Jump to content
Please note: You can easily log in to MPN using your Facebook account!

Are synths inherently out of tune?


Wiggum

Recommended Posts

Hey all,

 

I read an interview several years ago (Donald Fagen, Keyboard Magazine) which bothers me to this day.

 

Donald made the claim that synths are horribly out of tune. He once bought a Roland FP-9 digital piano, as it was the only instrument that he found to be IN tune. He also claimed that vocalists sometimes complain of a "chorused effect" when singing with synths (due to their out of tune nature).

 

Is this complete crap, or is their some validity to this? I'm not a pro musician, I don't have perfect pitch, and I've never had the opportunity to work with a singer or an acoustic player, so I have never experienced this problem. You would think that if it were true, it would get a lot more publicity. And BTW, I don't think he was referring to patches that use microtonality or other pitch scaling tricks.

 

Any thoughts?

 

Wiggum

 

 

BTW, for the younger folks, Don Fagen is the keyboard half of Steely Dan.

 

 

 

 

This message has been edited by Wiggum on 02-12-2001 at 10:44 PM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 31
  • Created
  • Last Reply
If memory serves correctly (and it might not: Getting old sucks!) Japanese manufactured synths tune to A444 as opposed to A440. Therefore, American manufactured synths and their Japanese counterparts would be just slightly out of tune.
Setup: Korg Kronos 61, Roland XV-88, Korg Triton-Rack, Motif-Rack, Korg N1r, Alesis QSR, Roland M-GS64 Yamaha KX-88, KX76, Roland Super-JX, E-Mu Longboard 61, Kawai K1II, Kawai K4.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Most synthesizers are too MUCH in tune might be a better way of saying it.

 

A real piano that was "perfectly" tuned would sound awful. That's why they are stretch tuned. There is also the issue of temperment. I remember some old Yamaha DX series synths that allowed you to pick the tempering you wanted.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have to agree with Brianrost about this. There is a big difference between the sound of a piano which is stretch tuned and one that is "equal" tuned. Kurzweil has offered equal and stretched tuned vesions of their piano samples in most of their instrument over the last few years. In general when playing solo piano, the equal tuning works great. When playing with other instruments, the stretched tuning is the best choice.

 

------------------

Mike Martin

Kurzrep@aol.com

Kurzweil Music Systems

www.kurzweilconnection.com

-Mike Martin

 

Casio

Mike Martin Photography Instagram Facebook

The Big Picture Photography Forum on Music Player Network

 

The opinions I post here are my own and do not represent the company I work for.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by Mike Martin:

I have to agree with Brianrost about this. There is a big difference between the sound of a piano which is stretch tuned and one that is "equal" tuned. Kurzweil has offered equal and stretched tuned vesions of their piano samples in most of their instrument over the last few years. In general when playing solo piano, the equal tuning works great. When playing with other instruments, the stretched tuning is the best choice.

 

 

I thought it was the other way around? You should use the stretch tuning when playing solo (where the highs a little flat and the lows are a little sharp) and the equal (ensemble) tuning when playing other instruments. Or do I have the terminology reserved?

 

I'm curious about joe's claim. I'll take a look at my synths this weekend, but it's the 1st time I've heard about this.

 

But in general I agree with Brianrost as well. That's why a lot of times analog synthesizers sounded 'good' and warmer. I usually try to put some kind of detune into the sounds. I'm actually planning to on doing some experiments with the randomm pitch parameter in my yamaha

 

Rod

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rod:

 

Most romplers have some versions of stretch tuning available. Another thing that they have is a number of tuning scales. Pipe organ pieces come to life when played in meantone tunings (the types of popular european tunings which predate the equal temperament tuning we use today). Just stay away from certain chord progressions, which sound awful. However the simple chords (C,G, etc) sound elegant and beautiful.

 

Most pianos played with orchestras (for piano concerti) are tuned (for the event)differently from their normal stretch tuning, so as not to clash with the orchestra. The stretch tuning brightens the upper registers, for solo piano.

 

Cheers,

 

Jerry

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I haven't tuned pianos for years, thanks to technology. But, I would assume that any multi sampled piano patch would be, by nature, strech tuned. If you didn't stretch tune a piano your ears would hear it out of tune. It's just one of those oddities of sonic science. Even when tuning my rhodes or clavinet I had to strech tune them. Although a guitar isn't as noticeable, they still should be stretch tuned for absolute accuracy. Some guitars are worse than others. I have an acoustic that never sounds even close if I use the tuner. They make bridges that make the string lengths different for many stringed instruments that compensates for this.

 

Back in the old days before heaters worked very well in vans, analog synths had terrible oscillator drift. When I would bring my keys in out of the cold the entire first set would be a nightmere. The mini and micro moog and my unicord would require constant tweeking because the tuning would keep drifting as they warmed up. Combined with a B3, a Rhodes and a Clavinet that were doing pitch dances at the same time that you couldn't adjust on the fly and you reeeeeeallly had your hands full. You guys in the south just don't know how good you have it. http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/smile.gif

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks everyone...I'm really glad I asked.

 

I completely forgot about stretch tuning. I know my W/S supports variations of it, but I've never really explored it. Quite honestly, I don't think my ears are good enough to tell the difference.

 

As for Japanese synths, I can't answer to all of them, but I know my Roland D20 came from the factory at A440 (you can adjust the tuning globally).

 

Very interesting posts,

 

Wiggum

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The higher or lower you go the the sharper or flatter you must tune in order to hear the instrument in proper tune. The as frequency cycles speed up or slow down they somehow don't get to our ears in a mathematically perfect way. If you tune a piano by a strobe tuner you will have to tune flatter as you go down into the lower registers and sharper in the higher ones. This is done in graduating degrees. I forget the actuall formula, it's not rocket science, really. You can hear it. But, I guarantee you that you will hear a piano way out of tune if you just tune it according to the strobe. That is best that I can tell you in layman's terms. I used to carry a piano with me and had to tune it every gig.

All instruments are this way to a degree. It's just that some are pickier than others. A pedal steel or a banjo must be stretched. Some of them even have nuts or bridges that make the string lengths longer or shorter to comensate. If they are so equipped then you don't have to stretch them.

jwk

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm a bit surprised that nobody in this thread mentioned the main culprit...

Most ROMplers have a sort of out-of-tune feel for a definite reason: out of tune loops. When you try to stuff a whole library of samples in 8 meg or so, you have to use short loops, and if you don't do it perfectly (very difficult), you're bound to have sounds with a slight pitch drift. It's difficult to explain, it has something to do with phase and the way our ear perceives pitch, but sometimes it's obvious even if you're just holding a note - the note sounds out of tune with itself!

Probably - but I'm just guessing here - some loops are at a slight different pitches at the start and ending points, and the reiteration of this difference gives the ear the impression of "out-of-tuneness".

 

(Forgive my English)

 

marino

Link to comment
Share on other sites

About Tuning: Pardon me if this strays a tad from the original topic of synths and tuning, but I want to make a comment about pianos and tuning.

 

I bought a grand piano from Dallas' largest studio around 1980. It had been very well cared for and regularly tuned, ever since it was delivered here, I've never let it stray (although it holds a tune very good). Tuning is really funny with pianos. It might sound good on some chords and not so good on others. It can seem like it is tuned wonderfully, but then certain intervals, while not really seeming out-of-tune exactly, will just have a slightly different sound. So, over the years I would pay particular attention to how it sounded after tuning. I've had probably six tuners over that time. After settling into a very good tuner, I stayed with him for a very long time.

 

Then one time I needed a tuner and couldn't locate the fellow. We had a new acquaintance who was a tuner, and after talking to him some about tuning, we got him to tune the piano. It was literally miraculous. I can't put my finger on it, but it was like it was impossible to find ANY of that oddness; oddness I had accepted as great tuning, and which actually was great tuning compared to the four or five others (all pros, one who tuned for the symphony) had done. Since the piano holds the tuning so well, I've only had him do it twice, and the second time he also tuned a Rhodes with the same amazing results. He used no devices other than a tuning fork to find ground zero. He would place his head on the body and seem to caress it. This fellow really hooked up to the instrument! http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/smile.gif Now, I'm afraid he has probably retired, as he is no doubt at least in his seventies. If not retired, he may or may not still have the touch (it wouldn't surprise me if he could still do it, though), and if I could, I'd get him. The last tuning was done by the man that voiced the piano, because it needed it right then. It was a very good tuning. About like the man that did it for so long, but it wasn't like that last tuner, who seemed to work magic.

 

I'm convinced tuning is an art, and I'm also convinced that although many tuners use strobes and have formulas for the stretch and all, the only REAL way to do the ART is to have the magic and do your thing. I hope I can find another in case this fellow is no longer doing it.

 

because of him, I got very interested in micro-tuning, temperaments, and all tuning issues in electronic synthesizers. That whole thing is fascinating. Too cool. http://www.musicplayer.com/ubb/cool.gif

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Stratman,

 

Above you said "What the heck is *Stretched* tuning anyway??"

 

Several have given good descriptions of this but here is my 2 cents.

 

The main vibration or wave in a string produces the main pitch you hear but there are a number of sub vibrations or waves that produce other pitches called harmonics.

 

The next loudest pitch comes from the vibration from the mid point of the string out to each end. (as if the mid point was held still)

 

In a perfect string, these vibrations which are half as long on the string would produce a pitch of twice the frequency of the main pitch which is also exactly one octave above the main pitch.

 

But strings are not mathematically perfect. Due to thicknes of the string, or possibly other reasons, the actual vibration length is slightly less then half, which makes the pitch slightly higher than an octave above the main pitch.

 

So when tuning, the middle octave is tunned to A440, then as you go up the keyboard, you tune the string to match the harmonic produced from the octave below which makes it slightly sharp. Going down the keyboard, the string is tuned so the harmonic matches the octave above which makes the string slightly flat. So the strings are "stretched" sharp above and flat below so that the harmonics are in tune.

 

Hopefully this gives you a better picture of how this all works.

 

Tom

 

------------------

Link to comment
Share on other sites

B3Wiz, you said: "Although a guitar isn't as noticeable, they still should be stretch tuned for absolute accuracy. Some guitars are worse than others. I have an acoustic that never sounds even close if I use the tuner."

 

>>>>> Thank you! I told my music store guy this exact thing the other day when we were disussing my Boss TU12 tuner. When I told him "If I get my guitar perfectly tuned, centering the needle for each string, I still have to tweak it by ear." He looked at me like I was nuts. But my ear knows better.

> > > [ Live! ] < < <

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tom,

 

Thanks so much for clarifying.. I knew the technical meaning of "stretched" but it somehow never fit in with what I think of when I hear a piano tuned. While tuners do use electronic devices to center the pitches, they also "voice" the piano by listening to how the octaves sound. They usually start with the electronic tuner to do coarse adjustments and then do the rest by ear. It's similar to LiveMusic's post above - the tuning can't all be done by the electronic tuner, or else the instrument won't be in tune with itself. It will only be in tune with the theoretical perfect tuning.

 

I think I finally get it...

 

 

Oh, and Wiggum: when you say:

I don't think my ears are good enough to tell the difference.

 

I think you should understand that a lot of the art of hearing is not hereditary, but is learned. I have perfect pitch and have had it all my life, but for a long time I really didn't have "good ears" because all I did was play solo piano. After a few years of singing, playing within an orchestra, learning about piano tone, and reading some specific articles, my ears have improved drastically. But still: a lot of the subtleties of hearing can be pointed out by a teacher so that suddenly you notice it all. It's like telling the difference between 24/96 audio and 16/44. Unless you know something about the issues involved, you'll think your ears are inferior; in actuality you can hear the difference, you just don't know how to pinpoint it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 6 years later...

 

So when tuning, the middle octave is tunned to A440, then as you go up the keyboard, you tune the string to match the harmonic produced from the octave below which makes it slightly sharp. Going down the keyboard, the string is tuned so the harmonic matches the octave above which makes the string slightly flat. So the strings are "stretched" sharp above and flat below so that the harmonics are in tune.

 

 

I was not aware of this method. :(

 

I think I'll still leave it up to a pro to tune my piano.

 

:)

 

 

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
Link to comment
Share on other sites

A well sampled keyboard is perfectly in tune, down to the limits imposed by digitisation, if by perfectly in tune you mean that each semitone step is 1.0594631 times higher than the lower. That gives equal temperament tuning, which sounds OK in any key. Other tunings are available on most mid to high end synths and keyboards.

 

Real pianos are not tuned like that. They are close to equal temperament, but not precisely.

 

Then you have the stretch tuning issue.

 

As far as the effects that Don Fagen is talking about, it is really hard to know if it is digital keyboards in general or just some sounds on some keyboards that some singers don't like.

 

A stereo sampled piano can cause beatng and chorus effects if you run it through a mono PA, and even if you use a stereo PA you still get some of this effect as the sound goes to both ears. If you use headphones they you don't get this effect. Maybe that is all that Mr Fagen is talking about?

 

Digital instruments may also suffer from the limited number of samples across the pitch range of the instrument. It varies between instruments, but some have only 3-4 note pitches sampled, sometimes at only 1 velocity. That means that many of the notes are the same sample played back at different rates, with perhaps some timbre change caused by a filter. What this means in practice is that these notes will have periodic interference that you just would not hear from a real piano, and some people might hear that and not like it. It will be particularly pronounced at intervals of an octave, 4th, and fifth, as the beat rate will be relatively slow. MIDI sequences will suffer more from this effect than live playing, as the notes all start at precisely the same time. The giga-pianos with one sample per note will not suffer from this.

 

If you have mono piano samples on your board then there will be times when you really should use them!

 

Michael

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Imagine the face of the piano repair guy if I told him I want a Kirnberger III stretched temperament. :D

 

Anybody for some tuning fluid?

 

http://www.wikibeer.com/images/7/7b/Guinness_pint.jpghttp://www.wikibeer.com/images/7/7b/Guinness_pint.jpghttp://www.wikibeer.com/images/7/7b/Guinness_pint.jpghttp://www.wikibeer.com/images/7/7b/Guinness_pint.jpg

--wmp
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow, lots of misinformation on this thread.

 

First, Donald Fagen, is pooping out his mouth on this one. Synths are as in tune or out of tune as their individual technology. Nothing about them inherently causes the ear discomfort.

 

Second, "out of tune" has nothing to do with the pitch your keyboard is tuned to, whether it is the US 440 standard or the European standard. The absolute pitch standard is just a convention, nothing more. You tune to the same pitch as everybody you are playing or recording with, that's all.

 

Finally: stretch tuning is a compromise system used to overcome the fact that in certain physical vibrating bodies (strings under tension, metal tines or reeds), the overtones generated tend to be out of tune with the fundamental pitch. This causes them to clash with notes closer to the center of the range. So you can tune the note slightly out and "split the difference" so that the fundamental and the overtones sound equally but only half as much out of tune with the rest of the keyboard.

 

A synth generating sawtooth waves with perfectly in tune harmonics should not be stretch tuned. A synth doing a Rhodes or acoustic piano probably should. There are two ways to accomplish this - stretch tune the instrument to be sampled and play the samples back at correct pitch, OR avoid stretch tuning and employ a tuning table to add the stretch tuning on playback.

Moe

---

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm a bit surprised that nobody in this thread mentioned the main culprit...

Most ROMplers have a sort of out-of-tune feel for a definite reason: out of tune loops. When you try to stuff a whole library of samples in 8 meg or so, you have to use short loops, and if you don't do it perfectly (very difficult), you're bound to have sounds with a slight pitch drift. It's difficult to explain, it has something to do with phase and the way our ear perceives pitch, but sometimes it's obvious even if you're just holding a note - the note sounds out of tune with itself!

Probably - but I'm just guessing here - some loops are at a slight different pitches at the start and ending points, and the reiteration of this difference gives the ear the impression of "out-of-tuneness".

 

(Forgive my English)

 

marino

 

Perfectly clear.

 

A real piano note actually is very slightly sharp when you strike it and then gradually flattens until it steadies out, after maybe half a second. So a short loop taken while the pitch is changing will introduce tremolo.

 

Plus because all the harmonics are not exact multiples (higher harmonics are sharp) there is no point at which you can seamlessly join the end points of the loop, so some harmonics will be phase modulated.

 

I don't think I can tell these effects apart, but you can definitely hear the total result on romplers that use short loops.

 

Then again if you don't normalize for decay during the loop you also get a vibrato effect.

 

(Did I get those the right way round? Tremolo = frequency (or phase) modulation, vibrato = amplitude modulation)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great thread folks, even though this is another blast from the past. Back in the days when I was on the road, I was using a Yamaha electric grand, an Oberheim, and a Prophet 5 as my keys. Sometimes I was out for 3 or 4 months at a time before I got home for a break. It was difficult to get a piano tuner on short notice to come to a Holiday Inn or other hotel, and I couldn't wait. So I asked my piano tuner if he could hook me up with a tuning hammer, mutes, and whatever else I needed so I could touch up my electric grand when I was on the road. I also had a Conn strobe tuner that I used to calibrate my synths periodically. He gave me some tutoring on how to get the piano in better tune. First, let it sit in the room overnight so it got more accustom to the temperature and humidity. Typicially, I would arrive on a Sunday afternoon or night and had to play the next day at 5 p.m. So I tuned the piano in the afternoon. I used the Conn strobe tuner to set the middle octave, and tuned it by ear up the keyboard, and then down from middle C to the bottom of the KB. It is as a number of others have stated, tuned slightly sharp on the way up, and slightly flat on the way down from middle C. You could hear the slight vibrato the strings generated when you where tuning. Although I was never a qualified piano tuner, it sure beat waiting for months to get home for a major tuning by my professional piano tune. After about a year or so, my piano tuner noticed that "my piano wasn't as badly out of tune as it was when I started". I guess that's about all I could expect as a left handed compliment.

 

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is as a number of others have stated, tuned slightly sharp on the way up, and slightly flat on the way down from middle C.

 

 

Mike T.

 

One thng that should be said is that stretch tuning is NOT designed to allow you to tune all your fifth's perfectly. You have to flatten your fifths from the perfect intervals.

 

The harmonic thing doesn't really kick in until the top two octaves. That's where it is really audible if you don't stretch.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

(Did I get those the right way round? Tremolo = frequency (or phase) modulation, vibrato = amplitude modulation)

 

Uh, no, sorry. It's the other way around. The concept is correct, though - if a bit obsolete. Today, short loops are becoming rare...

Also, it feels strange to receive the the *first* response to a post six years later! :freak: :grin:

 

A note to some of the posters above: Someone seems to believe that the harmonics of a note are exactly in tune with the notes of equal temperament. Back to school, guys - the only harmonics that match are the octaves.

 

I want the old Big Grin back! PLEASE..!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Quote by Byrdman:

 

"One thing that should be said is that stretch tuning is NOT designed to allow you to tune all your fifth's perfectly. You have to flatten your fifths from the perfect intervals."

 

That's interesting Byrdman. My piano tuner said to set the octave from middle C to a strobe tuner (he only used a tuning fork for A440)then tune each note of octaves above middle C to the octave below it. I don't know that tuning it by ear was perfect intervals anyway. Pretty much what sounded right. It was in better tune when I was finished, but ultimately, I used a qualified piano tuner when I got home to get it up to pitch.

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The exact intervals on a piano that will sound the best vary depending on the individual piano, that is, vary depending on the length of the string. Shorter strings have more out of tune harmonics than longer (in the bass region anyway).

Moe

---

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Matt:

 

Thats quite true. The Yamaha Electric Grand had very short strings. And single bass strings at the lower end. Not the best instrument to tune. But back in those days, it was the very best available and it beat the heck out of the alternatives.

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...