[Harp-L] Temperamental tunings
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- Subject: [Harp-L] Temperamental tunings
- From: Ansel Barnum <anselsb@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 30 Dec 2012 01:35:52 -0500
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As most are aware, we have a choice of temperament when tuning: On the one
hand, there is just intonation which tunes notes according to their
harmonic series, resulting in rich chords at the expense of some flat
individual notes. At the other extreme there is equal temperament which
tunes all adjacent notes to the same frequency ratio, resulting in well
tuned individual notes at the expense of some dissonant chords. Inbetween these
two tuning extremes is an infinite number of temperament schemes, formulas,
and recipes all trying to strike a balance between the two approaches.
I mention these brief summations on a vast and complicated subject as a
preface to the following observations. They might be obvious to some, but
the subtle implications only gradually dawned on me after much
contemplation of this messy matter. So I thought I'd jot them down for
other's benefit--and as a sanity check of my own understanding (corrections
+ Every tuner is programmed to a specific temperament (some even offer a
library to choose from) to which notes are tuned against, so it's necessary
to know which flavor is used when tuning. If someone else tunes your
harmonica, or with a new one fresh out of the box, its tuning might be
reported as out of tune by a tuner unless you program the tuner to match
the temperament the harmonica was tuned to.
+ When you're determining if you're in tune with other instruments, you
should determine if they are tuned to a different temperament. Barring
retuning of instruments, a difference in temperaments might not be possible
to reconcile, dooming some notes to be irreparably out of tune with each
+ If a non-equal temperament is used, then the tuning will be based on a
root note--ie, the key of the harmonica. The tuning of all other notes will
be relative to this root note on which the temperament is built. A tuner
will need to be programmed to the root note (ie, the key of the harmonica
being tuned). Some devices support this feature. The ones that don't
probably default to equal temperament where a root note is not applicable.
+ Even if other instruments use the same temperament as was used for the
harmonica, their notes could still be tuned differently if they used a
different root. This tuning disparity can be seen on identical notes of
different key harmonicas, since each will be tuned relative to the root
note of the native key. For instance, an A on a C harmonica will be tuned
differently than an A on a Bb harmonica.
I know that temperaments are a very subjective matter, since everyone has
their own particular style of playing which will benefit from a particular
tuning. So what is best for one person is not necessarily best for another.
However, it's important to understand this subject so that each person can
find the tuning which best suits their style.
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