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 Post subject: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Mon Apr 01, 2019 8:18 pm 
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I just bought a nice tuner today and tried playing a bunch of whistles and checking the tuning of them. It’s not a precise nor easy and accurate thing to do. Every whistle I own seemed to have some tuning quirks. My low D MK was quite good and easy to blow into tune. My Kerry Optima low D was fairly good too, a happy surprise after what I had read on this site by a few people, except for middle D, which was quite sharp and had to be blown really softly to get it about in tune. I don’t notice it while playing, and it is the whistle I play the most. I really love the tone of it, as much as the MK’s tone, it doesn’t clog, and I can play it for long periods of time. It’s very lightweight and the tone is a little more mellow with slightly less volume than the MK. At this point in getting back into playing whistle, those attributes make it easy and enjoyable to play for long periods. I primarily play fiddle, but I used to play flute and whistle quite a bit years ago. My high whistles were pretty good but it seemed they all had some tuning quirks too.


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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2019 1:39 pm 
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I never owned a whistle that played in tune without some direction by my diaphragm. Some are better than others, but I have many whistles by the great makers that all seem to go through a getting to know you stage. If they are in a drawer for awhile it is a, "Hello, lets get re-aquainted abit. You don't seem to like my way of playing as well as my (insert name of last whistle played here)." This seems to be true on my high and low whistles as well as on flutes. Though with the flute there is a little more involved than just breathing. If you are a violin player your ear is likely good. And with that good ear you are likely tuning each note as you play it, even at speed. As a violinist you would experience the same thing as you switched from a Strad to a Guanerius of Maggini style instrument given the differences in scale lengths... those pesky millimeters.


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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2019 6:18 am 
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As a professional tubist friend of mine said "the perfect wind instrument cannot be made".

With my whistles, I have whistles in

Low D
Low E
A
Bb
B
C
C#
D
Eb

which play from the "bottom D" up to "B" in the 2nd octave, using crossfingered C natural, with the needle of an electronic tuner hardly moving, and not requiring me to tailor my breath to correct problem notes.

Most of them have been modified by me to a greater or lesser extent.

Not on that list are my Goldie Low C (flattish 2nd octave overall) and my Burkes in mezzo G, mezzo F, and low Eb (which have the usual Burke tuning quirks).

About MK Low Ds, I've owned a half-dozen and all had the same tuning quirk: Bottom D being noticably flatter than Middle D. These various MK Low Ds varied in tubing length at the bottom, the shorter ones having in-tune Bottom Ds but sharp Middle Ds, the longer ones having in-tune Middle Ds but flat Bottom Ds.

About the Optima, I've only tried one, and its 2nd octave was extremely sharp. Evidently that issue was sorted at some point.

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Richard Cook
1978 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
Goldie Low D whistle


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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2019 5:51 pm 
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Hi Richard,
I had a difficult time trying to play with a tuner. I’m not sure how good of a job I did. I think the Optima is still sharp in the second octave, but I was able to play softly and get the notes in tune, I think. I had to play one note very softly. When I play I’m not carefully adjusting my breath to get them in tune. I love how the Optima sounds, it’s easy for me to play and it’s very lightweight. It’s the whistle I play most of the time and I love the thing. It’s the non tunable version. At this point I’m just playing it by myself. I have no idea if tuning issues would surface if I played with other musicians.


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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2019 6:21 pm 
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Richard, does the flat bottom D on the MK work out well for you? I tend to play the bottom note on whistles so it’s almost breaking into the upper octave. I like how it sounds, and it allows me to get a nice solid low d note on the Optima. When I played flute I almost always did it on them too.


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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2019 3:34 am 
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busterbill wrote:
I never owned a whistle that played in tune without some direction by my diaphragm. Some are better than others, but I have many whistles by the great makers that all seem to go through a getting to know you stage. If they are in a drawer for awhile it is a, "Hello, lets get re-aquainted abit. You don't seem to like my way of playing as well as my (insert name of last whistle played here)."


Couldn't have said it better myself. While the overall tuning of a certain whistle may be good and pretty well balanced, there's always the learning of a particular whistle and its playing qualities, how hard or soft to blow certain notes to be in tune, and this varies a lot between the different whistles that I own. For example, my favourite high D seems to reguire a farily strong blow to reach the proper tuning on the lower octave, except, for some reason, the two lowest notes require a very subtle blow. In turn, on the higher octave I must be careful not to overblow. I like to think of this as the nature of the instrument, and one of the reasons among many others why I think that the whistle isn't as easy an instrument to play as many non-players have thought thus far. I'd say it's all about finding a whistle that suits your preferences!


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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2019 6:00 am 
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bruce.b wrote:
Richard, does the flat bottom D on the MK work out well for you? I tend to play the bottom note on whistles so it’s almost breaking into the upper octave. I like how it sounds, and it allows me to get a nice solid low d note on the Optima. When I played flute I almost always did it on them too.


Yes for sure it's so common that it might be considered idiomatic to "push" Bottom D, so you actually want Bottom D to be a bit flat at normal breath so it will be in tune when given that extra boost.

The trouble is that none of my half-dozen MKs had Bottom Ds that were stable enough to be pushed much without breaking. Actually the breaking-point of the low notes is something I look at, and with the MK Bottom D, Low E, and Low F# all have the same breaking-point.

That's very good news for Low E, meaning you can give it more push than with most Low Whistles.

But it's not good new for Bottom D. On my MKs with the longer tube (with Middle D right in tune and Bottom D flat) when I blew hard enough to get Bottom D just almost up to pitch it would break.

Compare the MK to the Burke Low D in this regard, the Burke's Bottom D can be pushed to a great degree and remains stable, but Low E can't be pushed at all, having a far lower breaking-point than its neighbours.

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Richard Cook
1978 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
Goldie Low D whistle


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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2019 6:06 am 
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bruce.b wrote:
I think the Optima is still sharp in the second octave, but I was able to play softly and get the notes in tune...

I just had the "tour whistle" Optima Low D, probably one of the earliest ones made, and the 2nd octave was the sharpest I've encountered on any whistle.

If I overblew the low octave right to the point of breaking and I underblew the 2nd octave right to the point of falling I could just barely keep the two octaves in tune. The cool thing about that is that you're playing "between the octaves" with low notes and high notes and notes in between happening all over the place, which has an interesting effect.

The MKs I've owned have had slightly sharp 2nd octaves, easy to get used to.

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Richard Cook
1978 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
Goldie Low D whistle


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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2019 5:41 pm 
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I played my MK Kelpie against a tuner today and the low D was only slightly flat as long as the whistle was not warmed up. It was spot on after being played for a short while.


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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2019 2:36 pm 
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The obvious question is "in tune with what?"

Being "in tune" with a chromatic tuner set on equal tempered tuning will help you if you ever play sustained notes with a similarly "tuned" instrument. But such an instrument (like a piano) is literally out of tune with itself (by design). Equal temperament has the advantage of allowing musicians to modulate from any key to any key. But that advantage is completely irrelevant to the kind of music most of us play on whistles.

I tune my whistles to play in tune with my wife's violin playing. The above mentioned tuner would suggest that some of my notes are way out of tune, but they're not when I play tunes with my wife. Since she's spent more than 40 years honing her ability to play in tune (as defined by violinists) that's the only viable alternative. Now if I were to record a tune with whistle and synth, they would not be in tune with each other (unless I programmed the synth with an alternate tuning). But it wouldn't necessarily be something you could hear, because, for instance, a just tuned E is perfectly in tune with an ET A. It would probably only be a problem if I was trying to play a synth part in unison with a whistle track (as opposed to the other way around).

If you have an iphone you can buy the Peterson app, which will allow you to try out various temperaments and tuning systems. None of them is any more correct than any other if you're not playing with something else.

If you find yourself needing to back off to get a note to play in tune (however you define it), then put a bit of tape over the top part of the hole so you can play in tune while blowing with normal pressure.


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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Mon Apr 08, 2019 3:38 pm 
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I've used a tuner for whistle making, but I find they're easily confused and also not that sensitive.

When doing fine tuning, I use a tone generator and listen for beats. One thing to make sure of is that your whistle is thoroughly warmed up. Plus, as others have said, it can be very difficult to play with the same air flow/breath pressure that you "really" play with.

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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Thu Apr 11, 2019 5:54 am 
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highland-piper wrote:
The obvious question is "in tune with what?"

Being "in tune" with a chromatic tuner set on equal tempered tuning will help you if you ever play sustained notes with a similarly tuned instrument.


Exactly. The thing I often point out is that playing "in tune" is situational.

Anyone doing studio work or playing with keyboard instruments or fretted instruments will be most "in tune" if their whistles are tuned to Equal Temperament. Since most of my non-solo playing consists of those things that's how all my whistles are tuned.

Were my whistle playing to mostly consist of playing along with the uilleann pipes I'd have my whistle tuned like those. (Burkes are great for that, with the flat Low B and sharp High B just like a Concert Pitch uilleann chanter.)

Were my whistle playing to mostly consist of playing along with the Highland pipes I'd have my whistle tuned like those.

About the Equal Temperament versus Just Intonation thing, as I've said, on a whistle the difference is two pieces of tape! (A bit of tape on Hole 2 and Hole 5 to bring those notes down around 15 cents.) That being the case the thing about having special JI whistles strikes me as being unnecessary.

Another thing is that my uilleann chanter is right in tune to ET yet I can switch on the drones and the chanter is in tune to the drones too. That only shows that the differences between ET and JI are fairly subtle and within the range of pitches available by adjusting the pressure.

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Richard Cook
1978 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
Goldie Low D whistle


Last edited by pancelticpiper on Thu Apr 11, 2019 6:03 am, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Thu Apr 11, 2019 5:57 am 
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chas wrote:
I've used a tuner for whistle making, but I find they're easily confused and also not that sensitive.


It depends on the tuner. The good modern ones track the notes perfectly and are quite sensitive.

But yes playing over a fixed drone and having no beats tells you it's perfect JI tuning. It's how pipers tune their chanters.

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Richard Cook
1978 Quinn uilleann pipes
1945 Starck Highland pipes
Goldie Low D whistle


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 Post subject: Re: Tuners and whistles
PostPosted: Thu Apr 11, 2019 7:47 pm 
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pancelticpiper wrote:
chas wrote:
I've used a tuner for whistle making, but I find they're easily confused and also not that sensitive.


It depends on the tuner. The good modern ones track the notes perfectly and are quite sensitive.

But yes playing over a fixed drone and having no beats tells you it's perfect JI tuning. It's how pipers tune their chanters.


Yes. I began playing relative to tones before I started making whistles. I read an article somewhere about playing the baroque flute in tune. The tuning of the flute is approximate and relies largely on the flexibility of the player's embouchure. And rather than tune on the note itself, this article suggested playing in harmony with a third or fifth.

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Don't blame me, I voted for Cthulhu


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