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The Tuning Wars

December 5, 2013

As conductors, we are (usually) preoccupied with tuning.  One of my edicts is to have the orchestra tune “mindfully.” I regularly coach my groups to tune thoughtfully, and with a beautiful sound.

But… do we really know when we’re in tune? I mean, of course we do, right? Certainly we can hear when we are out of tune. But, how “in tune” is being “in tune?”

I am having a bit of fun here, but it is a fascinating question.

In a former life, I played mandola in a mandolin quartet (two mandolins, a mandola, and a mandocello). Let me tell you, we could spend an hour just “microtuning” our instruments to get them in tune with one another. (I mean, think of all those doubled strings!!)

MandoFamily

(Members of the mandolin family – note the mandobass in the back!)

Check out this great article about tuning systems. (Allow yourself some time, the article is pretty darn thorough.)

Also, take a night and read this funny, interesting book:

How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why you Should Care)

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