Re: Pitch, XB-40 & whatever - was: XB40 retuning

Tim  wrote:

>Rosco wrote:
>> Being 'perfectly' in tune is probably not acheivable. Being
>> relatively in tune is my goal. I have a lot of great recordings
>> where the soloist gets a little off pitch. Pretty common for
>> trumpet. Doesn't generally bug me at all.
>> Improvising at tempo is a high wire act for any instrument. .
>I agree with Rosco's point entirely here. 

So would I, in so far as the there is no such thing as absolutely "in
tune" or absolutely "out of tune". These things are not absolute, they
are relative and dependent on context. 

>In fact, I'd argue that
>there are instruments made specifically to exploit a slight variation
>or "error" in pitch for the chosen notes, such as a fretless bass. 

I'm pleased that you put the word "error" in inverted commas, because
we are not really talking about errors here, unless of course the
player has poor intonational skills!

>bass is rarely a "solo" instrument, and aren't really designed as
>such, but when a fretless bass is a part of the rhythm section the
>inconsistencies in pitch are part of the foundation of the music.
>How does a harmonica player play "in tune" with a fretless bass? Or
>a violin (maybe more correctly a "fiddle", where greater pitch
>variations are probably better tolerated)?

A certain degree of variation is acceptable, simply because ears and
brains are not perfect precision measuring devices (although they can
do a whole lot of things that fancy digital devices cannot do). The
topic of "Just Noticeable Differences" (JND - also known as
"differential threshold") has been studied quite a lot and the amount
of pitch difference which qualifies as a JND is highly dependent on
context, including harmonic or melodic situation, register, timbre,

>It's also interesting to me how this topic relates to the "just vs.
>equal" discussion that recently occured. If players are not
>achieving "perfect" pitch what's the big deal about a note being
>intentionally tuned slightly off perfect 12TET to make more
>harmonious chords? If I miss a bend by 20 cents on a given note in a
>solo how is that any more objectionable than playing a note that's
>tuned 20 cents flat on my justly intoned harmonica?

... but there's a huge difference here.

On a theoretically perfect JI harp (which of course does not exist in
the real world) there are NO notes that are "flat" or "sharp". They
should all be "in tune" in the context of JI tuning. They may be
"sharp" or "flat" when compared with 12Tone Equal Temperament, but
describing them as "out of tune" is like saying that the
English-English word "cheque" is misspelt according to an
American-English dictionary!

Context is everything here. Notes on a JI harp are not randomly
detuned - they vary from 12tET for specific purposes. Although the ear
will tolerate some degree of mistuning, the actual degree will vary
according to which notes is being played and what its harmonic or
melodic function is. Some notes should be lower than the ET values and
some should be higher. Get them the wrong way around and the results
are likely to be less than musical.

For example, if you are playing the hole 6 overblow on a standard
diatonic, you could argue that its "perfect" tuning is +/- zero cents
on your tuner, if you are supposed to be playing in 12TET.  

In Just Intonation its "perfect" tuning would depend on how the note
is being used. If it being used as a minor third in the cross harp
key, then it should be played about 16 cents sharp. On the other hand,
if it is being played at the flat seventh of the IV chord, then it
should be played about 33 cents flat (thankfully, this is much easier
to hit than the previous one, because of the tendency of overblows to
come in a little flat - I have now given you the perfect excuse if
anyone tells you that your overblows are flat: "Well, duh! I was
playing in 7-limit JI!")

In a blues context, you might even want to push that overblow up even
further so that it is somewhere between the minor and the major third.
Of course if your ears are accustomed to 12TET (Hi Steve!), perhaps
none of these would sound right.

As for learning how notes should be intonated in a given context, I
guess there are two routes. One is to study intonational theory, the
other is to absorb as much of the music you want to play as possible
and try to match the intonation that you hear. Both methods are valid
and as they are not mutually exclusive, I would recommend both
approaches in tandem.

One resource I should have mentioned in my last post was Walter
Matthieu's book "The Harmonic Experience". Details on my web site

This text covers both theoretical stuff as well as having a lot of
practical exercises.

Another good way of developing intonational skills is be simplify your
harmonic background as much as possible - ie. playing against a drone.
If memory serves me right, Winslow has some practice material built
around this idea (and the Matthieu book also covers similar stuff).

Finally, nobody is ever perfect, nothing is ever perfect. Work on it,
but don't lose any sleep over it.

 -- Pat.

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