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A thought on playing in tune..
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (1 votes) 
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DanielB
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May 8, 2013 - 6:19 am
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I don't know why these sorts of topics always seem to generate argument, but it is a necessary topic to discuss anyway.  We'll just have to give it a try and hope any debate doesn't devolve into.. oh darn, what is that expression?  You know, when a whole flock of chickens are all running around raising a fuss?  Ah yes.. a fluster-cluck.  I'm pretty sure that's it.

 

I ran across something that just might help some folks.  Friend of mine was over and we were working a bit on a song he wants to learn.  He hasn't been playing a long time, but he has a pretty good ear.  He was having a "bad intonation day" though and was being a bit frustrated with it.  It was inconsistent.  He'd play the notes, going slow, and be right in pitch sometimes and other times almost everything would be a bit off.

If I was backing him up, he was fine, but playing solo, it kept wandering a bit.  I had a crazy notion and took him to another room and he did better.  

Theory:  I think what was throwing him off was the sound from the refrigerator motor running.  Like most appliances and noises in the world, it isn't on a musical pitch.  At a guess, I'd say it's between a Bb and a B with a sort of throb that feels like maybe 10 Hz or so to it.  I think there may have been a confusion resulting from sort of trying to play in tune with that and the memory of where the right place for his fingers should feel like on the fingerboard.  He kept missing notes by a little and then overcorrecting and etc.

So I tried a little experiment.  I took my mp4/mp3 player where I have scales and drones recorded for practice, loaded up an A 220 drone (the piece we were working on was in Am), then set the volume on one earbud to just loud enough to be definitely louder than the refrigerator.  Had him put it in one ear and try playing.  Bang.  He did fine, and when he did miss by a little, he'd hear it and do the note over or just "lean it in" if it was very close. 

I think that some of the problem that some folks may have when practising/playing by themselves may be environmental noise/sound, throwing off their pitch. 

I do not have perfect pitch, and I can't say how pitch recognition works for other people.. But what I have is a fairly good relative pitch.  How that works for me is I can remember sounds/notes.  I can compare a note being played to my memory of a note I've heard played on an in-tune instrument or other pitch source.  That's how I personally can tell if a note on an instrument is in-tune or not.  With my violins, for example, when I pick them up, I'll very lightly strum all 4 strings.  Since I know how it should sound when it is in tune, I know if I need to tune up, and about how far out it is.  It isn't "perfect pitch" though, since I can be thrown off pitch if I have to play with someone who is out of tune or if I'm around a sound (like a computer fan) for a long time that is "off" from a musical pitch.  People with actual perfect pitch, I'm not sure how it works, but they don't get thrown off by such things.  I've known a couple such people over the years, and like probably a lot of folks, I definitely tried to see if they could be thrown off.  And no, they couldn't.    

But anyway, maybe not everyone can remember pitches steady enough to be able to tune against them.  But a drone note playing quietly, just loud enough to cover computer fans, air conditioners, refrigerator motors, etc.. It might be enough to help. 

I use drones in practise to play scales and melodies against, particularly melodies where I haven't worked up a backing track for them yet.  It might be helpful for learning to recognize by ear the intervals needed for a particular melody.  I'm not sure on that, since I learned what intervals sound like long enough ago that the memory of it is a bit hazy.  I also learned originally on guitars and keyboards, where intonation is an adjustment made to get the instruments right, not a skill to learn.

But on the chance that this idea might be helpful to anyone or someone might have some good insights on it, I'm posting it.  It is a tantalizing notion that the problem that at least some folks have with learning to be able to hear if they are playing in tune might be as simple as environmental sound throwing their ear off kilter.  If that does happen, and such noise producing devices probably aren't on all the time, or one might be playing closer to one on one occasion, and closer to another on another occasion, it could be causing an inconsistency that would make it harder to learn to play in tune in the first place.

Just a thought.

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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ozmous
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May 8, 2013 - 8:03 am
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You know, sometimes, when I play, I sometimes record myself, and I listen to a completely different piece with earphones while still playing, and after that, I noticed on the video that my mistakes are minimised.....

cheers! - ⁰ℨ

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dionysia
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May 8, 2013 - 9:11 am
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Good thought Daniel. I notice that I can fix my intonation more successfully when I can go in the bedroom and close the door... and the kids aren't hoopin' and hollerin' outside the door. We'll see if that still holds true in warm weather when the air conditioner just under the window kicks on...

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JoeP
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May 8, 2013 - 10:06 am
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The idea that an off-pitch drone could influence one to play out of tune makes a lot of sense to me.  I know that when I use a drone for practice I can hear intonation errors much more keenly.

I wonder though if the habit of using an electronic tuner rather than a drone for practicing scales and songs might help desensitize one to ambient off-pitch sound sources.

Interesting topic.

joe

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Worldfiddler
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May 9, 2013 - 9:57 am
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Yep, I've heard it said that ambient sounds can interfere with pure listening.

As for using drones for improving intonation, I think they are an excellent aid - far better than any tuner.

It's widely felt that Indian music has a much stricter system of intonation than western music. Although it may sound odd, what with all the microtones, if you listen to a good performance your can hear just how accurate the melody intonation is.

Not necessarily so with western orchestral and symphony performances. That's not a slam at the musicians, nor is it a complaint about the sound - it's just the way the system works, with so many different instruments having their own tuning differences, and playing together.

There are some free drones for download here :

http://www.karnatik.com/shrutibox.shtml

Mr Jim dancing

 

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JoeP
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May 10, 2013 - 8:45 am
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After reading Daniel's initial post, and having been struggling with intonation issues while playing Ashokan Farewell, I created a score in MuseScore for the D major scale in 1st and 3rd positions.  It was in 3/4 time, 88bpm, just like the piece up until the end.  It started with whole notes and then went quarter notes, with a lot of repetition. 

I then played the scale score on the computer while I played along.  I used an electronic tuner at the same time.  I found the process helpful.

joe

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coolpinkone
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May 10, 2013 - 3:33 pm
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Good point @DanielB 

Dang..so quiet in my house that  you can hear a pin drop......what is my problem.. Giggle.

Nothing really to add..but it is a good point.

 

Cluster Cluck... ha ha ha ha ha  ha

 

Love it...

Toni...(still need to get the concept of Drones..)  (do I have to? ) LOL

 

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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Worldfiddler
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May 11, 2013 - 11:14 am
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Toni…(still need to get the concept of Drones..)  (do I have to? ) LOL

It would be wise to at least try one.

The concept is simple - you can practice scales in isolation, relying solely on your own ear to determine whether you are spot-on in tune.

The drone is this case is reference - a bit like fixed notes on a piano.

Example : if you downloaded a D drone from the link above (or used one of Fiddlerman's), and set it playing on your computer, you could practice playing a scale in D. If you played the top D too sharp, then that note would be noticeably sharp (wrong, out-of-tune) when heard along with the D drone. That's roughly how it's used ...

Failure to comply with my advice will ensure that you are chained to the radiator for 2 days, with no chocs or cakes, and piped Justin Beiber music played 24/7  :) :)

Mr Jim dancing

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Worldfiddler
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May 11, 2013 - 11:22 am
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I invested in a portable drone machine, actually the one in this clip :

The pitch can be fine-tuned up or down, so it's good if you are also using recorded samples of eg tabla, which are of fixed pitch.

Mr Jim dancing

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DanielB
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May 11, 2013 - 2:00 pm
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@Mr. Jim:  From the demonstration, that looks like an awesome little device.  Whoever designed it definitely had the musician in mind, it does about everything one might wish for with drones and even has a line out. 

 

 

 

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

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