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 Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Tony Pay 2017
Date:   2018-09-19 21:01

After a recent concert on period instruments in Cambridge, I had a conversation with an acoustician friend about something that has always puzzled me. We achieved a sort of resolution of the matter after a sequence of emails between us that included a contribution from an expert in psychoacoustics.

Roughly speaking, the conclusion is that sometimes there may be no solution in situ to an intonation problem. Rather than bending notes up and down, people need to be making different sorts of sound, having greater or lesser content of specific harmonics – by using different reeds perhaps.

You could say that we always knew that. But it never made sense to me intellectually.

Of course, bending notes up and down is important.  But it might help if it were generally understood that in some circumstances we need to look elsewhere, and so give ourselves space and time to do that.

Here is what my friend wrote to the psychoacoustician. (I should say that psychoacoustics is the study not only of the physics of sound (acoustics) but of how our ears and brain process sound.)
Quote:

I was talking to Antony Pay (the clarinettist, copied here) the other day, and he described an interesting psychoacoustical problem.  I can think of ways to approach it with tests, but as always with such questions my first recourse is to run it past you in case you say “This is a well-known effect, it’s in my book….

Sometimes, he has experienced frustrating difficulties trying to play in tune with other woodwind players.  He has explored this enough that he has reduced it to quite a stark example: trying to play a single note, accurately in unison with one other instrument.  He reports that sometimes he can adjust his pitch from something that is clearly too sharp, all the way through to something that is clearly too flat, without finding anywhere in between that does not strike the ears of a professional musician (such as the conductor) as “out of tune.”

One might have thought that a steady woodwind note would be quite accurately periodic, with exact harmonics, and that makes it seem quite surprising that there isn’t a natural point where all the beats vanish, and everyone agrees that they are in tune. My suggestion for an initial test is to see if the phenomenon can be reproduced with a synthesised steady note in place of the other player.  That would give no ambiguity about periodicity, and would give control over the waveform and harmonic content of the reference sound.  Perhaps he is describing an effect where sounds with sufficiently different spectra never “blend” in a satisfactory way, and this is perceived by musicians as a tuning problem?

Any thoughts?
I added, in a separate email:
Quote:

It might be helpful to say that the difficulty often occurs high up in the range of the instrument; that it can sometimes be minimised by choosing a different fingering, often one using a lower harmonic of a shorter tube; and that it is particularly a problem of period instruments, which of course often need to use acoustically less than optimal fingerings.

I myself thought about 20 years ago that the explanation might lie in anharmonicity of ‘crappy’ notes – some high stuff 'getting through' the tube unmodified? – but a small investigation with Jim and Michael McIntyre failed to show any evidence of that, as you say is the case.  We didn’t look at very high frequencies, though.
The psychoacoustician replied:
Quote:

Even within one instrument, the pitch conveyed by the higher harmonics (if they were heard alone) might differ from the pitch conveyed by the lower harmonics (if heard alone), and this combination might make the overall pitch somewhat indistinct and ambiguous.
I replied:
Quote:

I don’t understand how this squares with your previous statement that "woodwind notes are strictly periodic."  Surely if that were true, the pitch conveyed by the higher harmonics would necessarily coincide with the pitch conveyed by the lower harmonics?
And here is the crux of the matter. He replied:
Quote:

Pitch is defined in terms of WHAT IS HEARD. It is distinct from the physical periodicity of a sound. For example, the pitch of the fundamental component of a musical note may differ slightly from the pitch of the sound as a whole, even when all harmonics are exactly in tune.
My acoustician friend then jumped in to write:
Quote:

What is the easiest place to read the details of this?  Now is the moment for you to say "It's in my book..."  Tony and I should probably do a bit of homework, then perhaps talk to you again.
…with the reply:
Quote:

Some related effects are discussed in the sixth edition of my book (An Introduction to the Psychology of Hearing, Brian C J Moore) on pages 213-214.

Some relevant papers are:

Terhardt, E. (1975). "The influence of intensity on the pitch of complex tones," Acustica 33, 344-348.
Terhardt, E., and Grubert, A. (1987). "Factors affecting pitch judgments as a function of spectral composition," Percept. Psychophys. 42, 511-514.
An oboist friend finally summed the matter up as follows:
Quote:

I was thinking about the discussion we had about pitch and probably came to the conclusion you tried to explain to me. I tried to explain it as simply as possible and came up with this. Please let me know if this makes sense to you.

We perceive the sound at a different pitch than it is physically, depending on the balance of the harmonics; when different harmonics are more or less strong in a given sound; we hear the pitch of the main note changing although physically it's the same.

You experienced some notes where it's never "in tune" even if you clearly covered the pitch area where it should have sounded in tune. Therefore, at the point in your experiment where we would have perceive the two sounds at the same pitch, the harmonics wouldn't align. And at the point where the physical pitch was the same, the perceived sound (and therefore the perceived harmonics as they come together) wouldn't align.
I think this is precisely what is going on. It's nice to have the problem tied down in this way.

Tony



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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2018-09-19 21:55


I wonder if the harmonic perception has ramification in the medium of recorded sound (what CAN get recorded and what actually CAN get spat back through transducers)?


I am interested to know if there is a difference between what you perceive during a recording session on period instruments, both yourself as well as the group, versus the end result........the recording.



Also, and more regarding clarinet in general, it does seem that there are some players that sound quite a bit different (dare I say more euphonic) in person and yet come off sounding less so in recordings. Does this help explain the phenomenon?




..............Paul Aviles

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Tony Pay 2017
Date:   2018-09-19 22:00

It was nice for a moment.

Tony

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Dan Shusta 
Date:   2018-09-19 23:06

The psychoacoustician stated: "Pitch is defined in terms of WHAT IS HEARD".

Your oboist friend stated: "We perceive the sound at a different pitch than it is physically...".

To me, they are saying basically the same thing. Pitch, being a perceived sound, cannot be measured, whereas, frequency, of course, can be accurately measured with various instruments.

A lot about "pitch" can be gleaned from the following in Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pitch_(music)

However, when I Googled: "Can people hear different pitches of the same frequency"? I was quite enlightened by the simplistic reply found in the following article: https://knowledgenuts.com/2016/03/31/why-everyone-hears-the-same-sounds-differently/

Succinctly stated: Different brain structures "perceive" different pitches and therefore what is "in tune" to one person may, indeed, be "out of tune" to another.

(Just my interpretation of all that I have read.)

Thanks, Tony, for bringing this up. I learned a lot.



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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: John Peacock 
Date:   2018-09-20 00:02

Tony: very interesting. Is this related to the fact that perceived pitch depends on volume? I've often been struck by playing in churches when you cut off an apparently in-tune chord and the echo comes back sounding completely wrong. So it seems plausible that this effect could also lead to notes with different amplitudes of harmonics being perceived as out of tune with each other.

I think the sign of the effect is that quiet tones sound sharper and vice-versa. So the recorder is more fortunate than the clarinet: the recorder gets sharper in frequency as you blow harder, but the perceived pitch stays roughly constant. The clarinet has the opposite situation, which is unfortunate....

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Dan Shusta 
Date:   2018-09-20 00:34

John, according to the Wikipedia article on pitch, for sounds below 1000Hz, increasing the volume will cause the perceived pitch to sound lower. For sounds above 2000Hz, increasing volume cause the perceived pitch to sound higher. No mention was made as to different instruments...simply the frequencies involved.

Taking the above into context, the echo that you hear will, indeed, be perceived as being "out of tune" or the perceived "pitch" will be different because of the lower sound level intensity.

It appears that the brain perceives pitch differently with respect to the intensity of the volume heard.

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Caroline Smale 
Date:   2018-09-20 02:04

Is there perhaps also some similarity here to the problems involved in tuning a piano.
Where it is more important to (mis)tune the lowest notes so that their harmonics (which are inevitable slightly out of tune to the fundamental) are in tune with the higher notes on the keyboard.
The ear (or brain?) is more affected by any mis-tuning of the higher partials than of the fundamental.

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Dan Shusta 
Date:   2018-09-20 02:24

Caroline,

Absolutely! IMHO, the following article explains this required "miss-tuning" of the lowest notes of the piano.

https://music.stackexchange.com/questions/14244/why-are-pianos-traditionally-tuned-out-of-tune-at-the-extremes



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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2018-09-20 02:38

An expanded treatment of the "Railsback stretch" in piano tuning can be found here:

https://asa.scitation.org/doi/10.1121/1.4931439.



Post Edited (2018-09-20 05:46)

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: John Peacock 
Date:   2018-09-20 11:54

Caroline: I think stretch tuning in the piano is something completely different. The need for this arises because metal strings are not simple vibrators, so that their harmonics depart from a standard harmonic series. But this is not so with wind instruments: the speed of sound in air is independent of frequency, in contrast with the speed of waves along piano strings. So when you have e.g. two wind instruments playing an octave apart, all their harmonics should align: there will be none of the beating that you find in a piano between two notes exactly a factor 2 apart in fundamental frequency. And yet Tony points out that the two woodwinds can still not feel in tune to the players - so this is something to do with how the brain perceives pitch, whereas stretch tuning in pianos is all to do with the physics of waves propagating along stiff wires.

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Tony Pay 2017
Date:   2018-09-20 15:30

As indicated in one of my emails in the first post, I used to have the idea that some 'difficult-to-get-in-tune-with' clarinet sounds could be anharmonic. We could find no evidence for that scientifically – despite my being able to produce some horrible clarinet sounds to investigate – but further professional research has confirmed that the theoretical chain:

Steady, driven vibration –> periodic vibration –> harmonic via Fourier's theorem

...holds good for wind instruments.

Piano strings, on the other hand, are not driven; they're struck and then vibrate freely, so their overtones are only approximately harmonic.

The nub of the first post is that even HARMONICITY doesn't guarantee 'can-get-in-tune-with'. So it's not that we're 'out-of-tune' in the sense of 'playing at the wrong pitch' that is the problem ("That's just SHARP!" comes the cry): it's that we're 'out-of-tune' in the sense of not being able to match with another pitch (or the other player not being able to match with us) – which is different.

'Tone colour' (= different proportions of the whole-numbered-frequency harmonics) is probably what needs to change in either or both sounds. That can sometimes be achieved, as John points out, by changing the dynamic balance; and it's a common thing to try first.

There was another suggestive remark by Brian above:

"Even within one instrument, the pitch conveyed by the higher harmonics (if they were heard alone) might differ from the pitch conveyed by the lower harmonics (if heard alone), and this combination might make the overall pitch somewhat indistinct and ambiguous."

I suppose that seems to imply some sort of objective correlate for 'good' sound...

Tony

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Luuk 2017
Date:   2018-09-20 16:59

Very interesting discussion (I'm a former physicist). My own experience as an amateur clarinettist involves a tuning session during which the conductor, using a tuning device, remarked that I sounded 'too low' while the tuner indicated I was perfectly in tune. And this had nothing to do with the surrounding chord, it was just everybody tuning on A.

More interesting will be that while I was working at the Philips Electronics laboratory in the '90s, I witnessed a psychoacoustical demonstration in which a small speaker (10cm diameter) just laying bare on the table (no box, soundboard or anything present) was used for creating the illusion of heavy bass being present.

The explanation given was that between sound source (CD player) and amplifier a circuit was evaluating all low frequencies, recognizing the musical notes, stripping the lower fundamental and probably the first harmonic and emphasizing or even injecting calculated higher partials of the bass note in order to enable the listener to perceive the bass note while there was really none present. It sounded fabulous.

This device was being developed in order to create big, bassy sounds from small speakers such as present in modern, flat televison cases. I don't know if it ever reached the market.

This demonstration made clear to me that perceiving a note does not prove it is really there. And I suspect that when the abovementioned device miscalculates higher partials, the perceived note might change in pitch.

Regards,

Luuk
Philips Symphonic Band
The Netherlands

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: seabreeze 
Date:   2018-09-20 19:33

Tone color is indeed probably what needs to change. Saxophone players using bright-sounding jazz/rock style mouthpieces in a concert band are often called out for their "atrocious intonation," but the penetrating raucous quality of the sound or timbre may produce the sensation that they cannot match the pitch of the other instruments. Switching to a larger bore and chamber classical style mouthpiece that produces a rounder, less aggressive tone quality can do the trick of getting them not only to "blend" but also to "tune better," as perceived by the human ear.



Post Edited (2018-09-20 23:31)

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2018-09-20 20:48




Dear Luuk,


If at all possible I would be most interested to make contact offline regarding electronic sound. I have recently graduated from an audio engineering course and all things electronic are rather important of late. My current e-mail is listed clicking on my name.


.........THANKS!


................Paul Aviles



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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: D Dow 
Date:   2018-09-20 22:20

We are talking about cancellation frequencies here in order to create blend..this is somewhat like phase cancellation in terms of blocking off certain harmonics in order to arrive at a narrow bandwith of frequencies that creating the illusion of in tuneness..of course in tune means a good deal different things depending on the music and the notes you are playing/ in louder situations pitch is also perceived as lower even in if you are sharp on you instrument.

more on this problem here..after years of playing ..especially in loud miliatary bands I have encountered this issues
https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/365499/how-can-a-loud-sounds-perceived-pitch-differ-from-its-predicted-value-from-only

I also feel..and think clarinet is somewhat of an anomaly as the pitch lowers the higher you play so naturally performers need to vent lower upper notes and find the mean tone tuning so to speak..the average of where the pitch should be at the end of the note....the longer the held note the more of the challenge on clarinet from altissimo high Fsharp onward to double high C. Are there baroque works with these note..I see my Molter goes t high E...maybe Tony could let us in on this for I have been under the impression baroque clarinet does not extend beyond high E..


https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/phase-cancellation/

David Dow

Post Edited (2018-09-20 22:31)

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: DavidBlumberg 
Date:   2018-09-20 22:46

My though without reading the solution (the question) was that the Harmonics from the Bass part (assuming that there was) were not lining up with the Harmonics of the players tuning to each other.

Cause what's to guarantee that our Overtones/Harmonics are perfectly in tune?

http://www.MyTempoMusic.com

http://www.skypeclarinetlessons.com/about.html

Sponsored by Backun/D'Addario/BG/Silverstein/ Artist Teacher and Soloist

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Dibbs 
Date:   2018-09-21 13:37

DavidBlumberg wrote:


>...
> Cause what's to guarantee that our Overtones/Harmonics are
> perfectly in tune?
>

Both physical theory and actual measurements. See Tony's last post.

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Dibbs 
Date:   2018-09-21 13:56

Luuk wrote:

>
> The explanation given was that between sound source (CD player)
> and amplifier a circuit was evaluating all low frequencies,
> recognizing the musical notes, stripping the lower fundamental
> and probably the first harmonic and emphasizing or even
> injecting calculated higher partials of the bass note in order
> to enable the listener to perceive the bass note while there
> was really none present. It sounded fabulous.

The lower notes of a piano have almost no fundamental and a very weak second partial too.

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Matt74 
Date:   2018-09-23 07:48

It makes sense to me that one or more of the overtones might be out of tune, in spite of the the heard note being in tune. Instruments are imperfect and the vibrations they produce are imperfect.

I suspect this is the case with strings. Two things happen to the higher overtones. The string gets larger and less flexible relative to the pitch of the overtone the higher you go in the series, which might lower the pitch. Also, the string stretches as it ocillates, which might raise the pitch, relatively more the higher you go in the series. A string might also be more or less flexible in different places, causing greater or lesser vibrations around certain nodes nodes, which would affect those overtones. However it works, there must be a tension between the string’s tendency to vibrate evenly in tune throughout the series and its tendency to be a string. (Speculation.)

The reflected sound, as in a cathedral, is different than the original sound, because the tones are modified by the environment. The pitches also might be modified. For example the the pitches you hear may may be taking different routes and traveling different distances, and this may have an effect on the pitch you hear. The air inside the building itself may be vibrating at a different rate than the instruments. Near to the instruments the instruments are the dominant resonators, but far away the building is the primary resonator, so it probably homogenizes everything. (Speculation.)

I have noticed that some people think I sing flat. At times I may of course, but people love my Byzantine Chant ison, I think because I tune the 4ths and 5ths correctly. Some people may think pure intervals are out of tune, because all they ever hear are guitars and keyboards. (Not that the folks Antony plays with have this problem.)

I’m sure that some people do hear pitches a little differently, but I doubt many people hear simultaneous pitches, which are also close in pitch, differently from one another. They may certainly JUDGE them differently. Pitches which are far apart are harder to judge. I have a terrible time matching a higher pitch when I am playing a lower pitch (8va+).

- Matthew Simington


Post Edited (2018-09-23 07:53)

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Jarmo Hyvakko 
Date:   2018-09-23 13:32

To make it simple, adjusting your sound "darker" makes it easier to blend and sound as if you were in tune. Adjusting your sound "brighter" makes your sound to carry.

I have played professionally for over 30 years and have never been satisfied with my minor third a-flat with second bassoon's f in the beginning of Sibelius's Finlandia. One bassoonist colleaque said, that it's because the overtone that sounds a major third in that particular note in the bassoon is quite loud.

By the way when playing in a big cathedral, have you ever felt, that the echo of your sound feels slightly flat compared to your original sound?

Principal Clarinet, Tampere Philharmonic, Finland

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Dibbs 
Date:   2018-09-24 15:14

Matt74 wrote:

> It makes sense to me that one or more of the overtones might be
> out of tune, in spite of the the heard note being in tune.
> Instruments are imperfect and the vibrations they produce are
> imperfect.
> ...

It might make sense to you but it isn't true. The overtones are perfectly in tune. Plucked or hammered strings have this issue, not woodwinds, brass, or bowed strings.

>
> The reflected sound, as in a cathedral, is different than the
> original sound, because the tones are modified by the
> environment. The pitches also might be modified. For example
> the the pitches you hear may may be taking different routes and
> traveling different distances, and this may have an effect on
> the pitch you hear...

The pitch (frequency) will not change unless the sound source, you, or the walls are moving and causing a doppler effect. Different routes will only cause a phase shift not a change in frequency. There will be a change in timbre too, due to selective absorption of specific frequency bands by different surfaces. It is possible that you could perceive the pitch to have changed but that's not a physical effect, it's in your brain.

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Paul Aviles 
Date:   2018-09-30 23:12

Ok, I jumped in early and I failed to address intonation specifically, however, it would be interesting to know if ANYONE has any thoughts on the affects of the recording process on the clarinet sound.


It was stated above:


"Pitch is defined in terms of WHAT IS HEARD."


If pitch can be mercurial in this way, does it not make sense that timbre is even more precarious?


Clarinet is a unique acoustic example. It sounds like an instrument that is about a foot longer than it really is. This is accounted for by the wave form actually folding back into the horn.


To my ears anyway, just about any other instrument including the human voice comes off much more naturally in recordings. On top of that, you have the phenomenon of some clarinet players sounding even less like themselves in recordings than they do if you were in the room with them.


And the last bit of food for thought:


Sergiu Celebidache famously refused to allow recordings in his later career because the overtones that he heard ringing out so beautifully in live performances of well written music were absent in play back of the recording.


Maybe the answer is to limit our music appreciation to live acoustic performances (sans sound reinforcement that is).





.................Paul Aviles



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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Tony Pay 2017
Date:   2018-10-01 00:34

You failed to understand what the post was about, preferring to say whatever first came into your head. That's not a contribution.

What you write is really not worth answering, even here. I'm sorry about that, because probably you're quite a nice chap.

If you want to talk about the effect of recording on clarinet sound, find out something about that, and then post it.

Half-baked nonsense like:
Quote:

Clarinet is a unique acoustic example. It sounds like an instrument that is about a foot longer than it really is. This is accounted for by the wave form actually folding back into the horn.
...helps no-one.

Tony



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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Arnoldstang 
Date:   2018-10-01 18:07

The psychoacoustician replied:
Quote:

“Even within one instrument, the pitch conveyed by the higher harmonics (if they were heard alone) might differ from the pitch conveyed by the lower harmonics (if heard alone), and this combination might make the overall pitch somewhat indistinct and ambiguous.”
This might have been Tony’s problem. Someone else was playing with ambiguous pitch. Tony could not fix the problem . It was someone else who needed to adjust.
This makes me feel good about all my tuning problems in ensembles. As I have always suspected , it was the other guy causing the tuning issues with his ambiguous tone. Not me.😇

Freelance woodwind performer

Post Edited (2018-10-01 18:54)

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 Re: Intonation difficulty in the simplest case
Author: Tony Pay 2017
Date:   2018-10-01 18:49

>> Someone else was playing with ambiguous pitch. Tony could not fix the problem . It was someone else who needed to adjust.

>> This makes me feel good about all my tuning problems in ensembles. As I have always suspected , it was the other guy who was causing the tuning issues. Not me.😇>>

Unfortunately an unwarranted conclusion in both our cases, probably:-)

Tony

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