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Hearing songs as out of tune


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I need to know if I'm crazy, or if this happens to anyone else. I suppose I could be crazy for other reasons so they could both be true, but anyway... Sometimes, when I'm sitting in a public place and there's background music: a jukebox, CD playing, whatever, a familiar song will begin, and sound strangely out of tune with itself. Like, the bass will sound out of tune next to the vocal. If I listen intently, it begins to all sound fine within 30 seconds or so. It's happened in a number of different environments, but never on a good system when I'm actively listening. Any psycho-acoustics types care to take a crack at this?

Stephen Fortner

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Former Editor in Chief, Keyboard Magazine

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I think I know what you mean. There has been times when I'll hear music from a distance, to the point that I'll hear the bass line over any other part. Until the vocal comes in, that is. And THAT will sound out of tune with the bass line. Same goes if I'm driving, and the car radio is turned down to barely audible. And no, I don't know what causes that phenomenon. Weird, ain't it? Whitefang
I started out with NOTHING...and I still have most of it left!
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I often hear bass lines as out of tune or even out of key, even when I'm listening intently. Which is a drag because a lot of times I learned songs by following the bass line, at least for the basic changes. I've always assumed it has something to do with the minor hearing loss I've been experiencing for years now. I should have been using earplugs back in the day when I did all those hard rock gigs. :( --Dave

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I'll take a psycho-acoustic crack at things. In any non-audiophile system, there is a certain amound of noise present in the speaker response. I believe that this noise can activate certain room modes or the modes of objects in the area. Because it is noise activating these modes, the frequencies produces may or may not be in tune with the signal. (does this make any sense? I have heard this happen- my practice studio, for instance) This is one possibility, but I will say this: there are an incredibly large number of factors affecting the way sound is perceived (a.k.a., psychoacoustics) and there is no good way to control them, save listening to music only in a mastering studio. I'll also say this: the songs begins to sound familiar within a few moments because you don't actively listen to the sound, but you remember how the song goes in your head and let your ears' perception accompany this.
...think funky thoughts... :freak:
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[quote]Originally posted by SteveFortner: [b]I need to know if I'm crazy, or if this happens to anyone else. I suppose I could be crazy for other reasons so they could both be true, but anyway... Sometimes, when I'm sitting in a public place and there's background music: a jukebox, CD playing, whatever, a familiar song will begin, and sound strangely out of tune with itself. Like, the bass will sound out of tune next to the vocal. If I listen intently, it begins to all sound fine within 30 seconds or so. It's happened in a number of different environments, but never on a good system when I'm actively listening. Any psycho-acoustics types care to take a crack at this?[/b][/quote]I've experienced this, usually as a function of some background noise...the droning of a fan or something.
"Cisco Kid, was a friend of mine"
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[quote]Originally posted by SteveFortner: [b]Sometimes, when I'm sitting in a public place and there's background music: a jukebox, CD playing, whatever, a familiar song will begin, and sound strangely out of tune with itself. Like, the bass will sound out of tune next to the vocal. If I listen intently, it begins to all sound fine within 30 seconds or so. It's happened in a number of different environments, but never on a good system when I'm actively listening. [/b][/quote]I know exactly what you are talking about... I always wondered if it was just me.... When the music is in the distance or it is majorly background music, it's as if either the songs sounds detuned to different intervals and chord changes than they are supposed to be, or your imagination makes the songs sound like what the first glimpse of the song (from afar) reminded you of... Weird... Matt
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If you're closer to a subwoofer than to a high freq driver, the waves will reach your ear at a different time (I bet we all know this). That might drive them to sound out of tune from each other to your ears appreciation... but I guess that might only happen in very big place with a terrible acoustic design :freak:

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[quote]Originally posted by GusTraX: [b]If you're closer to a subwoofer than to a high freq driver, the waves will reach your ear at a different time (I bet we all know this). :freak: [/b][/quote]That is the best shot so far.

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I used to have a similar problem a few years ago and got quite worried about it.I use to do a lot of work on the outside of my house with the radio going fairly loud inside near an open window.I used to hear songs out of tune all the time.I wondered if it wasn't a bit of a Doppeler effect since I was moving around alot.(no thats nothing to do with drugs)But I came to the conclusion it was something like what Matt was saying.
I once had a quasi-religious experience..then I realised I'd turned up the volume.
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I think the weight here lies with the noise-associated problem rather than the relative distance suggestion. Consider this (or test it): using the instrument or sound source of your choice, listen to(or record) a definite pitch at close range, then at another distance, then simulateously but at different distances. Are they "in tune"? I think you will find that they are. Distance from sound source affects phase & that might affect percieved pitch but I don't think in most situations that would be extreme enough to seem out of tune...but I'm a player not a technician and, so, no true authority.
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[quote]Originally posted by SteveFortner: [b]I need to know if I'm crazy, or if this happens to anyone else. I suppose I could be crazy for other reasons so they could both be true, but anyway... Sometimes, when I'm sitting in a public place and there's background music: a jukebox, CD playing, whatever, a familiar song will begin, and sound strangely out of tune with itself. Like, the bass will sound out of tune next to the vocal. If I listen intently, it begins to all sound fine within 30 seconds or so. It's happened in a number of different environments, but never on a good system when I'm actively listening. Any psycho-acoustics types care to take a crack at this?[/b][/quote]The intro to "Stand By Me" always sounds out of tune to me... maybe it is!

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I always thought there was something wrong with my ears too. It generally happens to me in the car, with the windows down, and I'm not really listening to the song. I think the wind and other car noises causes my ear to track on certain frequencies, and then when I listen to the music, I'm only hearing these frequencies. I listen to the bass and vocals, and when some chord instrument comes in, WOW, where did THAT come from. I think there is something about the time difference with bass and mids and highs. Sitting in the mall or a large open space will cause the same thing for me. Maybe I am crazy. Ya think? :eek:
I'm trying to think but nuthin' happens....
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