Acceptable Margin of Error on Vocal Pitch

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losthighway
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Post by losthighway » Tue Sep 11, 2012 5:04 pm

The thing I've learned with stacking harmonies in the studio is it does matter who is off. If you start with a bum note that clashes with the harmony instruments, and then try to get voices to gel with that it sounds bad.

A good vocal harmony (if recording one voice at a time) should start with a pitch that sounds good with the other instruments and then logically, if the other voices match the voice well, they'll probably sound cool with guitars, keys, harp etc.

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Post by Adam Chesi » Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:07 pm

Nick Sevilla wrote:Frank Sinatra
It's so true. Frank (God rest his soul) was not the best singer when it came to intonation (to put it politely), but even when he was out of tune, it fit. That's what counts. For the record, he definitely wasn't the worst I've heard either. At one point, I fashioned myself a singer...
dfuruta wrote:The other day, I heard a Mozart string quartet on the radio in the car. For whatever reason, the group had chosen to play in strict equal temperament instead of tuning their harmonies to each other, and so all of the intervals were just a little bit impure. Drove me crazy?everything was "correct," but all of the chords sounded sour.
Just thinking about this reminds me of times I heard this sort of thing in college. One of the piano/composition students had "perfect pitch" and every once in a while he'd correct someone to be perfectly in tune with equal temperament... Just about killed me for the rest of the week (mostly cause the silly vocalists or string players would listen to him for the rest of the week). Anyone who studies music and especially the physics of sound to a good degree can explain why a perfect fifth should be approximately 7 cents sharp, while the third should be flat by about 15 cents, etc.
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Post by thunderboy » Wed Sep 12, 2012 3:36 am

Nick Sevilla wrote:TOM WAITS
I'll just add EVERY RECORDING RELEASED BEFORE ANYONE HEARD OF ANTARES.

There are plenty of HUGE hits from the 60's-90's featuring some pitchy vocals or melody instruments. It didn't matter then because the performances were good and the songs were catchy.

Listen with your ears and your heart, not your eyes!
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Post by ubertar » Wed Sep 12, 2012 5:13 am

Adam Chesi wrote:a perfect fifth should be approximately 7 cents sharp, while the third should be flat by about 15 cents, etc.
Actually the fifths are closer than that-- they're only about 2 cents off, which may as well be dead on, for all practical purposes (except for using fifths for tuning a fixed pitch instrument... Pythagorean comma and all that... those two cents become significant as they accumulate). It's the thirds that are significantly off from the low-number ratios.

That said, there's a lot of woo surrounding just intonation. The reality of it is the nerve pathways in our brain become (mostly) fixed at a certain age, so that what's culturally "in tune" is perceived as in tune, and everything else is perceived as off. It took generations for people to get used to equal temperament. But most people today hear just intonated music as out of tune, small number ratios notwithstanding. If you grew up listening to 13 equal temperament instead of 12, you'd hear that as in tune, even though it's pretty far from small number ratios for most intervals. It's harder as an adult to get used to unfamiliar tuning systems, but it can be done.

Just intonation has had a lot of good PR, from Ptolemy and Pythagoras to Kepler down to today, and much of it is hype and mysticism. No interval is in or out of tune except within a context. That context is partly the composer's/musician's intention, and partly the cultural context. I don't think most Westerners hear Indonesian gamelan as out of tune... they hear it as non-Western.

I'd love to see music education revolutionized such that kids could grow up with a much broader palette of intervals to compose with. 12 intervals per octave is stifling, and I think it's one reason why music has stagnated somewhat. I don't see an eleutherotonal approach (eleutherotonal meaning that all intervals are a valid means of expression) to microtonality catching on any time soon, though. Most people (present company excluded) are pretty hostile to microtonality, and most of those who aren't have bought into the woo surrounding just intonation.
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Post by dfuruta » Wed Sep 12, 2012 8:16 am

ubertar wrote:That said, there's a lot of woo surrounding just intonation. The reality of it is the nerve pathways in our brain become (mostly) fixed at a certain age, so that what's culturally "in tune" is perceived as in tune, and everything else is perceived as off. It took generations for people to get used to equal temperament. But most people today hear just intonated music as out of tune, small number ratios notwithstanding. If you grew up listening to 13 equal temperament instead of 12, you'd hear that as in tune, even though it's pretty far from small number ratios for most intervals. It's harder as an adult to get used to unfamiliar tuning systems, but it can be done.
I think there's some flexibility, though, even in traditional western classical. There's the whole thing with Pablo Casals and "expressive intonation," where one tries to acknowledge the harmonic demands of the moment, and a lot of string quartets still tune intervals to each other rather than play in 12tet. It seems like newer recordings are more likely to be in strict 12tet than old ones?I wonder if that's partly due to the newer generations of players learning intonation using electronic tuners instead of their ears...

In my experience, a lot of people do hear gamelan as out of tune, particularly western classical musicians. It's probably not the scale as much as the concept of matching pitch: as you know, in the gamelan the fixed-pitch instruments are tuned slightly apart for a more lively sound, and the rebab and vocalists tune to the aggregate of the group, informed by the pathet (mode) of the piece. The fact that there isn't one central pitch seems to really bother people.


Like everyone else in this thread, I think being wildly "out of tune" can be really lovely (look at Ornette Coleman) or really awful, depending on the skill and feeling of the person doing it...

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Re: Acceptable Margin of Error on Vocal Pitch

Post by Dakota » Fri Sep 14, 2012 12:31 pm

losthighway wrote:I've noticed watching the tuner that up to 10 or 15 cents sharp can sound pretty okay if there aren't two voices working together. For some reason anything near 10 cents flat is more troubling to the ear, than sharp.
Yes! (Back to the OP's original question). Studies (and experience) have shown that when two pitches are near-unison close, the brain will tend to hear the higher one as the "correct" one, or as the reference pitch in any case. So a singer slightly sharp sounds like they are "leading the ship", energetic, acceptable within a range of slightly sharp. When a singer's a little flat, the listener hears the instruments (or even an implication of the instrument pitch even if nobody is playing a unison at that moment) as the correct reference, and the singer just sounds like they are missing the mark. "More troubling" in my experience as well, losthighway.

- Related side note - slightly sharp notes in bass tracks are potentially extremely problematic, they can make absolutely everything above them in the track sound out of tune. Slightly flat notes here and there in bass tracks can be groovy, more room for that. When tracking bass, it's often good to not settle for tuning just the open strings to a tuner, but check the actual fretted notes used in the song, get those averaged nice and on - and if they can't all be exactly in tune at the same time, have a few be a little flat rather than sharp, and dig in a bit more on those notes.

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Post by Dakota » Fri Sep 14, 2012 1:28 pm

lefthanddoes wrote:Facetiousness aside, it's really difficult to get someone to sing better than they can.
A kind-of-funny and informative thing I read about Daniel Lanois once, about him singing on tour and being frustrated he was always kind of flat, not being primarily a singer - so he had his monitor/headphone mix sent to him through a pitch shifter, up 10 cents or some such amount, so he'd sing in reference to that and end up more ok than otherwise. Pragmatism, ha.
dfuruta wrote:I thought I'd give an example. In tonal western music, one might play the 3rd in a dominant 7th a teensy bit sharper than normal, to point clearly to its resolution. 3rds and 7ths in particular might shift about a little bit, depending on what they're doing.


Absolutely! Like you mentioned Pablo Casals and "expressive intonation" - in that case pulling that 3rd up is wonderfully rich and emotional, intensifying the longing for the next chord. An informatively contrasting case with an old-timey vocal quartet singing a dom7 chord they are hanging out a long time on: the 3rd tends to be apx. 1/6 of a half step low, the 7th apx. 1/3 of a half step low, particularly if there is a slow gospel flavor. Tending toward a 4:5:6:7 frequency ratio for the chord, but still with further flexibility of expressive intonation.

Intonation is delightful, so many factors dynamically in play:
* fixed pitch equal tempered instruments (12TET) that other things have to reference to
* constantly changing reference to implied just intonation/minimum beating pockets - see: singers, strings, woodwinds, pedal steel etc.
* pure full-pitch-continuum expression of emotion which can't ever be fully quantified, only learned as an ongoing process
* physics of real world instruments, an example being that piano harmonics run sharp...
* cultural biases as ubertar rightly points out - some of what we perceive as right and wrong pitch is culturally specific and arbitrary
* & a jillion other factors
dfuruta wrote:This is a bit of a tangent, but maybe related. The other day, I heard a Mozart string quartet on the radio in the car. For whatever reason, the group had chosen to play in strict equal temperament instead of tuning their harmonies to each other, and so all of the intervals were just a little bit impure. Drove me crazy?everything was "correct," but all of the chords sounded sour.
Agreed! That kind of thing makes my skin crawl. Might as well put frets on those viols and call it a day.
ubertar wrote:That said, there's a lot of woo surrounding just intonation.


Ha! Well, personally I do have some woo for that indeed, but I'm into every expression of microtonality - agreed that the way forward for modern music is to open up everything, get out of the 24-7 12TET grind it's in.

Ubertar, do you know my friend Daniel Anthony Stearns? A rare genius microtonal composer. I used to produce him a fair amount. He's a treasure.

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Post by ubertar » Fri Sep 14, 2012 5:14 pm

Dakota wrote:Ubertar, do you know my friend Daniel Anthony Stearns? A rare genius microtonal composer. I used to produce him a fair amount. He's a treasure.
I do. We were messaging back and forth a bit on the ning xenharmonic board, or whatever it was called, until it shut down, and then lost touch. We released records on the same label (Spectropol) around the same time, not too long ago. I like his music a lot. His new record (Golden Town) is a lot different from the other stuff of his I've heard... I like it, but not as much as his earlier work. Really nice guy. If we lived in the same city I'm sure we'd collaborate a lot. If you could pm me his email I'd appreciate it... or I could pm you mine and you could pass it on to him.
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Post by Brian » Wed Sep 19, 2012 8:18 am

I think the idea of having a visual reference for yourself, as long as it doesn?t distract you from the performance is ?OK?, better you should warm up really well to scales hitting you notes dead on, practice in other words. That visual reference will serve better in rehearsal, not so much during performance. Distractions remove focus which drains energy from the performance and you need that energy to be recorded.
Perfect pitch sound perfectly boring often.
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Post by Dakota » Sat Sep 22, 2012 2:08 pm

ubertar wrote:
Dakota wrote:Ubertar, do you know my friend Daniel Anthony Stearns? A rare genius microtonal composer. I used to produce him a fair amount. He's a treasure.
I do. We were messaging back and forth a bit on the ning xenharmonic board, or whatever it was called, until it shut down, and then lost touch. We released records on the same label (Spectropol) around the same time, not too long ago. I like his music a lot. His new record (Golden Town) is a lot different from the other stuff of his I've heard... I like it, but not as much as his earlier work. Really nice guy. If we lived in the same city I'm sure we'd collaborate a lot. If you could pm me his email I'd appreciate it... or I could pm you mine and you could pass it on to him.
Cool! - PM'd.

What was your Spectropol record?

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