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Old 04-17-2013, 09:09 AM   #1
Bish
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Default Ears versus Tuners

I hear a lot of really good pipers saying that their ears are the best tuners they have.

I have had opportunities to check some ear-tuned pipes with a tuner, and they have not so far been spot on. The closest I have seen is drones within 2 hz of the chanter.

What happens with ear tuned pipes is that the DRONES are perfectly tuned to one another, and close enough to the Low A that it makes no difference.

The ear-tuned chanter is a nightmare from D up.
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Old 04-17-2013, 09:20 AM   #2
flares2
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

I wouldn't go as far to generalize that all ear tuned pipes are off. I don't believe I've ever heard a grade I or open piper whose chanter was a "nightmare from D up." In Open contests I've observed where the piper competes in multiple events back to back, they always take time to re-tune between the events. Never once seen one with a tuner, but always see them adjust the tape, thus tuning the chanter by ear, on the spot.
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Old 04-17-2013, 09:41 AM   #3
William J Hunter
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

I hope I don't upset too many pipers, but most musicians tune by ear, and that includes pipers. I'd hate to think that all those many violinists tried to tune their strings using a electronic tuner! I use a tuner on occasion to only set the octaves between Low A and High A and the scale between is set by ear. To those that are new to piping I would suggest a great deal of listening to the masters of piping so that these finer points of our instrument become ingrained in one's auditory memory. Certainly you can always fall back on a tuner if in doubt, but I think the ear is the most senitive tuner we have.
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Old 04-17-2013, 10:09 AM   #4
ralph
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

Hello,
I think that the tuner can be a great tool to train one on what to listen for. I personally have used it that way and have found my ears recognizing things being in tune or out, and then I can check it on the tuner to see how much one way or the other, and by doing so has helped me learn to tune that much better. Ralph Drew
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Old 04-17-2013, 10:49 AM   #5
bob864
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

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Originally Posted by William J Hunter View Post

I'd hate to think that all those many violinists tried to tune their strings using a electronic tuner!
My wife has been playing violin in a rock band for about a year. She has an electronic clip on tuner and everyone has been trying to get her to use it and she just won't! I think she should, because it would be a very fast way to check that she hasn't drifted out of tune. The guitarist tunes his instrument with an electronic tuner, so he's always going to be close to 440. Even if she wanted to fine tune by ear, at least she could use it to know when to tune. I recently mentioned how I have seen a lot of fiddlers on stages over the years playing in bands and not one has ever used a tuning fork. Seemed to make an impression. /rant

It is interesting that as an orchestra teacher she never taught the young ones how to tune. The ones who tune break their strings. Anyway when she would tune an orchestra she'd have a loud reference A playing, and then tune all the open strings to it.

Getting back to pipers, I think a lot of beginning pipers (including me when I started) probably can't hear in-tune from out. A tuner is a great learning tool. I still use one sometimes, but not as often. The more I've gotten used to hearing my pipes in tune, the better I've gotten at recognizing when they're out of tune. Part of that learning process involved contact mics and multiple tuners, to be able to watch the drone tuning while playing scales -- finding out I had built in blowing harder as I went up the scale, for instance.

Now I've gotten to where when I'm playing alone and one drone is out I usually know which one it is and which direction I need to move it. I've never practiced that per se, but it has developed over time. Same thing with the chanter notes. Probably even more so with the chanter notes.
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Old 04-17-2013, 11:09 AM   #6
Helvetica
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

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Originally Posted by bob864 View Post
My wife has been playing violin in a rock band for about a year. She has an electronic clip on tuner and everyone has been trying to get her to use it and she just won't! I think she should, because it would be a very fast way to check that she hasn't drifted out of tune. The guitarist tunes his instrument with an electronic tuner, so he's always going to be close to 440. Even if she wanted to fine tune by ear, at least she could use it to know when to tune.
I agree, in this scenario it's very useful. In a band setting, being in tune with everyone else is much more important than being in tune with yourself, and hardly anyone can hit A 440 without the aid of a tuner. It is also very difficult to tune a violin by ear when you have two minutes between songs and the banjo player next to you has decided to re-tune at the same time as you, while the lead singer is jabbering away over the microphone: in this case a clip-on tuner is the only reasonable option.

Violins drift a bit less than bagpipes, but they still require re-tuning after (ideally) every set. Another advantage is that if the setting is too loud to hear your own instrument (which must be true if it's a rock band!), you can tune visually by using a clip-on tuner.

EDIT: I do realize this reply is not really bagpipe related, but it does demonstrate the point that sometimes ears are not enough. (Re-EDIT: I figured out why when I typed "ears are not enough" the phrase sounded suspiciously familiar... )

Last edited by Helvetica; 04-17-2013 at 11:48 AM.
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Old 04-17-2013, 11:37 AM   #7
CalumII
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

I have to wonder who you're listening to. A drone 2Hz out with a chanter is not good.

But the other point is that just because someone tunes their chanter in by ear and does it accurately, that doesn't mean his tuning system matches yours. Flat high As, sharp Ds, pipe bands with flat Ds and Fs, these are all commonly heard and whatever their merits, the chanters are tuned where their owners want them.
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Old 04-17-2013, 11:56 AM   #8
jd3214
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Default Ears versus Tuners

I suspect those commenting here may be too young to remember the days before tuners. I think tuners have done more to improve piping than almost any other new technology. Before the wide spread use of tuners, grade 4and 5 bands were almost impossible to listen to as the tuning was performed (often tho not always) by a PM who had no idea other than his/her own ear. Tuners have changed all that and although not perfect, most bands are now at least close to being in tune. A vast improvement over the previous situation.
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Old 04-17-2013, 12:09 PM   #9
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bish View Post
I have had opportunities to check some ear-tuned pipes with a tuner, and they have not so far been spot on. The closest I have seen is drones within 2 hz of the chanter.
This seems odd. I know I have had opportunity to do this as well, and for the most part have not noticed that. And that would not be with great players.

I find most reasonable players tune their drones to chanter quite well.

On the other hand, with some people who blow less steady, I find tuning with the meter easier as your ear will pick up every slight variation in blowing. I believe this is because the chanter is more sensitive to the blowing. Especially for bands, the tuner helps match drones from one player to the next.
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Old 04-17-2013, 12:53 PM   #10
Ari
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

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Originally Posted by CalumII View Post
I have to wonder who you're listening to. A drone 2Hz out with a chanter is not good.

But the other point is that just because someone tunes their chanter in by ear and does it accurately, that doesn't mean his tuning system matches yours. Flat high As, sharp Ds, pipe bands with flat Ds and Fs, these are all commonly heard and whatever their merits, the chanters are tuned where their owners want them.
I've got to agree with CalumII here... a player truly worth his salt should be able to get much closer than that!
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