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#2272384 - 05/07/14 01:40 PM Accompaniment, How close does tuning need to be?
contrapiano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/04/12
Posts: 32
I play piano with a contra dance band. The dances are usually held in church basements. The piano, if one is available, is often somewhat out of tune. I usually play bass notes in the 2nd or 3rd octave and chords just below middle C. Other rhythm instruments such as guitars play in the same pitch range but the melody, played by fiddles, hammered dulcimers, etc. is usually an octave higher. What if the piano is flat in the octaves I play? 10 to 20 cents flat is common, varying with the seasons. The other musicians are used to tuning to standard pitch with various electronic tuners. They may not understand how to tune to some other pitch. They may arrive late with their already tuned instrument. What to do? Can the piano and other rhythm instruments be somewhat flat relative to the melody without affecting overall sound quality too much?

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#2272404 - 05/07/14 02:35 PM Re: Accompaniment, How close does tuning need to be? [Re: contrapiano]
AndyJ Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/29/12
Posts: 219
Loc: Near Dayton, Ohio USA
Originally Posted By: contrapiano
I play piano with a contra dance band. The dances are usually held in church basements. The piano, if one is available, is often somewhat out of tune. I usually play bass notes in the 2nd or 3rd octave and chords just below middle C. Other rhythm instruments such as guitars play in the same pitch range but the melody, played by fiddles, hammered dulcimers, etc. is usually an octave higher. What if the piano is flat in the octaves I play? 10 to 20 cents flat is common, varying with the seasons. The other musicians are used to tuning to standard pitch with various electronic tuners. They may not understand how to tune to some other pitch. They may arrive late with their already tuned instrument. What to do? Can the piano and other rhythm instruments be somewhat flat relative to the melody without affecting overall sound quality too much?


The string musicians should tune to the piano. When the piano is not in tune to itself, find a note that splits the difference and ask them to tune to that. If they're late, their instrument isn't tuned, and they'll have to do the best they can.

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#2272446 - 05/07/14 04:17 PM Re: Accompaniment, How close does tuning need to be? [Re: contrapiano]
Exalted Wombat Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/28/09
Posts: 1208
Loc: London UK
Make a joyful noise and don't listen too carefully. You're in a church environment, so this should come easily :-)

If you want to make GOOD music, everyone should tune to the piano. Or go somewhere with a better piano. What else do you want us to say?

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#2272561 - 05/07/14 09:35 PM Re: Accompaniment, How close does tuning need to be? [Re: contrapiano]
jotur Online   blank
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 5659
Loc: Santa Fe, NM
My fiddles tune to whatever piano I'm playing, whether it's my keyboard or the one at the hall. If the one at the hall is out of tune I tell them they can tune to whichever of the 3 strings they want to. If you have a squeeze box playing with you it's not going to be in tune with you anyway.

It's not worrisome at a contra dance. At least for me, 99% of the time I'm a rhythm instrument. I only play melodies on a couple of tunes.

The pulse is the most important thing.

Cathy


Edited by jotur (05/07/14 09:36 PM)
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#2272623 - 05/08/14 03:16 AM Re: Accompaniment, How close does tuning need to be? [Re: contrapiano]
Brian Lucas Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/11
Posts: 995
Personally I don't think 10 cents will be all that noticeable to the general public. 20 cents or more and people will begin to hear it. If you have a chromatic tuner (I have one on my phone), you can test how flat the piano is and have everyone tune to that. If they are used to tuning to 0, they shouldn't have too much trouble tuning to -20 or another mark in the tuner.

I've played church pianos that were perfectly in tune with itself, but flat, I'm guessing due to the condition of the piano. I always check the tuning when I'm using someone else's piano, just for this reason. But again, less than 15 cents, I wouldn't sweat it too much.
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#2272624 - 05/08/14 03:19 AM Re: Accompaniment, How close does tuning need to be? [Re: contrapiano]
Brian Lucas Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/11
Posts: 995
Oh, and the ones that arrive late... well I guess that's just a lesson on why you don't show up late. smile

I'd imagine they're not showing up with an already tuned instrument anyway. They'll have to wing it.
_________________________
-Brian
BM in Performance, Berklee College of Music, 23+ year teacher and touring musician
My Downloadable Video Piano Lessons
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#2272810 - 05/08/14 12:38 PM Re: Accompaniment, How close does tuning need to be? [Re: Brian Lucas]
contrapiano Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/04/12
Posts: 32
This is the sort of answer I was looking for. The hall we play at most often has a Baldwin studio piano that is quite unstable. I never know what to expect. I tuned it twice last winter...very flat each time but we had a very cold winter with low humidity. I expect it may be sharp next time. I check some of my favorite notes, take an average and tell the band to tune to that.

Harold

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#2272811 - 05/08/14 12:38 PM Re: Accompaniment, How close does tuning need to be? [Re: contrapiano]
TromboneAl Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/12/04
Posts: 795
Loc: Northern, Northern California
Quote:
They may not understand how to tune to some other pitch.


Perhaps you can guide them. That is, you play the note, they play, and you tell them "Flat" or "sharp" or "just a little flat" etc.

In general the public is oblivious to tuning, though I expect that they will enjoy the music more if you guys are in tune.

My sister is a music teacher, and her husband is an opera singer, yet they tolerate their terribly out of tune piano.

I'd love to see a scientific study of this: have people listen to recordings of a piano piece with different degrees of in-tune-ness. Ask them how much they liked each recording, and whether the piano was in tune.

I'd expect that they would like the more in-tune recordings, even if they didn't identify the others as not in tune.
_________________________
- Al

My Book: Becoming a Great Sight-Reader -- or Not!
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