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When I am tuning my double bass using harmonics, the note sounds like it changes intonation when I release the note compared to when I am bowing. I think this has something to do with the bow action forcing "pure harmonics" but I'm not sure.

So: does the intonation of the harmonic actually change when I release it, and why? If they are different, should I try to tune the harmonics based on the bowed note? Or should I try to tune to the released note?

  • Could you clarify your question please? Also, what do you mean by 'when I release the neat'. – Jomiddnz Dec 17 '19 at 20:26
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    Which do you want to be in tune, the bowed note or the released note? ;) – Bob says reinstate Monica Dec 17 '19 at 21:23
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So: does the intonation of the harmonic actually change when I release it,

Yes.

and why?

Because the pressure of the bow on the string changes the tension (and, microscopically, the length) of the string. It's not dissimilar to a guitarist who bends pitch by sliding the string laterally on the fretboard. I suppose that the action of the bow driving the string's vibration has an additional impact on the pitch, but I'm less sure of that.

When I was in grad school, one of the professors, a lutenist, was very vocal about string players who play lightly when they're tuning their instruments. He said that they should play at full volume when they tune because otherwise they would not be tuning the actual pitches they would be playing in the performance.

If they are different, should I try to tune the harmonics based on the bowed note? Or should I try to tune to the released note?

If you're playing mostly with the bow, yes, tune the pitch you hear when you're bowing. If you're playing mostly pizzicato, it probably makes more sense to tune the pitch you hear when you let the string vibrate freely.

  • Thanks for your answer! I think I will eventually edit my question to ask this, but will playing simultaneous notes with the bow affect the intonation as well? I want to know because I often listen to the interference beats to make sure it's in tune. Or should make a separate question for that? – awe lotta Dec 17 '19 at 23:20
  • @awelotta I'd make that a separate question. – phoog Dec 18 '19 at 0:11
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    Your professor was half-right, and half-wrong. The pitch changes as you go from ppp to fff, so it makes sense to tune at, say, mf . You have to be aware of the pitch change and constantly adjust fingering as the dynamics change. // Also: the pitch changes as a function of amplitude, bowed or plucked. – Carl Witthoft Dec 18 '19 at 14:57
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    It's also really important to note that when playing in a group and tuning together that you should be playing around the same dynamic which should also be a dynamic that allows each player to tune to each other. – JIMMYPlay Dec 18 '19 at 15:09
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    @CarlWitthoft though on an instrument like the guitar it might make sense to tune on the louder end because a flat note can easily be made sharper whereas a sharp note can't be made flatter on guitar. – awe lotta Dec 18 '19 at 21:43

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