Better tuba tuning

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Posted by Klaus on December 31, 2001 at 17:42:34:

Once more an interesting thread has wandered far down the board, and once more I will dare to take such a thread to the top of the board. The link below points to the posting, that I actually am responding to:

The meantone tuned organ, and woodwinds tuned that way, only have a limited number of keys in which they will operate properly in concordance with the very idea of meantone tuning: the in-tune thirds. Not much modulation is needed to make things sound odd.

"Das Wohltemperierte Klavier" by Bach is not written for instruments tuned to equal temperament. But for instruments well-tempered to work well in the keys around C major. Hence the multi-accidented preludes and fugues are moving quite fast to make the crying of the "wolf" less obvious. (The wolf was the term for the strongly dissonating fifths in far-off keys. Bach in his time was recognised as the best tester of new organs. There are reports, that he loved to let the wolf cry during such official tests).

I do not hear (or is that believe), that modern ensembles without keyboards play in equal temperament. Intonation is applied to achieve the intended musical effect.

If overall ensemble tuning is the main object, major thirds are kept flat. If melodic expression is highest on the agenda, leading notes are slightly raised. Which equals major thirds being kept sharp.

In a trombone or tuba/euph 4-tet that could be exemplified in this way:

If a Bb major chord with the third in the top (Bb, f, bb, d') shal have the effect of being a stable tonic, then the top voice will play the d' as the open 5th partial.

If the same chord shall act as a tenseful dominant leading to an Eb major chord, then the effect might be achieved in a better way, if the top voice plays the d' in 4th position or fingered 1+2 (3 is better on some instruments).

Some very developed harmonic progressions reinterprete the functions of single notes in a way, that could only be thought of within the framework of equal temperament. Yet in good real orchestras and big-bands pitches are bent, so that the chords are really in tune, not just in the piano style, where everything is out of tune.

Making such a way of intonation work well needs hard work within ensembles. Some orchestras have developed such traditions, which might be the reason, why they are recognised as being especially good interpreters of complicated compositions.

Which scale system do I then find, that valved brasses should ideally be tuned to? The quirks of the Pythagorean overtone system inherent in brasses can not be avoided, if sound is also a major consideration. Which it should be.

But as the equally tempered scale after all is the best obtainable compromise between all the wishes for perfect intonation chordwise, melodywise, modulationwise, flexibility-of-key-wise, and whatever wish tied into the outlined Gordian knot, then I would be quite content with an instrument able to play a perfectly tempered scale.

What might be left of adjustments into specific musical situations, then would be a matter for my (lack) of musicianship and playing technique.


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