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 Post subject: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Mon Feb 19, 2018 9:09 am 
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So I've been playing a while, but mostly by myself. Lately, I've been trying to get into playing with a local session, which brings other instruments into the mix, and suddenly my whistles have to play nicely with others. Now, when I play a guitar or Ukulele, the tuning is pretty straightforward (tune the open strings to the proper pitch), but whistles being what they are, it doesn't seem to be so straightforward.

For example, I've got both a Goldie and MK low D, and to get them to play the low D right on pitch, I've got to pull the slides pretty far out, and that seems to be the case with most whistles. However, the first time I played with a few other people (one on an electric piano) I suddenly found that I had to shove the slides back in to about where they were when I received them, meaning they seem to play a bit sharp, but it seems to work. When I played a Feadog D (or any other Feadog), I noticed that they play very sharp for me, so I've got to pull the heads out.

To throw another wrench in the works, when I played my Goldie and MK side-by-side with my non-tuneable Chieftain V3, and even the V5, the Chieftains play much flatter, yet their low D is almost spot on, but while the V3 sounds fine in my session, it's really flat when I play along with the guy on the Expert whistle tutorial from OAIM.

Is there a consistent tuning rule I can use to figure out how to adjust these? Should I tune to something other than the low D (like tune the A to 440?)? Do sharp whistles simply blend better with other instruments? Every time I think I've got it figured out, I start playing with something or someone and it sounds wrong again and I've got to adjust something.

Edit: I've also made a couple of whistles and multiple bodies for them, and given this seemingly moving target, the tuning of said whistles is giving me fits, and that's not even getting into Equal temperament vs. Just intonation.

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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Mon Feb 19, 2018 9:36 am 
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? Should I tune to something other than the low D (like tune the A to 440?)? Do sharp whistles simply blend better with other instruments? Every time I think I've got it figured out, I start playing with something or someone and it sounds wrong again and I've got to adjust something.


Best to tune to the A the others your playing with, or have them tune to yours if there aren't any fixed pitch instruments in the room. Don't assume everybody will be at A=440. Make sure you're all in tune at A anyway, do check your other notes (D etc) against it.

Things do move, you check your tuning occasionally or re-tune when you hear you're out. And playing with others involves constant listening and adjusting your playing to make sure things are spot on.

Some whistlers tune a few cents sharp on the assumption they can be heard better over the noise. Not sure that counts as blending better though.


[fixed typo]

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Last edited by Mr.Gumby on Mon Feb 19, 2018 12:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Mon Feb 19, 2018 12:44 pm 
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Peter very briefly touched on the art of 'consort playing'. An art and a joy of its own. Playing in a small group with a nice 'tight' sound is my major attraction to Irish music :)

Bob

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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Mon Feb 19, 2018 12:57 pm 
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I don't recall where I saw the following advice, but thought I might share them anyway:

1. Tune to the note that the whistle maker has tuned the body around - usually A440 or high D. The low D is usually a little compromised but the lower frequency notes don't cause so much pain to the hearer when they are out of tune... Adjust appropriately if there is a non-tuneable instrument around / session is not in A440.

Usually instrument makers use A440, but I definitely recall one maker advising me to tune to high D. Then there is the strange Alba low C about which Stacey said I need to make individual adjustments when playing in C or F or G...

2. When you are at home, check the note accuracy when you are playing a tune as opposed to playing a single note. Flutini is great for this. Most of us blow slightly differently when playing notes together as opposed to playing a single note. The latter allows us all the time and attention to bend the single note. Tune in such a way that the total variance (of the important notes) about the norm is the least.

Are you playing the bell note very intensely? Coincidentally, in the realm of irish flutes, the Rudall-style flutes might intentionally have a flat low D to accommodate this style of playing: http://www.irishfluteguide.info/choosin ... tem-flute/ So this style of playing is probably not uncommon.

Greatly appreciate your videos on YouTube by the way!


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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 6:25 pm 
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The issues the OP discussed stuck me as a bit unusual, and I realised that I've come to take for granted my long habit of checking a whistle against a tuner whenever I assemble it, whether it's a new whistle or whether I had to take it apart for some reason.

So at this moment I could grab any whistle from my roll and it would play at A=440. Which is the reason for my habit: in the middle of a church service I can't be tooting on things to find out if they're in tune.

I can't remember a time where I've had to match a pitch other than A=440, offhand. (My Highland pipes are another story altogether!)

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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2018 6:31 pm 
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joshuaZ wrote:
Tune to the note that the whistle maker has tuned the body around - usually A440 or high D... Usually instrument makers use A440, but I definitely recall one maker advising me to tune to high D.


joshuaZ wrote:
The low D is usually a little compromised


joshuaZ wrote:
the strange Alba low C about which Stacey said I need to make individual adjustments when playing in C or F or G


I don't understand the meaning of these three points.

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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2018 7:48 am 
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pancelticpiper wrote:
joshuaZ wrote:
Tune to the note that the whistle maker has tuned the body around - usually A440 or high D... Usually instrument makers use A440, but I definitely recall one maker advising me to tune to high D.


joshuaZ wrote:
The low D is usually a little compromised


joshuaZ wrote:
the strange Alba low C about which Stacey said I need to make individual adjustments when playing in C or F or G


I don't understand the meaning of these three points.


Most whistles are tuned to A440 Equal Temperament [scale]. However, this does not mean that tuning the A440 [note] will give you the least variance from the scale - and variance from the scale is inevitable for whistles, being a simple cylindrical woodwind instrument that plays 2+ octaves with 6 holes.

Some whistle makers choose A to be the note to tune around - say for example maybe for this low whistle the B is +5, the low D is -10, the A440 is +0. In this case it makes sense to tune to A.
Some makers choose high (or some may call it middle) D to be the note to tune aournd - say the middle D is +0, the A is +5, the low D is -10. In this case tuning to the A note will render the entire instrument a bit too flat. Better to tune to high D. I definitely received advise on one of my whistles to tune to high D, though I can't remember who gave this advise sadly.

But of course the above does not take into account the difference between your breathing compared to that of the maker. Nowadays I check against flutini and choose the tuning that offers the least total variance for the important notes.

Another thing about tuning to A440 [note] occurs when you are tuning whistles of different key. If one sticks to an absolute note, then one whistle has tuning sweet spot in the middle, another only at the end of the lower octave, and another at top of the higher octave. And yet the physics of how you can lay the holes to reduce total variance about the mean is the same.

If I just received a whistle I don't know very well, I would still tune it to A440 [note], but after I've learnt where the relative imperfections of this instrument is, I will try to play it at a position that results in least variance from the A440 ET [scale].

I think it was the Eamonn Cotter who also thinks that a lot of flutes have their As slightly too sharp. If you have one of those, and you play a Rudall with a flat foot. This may make your low D overly difficult to lip to a proper note - and if you can it may still require too much intentional effort as opposed to our body's natural negative feedback.

===============================

As to the Alba whistle... As you know Stacey has a way of tuning her C/Csharp (low D equivalent) that is distinct from a lot of other established makers. (Nothing wrong with that if you are good enough to adapt.) I mentioned this and her words on this is "if you wish to play tunes that are in F you can tune it to favour that key" (I have her low C whistle). I have no idea exactly what she means.


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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2018 8:33 am 
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All woodwinds will play flat when cold, and sharpen as they warm up. This may explain the OP's problem when changing whistles during a session.


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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2018 8:36 am 
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FWIW, I always take a holistic approach to tuning (never to just one note), and believe any maker worth their salt does likewise. You need to have the feel of what the whole whistle's doing, not just how an A, D or anything else tunes in isolation.

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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2018 7:37 am 
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joshuaZ wrote:
Most whistles are tuned to A440 Equal Temperament [scale]. However, this does not mean that tuning the A440 [note] will give you the least variance from the scale - and variance from the scale is inevitable for whistles...


All of my whistles give an in-tune ET scale from the bellnote to the one-finger note in the 2nd octave (what would be Bottom D to High B on a D whistle). If a whistle doesn't do that, I'm not going to use it. In fact I can't use it, for gigs.

The one note I expect to be a bit flat is the open C# in the low octave. I want it that way so that the crossfingered C natural is in tune.

joshuaZ wrote:
Some whistle makers choose A to be the note to tune around - say for example maybe for this low whistle the B is +5, the low D is -10, the A440 is +0. In this case it makes sense to tune to A.
Some makers choose high (or some may call it middle) D to be the note to tune aournd - say the middle D is +0, the A is +5, the low D is -10.


Ah, I see. You're talking about the different between Just Intonation and Equal Temperament.

Your Just Intonation numbers are a bit off. If we're using an A JI scale it would be

A 0
B +4
C# -14
D -2
E +2
F# -16
G# -10

If we're using a D JI scale it would be

D 0
E +4
F# -14
G -2
A +2
B -16
C# -10

In Irish traditional music a D JI scale is often assumed due to the presence of the uilleann pipes in D. You can see however than the D and A JI scales are mostly similar, except for the note B which goes in opposite directions.

The difference, in practice, between the JI and ET scales is negligible as Peter points out. As I've often said the difference between an ET whistle and a JI whistle is two pieces of tape.

joshuaZ wrote:
Another thing about tuning to A440 [note] occurs when you are tuning whistles of different key. If one sticks to an absolute note, then one whistle has tuning sweet spot in the middle, another only at the end of the lower octave, and another at top of the higher octave. And yet the physics of how you can lay the holes to reduce total variance about the mean is the same.


You're getting murky to me again. All of my whistles play every note "needle straight up" against an electronic tuner set to A=440. Doesn't matter what key the whistle is in. This is due to my doing "legit" gigs (church, orchestra, studio) where everything must be in tune to ET. (Once again the exception is the all-fingers-off note which is a hair flat.)

joshuaZ wrote:
I think it was the Eamonn Cotter who also thinks that a lot of flutes have their As slightly too sharp.


Yes, see the JI D scale above.

joshuaZ wrote:
As to the Alba whistle... As you know Stacey has a way of tuning her C/Csharp (low D equivalent) that is distinct from a lot of other established makers. (Nothing wrong with that if you are good enough to adapt.) I mentioned this and her words on this is "if you wish to play tunes that are in F you can tune it to favour that key" (I have her low C whistle). I have no idea exactly what she means.


I expect the all-fingers-off note to be a bit flat and it is on all my whistles including my Albas. Yes the amount of flatness varies from maker to maker. I don't notice it much.

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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2018 1:44 pm 
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pancelticpiper wrote:
All of my whistles give an in-tune ET scale from the bellnote to the one-finger note in the 2nd octave (what would be Bottom D to High B on a D whistle). If a whistle doesn't do that, I'm not going to use it. In fact I can't use it, for gigs.

...

All of my whistles play every note "needle straight up" against an electronic tuner set to A=440. Doesn't matter what key the whistle is in. This is due to my doing "legit" gigs (church, orchestra, studio) where everything must be in tune to ET. (Once again the exception is the all-fingers-off note which is a hair flat.)


The above is the key part where we differ in opinion. (I was not talking about JI vs ET at all in my previous comment)

I agree that when one is playing in front of a tuner, every note can be intentionally blown to be in tune. However, in actual playing, where the work is mostly done by our bodies' feedback, and there isn't time to adjust breathing carefully for every note, the notes suffer from a variation from ET according to the design of the whistle/flute. This is further exacerbated by the fact that different whistles require different breathing pattern from across notes to be "needle straight up" in ET.

McGee explains this much more clearly on his website: http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/RTTA.htm

This has nothing to do with ET vs JI. It has to do with a whistle is a cylindrical bore 6 hole instrument that plays 2plus octaves.

My advice above is very simple: don't tune to a fixed note across all whistles unless maker specifically advises so - check where the optimal equilibrium position on /your/ whistle is. It should be a position that allows the least variance in all important notes. It's not about ET or JI, but about masking imperfections in general: imperfections in your whistles, imperfections in your breathings, imperfection in the music you are blending into.

The thing about science is that you can often easily test if what you said is true. Am I exaggerating the spread in tuning? I did a spectrum analysis on clips of a few well-respected forum members / musicians. These are all at jig speed and above. Frequency increases to the right:

Person A - one of the best selling trad whistler - whistle Bb
Bb: -1 C:-10 D:-5 E:-4 F:+8 G:+4 A:+5 Bb:-2 C:-2

Person B - very active member in this forum - whistle D
A: +24 B: +23 C#:-2 D:+18 E:+14 F#:+16 (the average position is not too important, the spread is important)
Same person - whistle Bb
Bb: -22 C:-13 D:-18 E:-4 F:-19 G:-16 Bb:-13

Person C - one of the best young trad flute players, testing a low D whistle
D:+8 E:+3 F#:+13 G4:+0 A:+14 B:+11

The numbers speak for themselves. Sorry if you still find me murky - so long and have fun.


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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2018 7:10 am 
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Pardon for sounding somewhat simplistic, but all I do is tune my whistles to A440 on my iphone tuner.
I try to get every note to stand vertically at the needle, which is almost impossible for me. So, I end up rigging some kind of a compromise that sounds pleasant. Then, when I play with others, which in my case is a guitar player and an occasional fidddler, we tune to one another as needed. When the concertina player shows up it's a whole different ball game, but fun, nevertheless. By the way, when I play with just the guitar player who is also a very good singer, the Freeman Generation Bb gets played the most. When it's just instrumental, the D is mostly played, and my best in-tune D is the Dixon tuneable alloy. It's also the easiest whistle for me to keep in-tune.


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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2018 8:20 am 
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Tyler DelGregg wrote:
Pardon for sounding somewhat simplistic, but all I do is tune my whistles to A440 on my iphone tuner.
I try to get every note to stand vertically at the needle, which is almost impossible for me. So, I end up rigging some kind of a compromise that sounds pleasant. Then, when I play with others, which in my case is a guitar player and an occasional fidddler, we tune to one another as needed. When the concertina player shows up it's a whole different ball game, but fun, nevertheless. By the way, when I play with just the guitar player who is also a very good singer, the Freeman Generation Bb gets played the most. When it's just instrumental, the D is mostly played, and my best in-tune D is the Dixon tuneable alloy. It's also the easiest whistle for me to keep in-tune.


That's what I was trying to do originally, but whenever I try to play with anyone, my whistles end up horribly flat, and that's across all makes (except the Chieftains). It's as if all my tuners are wrong, from Snark tuners to my phone apps. That's why I was wondering if I was just doing something wrong, because I've got to tune my whistles to where the tuners say they're sharp across most of the notes, which makes them work when I play with the session, my grandma on piano, and the guy from OAIM (I can't play the non-tuneable Chieftains with him, as they actually are much flatter).

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Last edited by AngelicBeaver on Wed Mar 07, 2018 11:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2018 8:29 am 
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whenever I try to play with anyone, my whistles end up horribly flat, and that's across all makes


You may want to look at the consistency of your blowing. It's not uncommon to see people blow differently while looking at their tuner.

Using your ears may be useful as well, rather than depending on your electronics.

And when things go off, re-tune. Staying in tune, it's an ongoing process.

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 Post subject: Re: Whistle Tuning
PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2018 6:37 am 
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AngelicBeaver wrote:

whenever I try to play with anyone, my whistles end up horribly flat, and that's across all makes (except the Chieftains). It's as if all my tuners are wrong, from Snark tuners to my phone apps. That's why I was wondering if I was just doing something wrong, because I've got to tune my whistles to where the tuners say they're sharp across most of the notes, which makes them work when I play with the session, my grandma on piano, and the guy from OAIM (I can't play the non-tuneable Chieftains with him, as they actually are much flatter).


That's strange.

For sure in the Highland Pipe world we all know pipers who do the opposite: when they're tuning up their pipes or playing solo they blow at one pitch, but when you get them in a band and in the competition circle they get nervous and blow at a higher pressure, playing too sharp.

Maybe when you're tuning against a tuner you're strongly blowing the whistles, but when you get in social situations you feel like your whistles are too strident or too loud and you back off your pressure, making you go flat.

You mentioned Snarks. For sure you could clip a Snark on a whistle, keep it there when you're tuning by yourself and when you're in a social situation and look at what is going on.

I have done gigs or parts of gigs where I've had a Snark clipped on, so that I know exactly what is going on with a chanter or with a whistle, when I'm in a noisy situation where it's hard to hear my instrument. (Oftentimes I can't hear my uilleann chanter if in an orchestra pit.)

Another possibility, which seems obvious yet it can be a big problem, is temperature. It's one thing to tune up a whistle in a nice warm room, another to be out at a cold gig where your whistles are sitting there getting flatter and flatter and you have to quickly grab one and come in, in tune. Yes I've had to tune whistles sharper than normal due to gigs like that, where I know I won't have time to warm them up before I play them. It's why some players lay their whistles out on a heating pad at gigs.

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