Could you tune without a tuner?

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Tuning ForkWhat if all the tuners and tuner apps disappeared tomorrow? Could you tune your harp?

Of course, the tuners will not all disappear. In fact, tuners and tuner apps are everywhere and easier to use than ever.

But could you tune your harp without one if you had to? Have you developed your ear to “hear” intonation instead of merely “see” it on your tuner?

It’s funny when you think about it. Music is something we hear, but tuners are essentially visual. The visualization of pitch from a tuner is great for making each note absolutely correct. (See previous post.) It’s also invaluable when it’s too noisy to hear clearly.

But the old fashioned tuning fork  made us listen and use our ear to tune. Today, we rely on our tuners so much that some students never develop their critical hearing skills. It takes some effort to develop your hearing, but it is worth the effort.

Here are three ways you can use your tuner to help train your ear:

1. Match a pitch.  Have your tuner sound a note, say A440 (or whatever note you like where your lever is down or your pedal up).  Mute the sound on your tuner and play your string. Is your string flat, sharp or in tune with the note you heard? Make your decision, and tune your string. Listen to your tuner again. Mute it and re-tune the string if you need to. Put your tuner in “listening” mode and check your results. Did you tune your note exactly? Was it sharp or flat?

Important: Always make a decision about whether your string is sharp or flat BEFORE you tune it. If you can’t decide, then make a guess and check with your tuner. The point of this exercise is to learn to hear whether a note is sharp or flat, instead of only knowing that is it out of tune.

2. Tune an octave. Tune a note with your tuner. Then play that string and the string an octave above it. Decide whether the upper note is sharp, flat or in tune and make your adjustment, checking with the lower note. Check your results two ways. First, play both notes together. Does the octave sound in tune? If not, make an adjustment to the top note. Next, check the top note with your tuner. How did you do?  You can do the same procedure with the note an octave below your note that is in tune.

Important: Always play the note that is in tune first and compare the note you are tuning to it. If you play the note you are tuning first, your ear will perceive that as “in tune,” and you may make the wrong adjustment.

3. Tune your whole harp. Not the whole harp exactly, but most of it. Tune the middle octave of your harp with the tuner. Then tune the octaves below the middle register by ear. Next, tune the octaves above the middle register by ear. Then check them all with the tuner and see how you did. Tip: This process may be very slow the first couple times you try it. If your patience won’t hold out, try doing just one note (for instance, all the C’s) this way until you get faster.

Previous tuning posts:

What does it mean to be in tune? Part 1: The Science

What does it mean to be in tune?Part 2: All about tuners


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