October 30, 2013
If I use my tuner I’m totally in tune, right?
I diverted last week because of the serendipity of meeting new ideas in the form of new people, but I’d like to get back to tuning because so many of you have asked for more help.
One question I have gotten recently is about using an electronic tuner. Full disclosure, I love and hate my electronic tuner! I love the relative ease it makes tuning, but I hate that it leaves my harp sounding not quite right. So today, things to love about your tuner and a couple of disjointed thoughts (that actually go together).
1. Always check your calibration. Most of us intend to tune our harps to play with other people. The frequency we typically tune to is for the A above middle C to be 440 Hz (said, “Hertz” just like the car rental place). Be sure to check that your tuner is calibrated to 440Hz (this is a shot of my tuner - yours might look different if you have a different brand of tuner). See that in the upper left hand corner it says it is set to 440Hz? Check every time that it says 440Hz. On this particular brand it is quite easy to bump the calibration buttons (I once found that it had gotten to 447Hz - very sharp - it took me 34 of 36 strings to realize that my harp hadn't suddenly all gone out of tune to the same extent! I had to retune the entire thing! That's when I learned to check the calibration every time).
2. You, off course, want to have that needle straight up and down with one green light. You want this for each and every string. Do not get frustrated, give up, and “live with” a string that it out of tune. In addition to that *not quite in tune* string sounding bad each time you play it with another string, you will be teaching yourself to hear that bad sound as "good" and soon you won’t hear it as bad anymore…but everyone else will.
3. I know that you already know what I’m going to say next – tuning quickly and accurately comes with practice. The more you tune, the better you get at it.
Now your harp is tuned. But it might not sound quite right...that is because it is in Tempered Tuning. Tempered tuning was designed to allow pianos to be played in just about any key. But to get that flexibility, the intervals between the notes had to be smushed a little bit. So, when your harp is “perfectly” tuned with your electronic tuner, it might sound just a little off (especially if you play a big, full, harpy chord with all the notes you can muster). Next week, we’ll talk about tuning by ear, why tempered tuning doesn't sound quite right, and getting rid of that smushed sound.