I recently played at Open Mic on the violin and today I saw the video of it and it was completely out of the tune that I wanted to tear all my hair. I never play so badly even when I just practice.

However, just before I played I listened to other performances, one of the performances was so loud my that friend was shouting right to my ear and I could still not hear her. But after that performance there were 2 hours less loud music, but still very loud. The music was mostly in the rock and roll style.

Hence my question: What circumstances affect the perception of the accuracy of the pitch adversely?

  1. If listening to very loud music, from your experience how long does it take to recover to have an accurate perception of the pitch again. What is the maximum level of the noise I can allow myself to be exposed before I play myself? How much time before I play should I allow for myself to be in a more quiet location and how quiet location? How much time of the noise can I allow at most just before I play again?

  2. Can listening to a different style of the music like rock and roll just before my performance affect my more classical performance?

  3. What other circumstances could affect the perception of the accuracy of the pitch adversely?

  • 1
    One point not mentioned so far. Have you done comparative tests, videoing other performances, or practising?
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 12:03
  • 1
    @Tetsujin Yes, I listened to my other recordings made when I was not exposed to the noise and they were much better. Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 10:18

4 Answers 4


I think it is simply related to your hearing (ie not pitch perception). In this case your ability to hear yourself.

In this case you haven't mentioned whether your performance was solo or with a group. If it was solo I would say that you have suffered from a temporary hearing loss resulting in the inability to properly hear your violon and thus intonate.

If you play with a loud group and the music around you drowns out most of the sound from you instrument, you would probably experience the same thing.

In other words:

  1. If you listened to so loud a noise as to temporarily damage/lose your hearing it is difficult to say how long it would take to regain it. It could be that the loss is permanent! You'll have to experiment. I would rather wear ear plugs to protect my hearing, thus avoiding the problem.

  2. Certainly not! This is a question about volume (dB), not style or genre!

  3. As mentioned above, playing in a loud environment could adversely affect your intonation since you can't hear yourself properly. Singers have the same problem, which is why you sometimes see people put one finger in their ear to hear themselves better.


A few years ago I experienced a very strange (to me), and quite frightening disturbance in pitch perception -- one that came out of the blue. Fortunately it was temporary, lasting not much more than 24 hours. This may not apply directly to your situation, but is a possible answer to your question 3 (What other circumstances could affect the perception of the accuracy of the pitch adversely?).

I habitually wake to the radio, and my bedside radio is usually tuned in to BBC Radio 4 (a popular, national spoken-word radio station in the UK). This features a "time signal" in the few seconds leading up to the start of each hour -- colloquially known as the pips. The pips comprise a short sequence of pure tones.

One particular morning, the radio had been on for perhaps ten minutes, but there was something wrong. It seemed as though the station wasn't quite tuned in to the right FM frequency, because certain voices (notably only those of the female presenters) sounded distorted. I tried adjusting the tuning, but this had no effect. Then when the pips sounded, they were clearly very distorted -- more obviously so than the voices of the presenters. I was frustrated that I couldn't fix the problem there and then, but didn't think much more of it.

About an hour later, sitting down at my digital piano (using headphones), I started some practice, and immediately realised something was wrong. None of the individual notes sounded right. All were distorted to some degree, but this was far more noticeable with the higher pitches. It didn't take me very long to work out what was going on -- for any given single external tone, I was hearing a different pitch in each ear!

I didn't precisely quantify the pitch difference, but it was a shift of the order of half a semitone between my left and right ears. That explained why the radio had sounded as though it wasn't properly tuned in -- especially for pure tones such as "the pips". I was hearing any given single auditory stimulus at two slightly different frequencies simultaneously, which were then "beating" against one another, and giving rise to distortion.

And the cause? I was suffering from a particularly nasty bout of sinusitis at the time, much worse than I'd ever experienced before. My assumption then is that it was likely an ear infection related to the sinusitis that had suddenly affected pitch perception in one (or possibly both) ears. This condition is known as Diplacusis, and the Wikipedia page describes ear infection and "acoustic trauma" as possible causes. Acoustic trauma can no doubt be caused by excessively loud music.

Fortunately, the effect gradually wore off during the day, and had fully resolved by the following morning. I did however find it very disturbing that a sense (pitch perception) I'd assumed to be completely "reliable", could suddenly start playing such profound tricks.

Now, if both ears had been affected by exactly the same frequency shift, I wouldn't have noticed anything wrong. It probably wouldn't have affected my ability to play an instrument in tune with others either, because all auditory stimulus would have been pitch-shifted.

I don't think this particular effect and condition (Diplacusis) explains your specific example of unexpectedly playing out of tune, but I hope it provides a useful illustration of just how delicate, complex, and ultimately fallible, our hearing and pitch perception can be!

  • 2
    Out of interest, in Britain, the 'pips' are the note B. Maybe the BBC wanted to go 'BBBBBC', but didn't quite make it!
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 11:45
  • 1
    I've suffered exactly the same symptom with an ear infection. Left ear was perceiving about a quarter-tone sharp compared to the right. I had an audition that night & about an hour's set to learn, bass plus backing vocals. I spent the entire day training myself to ignore the pitch from my left ear. That was one weird audition… no, I didn't get the job.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 12, 2015 at 12:01


  • Loudness (contributing to listening fatigue)

  • Your tuning perception is greatly influenced by what you hear immediately before you play. If someone played an A at 430Hz for 7 minutes at a medium volume, it would probably throw you off even if you were playing a "perfect" A440 right after because of the relative dissonance.

    (Also, did the recording use a high calibre mic?)

    • If you're actually going to play at a venue you should do everything in your power to minimize the intensity of the sounds making contact with your ear until you're actually playing -- music is a continuous dialogue with your ear and your instrument.

Anyway, "in tune" and "out of tune" are just ideas. People with no classical training can enjoy a piece that is "out of tune" more than a trained ear, so really who is better off ;)?


A loud concert might dull your senses, you might feel tired. Other than that I don't think there's any correlation between the environment and your musical performance. If you know what in tune sounds like then you should be able to play in tune anywhere (except maybe underwater). As far as the volume of your surroundings or musical partners, trying to play louder than those things will affect your tuning for sure. Unless someone has vastly different ears then an in tune pitch is an in tune pitch. Also, the recording quality could not be the greatest.

As an avid fan of heavy metal and also being classical trained, I personally feel the styles strengthen each other. So I'm used to hours of really loud music at rock concerts, and then my favorite band goes up there and nails it. They're probably very use to it, but most importantly very self-confident.

When you're performing you're affecting the audience's perception of tuning and musical interpretation.

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