Concerning multi-instrument players
April 14, 2020 at 10:47 PM #83459
Just thought I’d ramble around a little about something I know nothing about as usual. But several things have come together to have me thinking about this. First of all, for a while, especially the last year….I realize I’ve been strongly impressed with a sense that there is an undefinable characteristic similarity to players who spend as much time playing other instruments as they do the fiddle. This doesn’t apply to those who simply know how to play other instruments, but just those who play another stringed instrument as much as they do the fiddle. Of course it’s probably just in my head, but I think it all started with listening to Roy Clark, and feeling amazed at how he could play at such a high level on so many different instruments. At the same time I realized that, to me, he had some kind of distinctive sound that had a very familiar ring to it, in that it was also similar to others like him who played other stringed instrument as well.
Well this had been going around in my head for a long time. Then Nancy posted that video of the lady who sees colors in the music. I’ve said in the past I experience something, well kind of similar to that, but at least music produces something for me other than just sound to my ears. So even if I can’t distinguish something definable with my ears, there seems to be other senses that I can recognise things which are similar.
What really brought this together was several weeks ago, before our lessons were shut down with the isolation, I was discussing with the teacher, a particular note in a piece that I was having trouble with due to the fact that I simply had a tendency to do something else with it than what I was supposed to by the score and just wasn’t hearing and playing it right. First thing she said was to ask me if I was comparing the note with my tuner to work on it. I said yes. So she explained that this was one of the places that equal temperament will fail us as violin players.
Since tuners give us Equal Temperament and violins demand Just Intonation to sound best, she teaches learning intonation, beyond the basics, by ear training to develop the ability to hear it in Just Intonation. I remember a dramatic example on a youtube I saw of a demonstration where a particular passage was modulated in a way that showed how a particular note was changed significantly when played on a violin with Just Intonation. Other words, because of harmonics, leading tones, etc. you ended up with a completely different sound in Equal Temperament.
Since guitars, pianos, banjos are tuned and played in equal temperament, and playing them at a high level is done by ear, it only makes sense that these players must emulate what they hear with those other instruments, when they are playing the fiddle also? Is this what has made me think I’m hearing something different? Or, to paraphrase King Agrippa, Much learning is driving me crazy!April 15, 2020 at 7:13 AM #83464cricketParticipant
Sounds like you’ve been in social isolation too long…lol. No, seriously, I have grappled with this for years. I learned about it because of what it does…not the other way around. Equal temperament, I’m talking about…I learned about it because it bothered me and i needed to figure it out. It’s a bothersome thing. I finally took up fiddle to get away from the confines of fixed instruments. Yet, I do play my fixed, ET instruments as much as I play my fiddle. To me…a guitar has always sounded out of tune…to my ear. Normally, I tune to an A on my tuning fork, which I’ve been doing for over half a century, then tune up by playing the chords I plan to play on whatever I’m playing. If I’m playing in C, then I run through a few C chords and the fours, fives, or whatever else. Then if I switch to E, I retune according to those chords. This was always my way, trying to make the doggone thing sound in tune…it worked ok for me up until a few years ago when I joined a BG band…they all thought I was nuts…would’nt allow for that kind of tuning time…gave me an electronic tuner, which I thought was useless for guitars…I mean…yeah, you match up those pitches in the perfect, scientifically acoustic way, then play a chord and it sounds off…at least to me it does…I know pitch perception seems to vary…not only person-to-person, but even in my own self…one day I hear it different than I might on another day…but Equal Temperament really messes with your mind. Once you combine the fiddle with the fixed instruments…yeah…you’re gonna have intonation issues to deal with.
At this point…you’re not only trying to play, find the spirit of the piece, etc., but you’re also highly involved in compensating for pitch mis-matches that are inevitable. I think, fortunately, most of us can ignore all of it and just play. Some of us get crazy from overthinking it all…lol…which is useless because you can’t really make it all like you want it to sound, if you even really know how you want it to sound…seems it’s easier to know how you DON’T want it to sound.
I think mountain lap dulcimers are amazing critters…they are fixed…but they tune to modes, and so…it’s just different…I guess it’s still possible to get away from those awkward tonal relationships we get from Equal Temperament on fixed instruments. I love dulcimers, the ones without the half frets (which defeats the whole purpose of playing a mountain dulcimer, imho), because of this, yet…I rarely play mine, because I just have trouble knowing how to incorporate it into my mess…oops, I mean my mix of stuff I do for fun around here.
But I hear ya, Rodger. And I remember a story about one of those great violinists I picked up somewhere…maybe that Yasho Horowitz (is that a person????) or one of those famous great violin guys…I’d read somwhere that he was doing a master class at some university. When the student was on stage about to play, he took their violin, tuned it slightly off pitch…enough to be easily noticeable, then handed it back and told them to go ahead. And the moral of that deed was to show that student and all the others that with the fiddle, the pitch is a continuous, infinitesimal stream of adjustments the fiddler makes…exactly as fluid as a singer makes…when your instrument is tuned off pitch, it just makes you more aware of what you’re doing about that.April 17, 2020 at 8:39 PM #83548Gunnar SalyerParticipant
Well, all of my instruments live slightly out of tune anyway…… I don’t know much about intonation systems, and I don’t really care to, but I have noticed that guitars and banjos are almost always slightly out of tune. Tuning to a tuner sometimes works well, but it usually sounds slightly off. And sometimes when my instrument has been sitting and goes slightly out of tune I’ll play it and it just sounds really good, and there’s no rhyme or reason.
Just remember, when all else fails, you can always just blame the instrument being out of tune 😂😂April 18, 2020 at 7:27 AM #83568fiddlewoodParticipant
I know there are guitars built to compensate for the normal “incorrect” tunng that exists in instruments. But knowing of it’s existence is about the limit of my knowledge on the subject. There is a ton of info on true temperament though:
I’ve known of a few other musicians who played by colors (Roy Husky Jr. was known for this). I don’t, but I do play by pictures…cartoon elves making shoes, lizards, swamps, blowing wheat fields, bum laying in a gutter or alley, sailing ships tied at dark oldtime docks, sun shining on mountainside, old dirt road, run down hut, are just a few things I see when I hear certain passages or phrases in music.
April 18, 2020 at 10:05 AM #83570
- This reply was modified 6 months, 1 week ago by fiddlewood.
That may be the ultimate level of musical development Dave….for it to work those effects in your consciousness. You expressed that very well.
I might wonder, if those effects depend on ‘very’ slight variations in pitch, timing, etc.April 18, 2020 at 1:37 PM #83575cricketParticipant
Gunnar, I have the same thing…sometimes I try to tune and everything sounds off…other times, seems the instruments just sit and tune themselves ok.
I think at least my own (maybe everybody’s????) perception of intonation seems to change sometimes too…so there are times when I can’t get anything to sound on pitch no matter what I do…and other times, like Gunnar said, the instrument just sitting on its own sounds great as it is.
Intonation is a weird thing. What gets me is the effects it has on human beings. Think of how tones relate to one another…I mean, you just know you need a four chord or five chord or whatever chord…I’m always amazed at how it works…I can understand how the human race put so much effort into tuning systems…a lot of good stuff waiting to be brought into existence by composers or players who had the latest tunings available that would let them do new things. Music is just amazing.April 18, 2020 at 7:36 PM #83578fiddlewoodParticipant
Roger, I don’t recognise any effects from pitch that I know of except when the key changes. It usually seems to be the “color” of a musical phrase that has the most effect. Speed effects it also.
Mostly it seems to be a mental reference for the mood of an entire piece or phrase.May 20, 2020 at 1:51 PM #84367
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