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#2318317 08/21/14 09:44 PM
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Greetings,
Excuse me tramping in the parlor,but this piano technician has a question, and I thought to myself, "Why not just go over to the Pianist Corner and ask them".

In the Piano Technicians forum, (and I admit, most of us spend way too much time by ourselves), there are periodic mountains of debate springing from mole hills of ignorance about the actual tuning of the piano. Most believe that pianists don't really know what "in tune" is beyond the individual unison , and the octaves. I don't know if that is true, so am trying to find out.

Discussions of wide thirds and narrow fifths, chromatically ascending beats in all intervals, etc, are rarely able to be carried on with pianists, at least in my 36 years experience. It is normal to find confusion around the difference between pitch, stretch, and temperament. This lacuna of lore includes academia, private teachers, and concert artists. It also opens the door to the charlatan with a tuning fork and all manner of mediocre posers.

A favorite topic among hyper-harmonically inclined technicians is Temperament, and it is usually discussed with heat and acrimony before flaming out in yet another fizzled meeting of the minds. The only consensus I have seen is that most techs believe that there is only a small minority of pianists that are aware of what temperament actually refers to, and it is a waste of time to try anything other than the status quo.

Most of my customers are using a various temperaments, so I wonder what is the norm. Pianists? Does temperament means anything to your music, or not.
Thanks,


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If unisons are out of tune, I notice. If octaves are out of tune, I notice. If thirds and fifths are out of tune, it is hard for me to say that it is particularly out of tune.

However, I do know that a perfectly in-tune piano sounds so clean and nice, it can make an 'old' piano sound 'new.'

As you can see, pianists have trouble knowing exactly what is wrong with a piano, so we describe it as 'old' or 'new,' even though the actual problem is not old or new, it's the way the piano is tuned.

Similarly with temperament, most pianists probably haven't gotten to hear many different temperaments (who can afford to pay a tuner to tune their piano differently just for experimenting?). I suspect if I came across a piano that were tuned to a different temperament, I would think the piano sounds different, but I wouldn't know if it were because of the hammers, or the rim, or the acoustics of the room. I would probably attribute the different sound to a feature of the piano itself, not to the tuning.


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I'm very clear with my technician that my expertise begins and ends at the front end of the piano and the rest is his job. This is why I have him. Occasionally he has to deal with me saying that a certain note sounds "swimmy" or some such imprecise diva comment. But he always persists till it is right. You technicians are a patient lot.


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Well, I do actually care, but probably mostly because I'm more of a physicist than a pianist. But since I don't think I've ever really played anything other than a basically even temperament (or whatever it's called) I wonder if I can actually tell that a piano is in some other temperament. But it's fun listening to recordings in different temperaments. I've always wanted to get a digital keyboard that comes with these preset temperaments to get a feel when playing Bach or something. Even with Beethoven, Schumann, all the way up to Brahms.

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Originally Posted by phantomFive
[...]Similarly with temperament, most pianists probably haven't gotten to hear many different temperaments (who can afford to pay a tuner to tune their piano differently just for experimenting?). [...]


This is it, in a nutshell. Yes, I've heard of various temperaments and, playing several different pianos fairly regularly, I may even have come across one tuned to a a "different" temperament than what mine is tuned to, but how am I to know?

All I know in those cases is that the other instruments may sound different, but that different sound could be due to any one of a number of factors, or even a combination of several factors that may not have anything to do with temperament or it may be attributable to temperament alone.

I guess those wanting to understand better how different temperaments sound should have access to a digital keyboard which actually has different temperament choices as pre-sets. If we could play around with some of those, that might give us some insight into temperament and how it may bear upon our eventual choices.

For this pianist, it would be an interesting experiment, but I can't say whether it would go so far that I would insist that my tuner tune my piano to temperament "X," since I already like his work and am satisfied with the sound of my piano as it is currently tuned.

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Originally Posted by Lingyis
I've always wanted to get a digital keyboard that comes with these preset temperaments to get a feel when playing Bach or something. Even with Beethoven, Schumann, all the way up to Brahms.

Now that's a great idea


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Originally Posted by phantomFive
[...] However, I do know that a perfectly in-tune piano sounds so clean and nice, it can make an 'old' piano sound 'new.' [...]


My tuning slogan is, "Hearing a piano in tune is like breathing fresh air through your ears."

Ed, I cannot tell you how happy I was to discover Piano World, and a certain thread in the Tuner/Tech Forum called, "Hysterical Temperaments," because that is how I was introduced to the idea of a palette of temperaments. My life and my playing has not been the same, since. grin Well executed tunings are one thing. Well executed tunings that start with a well temperament are altogether another thing! thumb wink

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I'm one of the few exceptions here in that my piano is a high-end digital (Roland V-Piano - you can hear many concert pianists playing everything from Rachmaninoff's Etude-tableaux to Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies on it in concert hall settings on YouTube), which allows me to access several unequal temperaments at the turn of a dial - meantone, Kirnberger, Werckmeister, Pythagorean.....even (microtonal) Arabic, and of course also choose the 'temperament key' (or whatever it's called) for each of those. I can also 'detune' individual notes or unison strings very easily in the same manner.

So, I'm familiar with how they sound. In music of the Baroque and early Classical period, I sometimes play using one of the non-ET tunings, where the thirds (especially) sound really sweet. But as most of the music I play is late-Romantic and early 20th century, where accidentals abound and the home key (if there's one) wanders off pretty quickly, non-ET tuning grates on the ear, so I hardly ever use them.


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I have a Roland FP-7F which has a bunch of temperament settings I have never touched, which I kind of want to go play with now that you mention it.

I think you're mostly right, pianists don't really care because we do not deal with the tuning of our instruments for the most part. We can hear if it is off by a lot, but otherwise not really. When I listen to a piano concerto with orchestra I can hear how the piano is sometimes not fully "in tune" with the orchestra, but I've played on severely out of tune pianos so much I don't really care.

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This question is extremely hard to answer for me. Not because I haven't heard other temperaments - I have - but after being so used to equal temperament it is very difficult to listen to other temperaments, which is a limitation of my own perception.

I can appreciate when I hear other temperaments that the thirds for instance, sound purer, and far more harmonious in other temperaments, but it does limit transposition and modulation on these pianos. Or does it?

I know that in some of the unequal temperaments, it meant that different keys (as in F major, C minor, B-flat major, A minor etc) had a more pronounced feel to them, their own colour according to the tuning. Now, every key has sounds functionally the same (12 equal or so steps).

I know that when Mozart, for instance, modulated to a diminished 7th chord, which was perhaps an augmented 4th away from the tonic key, it would have had a far more dramatic effect than today.

For my own piano, in my own home, it would be pretty much impractical and impossible to use anything other than equal temperament, because I play repertoire from all periods from about 1680 - present day. Within that context, I need the instrument to sound good for all these compositions. Yet, I'm fully aware that this was not the world that Mozart, Beethoven and perhaps even Brahms, Chopin and Liszt enhabited.

The other question that should be raised is, what about orchestral playing? Or choral singing? What temperaments did they use? Did they even think about that? I'm asking that question because today, pretty much every orchestra whether they like it or not, use virtually equal temperament. There are some who experiment with others, but in general, it is equal. Of course, a string player and to a lesser extent a wind player and even a brass player, can manipulate the tuning by sliding, over blowing, or other means, and it means that they can sharpen their sharps and flatten their flats in the direction of travel as it were (or have some other effect), so they aren't limited by the fixed position of the keyboard tuning.

Did the composers of the past see the fixed tuning as a limitation on their music? I know that some of the composers of today do and hence they use instruments other than the piano to execute their ideas, and many fully embrace electronic means of tone production - analogue synths are back in a big way across all genres of music, which is wonderful because anything that increases expressive ability is a positive thing.

We only seem to know a little about temperament, and we can't possibly go back to hear any of the instruments as they sounded before, say, 1890 when the very first recordings were made (OK we might have some from earlier but it's around that time).

There is the question too, of the sonority of the instrument. Today's modern pianos are far less subtle and even less dramatic than the pianos of even Brahms' time, and certainly the piano of Beethoven's or Haydn's time. We have gained more power, greater sustain, but ended up with a somewhat monochromatic tone colour. Are our pianos of today able to cope with other temperaments or would an overstrung 2014 Steinway, Bluthner, Bechstein, whatever, sound confusing with a temperament other than equal?

One of the first pianists to record was Francis Plante, and you can hear his recordings on YouTube. He knew Chopin by all accounts and heard him play. He lived from 1839-1934 and so it's probable that when he was young, there would still have been quite a few pianos from Mozart's time even, in active service, and certainly he was a fan of the straight strung Erards and Pleyels that Chopin knew, and enjoyed those companies later instruments. I don't know what he thought of Steinway. His recordings all seem to be in equal temperament, or as near to it as we can hear, and didn't seem phased by it.

When we think of Plante, and we think of Schnabel who lived later - Schnabel was taught by Leschetizky, who was taught by Czerny. Czerny was taught by both Hummel and Beethoven, Hummel was a pupil of Mozart. We can think of musical periods (classical, romantic, 20th Century) not as periods but as a continuum. One thing grew out of the other. The problem we have though is that we don't know how much people from the next generation changed from the previous generation (Czerny didn't like the 'Mozart' school of playing which he heard via pupils of Mozart. He found it too choppy and detached, for instance), and how much they retained. For instance, a pianist playing a Beethoven sonata with the concept of the 'grand line' might be way off the mark. In the late Classical period and early romantic, they were still composing in cells and shapes, and the overall shape of a composition was only important in the light of the motivic cells. The grand line didn't really become so important until Liszt. Actually that whole 'grand line' concept is a touchy subject amongst pianists, and may seem off topic but I include it as an example of things being handed down and changed over time.

The other thing that is important to consider is the way that Mozart, Beethoven and even Chopin, Liszt and pianists right through to the 1930s used the sustaining pedal. Today's concept of everything using legato or syncapated pedal is too new even for Chopin, who preferred to use only as much pedal as was necessary. Beethoven used it only for effect and mainly in slow movements to increase the sonority of the melody. Of course in the arpeggios in the first movement of the Appassionata, it would be necessary to cover them a little with pedal, etc, but the idea wasn't that everything should be bathed as it was today. That has an effect on temperament because it means that a chord's duration would have been far shorter than today (not to mention the shorter sustain of the pianos) and therefore the effect of the temperament would serve a different function.

Am I making sense? I think I'm rambling now. Actually my piano tuner is downstairs as I type, putting my piano into equal temperament.


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Originally Posted by joe80
The other question that should be raised is, what about orchestral playing? Or choral singing? What temperaments did they use? Did they even think about that?

String players revert to non-ET (pure thirds & fifths) when playing solo, as in unaccompanied Bach or Ysaÿe, but change to ET when playing with piano.

Ditto for choirs - I remember that we used to sing very pure thirds when singing a capella, but had to be careful if the organ or piano was going to chime in after an unaccompanied section. Of course, with 'mature' choirs where they use wide (wobbly) vibratos, all that is irrelevant...... wink


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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by joe80
The other question that should be raised is, what about orchestral playing? Or choral singing? What temperaments did they use? Did they even think about that?

String players revert to non-ET (pure thirds & fifths) when playing solo, as in unaccompanied Bach or Ysaÿe, but change to ET when playing with piano.

Ditto for choirs - I remember that we used to sing very pure thirds when singing a capella, but had to be careful if the organ or piano was going to chime in after an unaccompanied section. Of course, with 'mature' choirs where they use wide (wobbly) vibratos, all that is irrelevant...... wink

While this is all true, most choirs also have a problem with the pitch sinking over time. It takes great diligence to keep the pitch where it belongs during an a capella performance.

Back to the OP's inquiry. I'm aware of many different temperaments. I even had my piano tuned to EBV III the last time. Frankly, I couldn't tell it wasn't equal temperament. If it was Kirnberger or something else (meantone, pythagorean or something more exotic) I probably could tell because the fifths would be way out in some keys. That may work okay for baroque or classical, but start modulating past Eb and things get dicey and the fifths sound sour. I was hopingt in EBV III that I'd hear a difference in some keys, but I didn't. Call me crazy, then again I listened to a lot of loud rock in my youth and my hearing isn't what it used to be.


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Originally Posted by hreichgott
I'm very clear with my technician that my expertise begins and ends at the front end of the piano and the rest is his job. This is why I have him. Occasionally he has to deal with me saying that a certain note sounds "swimmy" or some such imprecise diva comment. But he always persists till it is right. You technicians are a patient lot.


I second the motion.

My technician never understands when I say that "this notes sounds sour". A technician is good, in my humble opinion, when he/she respects the fact that pianists are not piano technicians, save that a certain few might take a fascination in their work in the same way we might with an auto mechanic. Technicians need to step down from their technical perch and do their best to understand what we're trying to communicate to them. It has nothing to do with being "diva", and has everything to do with that we (in general) are not piano technicians. It's a conversation, not a competition as to whether we speak a technical language.

I'm rather blessed to be in an area that attracts very high caliber technicians because of some major music fests that go on around here. Of course there will be "charlatans" or less capable, but that's true of anything, including auto mechanics. We can't be expert in everything we hire out for. We can learn what we like as the result though.

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I think that in general, pianists should be more aware of what goes on inside their instrument. I don't think every pianist should also be a technician, but treating the piano as some sort of "magic box" doesn't help IMO.

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I don't appreciate alternate tunings nearly as much as I should. As others have said, I would enjoy the luxury of an electronic with different temperaments built in, just to try things out. Lately, I have been looking at some Frescobaldi toccatas and such, and really wonder what it should sound like when he wanders into those remote key centers! Interesting, I'll bet!

Reading a bit about temperaments on the Tuner-Technicians Forum has made me want to hear what the various EBVT temperaments sound like.

I have the same difficulty with composers who deliberately write keyboard pieces in microtonal systems. I suppose after an hour of listening, they'd no longer sound "off," but they sure do at first. Interestingly, I don't have this problem with ensemble music where winds and strings are instructed to play sharp or flat. And I have no trouble with electronic works where pitch is all over the place.

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Originally Posted by Francisco Scalco
I think that in general, pianists should be more aware of what goes on inside their instrument. I don't think every pianist should also be a technician, but treating the piano as some sort of "magic box" doesn't help IMO.


Of course. But what do you mean by awareness, or for that matter "should"? I hardly see my piano as a magic box, but I do see it as capable of creating magic. I was speaking to a sort of exasperation that I've encountered with at least one technician simply because I don't speak the language. And I sensed that was what the original question was about. There can be "awareness" or it least "respect" even without being able to speak technically about it.

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Originally Posted by Steve Chandler

Back to the OP's inquiry. I'm aware of many different temperaments. I even had my piano tuned to EBV III the last time. Frankly, I couldn't tell it wasn't equal temperament. If it was Kirnberger or something else (meantone, pythagorean or something more exotic) I probably could tell because the fifths would be way out in some keys. That may work okay for baroque or classical, but start modulating past Eb and things get dicey and the fifths sound sour. I was hopingt in EBV III that I'd hear a difference in some keys, but I didn't.


Greetings,
The fifths shouldn't begin to sound bad in the remote keys. They should actually become more pure. Why? The fifths are in acoustical opposition to the thirds, i.e., to make 12 thirds fill an octave, you have to stretch all of them some, or some of them a lot. To make 12 fifths fit into an octave, you have to shrink some or all of them. The keys with the most highly tempered thirds have the purest fifths. The keys closer to C have more tempered fifths.

The near universal organization of the older temperaments was, (roughly) that the C-E third was the most consonant, and the F#-A# the least. All thirds in between were tuned on a continuum that followed the circle of fifths, i.e., F-A was a little more dissonant that C-E, and less than Bb-D. B-D# wasn't as tempered as F#-A#, and as you go back towards C, the thirds continue to shrink. A simple formula, (actually oversimplified), is that the more accidentals in the key signature, the wider the tonic third of that key. The third controls the harmonic "color". It is the variety of the thirds that make the keys sound different more so than the fifths.

Thirds tuned pure tend to calm us. Sharpening the top note of a pure third makes it "wider". Wider thirds create more "expression", or whatever you want to call the musical force that tends to make us cry or become tense. A good sonata should be able to do that for us. Take a look at most of them and you will usually find the second mvt. full of accidentals. The "Pathetique" has the whole 2nd mvt. in Ab, an extreme in a well-temperament. Ludwig was going for the heart, and heavy tempering helps.

There is a free comparison of a Steinway D in three temperaments on CDbaby ( search for Katahn ). They can be downloaded and played through whatever system you might have and the meantone version is pretty dissonant.
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Originally Posted by Ed Foote
Originally Posted by Steve Chandler

Back to the OP's inquiry. I'm aware of many different temperaments. I even had my piano tuned to EBV III the last time. Frankly, I couldn't tell it wasn't equal temperament. If it was Kirnberger or something else (meantone, pythagorean or something more exotic) I probably could tell because the fifths would be way out in some keys. That may work okay for baroque or classical, but start modulating past Eb and things get dicey and the fifths sound sour. I was hopingt in EBV III that I'd hear a difference in some keys, but I didn't.


Greetings,
The fifths shouldn't begin to sound bad in the remote keys. They should actually become more pure. Why? The fifths are in acoustical opposition to the thirds, i.e., to make 12 thirds fill an octave, you have to stretch all of them some, or some of them a lot. To make 12 fifths fit into an octave, you have to shrink some or all of them. The keys with the most highly tempered thirds have the purest fifths. The keys closer to C have more tempered fifths.

The near universal organization of the older temperaments was, (roughly) that the C-E third was the most consonant, and the F#-A# the least. All thirds in between were tuned on a continuum that followed the circle of fifths, i.e., F-A was a little more dissonant that C-E, and less than Bb-D. B-D# wasn't as tempered as F#-A#, and as you go back towards C, the thirds continue to shrink. A simple formula, (actually oversimplified), is that the more accidentals in the key signature, the wider the tonic third of that key. The third controls the harmonic "color". It is the variety of the thirds that make the keys sound different more so than the fifths.

Thirds tuned pure tend to calm us. Sharpening the top note of a pure third makes it "wider". Wider thirds create more "expression", or whatever you want to call the musical force that tends to make us cry or become tense. A good sonata should be able to do that for us. Take a look at most of them and you will usually find the second mvt. full of accidentals. The "Pathetique" has the whole 2nd mvt. in Ab, an extreme in a well-temperament. Ludwig was going for the heart, and heavy tempering helps.

There is a free comparison of a Steinway D in three temperaments on CDbaby ( search for Katahn ). They can be downloaded and played through whatever system you might have and the meantone version is pretty dissonant.
Regards,

Fascinating.
I don't understand how can people think that this isn't relevant for the perfoming pianist.

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Originally Posted by Francisco Scalco

I don't understand how can people think that this isn't relevant for the perfoming pianist.


Not to say you're wrong, but...
If I had Ed Foote as my technician, although I would probably exasperate him within 3 minutes of talking with him, and probably likewise, I would know I was in good hands and would feel relieved. That I might say something to the effect of "Go ahead do what you think is best for what I am playing" wouldn't change the fact that I would then listen to the result, to how musical it sounded, and simply how it felt as I played . What's not to like?

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Originally Posted by toyboy

If I had Ed Foote as my technician, although I would probably exasperate him within 3 minutes of talking with him, and probably likewise,


Greetings,
I quote the Beatles, "There's nothing to get hung about". Talk is cheap so I prefer to just put a tuning out there and let it do the talking, first. Customers have always known I will change it back to what they had before, for free, if they don't like the alteration. We so often talk about what a piece of music sounds like, not how a piece of music feels. As a technician, there is a feel to the the third that changes with how tempered I make it. There is also a "feel" to a passage that can be intensified by it being in a contrasting key to something played previously.

I have a lot of years dealing with a variety of customers: the artist on the concert stage (easier to understand than most), penny-pinching store owners that don't want to pay for anything, the parent of three kids taking lessons (doesn't really have time to care about voicing, whatever that is), introspective teenager that hears things I don't, etc. But the worst exasperation has come from the totally neurotic, cocaine-fueled. insecure session player that blames the piano when the groove isn't to be found and the clock is ticking in the studio. Before the microchip guitar tuners of today, Nashville sessions were tuned to the piano. When musicians couldn't get in tune, everybody wanted to blame the piano, and very few of the musicians could accurately tune their instrument to both itself and each other at the same time. That was exasperating and I learned to avoid the jobs. Easier to tune a well-temperament for Renee Fleming,( which she really liked), and others that know what they are doing.

The change of temperament is a change to the sensual nature of the intervals, and trying to make something meaningful out of it with only words is doomed. Its effect on music written with a harmonic palette in mind is to alter the relative "weights" of passages and modulations, which, in turn, requires an alteration of the way the passage is played if it is to make musical sense. This is added complexity for the musician. There is a coherent rising and falling of dissonance in most of this piano music that doesn't occur when all keys are equalized. ( This effect also disappears or becomes chaotic in a well-temperament if the piece is transposed.) Once recognized, the key colors provide what one pianist called, "power steering" for changing the tension in a piece and create a sense of tonal order that had been previously lacking.

The musicologist, faced with the new, profound, additions to the harmonic language that unequal temperament presents, either admits that previous keyboard music theory is inadequate and delves back into old music with a new perspective, or retreats to the position of equal temperament forever so that there is nothing to discuss.

And then, there are those that simply don't hear any difference in temperaments. I am at a loss to explain it, but there are a number of listeners that think this is all smoke and mirrors and I am trying to sell the king some clothes. I can only point to the "Magic Eye" images that contain a hidden picture. Some people cannot see it, but after enough others agree that there is a seal balancing a ball in that jumbled mass of colors, they have to agree there must be something there. There is no way to do that with the temperament difference, it changes the emotional impact the music has on the listener, and this effect is too subjective to prove anything.
Regards,

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Which would you recommend and why - K8, K20 or U3?
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