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Playing in tune puzzle
Odd effects of recording myself
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Graham
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July 30, 2019 - 7:44 am
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Has anyone heard of this problem before? I play along with a backing track and record myself. While I am recording I can sometimes tell if the note I am playing is out of tune, but most of the notes sound in tune, particularly if I am playing very slowly and carefully. But when I playback the recording I sound out of tune most of the time! There is nothing wrong with the recording process because if I play the same thing on the mandolin, it sounds perfectly in tune both during the recording and also on playback.

It seems weird that I can only hear the bad intonation on playback, and not while I'm playing live.

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cid
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July 30, 2019 - 7:51 am
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I have noticed that. I think that is why I am so hard on myself about intonation. Now, I am not doing fancy recording. I am just using my iPhone. What I hear does not sound like I am off as much as the recording shows. It was getting very depressing so I stopped doing it. I tried with the phone close and the phone a room or a half room distance away. 

I don’t know why that happens. I haven’t done it since my better cello. I am wondering if it has to do with what happens when the sound waves project. Maybe my better cello will have better recording results? 

At any rate, I thought it was just my issue. 

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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HP
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July 30, 2019 - 8:13 am
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I'm experiencing this as well. I don't know what's causing it though. One interesting thing I've found out is that a tuner picks up the sound differently depending on how far away you're from the tuner. It could be as much as a microtone off, same tone, just a couple centimeters further away. However, this only happens on my violin, not my guitar. I don't know if it's because it's harder for electronics to pick up violin sound or because the sound carry differently. Maybe it's the same thing that happens to your recording. 

'Armed with theory, practice becomes meaningful. Through practice, theory becomes fulfilled.' - Egon von Neindorff.

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GregW
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July 30, 2019 - 8:23 am
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Tired ears maybe.  What youre describing happens a bunch with me ( yes I know the obvious is...well I play out of tune mostly ) but the symptom youre describing happens more after I've been playing a long time at once.   Do you notice it immediately or like the next day or several hours after recording?

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cid
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July 30, 2019 - 8:46 am
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GregW said
Tired ears maybe.  What youre describing happens a bunch with me ( yes I know the obvious is...well I play out of tune mostly ) but the symptom youre describing happens more after I've been playing a long time at once.   Do you notice it immediately or like the next day or several hours after recording?  

I was recording myself after I was comfortable and it was sounding good to me live. Then I would record it. While I am playing it sounds like I am pretty much using good intonation. Then, when I listen to it after it has been recorded, it sounds off a lot in a lot of places. This is even in places that I previously was pleased with because I thought it sounded pretty good.

My thinking is that it has to do with the same theory as hearing yourself talk. The way you hear yourself is different than the tone qualities others hear. Shower singers. Maybe, because we are so close to the instrument, be it violin, viola or cello, the we hear it more accurately. Maybe by the time the waves reach the microphone the sound waves have started distorting. But it didn’t matter how far away my phone was.

Also, maybe the cavities in our own bodies are affecting it. In a cello, it rests on the chest. We can feel the vibrations through our bodies. Wouldn’t that be the sound waves? Do you think this proximity of the sound waves to our bodies makes the sound we are hearing actually more accurate than the recording? Also, with the violin and viola, we are playing right by the ear. Maybe the sound waves would be more sound (no pun intended) when our ears pick them up.

Also, how accurate is any recording device? They are not the human ear, so maybe that is what it sounds like in a simple non-messed with recording, but human ears that are listening (audience) are hearing what you are hearing.

These are just theories because I am not a sound tech or hearing specialist or string instrument tech. Just my thinking. I would like to think that I am right because it would mean I am doing better than I think when I record. But that is why I stopped recording myself. What the recording played, was not exactly what I heard myself. I am not spending money on an elaborate recording device to get a better recording, so I stopped doing it. Maybe I will record again when I feel better about my intonation being somewhat close and I learn vibrato.

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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GregW
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July 30, 2019 - 9:12 am
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@cid yeah the iphone works for what youre saying..you don't need anything fancy.  I was telling @Graham my experience and what Ive found true for me whether I record using my phone at the kitchen table or my fancy setup in the fiddle cave.  Same difference..sometime I get used to my intonation being off and think its right but until I hear it back after resting I discover things.  I think my ears get tired or immune.

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cid
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July 30, 2019 - 9:19 am
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@GregW Sometimes I wish my ears would be immune to bad intonation. They are so darn picky about intonation, the quality of the sound in the right intonation (ie just a bad hollow sounding instrument, string sound, etc). It drives me nuts. But, at least I still have my hearing, so I will not complain, just deal with it. 

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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Graham
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July 30, 2019 - 9:28 am
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I'm pretty sure it's my ears or brain that is the problem. Often I record something and I persuade myself it's not too bad and then I listen to it again a day or two later and it sounds just terrible. People tell me my intonation is getting better, which is a message I interpret as "your intonation is still pretty awful". But how can I improve it if I can't hear it while I'm playing? Interestingly, I can't sing in tune either and never have done. I'm going to experiment with my electric violin (which doesn't make much noise in itself) and see if having the main sound come out of a speaker on the other side of the room makes any difference.

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cid
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July 30, 2019 - 9:32 am
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Hey, @Graham, that is a fantastic idea! Let us know how it goes.

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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Graham
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July 30, 2019 - 10:23 am
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Wow that was interesting! At first hearing, and as far as I can judge, the accuracy of intonation on playback sounds exactly the same as it did while I was recording. I'm going to go away and do some photography for an hour or two and then come back and listen to that track again. If it turns out that the problem is caused by having the violin next to my left ear I shall enquire if swapping the hemispheres of my brain is available on the NHS.

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GregW
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July 30, 2019 - 10:30 am
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Graham said
I'm pretty sure it's my ears or brain that is the problem. Often I record something and I persuade myself it's not too bad and then I listen to it again a day or two later and it sounds just terrible. People tell me my intonation is getting better, which is a message I interpret as "your intonation is still pretty awful". But how can I improve it if I can't hear it while I'm playing? Interestingly, I can't sing in tune either and never have done. I'm going to experiment with my electric violin (which doesn't make much noise in itself) and see if having the main sound come out of a speaker on the other side of the room makes any difference.

  

This is exactly what I go through as well.  Its a process.  Having a lesson helps with pointers/suggestions and such.  Its all a process don't get bummed out youre not alone.  The speaker idea might get into a delay effect kinda like some weird echo.  But thats an idea.  Just tune and recheck before recording.  Also I'm assuming your backing track is same key.  I tried to play along one time with a recording of someone and was like what the heck.. Funny I sat there for a bit with a guitar and it was in another key.  That's stuff in my circus world though..just thought Id share.

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BillyG
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July 30, 2019 - 12:39 pm
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I'll throw-in a thought - BUT - it's not my field of knowledge - just stuff I have read... (well because I have had the same questions) - so here goes, and I have NO idea if there is truth in this or not...

It appears that loud sounds (which, generally speaking playing the violin directly under the ear, are) can "trick" our auditory senses, and (I can't recall which way round it is) I think they say that high volume flattens what we perceive the frequency to be.  I think I found reference to this eventually by googling things like "sound pressure level in headphones" (although it applies to any close proximity to high SPL values)

I'm partially convinced about this mechanism - as I believe I have experienced it in other situations ( loud rock band, back stage ) - in fact here's a wiki extract that gets close to what may be going on....

Ears detect changes in sound pressure. Human hearing does not have a flat spectral sensitivity (frequency response) relative to frequency versus amplitude. Humans do not perceive low- and high-frequency sounds as well as they perceive sounds between 3,000 and 4,000 Hz, as shown in the equal-loudness contour. Because the frequency response of human hearing changes with amplitude, three weightings have been established for measuring sound pressure: A, B and C. A-weighting applies to sound pressures levels up to 55 dB, B-weighting applies to sound pressures levels between 55 dB and 85 dB, and C-weighting is for measuring sound pressure levels above 85 dB.[10]

Can't find the original reference I had seen ( which was very anatomical, mixed with the physics of sound) - but here's the wiki extract  I just located - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_pressure

There of course can be various other reasons for believing your take-while-playing was just fine ( in the moment, as you play it ) - but listening back - it just doesn't sound in tune....   That one puzzles me as well !  rofl

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes. D'oh - guntohead.JPG

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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Graham
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July 30, 2019 - 1:54 pm
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Well it's now a couple of hours later so I came back and listened to the recording made with the electric violin. It's still not great but it does sound slightly more in tune than the recordings with the acoustic violin. Tomorrow I will try recording with the acoustic violin and with the backing track turned up very loud or through headphones. I'll also try again with the electric violin which I have not played for many months and with which I am well out of practice.

Thanks for all the replies and suggestions, this has been a most helpful exercise.

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Graham
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July 31, 2019 - 7:25 am
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I have cracked it. I put my Headway Band piezo pickup on the acoustic fiddle and recorded myself with the backing track while listening to the mix at high volume. I could easily hear (through the speakers) when I was off key during the recording and when I played it back it sounded exactly the same. The former effect of thinking I was playing in tune during the recording leading to bitter disappointment on playback just didn't occur. The overall intonation is better I think since I could make little adjustments to finger positions during the recording because I could hear more clearly what was needed as I went along. I think this is going to be a very useful method.

Both my neighbours have put up 'For Sale' signs.

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cid
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July 31, 2019 - 8:22 am
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The neighbors will be sorry after you get to performance stage!

They call me, “Mellow Cello” 

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sf_bev
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July 31, 2019 - 10:35 am
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I'm likely more of a beginner than you folks (not yet 3 weeks after a 60 year break).  I often play with a clip on tuner on my violin.  I play while not looking at the tuner, and try to hear when I'm out of tune; and I play checking the tuner to help me learn if I'm in tune or not.  I'm finding that over the past few weeks, when I think I am in tune it's getting less far out of tune according to the tuner.

I'm assuming the tuner doesn't lie (though it often picks up a harmonic G when I play D), so if it says I'm in tune I probably am, and that were I to record, it'd sound in tune.

If I'm understanding you folks, though, you're saying a less loud violin makes it easier to detect when out of tune vs in tune.  I'm gonna start wearing musicians earbuds to see if I can hear intonation any better.  I'm also gonna try my practice mute.  I'm hoping you folks are onto something, and it might help me.  I'm also guessing that since I'm so new, it won't change things much.

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Fiddlerman
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July 31, 2019 - 10:53 am
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Graham said Both my neighbours have put up 'For Sale' signs.
  

ROFLfainting-1344

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Gordon Shumway
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BillyG said
I'll throw-in a thought - BUT - it's not my field of knowledge - just stuff I have read... (well because I have had the same questions) - so here goes, and I have NO idea if there is truth in this or not...

It appears that loud sounds (which, generally speaking playing the violin directly under the ear, are) can "trick" our auditory senses, and (I can't recall which way round it is) I think they say that high volume flattens what we perceive the frequency to be.  I think I found reference to this eventually by googling things like "sound pressure level in headphones" (although it applies to any close proximity to high SPL values)

I agree with this. You get this effect with a tuning fork. If you press it too hard against the fleshy part of your ear (impossible to describe what I mean if you aren't used to tuning forks) it sounds very flat.

Andrew

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Scrap
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August 1, 2019 - 5:37 pm
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Graham said
 

Both my neighbours have put up 'For Sale' signs.

  

Where do you live? Maybe I can buy for cheap?

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Graham
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August 2, 2019 - 4:11 am
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sf_bev said If I'm understanding you folks, though, you're saying a less loud violin makes it easier to detect when out of tune vs in tune.
  

Not me. I'm saying that if I arrange for the sound of the violin to come out of the speakers VERY LOUD during recording, I get the same realistic perception of my intonation while recording as I do on playback. For some reason yet to be explained if I record over a backing track with the violin sound coming mainly from the instrument itself, I think I'm playing reasonably in tune - an impression that is immediately dispelled on playback. In order to overwhelm the sound of the violin next to my ear during the recording I turn the amp up to 11.

Now instead of being disappointed just on playback, the recording process is just as depressing. A major leap forward.

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