Tuning + Thirds

02004-10-03 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Jon had the piano in his studio tuned by a piano tuner, who some people consider the best piano tuner in the world… Jon was pointing out some chords he thought were a little dissonant, when the piano tuner stated:

“Oh, yes, you are a string player and prefer the third flattened.”

The third sounds more harmonious when it is slightly flattened, compared to the compromise of the well-tempered piano. It is something string players can easily adjust because of their fretless instruments. In modal music, such as music from India, this is not a problem as the instruments are all tuned to one specific key. In Western music, with its emphasis on Harmony, the key changes frequently, especially in modern music. That is facilitated by the piano, which is a compromise…

What’s the point of this story? Well, sometimes I like to flatten the open B and G, the 2nd and 3rd strings of the guitar, ever so slightly. Flattening the G helps when playing in the key of E – G# is the third in this case – and flattening the B improves playing in Dm – the open A chord has the C# on the 2nd string.

Jon and I were guesstimating that I flatten those strings by a tenth of a tone, not much at all. Any more would make other keys sound bad, but this little bit seems to make the chords sound sweeter. Of course, if I don’t play in those keys, I have to adjust the tuning slightly…

I asked Jon to conduct an interview with said piano tuner. I imagine their conversation might become fairly esoteric, but extremely interesting for musicians. Just the sort of thing I would love to serve up for our subscription…


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