Stretched Tuning

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    Hi to all,

    Do harpists in general use stretched tuning?

    do so, and I find it works well for tuning my 52 string cross-strung


    Michael- What an interesting question. I’ve never tried it on the harp. I use a Peterson tuner and am satisfied with the results. But I wonder if it would have the same effect on the harp as on the piano.

    Years ago, a friend of mine who is a piano technician and who at the time owned a huge collection of antique pianos of all sorts lent me a stunning 1905 Steinway B with a Louis XV case in Carpathian burl veneer. It had a gorgeous deep voluptuous sound. After I had had it a year or so I had a piano tuner come to tune it. My friend wasn’t available. When I played it after the tuner had left, it was perfectly in tune but sounded shallow and had lost a lot of that gorgeous depth. When my friend came to visit me again I told him about this. He went to the piano and played a few things on it. After no more than 10 seconds he stopped and said,”He didn’t stretch the octaves.” He then retuned the instrument, and the gorgeous sound came back!. I’ll never forget that. But I don’t know if it works the same way on a harp.


    I think it may depend on the harp.


    I frequently tune this way, but I’ve never heard the term before. It doesn’t seem to work well for the first octave, but neither does anything else.


    Well, I don’t think if it as stretch tuning what I do because as I understand it stretch tuning is a rather complicated and precise system of tuning and what you can do with a piano in this regard is effected by the fact that you have all those strings for every note. The harmonics on a harp are different so the same system of stretch tuning that works on a piano I doubt would have the same effect on a harp.

    Having spoken to people who know more about the piano than I ever will, it isn’t arbitrary what piano tuners do, and it isn’t just a matter of listening by ear. There is a general consensus of exactly how far off from perfect pitch each string should be to be tuned in what is considered Stretch Tuning, and it isn’t a fly by the seat of your pants adjustment.

    That said, I do tune the upper octaves of my harps just a little sharp. It just sounds better that way. But what I do IS a fly by the seat of my pants, just make it sound good to my ear, approach and nothing so elaborate as stretch tuning on a piano.


    I wonder if this is why I usually am more pleased with my tuning when I do most of it by ear.

    I doubt I could intentionally listen for and hear a stretched octave. Unfortunately my ear seems to like a large fifth and I’m used to tuning fifths from when I played viola, so it’s taken some adjustment to tune my harp by ear. I used to start a little low and tune by hearing octaves, but often by the second octave the intervals and chords would


    Yes, what Tony said. I think most harpists are, or at least used to be, taught to favor being a wee bit sharp in the treble and flat in the bass, but that’s not the same as stretched tuning.


    On my lever harps I pull my top ten strings (starting with the A 12 notes above middle C) about five cents sharp, otherwise octaves played that high sound a bit flat to me. I can hear that on harp recordings sometimes. Interesting that other people do the same thing…


    My ears are unreliable. If I give in to the urge to tune the uppermost notes a little sharp, I have left the barn door open, and soon everything is much too sharp. I use the tuner, and add no more than five cents. As for the bass, it is rather like if you prefer sweet cream or sour cream. To me, stretched tuning sounds sour, and my harp rings more sweetly tuned by the tuner. My teacher, Lucile Lawrence, on the other hand, always used stretch tuning, and would match the harp to the piano if it was in tune. It seems to add dimension, and some power, but I feel the tones are stronger with all the harmonics aligned.


    Krieg- The piano tuner I mentioned in my post told me that when all is said and done, at the end of a tuning(of a piano) a good tuner will ‘fudge’ where necessary for the particular piano. Not all pianos sound good with exactly the same tuning.


    At the root of this uncertainty is that we don’t know what harmonic or partial of the string’s vibration the tuner is listening to. When I use TuneLab Pro on a piano (or my Markwood-strung Caitlin) an indicator on the screen lets me know exactly what partial I am tuning. With my Korg CA-30, OTOH, I have to assume it is listening to the fundamental, and the sweetness of an interval depends less on the ratio of the fundamentals of the two strings and more on the beats between their coincident partials.

    The simplest way to explain coincident partials is to consider an octave. When you tune by ear, you set the harmonic (2nd partial) of the lower string equal in frequency to the fundamental (1st partial) of the upper string, but when you use the electronic tuner you might be setting the fundamentals of the two strings at a 2:1 frequency ratio. If the harmonic was always exactly twice the frequency of the fundamental, this wouldn’t matter, and with the lower inharmonicity of harp strings it doesn’t, much.

    With your harp and an inexpensive electronic tuner you can research it yourself. Tune, say, C5 with the electronic tuner. Next, play the harmonic of C5. Does the tuner read it as C4 in tune or C4 slightly sharp? Note the amount of sharpness, in case you would like to try tuning your C4 that much sharp to assess its effect on the sound of the C5-C4 octave.

    Elizabeth L

    My teacher told me to never tune to a piano because all your octaves will be out of tune.


    Hi to all again,
    I appreciate William Weber’s explanation, as well as Tony’s observation that piano tuners in general may be taking a great deal into account in the process of tuning, stretching intervals of various kinds, etc.

    My original intent was to describe a tuning procedure that I find simple, that’s I find gives a more pleasing result reliably than tuning slavishly to the tuner.


    BTW, I’m struggling with the terminology.

    Philippa mcauliffe

    That is interesting – I was watching a harp regulation this weekend and the tuner being used was a very fancy one that is also used by piano tuners – it also had at least 8 different versions of stretching programmed into it for piano
    tuning apparently.

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