A recent post (link) touched on the topic of "before electronic tuners (and the belief they should be used)".
This brought to mind a slightly unsettled feeling that I had CA 2005 when I returned to OT music festivals after a couple of decades away (job, children, etc.). After developing interest in folk and bluegrass music in high school, I became firmly hooked on OT music, especially by some of the Brandywine Mountain Music festivals in the late 70's, early 80's (Newlin Grist Mill, Tommy Jarrell, Wade & Julia Mainer, Kilby Snow, Grandpa Jones, Ola Belle Reed, Dixie Hummingbirds, NLCR, Backwoods Band, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQtm68x9_co, etc.). Around that time, my contemporaries were tuning instruments to a pitchfork (usually a 440 A, struck and touched to the top of a fiddle) or a pitchpipe. Tuning at each jam would drift over the course of an evening and, late at night, you could hear musical fragments floating away from jams around the camping area that were all slightly off-pitch from each other...... sort of like the paced, call-and-response of crickets in a meadow.
My first OT festival after a long, electronic-tuner-free absence was Clifftop CA 2005, and I remember being struck by how EVERYONE was tuned right on the same 440 A...... I was also struck by the prevalence of what seemed like a faster (bluegrassy?) tempo.
I wonder if anyone else felt the transition to electronic tuners as abruptly as I did ?
I can't imagine not using tuners. Especially on the violin/fiddle! Mark, I assume you know a lot of the same people up there in PA. Love the Elk Creek and the scenery up that way. That area of PA is dear to us! I've never been to a true OT festival and now that I'm learning the fiddle, I am seeking them out. With tuner in hand.
As I remember, in the days before electronic tuners, we tuned to to the instrument with the most strings, usually the guitar, sometimes the hammered dulcimer (mandolin didn't count). As we went from jam to jam, we usually had to re-tune. Not so true today with the extensive use of electronic tuners.
I carried a tuning fork and pitch pipe in my fiddle case and a harmonica in my banjo case, and usually when coming to jam I re-tuned in every case.
Maybe I'm just old or something, but I still do not like electronic tuners. I use my fork that I've had and used on all my instruments for the past 60 years. It's a perfect 440...if that's what you want...and I feel my instruments sound best to my own ear if I go from that to whatever other pitches I need. At times I strayed from 440 and got the pitch off the internet somewhere...maybe youtube.
To me...if you tune a fretted instrument by the electronic tuners, your chords will sound off...at least to my ear...then I have to re adjust by playing chords through and fixing the strings so they sound good...at least to me. But I know I'm outta step with most people these days...Lol...I don't do twitter or any of that either...so...stuck in my old ways.
If you listen to the YouTube link in the original post, Tommy Jarrell hands his fiddle off (to Paul Brown?) to get it "just right" by ear in AEAC# tuning.
I took lessons for a short time from a guy used the dial tone (remember those?) for his A, although he said he thought it was a shade flat.
Unless you are using a very high end oscilloscope tuner adjustments are required for good tuning. These cheapo tuners are like horse shoes and hand grenades they get you close.
Not to drift to far off the subject here, not that I have it, but I have often wondered if perfect pitch was a blessing or a curse. I used to tune to an A440 fork because I found pitch pipes drifted with the amount of air put into them. I guess I don't have the lip for a wind driven "instrument". On a fiddle now I use an electronic tuner then match the fifths tonally. Usually there is a small adjustment. Back in the day I only played guitar and sang. So I was "mostly" in tune with the group. I have to say I like electronic tuners because even if the user isn't in perfect tune, they are at least very close. Close enough to keep me from being to bothered by it anyway.
I still occasionally use the tuning fork....I like the sound traveling trough the instrument...but for the most part I use a tuning app on my Cell Phone.... there have been times when we would be playing where there was an old piano....and everyone would tune to the A on the piano, and who knows what note that may have been..but everyone sounded great with the piano...
I also think that tuning to another musician is a skill that should be practiced now and then. When someone doesn't have their tuner for whatever reason, they sort of scramble until they find one to borrow. But it should be just as easy for someone to pluck/bow as string and provide a tone. People get a little to reliant on a screen to point them "up" or "down" if you ask me.
Edited by - Earworm on 12/21/2022 06:21:12
Back in the 70's, I was pretty good at tuning my guitar on the fly. If I could get one string in tune with someone else's instrument, I could tune right up.
Today, I usually use an app on the phone (to get in the neighborhood), and then... I'll finish the job by ear.
So... Electronic tuners have been around for a long time - the Conn Strobotuner was introduced in the late 1930's and piano and accordion tuners used them for decades. I have a tube model from the 1950's, although it was given to me fairly recently. The transistorized model was a common sight in band rooms when I was in high school, and were used by guitar techs in touring rock band in the 70's and later.
What is new is the inexpensive handheld or, more commonly, clip on tuners that you see today. I got my first handheld one in 1997, and still have several, in addition to tuning forks and apps.
As some of you know, I played in an old time band in the 1970's, before the little tuners came along, and here's how we tuned: Like Carl suggested, we tuned the guitar first, not the fiddles. We would get a pitch from a piano, if available, tuning fork, harmonica, or someone else's instrument. If a piano was available I would use a D, not an A, reasoning that by using an "inner" string any error would be less as I tuned the "outer" strings. Then I would tune the other strings using unisons and harmonics, and then play chords, especially in the key we would start with, until it sounded right. Meanwhile, Jenny would be quietly tuning her bass. Then I would play chords, not individual notes, and the fiddles would tune their open strings and check the intervals, scales and double stops. Finally Mac would tune his banjo to the key we would start with (our sets usually used three keys for 12 to 15 numbers, evenly divided between tunes and songs). There are a lot of our recordings on Youtube and they still sound pretty much in tune to me.
A couple asides: I've been listening to a recording of a show from 1977, a double bill with the Red Clay Ramblers with a very enthusiastic audience. They applaud when the MC comes out, and another 30 seconds or so when he introduces us. Then, instead of launching into a lively tune or song, we tune for another l-o-o-n-g 20 seconds or so! Maybe we thought we were a symphony or something.
Our last show was in 2008, in a hot club on a chilly, rainy night. During intermission my guitar case was up against an exterior wall, and I wanted to check if it was still in tune. Turned out none of us had an electronic tuner! A FHO member who was there kindly went out to his car and brought me one - turned out the guitar was still right in tune.
Edited by - DougD on 12/21/2022 09:40:28
Usually, I use an electric tuner for my fiddle, and I am very happy with the results. However with the banjo, if I use an electric tuner, I would then do T-I-T-M rolls. Quite often I will have to fine-tune the second or more frequently the third string. The tuner will say I’m off, but it sounds good to me; and I haven’t had any complaints. Hmmm…
Doug - tnx....... your post that mentioned "before electronic tuners (and the belief they should be used)" got me started down memory lane. If the Highwoods' last show in 2008 was the one at the Rongovian Embassy, Walt gave me a heads-up and I was there.
While we're sharing cherished memories..... I've had a booth selling restored stringed instruments at festivals for a little over 10 years (not counting COVID). One year at Mount Airy a young guy came a little breathlessly and excited into my booth and asked if I had any electronic tuners for sale. I told him no, but that I could loan him a pitch pipe. He looked at the pitch pipe, and said something like "Wow.... that's really retro." I still use my pitch pipes and, for some reason, have started collecting (amassing?) them.
First off, all my fiddles have fine tuners for each string so it's no problem homing in on a pitch.
I start by switching on my Seiko electronic tuner to get a steady, easy to hear 440 A. I then match the A string to it by ear. I bow the A string when I do this because bowing a string always gives me a slightly more trebly pitch than just plucking it does.
I then tune the D string to the A string, by ear, bowing both strings. Luckily, my ear is pretty good at homing in on the fifth, thanks to the fact the interval is firmly fixed in my mind because it's used in the opening of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (the opening music for the movie "2001, A Space Odyssey"). With the D and A strings now tuned, I tune the G string and then the E string to the string I've already tuned adjacent to it, again using Also Sprach Zarathustra as my guide.
Then again, when I'm at a jam I'll match my tuning to the pitch of the jam's alpha player, however far from 440 A that might be.
Cool collection. The Russian labeling one reminds me playing with South American folks where they Do- re- mi rather than letter names and had pitch pipes labeled that way.
I had a friend that like simple pitch pipe held in mouth, because it left both hands fre to tune.
One tuning device that never much caught on was tuning whistle; Unlike pipes, which reeds can get out of tune, whistle is fixed column of air. I saw one that had micro adjustment went from 435-448.
Along that line, been at Irish session where folks used tin whistle to tune to. I used to carry one in my fiddle case.
Edited by - alaskafiddler on 12/21/2022 13:37:48
Mark, how does the one with the Fs indicated work?
In my world, as a kid in the 70s, I might have put on a record where I knew the song was in E and tuned using that. If I got to play with the adults, we just tuned to one guitar, and if someone went out of tune and didn't notice, someone would let them know and they'd fix it.
Edited by - ChickenMan on 12/21/2022 16:31:23
Billy - this one works with a reed like on a harmonica. The clever thing that the inventor (Eardley) did was to figure out how to use a cam device to shorten or lengthen the vibrating length of the metal reed, resulting in the single-reed, variable pitch pipe. Eardley announced his invention in the December 1, 1863 issue of the British publication “The Musical Times”. The travel distance for the little brass piece (reed dampener) which is moved by the upper cam is 6.8 mm (¼”) for one octave. FYI, these variable pitch pipes actually do a pretty good job of delivering an accurate pitch.
I'm still looking for one of the Stratton Violin Tuning Buttons. A friend says she has one for me, but I haven't seen her since COVID began.
I had a friend with one of those end button pipe. I think replaced it, I'll see if interested in giving it to you.
I don't think it's a then and now thing. I think there's still them that barely know how to play. Hand their rig to someone else to tune it. This, combined with poor hearing, can be formula for a tuff jam. There's just different levels of folk. Some are aware of semitones, and are skilled enough to employ all the tools available. Then there's some who are either up and coming, or just been hanging on by the skin of their teeth, forever. Some are ridiculously easy to jam with. Some, down right impossible. Tuning or lack there of, is just an element.
I tune to play by myself. You can look up how i tune. But if I'm at a jam I have to match. It more about the fretless factor than, A440. One bunch, I just tune to the piano. One bunch, she says she's in F#, but really she's somewhere between F, and F#. I'm not going to argue with her. I'll just slide into tune. Savvy?
I have always wondered what's so darned special about "A"? It makes sense to me that you start with an interior string, as Doug said, minimizing variance on the ends. In that case, on a fiddle at least, a "D" would do the same job. Though I suppose if a whole group can agree on only one note, and that happens to be "A", maybe it's just best not to argue with that small miracle.
And then there's the question of bowing to tune up, or just plucking. Is there general consensus that bowing is better, as I've heard, or is it just one of those legends we live with?
I think there’s a difference between plucked and bowed…I usually start tuning plucking the strings then run the bow over them to get it sounding right to my ear. I guess the pluck attack could possibly cause the string to vibrate a little differently than the bowing does…is there a physicist in the house to address this issue? Lol…anyhow, at least to my ear I end up bowing to get it sounding right to me.
The Russian pitch pipe gives the Cyrillic for Re, Mi, and Sol and what reads phonetically as "See." I'm guessing that's the Russian language variant for Ti. The notation in the photo says the 6 o'clock is Cyrillic for G. The Cyrillic G looks like an upside-down L.
I figured out the pitch from the Russian pitch pipe by sounding an English pitch pipe & comparing notes.
If Sol is a a G and the 5 note, the Re and Mi are the 2 and 3 respectively or D and E from a C scale. Do you remember CCCP from the bad old days? C in Cyrillic is equivalent to S in English and the backwards N is pronounced as a long E but commonly written and pronounced in English as an I. So if Si is Ti and the 7 then it's a B.
Don't I have something better to be doing?
'Dixie Breakdown solo' 17 hrs
'Dixie Beakdown solo' 18 hrs