November 7, 2013

I absolutely can ONLY use my electronic tuner to tune, right? (I can never tune by ear?)

Most people use their electronic tuner for a number of reasons – it’s easy, effective, consistent, and it gives you the impression that your harp is tuned accurately.  But are you really in tune?

You can choose to tune by ear.  Many people do this because it results in I won’t kid you, learning to tune by ear requires some willingness to work – you have to practice doing it and you have to practice listening closely.  But if you start tuning by ear it won’t take you long to get good at it.

First, the equipment.  Assuming you do not have perfect pitch, you will need something to give you a pitch to reference.  You can use a tuning fork or a pitch pipe (available on a number of websites) or a piano (assuming it is in tune).  You can choose which pitch you’d like to tune to.  I have a 440 A tuning fork.  That might not have been the best choice as I have my harp tuned to Eb which means that I have to set a lever and occlude the string to get to A.  I’d suggest a pitch you can tune to on an open string.

I’ll focus on the tuning fork as it is easy to carry and use.  The tuning will be the same regardless of your reference.  Strike the fork on something solid (I use my ankle bone) and then place the base on the sound board.  You will hear the pitch loud and clear.  Then tune the appropriate string (A in my case) until you can’t hear it.

‘Til I can’t hear it????  Yup – when you can’t hear the string differently from the tuning fork, it is in tune…they are inseparable.  Remember that the 440Hz refers to the frequency of the string – so if you have it tuned, it will “disappear” into the tone of the tuning fork. Then I’d suggest you tune all of that string (all the As for example).  Tune them against each other (based on the A you started with).  Octaves are directly related (so if the middle A is 440 Hz, the A below it will be 220Hz and the A above it will be 880Hz.  If you play them in octaves you will be able to hear if one is out because of this relation.

If you’re willing to give it a try, start with your A’s strike your tuning fork and bring them in line.  We’ll move on to tuning the rest of the strings later!  Don’t get frustrated, just take a breath and listen – you’ll hear it when it happens.

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