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HPSCHD-L  April 2016

HPSCHD-L April 2016

Subject:

Re: PitchLab is AWESOME!!!! and available for Android phones as well as iphones etc

From:

Andrew Bernard <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Harpsichords and Related Topics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 19 Apr 2016 20:22:54 +1000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (24 lines)

Hi Gesine,

I am happy that you are pleased with an Android app for tuning. Myself, I can’t help feeling uncomfortable about this phone app tuner trend.

Speaking as somebody myself with a background in mathematics, and a lifetime of studying tuning and temperament, and as a player and a maker, I am probably not the right person to comment on this, but placing and handing one’s tuning ability entirely over to these little machines strikes me as a loss of something valuable, the ability to hear with insight and tune by ear, and to really listen. Yes they are convenient, and yes they are cheap, and yes they are better than old analog tuners whose components drift in value over time, and yes phones have mesmerised the entire population of the planet. But to me there’s something deeply satisfying about sitting down and tuning meantone, or any temperament, by your own skill and knowledge and ear and brain, rather than having a machine tell you what to do. Yes, you can use a tuner to set the bearings and you tune the octaves out by hand, fine. But that’s purely mechanical and a schoolchild can do that part. Surely one of the skills the musicians had was tuning by ear, along with quilling and maintenance, and generally being aware of all facets of preparing the instrument. So the iPhone or Android phone represents a dumbing down of skill. You have out of the box a dozen temperaments nobody has ever heard of, many of which are wrong, and wrongly specified (although I recall Paul Poletti did the work for PitchLab, and it is very good).

Furthermore, speaking also as somebody with considerable experience in electronics, there seems to be a tacit belief nowadays that the phone must be right, absolutely, because it is somehow digital, and it must also therefore be absolute precise and accurate. Nothing could be further from the truth. Android phones vary in circuitry and design, and the DAC’s are not all reliable, the five cent mikes they come with are miserable, and very often you will find two phones disagree with each other about the pitch, one playing and one listening. There are also temperature effects to be considered. Digital is not immune to that. Then there is resolution - just how accurate are these things in terms of cents anyway? Having tried all the phones I can get my hands on, and all the tuning apps including PitchLab Pro, in the end they just don’t quite ever sound right to my ear, and I always need to adjust the bearings. I put this down to rounding errors and cent inaccuracies principally. Another reason as has been done to death on this list is that string inharmonicity which is highly instrument dependent alters the exact placing of a note for good tuning, and no phone can take account of that, and most likely, will never be able to.

If the average player in the 16c could whip up a meantone by ear in a matter of minutes then I think we should be able to also. So I have changed my mind about these tuning aids. More and more when I hear the results of people having used them, without really listening to what they are doing, just watching a needle with all sorts of complex damping algorithms applied to it (what is it actually reading?), I am less and less convinced the results are good. The compleat musician should tune by ear. I insist that it is just as fast, and altogether more satisfying, and produces a better result. It’s a craft and skill I see dying out, and that saddens me.

As a way of testing my views, you could get two instruments and have one tuned with PitchLab and another done by ear by an experienced tuner and compare the results, and ask a panel which they prefer, of if they can perceive any difference. Something like blind hifi test auditions. I think we would all be surprised. This is a difficult and expensive and impractical experiment to do, as it’s hard to get two identical instruments, but as a compromise you can use different instruments. While this may not be practical, in principal the idea is testable, which makes a basis for scientific investigation, and not mere opinion.

This email is in no way intended as a criticism of your use of the app, but just stimulates my thoughts on the topic in general.

As an aside, I see violin players now using app tuners to adjust their violins, not just to set the pitch. This is as bad as people now using calculators to multiply by two.

Andrew

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Note:  opinions  expressed on HPSCHD-L are those of the  individual con-
tributors and not necessarily  those of the list owners  nor of the Uni-
versity of Iowa.  For a brief  summary of list  commands, send mail to
[log in to unmask]  saying  HELP .
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