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Thread: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

  1. #26
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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    I use electronic tuners and my ears. At home alone, I rarely use a tuner at all. I have the time to better develop my ears in that situation. With most electronic tuners I've had, I end up messing with the tuning when I'm done with the tuner to make it sound better to me. And I usually leave the mandolin A course (or guitar low E and B strings) a touch flat according to the needle or lights from the get go. I am really pleased with the mandolin and guitar sweeteners on my newish Peterson HD strobe tuner, though. I also tune the second string of each pair to the other by ear unless it's super loud or I'm in a super hurry between songs on stage.

    As far as how often I check tuning, it really depends on a lot of factors. How much environmental change is going on? Do I sound in tune? Does the group sound in tune? Do I have time to check tuning because someone else is tuning their instrument? I always take advantage of time available to tune when others need time between songs.

    I infrequently play guitar for a young lady who sings. It's just the two of us and we do songs in different guitar tunings: standard, dropped D, double dropped D, DADGAD, open G, with and without a capo. I only have one flat top guitar and one reso with pickups. It seems like I'm always spending way too much time on stage tuning when I play for her and she isn't much on stage banter entertainment. I don't have a solution that doesn't involve spending a more than I will ever get back in pay on instruments and pickups and/or mics as well lugging too many of them to the bar or show. I guess I could demand to play into microphones everywhere but that isn't going to win us any fans among sound people. So, I just know that awkward silence is going to happen at every show.
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  2. #27
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    You are perfectly free to treat your electronic tuner either as a "guide" or an "unquestionable authority." Having said that, a lot of folks who insist on tuning by ear or tend to make systematic adjustments from the tuner recommendations don't always get things quite right. You may, or may not, be among these people. Also, some of the previous posts had minor inaccuracies.

    A few points:

    0) Those who say "you will never get it exactly right" are correct!! And it doesn't matter if you prefer to use your tuner or your ear, either. It's the nature of the beast.

    1) A mandolin is not a violin! It is not tuned in just or Pythagorean temperament, with each open fifth being a "perfect fifth," i.e., tuned to exactly 1.5 times the frequency of the string below it. A mandolin has frets, and these are designed for playing in 12-tone equal temperament, or 12TET. The fifths on a mandolin scale are about 2 cents narrower, each, than a truly perfect fifth. Those of you who tune the mandolin using harmonics (or ear) to match perfect fifths on the open strings will therefore get things systematically "wrong" by just a bit. Do not tune a mandolin as you would a violin: that's wrong. The G, D, A and E strings are not meant to be in perfect (1.5X) fifth intervals.

    2) If you have a good ear, and tend to favor the keys of A and D in your playing, and use lots of open strings while doing so, then you may like just intonation (and not 12TET) for the open strings a bit better, despite the previous point. But if you plan to play much in other keys (B, Bb, Em, C, Am, F, Gm, E, etc.), then using this just intonation will only make things worse. And in some cases, a whole LOT worse! It's better to stick with 12TET, and do exactly what your tuner says to do about those open strings. 12TET offers the best possible compromise, mathematically speaking, for all 12 keys. And that's what it was designed to do.

    3) Strings go just a bit sharp when they are first struck, then flatten as time goes on. If you play hard, and/or play lots of short notes, you might want your open strings to be just a few cents flat, to compensate for that sharpening effect. Also, strings tend to go just a bit sharper whenever the action is higher, for example, up the neck. If you're playing a lot up the neck, you might also want to flatten your strings by just a few cents. (This can also be done if you use a capo, as James Taylor suggests, but mandolins usually don't use these. You can also touch up the tuning with the capo on, which is often a better idea) If your tuner responds quickly, you can just pay attention to the place where it converges after first capturing a note, rather then where it eventually settles. On the other hand, if you're playing slower or with lots of longer notes, don't do this.

    4) There is nothing wrong with touching up your tuning as frequently as you like, so long as the associated delay doesn't detract from performance (on stage) or causes your friends to wait excessively (in jams). As for me, I would rather wait a few extra seconds between tunes than have to play with bandmates or jammers who are audibly out of tune.

    5) I have learned to be wary of people who insist that they "know better" than their tuners about what sounds best on their own instrument. Perhaps as many as 5% of these people have great ears and are absolutely correct about that. But I would guess that the 95% of the rest are just fooling themselves! Besides, the goal when playing with others is not so much to be in tune with one's self (a good idea), but to have everyone in tune with each other (and even better idea)!
    Last edited by sblock; Aug-29-2019 at 2:43pm.

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    Registered User Hendrik Ahrend's Avatar
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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    Spot on, sblock!

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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    Tune the open strings and then check fretted notes up and down the neck. If the fretted notes are out move your bridge to bring them more in line. High action, neck bow, finger pressure and fret placement will also come into play.

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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    Not only what sBlock says, but also our sense of tuning even changes with age. So what you might think is in tune when you're 30 is different then what you perceive to be in tune when you're 60.

    And if you really want to be in tune, then each time you finger a new fret to play a tune you'll need to stop and retune for each change of fret on each string.

    You'll need to block out a day on the calendar to play a fiddle tune.
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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post

    1) A mandolin is not a violin! It is not tuned in just or Pythagorean temperament
    ............
    2) If you have a good ear, and tend to favor the keys of A and D in your playing, and use lots of open strings while doing so, then you may like just intonation (and not 12TET) for the open strings a bit better, despite the previous point. But if you plan to play much in other keys (B, Bb, C, Am, F, Gm, E, etc.), then using this just intonation will only make things worse. And in some cases, a whole LOT worse! It's better to stick with 12TET, and do exactly what your tuner says to do about those open strings. 12TET offers the best possible compromise, mathematically speaking, for all 12 keys. And that's what it was designed to do.
    Thanks for your well thought out post.

    It reminds me of why I never liked so-called "sweetened" tunings on guitar or steel - because the instruments are designed for 12T ET tuning!

  9. #32
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    I just tune mine like normal, GDAE and EADGBE, I tried sweetens in guitar one but really didnít like it. I do want to try some alternate tuning like dadgad on guitar someday.

    Is standard tuning 12tet? Are any others tuning considered 12tet? I have never seen that term before.
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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    Ideally each member of an ensemble shouldnuse the same tuner. They can be up to 5 c out which is just audible enough to make a difference but you risk one being 5c sharp and one 5c flat and thatís 10c which is a big difference. So your ear has to come into play. (Thatís not a bad thing). Itís a tool and a good one. But like any tool that relies on accuracy be prepared for tolerances. I use tuners all the time and encourage their use.
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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    I use an electronic tuner to tune it the best I can knowing if another mandolin player asks to play it they will retune it.
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  12. #35
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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    I just tune mine like normal, GDAE and EADGBE, I tried sweetens in guitar one but really didn’t like it. I do want to try some alternate tuning like dadgad on guitar someday.

    Is standard tuning 12tet? Are any others tuning considered 12tet? I have never seen that term before.
    Let me try to allay some confusion associated with your question. "Standard tuning" refers to the notes of the musical scale that are most conventionally used for tuning the open strings. It does not specify the type of temperament used: that's something entirely different. These days, the standard tuning for a mandolin (and also a violin) is GDAE (low to high), and for a guitar, it's EADGBE (ditto). If you specify the octaves (like on a piano), then the mandolin is tuned to G3 D4 A4 E5. That G3 note is the G below middle C (C4), by the way.

    The A4 note is usually tuned to a fixed frequency of 440Hz. This is a different convention. This convention, called "concert pitch," does not depend on whether the tuning happens to be "standard" or something else, nor does it depend on the type of temperament used, either. It is an ISO standard, in fact (ISO16), and was adopted by the musical industry in 1926. Some folks still use other standard pitches, however, like A=432 Hz, or even A=444 Hz, or even A=466 Hz for old Baroque music.

    Finally, the pitches of the other open notes on the mandolin (or violin, or whatever) are all derived from the reference frequency of the A4 string (A=440 Hz). It is these pitches that will depend on the temperament used. This is a third type of convention, if you will. For example: in a just temperament, the high E string -- which is a perfect fifth above the A, will have a frequency that's 1.5 times higher, or E = 660 Hz. In equal temperament (12TET), however, the frequency of the E string will be 1.498307 times higher, or E = 659.26 Hz. That's about 2 cents different! The other strings (G,D) will also wind up with slightly different frequencies, depending on the choice of temperament. (And there are more besides just and equal to choose from, by the way.) YOUR TUNER TAKES CARE OF THIS. All tuners 'know' 12TET frequencies relative to A440 and tell you exactly what to use. Most tuners can also set the reference pitch to something other than A440, if you like, but they will still use 12TET! A few (like Peterson strobe tuners) offer special compromises (they call them "sweeteners") as alternatives to 12TET, but these only work in some circumstances -- read on.

    For those who can follow the math:

    That fifth in 12TET is exactly 2^(7/12) times higher than the root frequency, since a musical fifth is exactly seven musical half-steps above the root note, and each half-step is a factor of 2^(1/12) times higher in its frequency (i.e., it's higher by the twelfth root of two). Here the "^" symbol means exponentiation, and "/" means division. There are exactly 12 half-steps in a chromatic scale, so after raising a note by 12 half steps, we come to a note that's 2^(12/12) = 2^1 = 2 times higher: an octave. 12TET splits an octave, multiplicatively speaking, into 12 equal, proportional parts. Each semitone is a fixed factor higher than the previous one.

    Anyway, once the A4 note is set, the pitches of all the other mandolin strings are determined from this, based on (1) their assigned scale notes (that is, G,D, or E) and (2) the type of musical temperament used.

    As you have seen, just temperament and equal temperament (12TET) assign DIFFERENT frequencies to the open strings. Clearly, these are not compatible systems!

    On a violin, the player compensates for pitch deviations associated with intially-just temperament (except for the open strings, which cannot be fixed) by adjusting their finger placement and vibrato. On a mandolin, you must use 12TET because that's where the frets are positioned on the fingerboard.

    If, on the mando, you mix just temperament for tuning the open strings with equal temperament for the fretted notes, then you're pretty much guaranteed to have to certain notes sound pretty far off, especially when the key isn't A or D major. 12TET minimizes these discrepancies as much as possible.

    "Sweetened" tunings only exist successfully for playing in a few keys (usually just one, and maybe two), but not in others. They make the other keys sound worse, in fact. CAUTION: There is no such thing as a "sweetened" tuning that works in all keys. Anyone who tells you that is selling snake oil.

    A good example of "sweetening:" Many guitarists and most 5-string banjo players commonly drop the open B string note (2nd string) by a few cents from where their 12TET tuner suggests it should be. That's because the banjo is tuned to an open G chord, and the B note will sound better in that key. And the guitarists who do this are usually the same folks who play lots and lots of G chords in the root position with several open strings (e.g., bluegrass). This works well because the B note in 12TET is about 12 cents too high! In fact, it's among of the 'worst' compromises of the 12TET temperament. But if you do this, you'll need to play mostly in G. The banjo will sound pretty funky should you try to play out of E without a capo, for example. Even the keys of C and D will also sound pretty bad with a slightly dropped B string, to my ear. Finally, if you play a fretted B note on a different string from the open B (2nd string), the chances are that it will clash. Sweetenings only work sometimes. And sometimes they backfire.

    This is a vast topic. To learn more, try starting with Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_temperament#12TET

    And please, folks, trust your tuner! It probably "knows" more than you do about equal temperament (12TET)!!
    Last edited by sblock; Aug-29-2019 at 6:01pm.

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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    I just tune mine like normal, GDAE and EADGBE, I tried sweetens in guitar one but really didn’t like it. I do want to try some alternate tuning like dadgad on guitar someday.

    Is standard tuning 12tet? Are any others tuning considered 12tet? I have never seen that term before.
    There's no reason to sweeten DADGAD or any other major chord tuning in 12 T ET.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/members/15143-sblock 's post explains it well.

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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    The A4 note is usually tuned to a fixed frequency of 440Hz. This is a different convention. This convention, called "concert pitch," does not depend on whether the tuning happens to be standard" or something else, nor does it depend on the type of temperament used, either.
    Well said.

    Tuning and temperament are not the same thing.

    You can have 12 T ET at any pitch for A.

    You can use A440 as standard but use any temperament system, from mean tone to Werkmeister to whatever

    Fretted instruments like guitars, mandolins, banjos, electric basses, bouzoukis, etc. are designed for 12 T ET temperament.

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  18. #38
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Electronic tuner: guide, or unquestionable authority?

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Let me try to allay some confusion associated with your question. "Standard tuning" refers to the notes of the musical scale that are most conventionally used for tuning the open strings. It does not specify the type of temperament used: that's something entirely different. These days, the standard tuning for a mandolin (and also a violin) is GDAE (low to high), and for a guitar, it's EADGBE (ditto). If you specify the octaves (like on a piano), then the mandolin is tuned to G3 D4 A4 E5. That G3 note is the G below middle C (C4), by the way.

    The A4 note is usually tuned to a fixed frequency of 440Hz. This is a different convention. This convention, called "concert pitch," does not depend on whether the tuning happens to be "standard" or something else, nor does it depend on the type of temperament used, either. It is an ISO standard, in fact (ISO16), and was adopted by the musical industry in 1926. Some folks still use other standard pitches, however, like A=432 Hz, or even A=444 Hz, or even A=466 Hz for old Baroque music.

    Finally, the pitches of the other open notes on the mandolin (or violin, or whatever) are all derived from the reference frequency of the A4 string (A=440 Hz). It is these pitches that will depend on the temperament used. This is a third type of convention, if you will. For example: in a just temperament, the high E string -- which is a perfect fifth above the A, will have a frequency that's 1.5 times higher, or E = 660 Hz. In equal temperament (12TET), however, the frequency of the E string will be 1.498307 times higher, or E = 659.26 Hz. That's about 2 cents different! The other strings (G,D) will also wind up with slightly different frequencies, depending on the choice of temperament. (And there are more besides just and equal to choose from, by the way.) YOUR TUNER TAKES CARE OF THIS. All tuners 'know' 12TET frequencies relative to A440 and tell you exactly what to use. Most tuners can also set the reference pitch to something other than A440, if you like, but they will still use 12TET! A few (like Peterson strobe tuners) offer special compromises (they call them "sweeteners") as alternatives to 12TET, but these only work in some circumstances -- read on.

    For those who can follow the math:

    That fifth in 12TET is exactly 2^(7/12) times higher than the root frequency, since a musical fifth is exactly seven musical half-steps above the root note, and each half-step is a factor of 2^(1/12) times higher in its frequency (i.e., it's higher by the twelfth root of two). Here the "^" symbol means exponentiation, and "/" means division. There are exactly 12 half-steps in a chromatic scale, so after raising a note by 12 half steps, we come to a note that's 2^(12/12) = 2^1 = 2 times higher: an octave. 12TET splits an octave, multiplicatively speaking, into 12 equal, proportional parts. Each semitone is a fixed factor higher than the previous one.

    Anyway, once the A4 note is set, the pitches of all the other mandolin strings are determined from this, based on (1) their assigned scale notes (that is, G,D, or E) and (2) the type of musical temperament used.

    As you have seen, just temperament and equal temperament (12TET) assign DIFFERENT frequencies to the open strings. Clearly, these are not compatible systems!

    On a violin, the player compensates for pitch deviations associated with intially-just temperament (except for the open strings, which cannot be fixed) by adjusting their finger placement and vibrato. On a mandolin, you must use 12TET because that's where the frets are positioned on the fingerboard.

    If, on the mando, you mix just temperament for tuning the open strings with equal temperament for the fretted notes, then you're pretty much guaranteed to have to certain notes sound pretty far off, especially when the key isn't A or D major. 12TET minimizes these discrepancies as much as possible.

    "Sweetened" tunings only exist successfully for playing in a few keys (usually just one, and maybe two), but not in others. They make the other keys sound worse, in fact. CAUTION: There is no such thing as a "sweetened" tuning that works in all keys. Anyone who tells you that is selling snake oil.

    A good example of "sweetening:" Many guitarists and most 5-string banjo players commonly drop the open B string note (2nd string) by a few cents from where their 12TET tuner suggests it should be. That's because the banjo is tuned to an open G chord, and the B note will sound better in that key. And the guitarists who do this are usually the same folks who play lots and lots of G chords in the root position with several open strings (e.g., bluegrass). This works well because the B note in 12TET is about 12 cents too high! In fact, it's among of the 'worst' compromises of the 12TET temperament. But if you do this, you'll need to play mostly in G. The banjo will sound pretty funky should you try to play out of E without a capo, for example. Even the keys of C and D will also sound pretty bad with a slightly dropped B string, to my ear. Finally, if you play a fretted B note on a different string from the open B (2nd string), the chances are that it will clash. Sweetenings only work sometimes. And sometimes they backfire.

    This is a vast topic. To learn more, try starting with Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_temperament#12TET

    And please, folks, trust your tuner! It probably "knows" more than you do about equal temperament (12TET)!!

    Ok, this makes sense thanks for the explanation. I will need to read it a few times to let it sink it but it certainly helps a lot!
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