actually out of tune by approximately 14 cents.  That is a big diffrerence, and if you play a major third on the same instrument you will hear a much harder sound.  This is partly because its a different interval of course, but if you are able to produce a major third that is narrower by about 14 cents the result has the purity of harmony that we commonly experience when we hear a pure fifth.

I asked Marc Savoy about the origins of "Cajun tuning" when we were both at the Michaelstein Conference, and he explained that it came about when Cajuns found that they needed to build their own accordions after WWII. They didn't know anything about tuning, and didn't yet have access to electronic tuners, so they originally tuned by ear using perfect thirds ...

Edited by Stephen Chambers

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Having thirds in meantone is really helpful when playing, for example, William Kimber and other Morris-type tunes. Kimber almost always played third interval chord fragments as opposed to fifths or full chords, and on my otherwise superb Dipper anglo, tuned in equal temperament, the beating of third intervals (especially the high ones when playing in G) is very shrill and hard to listen to. I don't think Kimber would have developed this accompaniment style had he had an equal temperament instrument....his original two row (which he played prior to 1909) must have been meantone of some sort.

 

I notice lots of people playing "English style anglo" today use more fifth intervals rather than either thirds or full chords when playing accompaniment. Some say it is because they thus don't commit to either a major or minor chord, which is indeed handy.....but I imagine it is also because of the beating of equal temperament in narrow third intervals.

 

I wonder why equal temperament seems to be the standard with concertinas made or retuned today....why shouldn't mean tone be the standard and not the exception? If concern over being restricted to playing near the home keys is the "reason" (eg., F,C,D,G on a CG), I shouldn't think that much of a concern....most of us don't go too far beyond that. And as I understand it, when playing with stringed instruments, mean tone does not present a particular problem for tuning together. It would present a problem when playing with a fixed-tuned accordion or piano.....but that event is not all that common for most of us. I think the early concertina makers were on to something. Any thoughts?

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...And as I understand it, when playing with stringed instruments, mean tone does not present a particular problem for tuning together. It would present a problem when playing with a fixed-tuned accordion or piano.....
Many classically trained string players don't understand this stuff. My first instrument was the Cello. I have heard often times from cellists and violinists who should know better that when playing the 7th degree of a major scale (or the raised 7th degree of a minor scale) it should be played a little sharper than the equal tempered pitch. But this note is the 3rd of the dominant chord, so the mathematics of harmonics dictate that it should actually be flatter than the equal tempered pitch.

 

I also play recorder, and any decent recorder player knows to put a finger or two down on the open holes to lower the pitch whenever playing the 3rd of a major chord.

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I wonder why equal temperament seems to be the standard with concertinas made or retuned today....why shouldn't mean tone be the standard and not the exception? If concern over being restricted to playing near the home keys is the "reason" (eg., F,C,D,G on a CG), I shouldn't think that much of a concern....

One of the features of meantone tunings( there is a whole family of them) is that they tend to push all the tuning inconsitencies into a very small range of distant keys, leaving a large number of keys with very much the same harmonic properties. This certainly suits western European folk music very well, but might not be so good for smoe of the more classical English Concertina repertoire.

 

I suspect that ET tuning appears to be standard because it has become the default tuning for all fixed pitch instruments, not just concertinas. Many players are not even aware that there are other possibilities, among those that are aware, many are frightened off by the hideous complexities that appear as soon as you start to research the subject. But once you can hear the difference you may never want to hear an equally tempered third again.

Many classically trained string players don't understand this stuff. My first instrument was the Cello. I have heard often times from cellists and violinists who should know better that when playing the 7th degree of a major scale (or the raised 7th degree of a minor scale) it should be played a little sharper than the equal tempered pitch. But this note is the 3rd of the dominant chord, so the mathematics of harmonics dictate that it should actually be flatter than the equal tempered pitch.

A good cellist or violinist should be continuously tuning by ear and so might naturally not be playing in equal temper. In that case they would have to raise the pitch of the 7th to bring it up from their natural tuning and make it closer to ET to match the fixed pitch instruments in the orchestra.

 

Lets just throw away all these instruments and sing instead. Singers just tune to each other all the time so its not a problem.

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Being a cathedral singer in my other life, my pitch and blend has to be spot on - I am very concious that ascending and descending 7ths are two very different intervals. I automatically sharpen one and can feel my voice is doing it - in fact, my whole body can feel it happening due to the beats from the harmony being different.

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Many classically trained string players don't understand this stuff. My first instrument was the Cello. I have heard often times from cellists and violinists who should know better that when playing the 7th degree of a major scale (or the raised 7th degree of a minor scale) it should be played a little sharper than the equal tempered pitch. But this note is the 3rd of the dominant chord, so the mathematics of harmonics dictate that it should actually be flatter than the equal tempered pitch.
A good cellist or violinist should be continuously tuning by ear and so might naturally not be playing in equal temper. In that case they would have to raise the pitch of the 7th to bring it up from their natural tuning and make it closer to ET to match the fixed pitch instruments in the orchestra.
Good point. Thank you.
Being a cathedral singer in my other life, my pitch and blend has to be spot on - I am very concious that ascending and descending 7ths are two very different intervals. I automatically sharpen one and can feel my voice is doing it - in fact, my whole body can feel it happening due to the beats from the harmony being different.
That's a new one on me. Questions abound. Are all choral singers expected to do this? Is this technique taught? Does it appear in books (either descriptively or proscriptively)? What do you sing if going from 1 down to 7 and then back up to 1?

 

Has it been studied mathematically? If the descending and ascending 7ths have different frequencies, which one is 5/4 the frequency of the 5th and how is the other one determined? :blink:

 

Enquiring minds want to know.

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I wonder why equal temperament seems to be the standard with concertinas made or retuned today....why shouldn't mean tone be the standard and not the exception?

Because people play together?

 

Should the piper adjust his instrument's tuning to the banjo, or vice versa? Should the G/D anglo player have his instrument tuned in the best keys for C/G mean tone, or vice versa? As others have noted, the mean-tempered scale has been accepted generally (though not by everyone, even now) as the best compromise among keys. It may also be the "best" compromise among instruments (G/D anglo, F horn, Eb saxophone) and even among different styles of music.

 

Contemporary Irish sessions favor the keys of G and D; brass bands tend to favor flat keys, jazz and ragtime even more so; "classical" orchestral music is all over the map. I have a couple of books of ragtime piano music: most of the pieces are in flat keys, including several in 5 flats, though there are also a few in C and G (0 & 1 sharp) and at least one in D (2 sharps). But a deeper question might be whether Pythagorean thirds are important or even intended in music where "chords" usually consist of at least 4 and often 6 or more steps of the chromatic scale (ignoring octaves, though that's something that really can't be ignored without drastic effect). Then there's the "blues third", which is neither major nor minor, nor necessarily any particular pitch in between.

 

As for instruments, fretless strings can indeed adjust to any "temperament" -- or shading of any individual note -- except on the open strings. But fretted strings can't. A guitar or mandolin string can be stretched to raise the pitch of a note at a given fret, but there's no way to flatten the same note, except to severely stretch the string while playing the next lower fret. Guitarists are sometimes taught that, but as a special effect; I've never heard of it being taught as a way to get scales or chords "more in tune". Besides, I think it changes the tone of the instrument. As for David B.'s comment that recorder players learn to shade different notes of the scale, that may be true for advanced players in particular musical subcultures, but I doubt you'll find it even mentioned in any beginner books. That's all about notes, not sweet-sounding intervals.

 

So Dan, included in your question -- though I'm sure you didn't intend it that way -- is, "Why should people want to use the concertina to play kinds of music other than what I play?" In particular, I like to use all my concertinas -- English, anglo, and duet -- to (attempt to) play many different kinds of music. I'm sure that if I had a mean-tone-tempered instrument I would find ways to use it, particular pieces I would prefer to play on that instrument rather than on an equal-tempered one. But for all-around use -- including accompanying the singer-guitarist in my local session who has capoed up to the key of C# -- I'll stick to equal-tempered, if only because otherwise the other musicians would accuse me of being "out of tune".

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I think Jim touched on the crux of tuning convention: We compromise so we can play together, and sometimes in keys outside of folk music convention.

 

But perhaps the question should be: If equal temperment compromises thirds and some concertina styles favor thirds why not dedicate a solo concertina to 1/4 comma mean tone or Werkmeister III?

 

I still have vivid audio memories of hearing some of Paul Groff's concertinas.

Perhaps it was the room. Perhaps my inexperience. Perhaps the way Paul played.

I don't know for sure which, if any of the concertinas, were in alternate temperments. I do know that the thirds and the chords that Paul chose were exceptionally pleasing.

 

Greg

 

PS. I'm an old time banjo player who sometimes uses thirds to tune his banjo to many open and unusual "modal" tunings. I attribute some of my tuning dilemnas to the alure of perfect thirds and the obstacle of equally temperered frets. And yes, fretless banjo helps.

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