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Non-Standard tunings- Where A is NOT 440Hz


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Do you mean tunings or standard pitch? As in DADG, or perhaps Just Intonation, or using Equal Temperament relative to A-above middle C being, say 430.54Hz ("Scientific Pitch")?

Me? I just stick to A-440 Equal Temperament. Not even a drop D from me, though I have been known to tell folks I'm playing microtonally when my fret position isn't quite right on the fretless!

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Do you mean just different tunings like Open C major / Drop D / DADGAG etc etc or the weirdo idea that A = 432hz because "that is aligned with the universe and has healing power" nonsense?

 

If the former - then swap instruments for that tune live. Or if the guitar is in Drop D or even Drop C then a 5 string has plenty of range for it. Just learn it properly and ignore the guitarists fingers!

 

If the latter - then nobody can help you. Not even a psychiatrist.

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To clarify- pitch.

 

Example (which triggered the idea for this thread)- Every Little Thing She Does is Magic by The Police

 

Try to play it against the original on an even-temperament A=440hz tuned bass and it's way off.

 

Microtonal adjustments on a fretless could compensate, but I reckon you'd need to be a stellar fretless player to pull it off.

 

And then there's the guitar...

 

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Most tuning variations from A=440 on anything made before the mid-80s will almost certainly not be deliberate, but down to one (or a combination) of three things:

 

1. The tempo of the recording was altered by changing the playback speed of the tape machine at mix-down or mastering in order get the correct "feel". The change in pitch is a side-effect of that.

 

2. The only tuning reference in the studio was not set at precisely A=440.

 

3. The recording incorporated an instrument that could not (easily) be retuned and therefore that had to be used as the tuning reference for the rest of the musicians.

 

If you are playing the song live, unless you are incorporating an untunable instrument ito the performance you should probably tune to A=440. If you are just playing along to the recording for your own enjoyment and in order to learn the song, either use software to retune the recording to A=440 (without changing the tempo), or retune your instrument to match that recording.

 

Edited by BigRedX
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We used to play in standard and E flat so we had two guitars each. One tuned to  standard and the other flat. Obviously you would have to fine tune but they were in the general area so two guitars.

Edited by ubit
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5 hours ago, BigRedX said:

Most tuning variations from A=440 on anything made before the mid-80s will almost certainly not be deliberate, but down to one (or a combination) of three things:

 

1. The tempo of the recording was altered by changing the playback speed of the tape machine at mix-down or mastering in order get the correct "feel". The change in pitch is a side-effect of that.

 

2. The only tuning reference in the studio was not set at precisely A=440.

 

 

Probably these two! I'd neglected the issues that analogue studios (though not exclusively) have or what mixing/ tape speed decisions might have been made.

Edited by Lfalex v1.1
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1 hour ago, Nail Soup said:

Short answer - play them in 440

Long answer:

I don't believe that certain pitches sound better - it's just a myth.

The only important thing is  that everybody keeps to the same pitch.... which is why the standard exists. 

The specific pitch of the standard is arbitrary and doesn't matter.

 

It seems that the standard has changed over time though.... don't know why that is, but I reckon it wasn't right or wrong at any of them.

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I've always wanted to make an album where every track was to a slightly different tuning reference than the others, and none of them were A=440.

 

However it would only be worth doing if you were an artist whose songs were regularly covered by other musicians, so it's not happening any time soon.

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Concert A = 440Hz is a relatively modern convention, which loosely speaking dates to early C20th. Modern period instrument performance practice for playing baroque music mostly uses A = 415Hz, which is about a semi-tone below A440. I play the viol and when playing with other period instrument players, you are expected to tune to A415. Not everyone will have recorders for example at A415, which means you end up playing at A440 as well, which is a pain with gut strings as they take ages to stabilise when re-tuned.

 

I've sung in concerts accompanied by period instrument orchestras where tuning is at A415 - it makes the high notes easier... but is a right pain for the low notes.

 

You will also come across A382 and A462 for some specialist players/repertoire.

 

On the whole, it is easier to stay at A440.   

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5 hours ago, BigRedX said:

I've always wanted to make an album where every track was to a slightly different tuning reference than the others, and none of them were A=440.

 

However it would only be worth doing if you were an artist whose songs were regularly covered by other musicians, so it's not happening any time soon.

Most of the first Oasis album is like that - the producer varispeeded (varisped? 😅) each track to whatever he thought sounded good, so they're all off A440 to varying degrees. Sadly this doesn't seem to have any effect on the number of tribute acts 😆

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3 hours ago, Lord Sausage said:

On the early Van Halen records, Eddie used to tune to himself and then Mike Anthony would tune to him. So they are all over the place relatively speaking.

but they sure sound great!

 

It sounded less good when he played on MJ's 'Beat It'. 

Edited by paul_5
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So..

The consensus is that A=440Hz, or at least ought to be. 

If pitch changes due to wonky tape machines, time, feel or mixing considerations are largely arbitrary (as are some instruments that cannot be "tuned"), why do tuners accomodate pitches other than A=440Hz?

Much of what has been said has been illuminating, but leaves me wondering why as "musicians" we'd want to deviate from a standard that serves us all perfectly well.

 

 

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