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Two Tuning Notes?

Postby dgpretzel » Mon Oct 07, 2019 11:41 am

Over the past few days, I had opportunity to attend some concerts, and heard a couple of most excellent wind ensembles: UBC Winds in Vancouver and the Seattle Wind Symphone in Seattle.

I noticed that both used two tuning notes: Bb and A. But, neither had any strings (string bass).

My first thought was, why the "A" for a wind band? In my ignorance, I wondered why, if one couldn't mentally derive an "A" from hearing a "Bb", then two probably isn't enough either. Might as well do the whole scale.

OK. That's a bit tongue-in-cheek, and I admit my ignorance on this topic.

But, the question remains unanswered in my alleged mind: Why two tuning notes? I could maybe see a Bb and an F (for the flutes)-- but I don't "get" the "A".

Thank you for any comments.

DG

P.S. BTW, both groups were simply stellar!
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby The Brute Squad » Mon Oct 07, 2019 12:03 pm

For some instruments, A makes more sense. IIRC the F# on saxophones is more in tune than the G, generally, so concert A makes more sense for the alto and bari.

Horn, too, for that matter, since E is open bugle and F is not.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby dgpretzel » Mon Oct 07, 2019 1:34 pm

Well, that makes a lot of sense (tuning the open bugle).

But then, why doesn't an orchestra offer "Bb" (in addition to "A") for tuning, to accomodate most of the brass?

Not being argumentative... just wondering.

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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby The Brute Squad » Mon Oct 07, 2019 2:14 pm

Classic FM did an article last year on orchestral tuning, and this is what they said about A:

Conveniently, every string instrument has an A string. So it makes sense for string orchestras to tune to the open A string of the first violinist. And as other families of instruments have joined the orchestra over the years, they followed suit.


Basically, a combination of tradition and strings being the only instruments always there.

Full article

That also includes why we use the oboe still.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby Tom » Mon Oct 07, 2019 2:18 pm

It's an orchestra thing...

Two (or sometimes even three) A's get played by the oboe: one for strings, one for winds, one for brass (often everyone jumps in at that point). As to why there isn't a B-flat given for the brass, my understanding is because the pitch is based on A=440 (or 441, 442, etc.) and the string instruments all have A strings - so the tuning system is built around that - and the brass just have to deal and tune to that.

In a band environment, it would actually make more sense to do a concert B-flat and/or a concert F rather than a series of A's. The ones that still play A's seem to do so just because the symphony does it. :roll:

EDIT: Yep, basically what The Brute Squad and the article he linked to says. I was typing up my response while that was posted.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby tbonesullivan » Mon Oct 07, 2019 6:59 pm

Most if not all serious players in orchestras and bands have their own tuners, and have probably already warmed up and tuned by the time the "tuning note" is given. I was taught in college that it is given more to "confirm" tuning than to actually tune. Tuning a stringed instrument really can't be done in a 5-10 seconds, so it's really just a final check.

And while I'd love a Bb, it really only makes sense for instrument that have a Bb "home" note.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby Leland » Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:49 am

On the "A" tangent --

I was at a Steve Turre class (trombone with SNL band) and he and his jazz combo (drums/bass/guitar/piano) tuned to an A from the piano. I asked why he used an A instead of a Bb, and after joking, "Because I want to," he said that it's the better note for the stringed instruments; and besides, although a trombone's 2nd position is pretty fluid, he can still tune it in 1st position by playing a D in the chord.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby bloke » Tue Oct 08, 2019 9:17 am

"Tuning notes" are nonsense.
They are a complete waste of time for competent musicians, and even more of a waste of time for incompetent musicians.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby Kirley » Tue Oct 08, 2019 12:58 pm

bloke wrote:"Tuning notes" are nonsense.
They are a complete waste of time for competent musicians, and even more of a waste of time for incompetent musicians.


This is why I keep coming back to TubeNet. :D
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby SteveP » Tue Oct 08, 2019 1:03 pm

dgpretzel wrote:Well, that makes a lot of sense (tuning the open bugle).

But then, why doesn't an orchestra offer "Bb" (in addition to "A") for tuning, to accomodate most of the brass?

Not being argumentative... just wondering.

DG

Yeah, tradition. The trumpet players in our local orchestra really wanted a Bb but the concert master would absolutely not allow it except outside the audience's hearing. Only A's on stage.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby Mark » Tue Oct 08, 2019 1:34 pm

I asked John Falskow, the conductor of the Seattle Wind Symphony, about this.

John Falskow wrote:I have heard from some musicians that they prefer A. As mentioned in the thread, there is orchestra tradition, and also some good instrument specific reasons why A might feel like a better pitch to tune. As a brass and band guy, I like Bb. I figure there's no harm in trying to give people what they want, and give two pitches.


I, and all of the brass, tune to the Bb, but a lot of the woodwinds and the string bass tune to the A.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby GC » Tue Oct 08, 2019 1:57 pm

My college band director was highly in favor of tuning flutes to an Eb (all fingers down and overblow the octave). Since A, Bb, B, C, and C# are in the most unstable pitch range of the instrument, he felt you should teach students to play from the stable range and tune the more unstable notes to the stable range pitches. It's both mechanical tuning and teaching students to use their ears to adjust.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby timayer » Tue Oct 08, 2019 4:08 pm

SteveP wrote:Yeah, tradition. The trumpet players in our local orchestra really wanted a Bb but the concert master would absolutely not allow it except outside the audience's hearing. Only A's on stage.audience's hearing. Only A's on stage.


Well you don't want the audience worried that the brass section is starting off a half step out of tune...
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby dgpretzel » Tue Oct 08, 2019 6:02 pm

But, maybe they just have some Ives chart on their stand.

:)

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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby acemorgan » Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:39 pm

I would agree with Bloke that the tuning notes have little value for the people on stage. But perhaps the best reason for still going through the motion is to get the audience quiet.

Think about it; we are conditioned to respond to certain stimuli. The audience may be jabbering away, but when that tuning note is sounded, the crowd falls into an obedient silence. Then after the usual cacophony of arpeggio riffs, the conductor silences the musicians. That silence before the first downbeat is a rare shared experience, where everyone in the concert hall is doing the exact same thing.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby Leland » Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:59 pm

acemorgan wrote:I would agree with Bloke that the tuning notes have little value for the people on stage. But perhaps the best reason for still going through the motion is to get the audience quiet.

Think about it; we are conditioned to respond to certain stimuli. The audience may be jabbering away, but when that tuning note is sounded, the crowd falls into an obedient silence. Then after the usual cacophony of arpeggio riffs, the conductor silences the musicians. That silence before the first downbeat is a rare shared experience, where everyone in the concert hall is doing the exact same thing.

Upvoted for best answer.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby iiipopes » Wed Oct 09, 2019 9:36 am

SteveP wrote:Yeah, tradition. The trumpet players in our local orchestra really wanted a Bb but the concert master would absolutely not allow it except outside the audience's hearing. Only A's on stage.

And with all the stuffiness of all orchestras, of which this is a symptom, the orchestras wonder why attendance is down, when with all sorts of other local groups of other genres who don't give a r**'s a** about what their tuning routine sounds like, attendance is up.
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby windshieldbug » Wed Oct 09, 2019 11:21 am

I will just add a couple points:
In the modern full-time orchestra A is almost NEVER = 440, but something above that.
In the brass, nothing but the trombone section are likely playing Bb instruments :shock:
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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby dgpretzel » Wed Oct 09, 2019 1:08 pm

OK. So, if players are not able to derive their needed pitch from a single, known note, then why not a distinct note for every open bugle (or comparable woodwind term) in use? And, what about instruments that are only to be used later in the program? Shouldn't they be tuned, too? And, why not tune to the immutable instruments, such as percussion or piano?

Rhetorical.

I know... Just like Tevya said: Tradition.

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Re: Two Tuning Notes?

Postby bort » Wed Oct 09, 2019 1:51 pm

bloke wrote:"Tuning notes" are nonsense.
They are a complete waste of time for competent musicians, and even more of a waste of time for incompetent musicians.


Oh thank you for saying that. It's almost just like the aural equivalent of flashing the lights for the audience. Hey, shut up, we're ready to play.

Even worse than the tuning notes themselves is the noodlers... tuning nooooooooote... then arpeggios, some nonsense slur of notes, fingerings, etc.

And even worse than that, practicing difficult passages on-stage immediately before the performance. If it ain't under your fingers by then, it ain't happening!
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