Kamis, 13 September 2012

How to Tune a Harp Without an Electronic Tuner-Tuning by Perfect 5ths and Octaves

In today's high tech world, it is rare when someone does not have an electronic tuner for the acoustic instrument they play. For instance, I play the Celtic Harp, and every harpist I know has an electronic tuner. What if your tuner is out of batteries and so is the junk drawer? My harp has 39 strings that are tuned to the white keys of the piano. (Many harpists tune their harps to the keys of B flat or E flat-I actually tune mine to the key of F). For this particular situation, we will (pretend to) tune to the key of C.

We do have to get a 'reference point' in order to tune to 'A-440'. If you have a piano, you can use the middle C note as a reference point. Maybe you have a tuning fork to use? If you have no reference point at all, maybe finding a tone on your telephone through the Internet? I imagine if you Google 'middle C tone', you would find something out there that would produce a tone for you.

Ok, let's get started. The best way to tune the harp is by 5ths. A perfect 5th has a certain vibration that makes it sound 'perfect'. Review in your mind the 'Do Re Mi' scale. If you can sing in your head the interval of Do to Sol and pay attention to the evenness of vibration that is produced by a perfect 5th, then tuning will become easier.

You begin by bringing the G above middle C into its perfect state. (We are going to tune a full octave and then move on to the rest of the strings by tuning with octaves from that point on.) After the G is in and the vibrations are steady and together (not 'beating against each other') then you will tune from that G to the D above. This is also a perfect 5th and you should be able to bring the vibrations together. What I mean is that when a note is in tune with another (in a perfect 5th or 4th or octave), the two notes will vibrate in harmony (together). If they are not in tune, you will hear an 'out of phase' vibration between the two notes; they beat 'against' each other instead of together. After getting the D above middle G in tune, then you will tune the D that's an octave below. Again you are going to listen very carefully to the beating of the vibrations. Play with it a bit... make it really flat and then bring it up to the note. Try making it sharp (without breaking the string!) and then tuning it back to its proper note. The more carefully you listen, the more aware you will become of the 'perfect tone' and whether a note is sharp or flat-whether a note is beating against another or vibrating in harmony with it.

So no we have tuned Middle C, the G above that, the D above that and the D next to Middle C. From there we tune the A above the Middle D (again a perfect 5th). Each time, you are listening for the beating of the vibrations of each note. Are they beating together or against each other? From that A (when it's in tune) we will tune the E above that (another perfect 5th). Now tune the E an octave below (which will be Middle E). From the Middle E (when it's in tune) you will tune the B above middle C. Once again, it's another perfect 5th. We're almost there! Now, the only things left are the C, an octave above middle C, and we will tune that against the Middle C note. Once you have done that full octave, you will tune the F (just above middle C) from the upper C note (again, another perfect 5th). After you are through with the full octave above Middle C along with the other couple notes above, you will next want to listen very carefully to the entire scale and sing along with it to make sure it sounds like the Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do scale. If you are content with how it sounds, you can move on to tuning the rest of the strings by octaves.

A 'harmonic' is produced by lightly touching the string with your palm halfway between the soundboard and the harmonic curve and then plucking the string with your thumbIn the Middle C range the distance between the 'palm touch' and the 'thumb pluck' is approximately 5 inches. The shorter the string, the closer the distance is between palm and thumb--the longer the string, the wider the distance.

These harmonics help to 'check' the note once you think it's in tune. When you create the first harmonic of a note(exactly half of the length of the string), it sounds an octave higher. This is the "check" that you will do to confirm that your harp is in tune. If an octave is in tune with its unison note (the harmonic), then you are on the right path. Each string also has other harmonics (besides the octave) that you can produce by shortening the distance again between palm and thumb, and moving up the string towards the harmonic curve or down the string towards the soundboard. Some harmonics are perfect 5ths above the octave: for example, if you create the harmonic on Middle C of its upper octave C note, you can also create the G above that with the next harmonic on the Middle C string. This helps you check some notes in a perfect 5th sense.. In a physics sense when playing harmonics, we are actually 'cutting the string in half' with the placement of our palm, and once again with the pluck of the thumb. This mathematical reduction will produce overtones in many different ways. As you further the reduction by that action of moving your hand placement up the string or down towards the sound board it results in those higher overtones (12th's, double octaves, etc.).

This is certainly very detailed information, but none-the-less, a great exercise in ear-training. You will gain confidence in your playing and musicianship with these skills in tuning and harmonic playing.

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