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Old 04-17-2013, 01:24 PM   #11
Pip01
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

A bit late to this dance... but...

Three of the better things about ears... rather than
tuners... are...

A. You stand a much better chance of not misplacsing them...

B. The "battery" (between your ears) that operates them is much
less likely to either run down... or go dead on you altogether... :)

C. Always handy and, with some practice, usually rather accurate.
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Last edited by Pip01; 04-17-2013 at 01:29 PM.
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Old 04-17-2013, 02:37 PM   #12
David
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

Here's the crux of the matter for me:

What we do is music, and music is an aural or listening pleasure. It is what we hear that ought to please us, not a reading on a device!

Now, if a fellow who has been playing for a while can't tell in-tune from out, and cannot tune by ear, yet claims to be in-tune courtesy of an electronic tuner, what exactly is giving him pleasure? If he cannot actually hear the difference between in-tune and out, then perhaps he is not primarily enjoying the sound, but the rhythm, and the note patterns, and a maybe a crude sense of note differences?

I am exaggerating a bit to make a point. Yet what we hear is so central that I cannot imagine anyone being a musician in the full sense of the word who cannot tune his instrument by ear, or know if it has been tuned well, if someone else does the tuning (as with piano).

The whole point of an aural aesthetic is our own direct intake of sound--from head side-holes to cranial mush ball. If we only know that we are in tune because the meter says so, then a big part of the playing/listening equation common to all musicians is missing. Who skips whimsically over a meter reading? Am I having fun yet? Don't know 'til I check the numbers!

And so many who use tuners bugger it all up the instant they fill the bag and start to play, because the blowing pressure in port bears little resemblance to the head of steam when underway. All for nought.

I am not writing about beginners who are still learning basics and who might use a tuner to help train his ear, or about the use of tuners especially for setting band drones in the circle. Students should be drilled, drilled, drilled and drilled again in the sound of the pipes and tight tuning. It is so basic that the inability to tune makes fingering technique and expression almost irrelevant.

Every time I ever competed from novice to open, I tuned my own pipes. I may have hit the glass ceiling against my Canadian betters, but I almost always got top marks for tuning.

No one had meters anyway when I started, of course, so we had nothing to miss in their absence. But of all my piping friends since electronic tuners became popular--those who's piping habits I know well--not one uses a tuner for his or her own playing. Not one. Many of them have pleased audiences, judges, non-bagpipe musicians, and themselves with the tuning of their instruments.

Using a tuner as a learning aid on the road to ear-tuning: Great. Using a tuner in a band setting for chanters: May well be helpful. For drones in a band specifically: Definitely!

Meters are great for those who have a good ear, at which point then one doesn't need them for solo playing. Most long-time tuner-users do not in fact typically sound particularly good. But that's just my experience.

Last edited by David; 04-17-2013 at 02:49 PM.
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Old 04-17-2013, 06:23 PM   #13
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

Pip01, David,
Amen! Well said.
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Old 04-17-2013, 07:21 PM   #14
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

Ears are definitely more accurate and not only on the Great Highland Pipe - I find that I can tune my guitar with the tuner and then get it just that little bit more in tune by ear. I guess that years and years of tuning drones has given me a good ear - not too sure whether the meter are only accurate up to a certain point or not. Guitars do need frequent tuning but I haven't got to the stage yet where I play a chord and can tell which strings need a tweak - that skill takes years. Back to bagpipes - tuners are primarily for tuning bands. I user the tuner in my band to check that my chanter is accurate - as a back up to my ear - however, I tune all the chanters to mine by ear and by playing a tune together with each piper - that way the blowing pressure is at what they would be blowing whilst playing a tune - my band is Gr 4 btw so there are blowing issues. I take a reading of my Low A with the tuner and then that is what the pipe corps drones are tuned at. As for my solo setup - the tuner is in the bag if I need it, but it's all by ear and the drones tell me if notes on the chanter are out of tune.
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Old 04-17-2013, 08:20 PM   #15
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

I suppose there is a type of skill required to effectively use either. I've played in a band which used tuners for everything but this never brought into consideration that people play differently when tuning than when performing.

If a piper cannot get over that or at least compensate for it, then either method is like throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks.

Beyond this, I usually hear enough of the mid to high hand harmonics off the drones to get a pretty good bearing of what is in or not. And considering that the generally accepted preference for D has gone sharp in the past years, there is only a little margin for error.

In the past few years, I've only had a single complaint about the chanter tuning and it was high-G. I lost my tuner quite some time ago.

To each his own.
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Old 04-17-2013, 09:08 PM   #16
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

I figure that if what some might think is correct, and ear-tuners are always off on certain notes, or on the high hand, or whatever, then who cares? If the men and women devoting huge energies to the Highland bagpipe cannot recognize proper tuning, then for whom exactly are we tuning? The one in a thousand with perfect, or at least very good, pitch?

Most pipers can learn to tune well.

But do most teachers actually drill on the fine points of tuning? I've met many a civvy 4-stripper playing poorly tuned pipes in my day.
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Old 04-18-2013, 07:03 AM   #17
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

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Originally Posted by CalumII View Post
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.
They might be out of tune on purpose, but "in tune" means consonance. In 1910 Willie Ross played with his D in tune; the fact that many people since have played with their D not in tune doesn't change that it's not in tune. Not with the drones anyway. Maybe they were in tune with something else.
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Old 04-18-2013, 07:23 AM   #18
Shawn Husk
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

For solo's: setting up a chanter: Use tuner to get you close. IE. A's in balance. Tape the sharp notes.

Then on to the pipes. Warm up, lock in drones and fine tune the chanter by ear according to your pipe, your set up, your blowing, the current climate conditions, etc......

Bands: same for setting up chanters initially. Great for tuning on the field with lots of other noise about.

Now a note about my own observations in the solo arena regarding tuning.

Grade 2 and below....tuners would help. Tuning is all over the map.

Grade 1, pretty close for the most part, but yet still a lot of badly tuned drones and chanters, certain notes in particular. D, low G, F, high G and sometimes (often actually) high A.

Open.....there is a huge range of players in open. Most are excellent but you still get the occasional piper who just doesn't have it dialed in.

The top of the pile in Open, ie. anyone at any of the top events....generally spot on on every note and drones fully locked in. Tonally differences to be sure, ranging from Meh to OUTSTANDING! (to MY ear), but pitch is pretty much a given.
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Old 04-18-2013, 09:22 AM   #19
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Default Re: Ears versus Tuners

Quote:
Originally Posted by bob864 View Post
They might be out of tune on purpose, but "in tune" means consonance. In 1910 Willie Ross played with his D in tune; the fact that many people since have played with their D not in tune doesn't change that it's not in tune. Not with the drones anyway. Maybe they were in tune with something else.
The next time I approach a competition judge, I need to say "btw, my chanter is tuned to something else"

I do know what you mean though, what you said just sounds funny.

Charlie
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Old 04-18-2013, 09:56 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Green Piper View Post
The next time I approach a competition judge, I need to say "btw, my chanter is tuned to something else"

I do know what you mean though, what you said just sounds funny.

Charlie
It was supposed to

I was imaging maybe being in tune with a streetcar.

I've started practicing with the lights off to avoid being in tune with my fluorescent lights, which buzz at 480 (multiple of 60hz), while my chanter is usually more like 474.

Tuning can be a difficult subject. We were recently listening to a recording of my wife playing in her rock band. She grimaced at one note in particular, because it was so out of tune. For the life of me I can't figure out what she thinks it's out of tune with. I can't hear it; I figure if I can't hear it, probably no one else but another violinist would (I'm the sort who does tune a guitar by playing chords).

Anyway, and this is how the above relates to piping, I think that she was comparing the note she was playing not to the other musicians, but rather to a mental ideal version of that note. Maybe those pipers of the past who played those out of tune notes (i.e., out of tune with the drones) were tuning their chanters to some mental idea of what the note should sound like.
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