Sunday, August 19, 2007

At last! 
A music instruction site that doesn't suck!!!!

(Pretty much for musicians only. More on intonation and tuning systems here.

What forced me to pay more attention to intonation was playing regularly with an uilleann piper named Eamonn Dillon. Sitting next to him and listening carefully, I found I had to seriously adjust my intonation to sound good in the traditional Irish music context.

A lot of Irish trad is based on gapped scales with a mixolydian feel. For example, in the common key of D, you have a lot of tunes built on D, E, G, A, C natural.

I noticed that the E note was seriously flattened - and often it was flattened more descending than it was ascending - sometimes to the point of being below a minor second. Really neat sound. But few casual session fiddlers grasp that. When they do, and match themselves to a master piper like Eamonn, it's a very powerful thing.

I never had classical training at all on piano. I had a bit on guitar, and I noticed that guitars were simply impossible to tune. You can never get them right. That's because the frets can only be in one place, and the F# in the key of D is much lower than the F# in the key of G.

So I drove myself crazy trying to retune the damn thing every two seconds to get the thing right, as a teenager. It was later that I realized that tuning it was mathematically impossible. Which is why I like violin--you can actually play a violin in tune, in any key, although some keys suck more than others.

Eventually, I figured out that the violin resonates a lot better with a D-F# doublestop with the F# decidedly flatter than I was used to hearing on a piano. Then it all came together, though I didn't know what Pythagorean intonation was, until just now.

It makes a difference.

Question: How do you know if the fiddler is playing out of tune?
Answer: The bow is moving (and the steel guitarist is mad as hell)

The first question to ask is "400? or 442?"

After living life as a top tenor, the answer is obviously 442...but only for the Top. If you're 2nd, bari or bass...just sing the notes as written. Let us handle temper.

I'm not sure if you need proficiency on the piano to "get" temperment. Pick up the charts for "Well-Tempered Clavier" and the Glenn Gould Edition. You can go back to this without limit and still learn. (Probably the best recording of music...ever.)(And if not the best, at least the best resource for teaching and learning what is meant by temper.)
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