The out of tune out of the pocket phenomena

eamesuser

Silver Member
Always wondered about this,there have been times where one or two of the instruments in the band have been badly out of tune,or once a bass player was tuned to E flat,rest of band E,but when this happens not only does it sound horrible but it pulls me out of the pocket big time.

Does this happen to anyone else? And if so any thoughts, theories on why?
 

John Lamb

Senior Member
I've a couple of ideas ....

First: If the other members of the band are this badly out of tune and don't notice, they may be out of pocket themselves but not know it. If this is the case, then it'll make it harder/impossible for you to be in the pocket - it is a team game, afterall.

Second: The out-of-tuneness distracts you.
 

Jhostetler

Senior Member
You aren't the only one. In addition to the reasons mentioned, I have noticed that sometimes I'll end up actually following whoever is out of tune. The odd ball out tends to lead the pack it seems.
 

KamaK

Platinum Member
E-flat and E are different keys. If one member is tuned to E-flat and the others to E, it's going to sound absolutely horrid. Like a piano being dropped on a birthing cow...

This is quite different than one instrument being tuned a bit flat, at which point the (bass) guitarist should intonate to the rest of the band.
 

hippy chip

Silver Member
I refuse to play with IDIOTS who can't tune their instruments properly---and I will NEVER play a gig with them!
 

porter

Platinum Member
E-flat and E are different keys. If one member is tuned to E-flat and the others to E, it's going to sound absolutely horrid. Like a piano being dropped on a birthing cow...

This is quite different than one instrument being tuned a bit flat, at which point the (bass) guitarist should intonate to the rest of the band.
Absolutely, most people will have at least an unconscious, not-good response to hearing two keys implied a half-step apart. If you're not expecting it (or don't recognize it) it's going to really take you by surprise and obviously disrupt your pocket/basic focus. There's at least a modicum of involuntariness to it.
 

Headbanger

Senior Member
I've noticed that a lot of guitars seem to go out of tune when they have a capo on. I don't know if this is a problem with the neck of the guitar or with the tension of the capo, but it seems like a lot of guitarists have just gotten used to the sound of their instrument being out of tune in certain keys.

Eamesuser, could this be part of the problem for you as well?
 
M

Matt Bo Eder

Guest
E-flat and E are different keys. If one member is tuned to E-flat and the others to E, it's going to sound absolutely horrid. Like a piano being dropped on a birthing cow...

This is quite different than one instrument being tuned a bit flat, at which point the (bass) guitarist should intonate to the rest of the band.
I believe the op could be referring to "Drop D" tuning, where the low E string is dropped a whole step down to D. Kurt Cobain was in this tuning a lot in Nirvana, and then all the kids jumped on it.

"Drop Eb" tuning is totally virgin territory, though. It could be ground-breaking. Or just 'breaking" ;)
 

Winegums

Silver Member
Always wondered about this,there have been times where one or two of the instruments in the band have been badly out of tune,or once a bass player was tuned to E flat,rest of band E,but when this happens not only does it sound horrible but it pulls me out of the pocket big time.

Does this happen to anyone else? And if so any thoughts, theories on why?
Firstly why didn't the bass player check his instrument for tuning before the show? That should be the first thing that they do, heck it should be done at home and once you arrive at the gig/practice place.

Secondly Why couldn't your bass player hear that he was a half step out? It would be like what Kamak said, "Like a piano being dropped on a birthing cow... ". A deaf person could probably feel with their toes how bad that would sound.

I refuse to play the song any further if someone doesn't correct themselves after 2 bars and make them tune their guitar or sort out what they're doing wrong.
 

KamaK

Platinum Member
Why would some members tune to E-flat and others to E?
Some bassists will tune to E-Flat to avoid playing open strings, which lack the control of a fretted note and possess a different timbre. The problem arises when the bassist doesn't play to compensate (play a fret-up from the normal scale). Some bassists tune down to a D and play two frets up to achieve the same effect and extend the dynamic range of a 4-string instrument.
 

BacteriumFendYoke

Platinum Member
I've noticed that a lot of guitars seem to go out of tune when they have a capo on. I don't know if this is a problem with the neck of the guitar or with the tension of the capo, but it seems like a lot of guitarists have just gotten used to the sound of their instrument being out of tune in certain keys.

Eamesuser, could this be part of the problem for you as well?
Capos are an imperfect solution.

All guitars (except for those with ridiculous fretting schemes, although fanned frets aren't a terrible idea) need to be intonated. Because you're dealing with six strings of slightly different tensions with the same basic scale length (that you adjust) and the mathematics of fret placement have to cater for all strings, intonation is a compromise. Typically, you intonate the open string and compare with the 12th fret - which inevitably means that at various points along the neck there are slight deviations from 'perfect' tuning, most noticeably around the 4-8th fret and 16th fret, etc.

When you're using a capo, the effective scale length changes and you don't re-intonate the guitar for that shorter scale length. So what happens is that the guitar is actually slightly more out of tune than it is without a capo. You cater for this by having the capo as close to the frets as possible (that does improve matters, if the capo is at an angle then you don't have such a clean fret 'break point' and the intonation can be even worse. A really tight capo will also pull the strings sharper and out of tune.

So yes. Guitars are complicated with intonation. The biggest bugbear for me is when gigging guitarists change their string gauge and then don't re-intonate. That causes a lot of issues. The other issue is a poorly cut nut. My Strat has a pretty poor nut (my fault) and tends to be slightly out with open chords. It's not noticeable but I know it's there...

EDIT: A 'perfect' guitar solution would be a fretless guitar played flawlessly. That doesn't happen in real life. It's also interesting that violinists when playing solo prefer a Pythagorean temperament over the modern temperament and have to adjust when accompanied. We can go even deeper into this, too. Modern Pianos (which tend to define the system that we use) use what's called an 'equal temperament', although only ostensibly. In reality, they actually stretch the temperament out at the top end because it sounds 'better'. 'Just' temperaments (the ones we used up until the early 19th Century in general) sound 'better' but don't work across all keys. This is why old keyboard instruments and wind instruments in traditional tunings (harpsichords, some early Pianos, etc) sound fantastic in some keys and terrible in others. Typically, 'D' and its related keys were favoured because it worked well with trumpets (which had no valves at the time).

So, around Beethoven's time, modern temperaments were developed that were ultimately a compromise. Everything sounds quite good but nothing is fantastic. The musical benefit of this is that you can change between keys at will without having to worry about how the instrument will sound. Beethoven's 'Well-Tempered Klavier' was a response to this, selling the benefits of the new system.

Anyway. I need a cup of tea. Sorry for that, I don't know what came over me.
 
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porter

Platinum Member
Wow, that was actually very informative, Duncan. Thank you.

I didn't even consider that "Eb" tuning might just be a misnomer for drop D. That would be a much less dissonant mistake, though still probably enough to pop around one's subconscious and poke holes in the pocket.
 

BacteriumFendYoke

Platinum Member
Wow, that was actually very informative, Duncan. Thank you.

I didn't even consider that "Eb" tuning might just be a misnomer for drop D. That would be a much less dissonant mistake, though still probably enough to pop around one's subconscious and poke holes in the pocket.
Drop D is fine, it's when you forget! D is still a major second out from E. Not as bad as a minor second but still pretty painful when you don't expect it!

Just if anybody's interested (and I seem to be on a roll)... There's a brilliant Piano museum reasonably near to me that lets you play on 200 year-old (and older) keyboard instruments. I'm no Pianist (my brother used to do recitals there, he's a mean, mean Pianist) but I've tried fiddling around with the keys on some of the older instruments and it produces amusing results. They also have a chamber organ from about 1750 that hasn't been re-tempered and the last time I was there, they did a great demonstration on it. If anybody has a passing interest in keyboard instruments and gets the chance, visit Finchcock's - it's in Goudhurst. I might visit this week - it'll give me something to do seeing as I'm signed off work!

I've also seen the old church organs in Lubeck - which are some of the oldest in the World. Not only are they in older temperaments, their pitch reference is completely different. Something that a lot of people forget is that we arbitrarily choose what our reference is. At the moment the 'standard' in the UK and the US is that A=440. In some orchestras in Europe (I think France and Germany but don't quote me on that) they tend to use A=442 to A=444. Historical tuning forks have been found that set their reference pitches much higher and lower than what we tend to use now. 2 to 4 Hz is noticeable to some, however some tuning forks have been found that sets A to 415 Hz and some have been found that are much higher, around 466 Hz.

So when somebody plays you a piece of Mozart on a Piano, there are loads of things to think about. Firstly, the Piano in its modern form didn't exist, there was instead the Fortepiano, which sounded quite different - the bass was much lighter and the top end tinnier, it was also a lot quieter because it had lower-tension strings (I could go on here but I won't) and the dampeners were very different. Secondly, the temperament may have been different, as well as the pitch reference. So when we hear a piece of Mozart played in a modern context, it sounds quite different to how it would have done when it was composed.

Neither is better or worse, they're just different. I've played a Fortepiano and I've played a Harpsichord. They're interesting for sure. I marvel at Piano tuners though, it's a difficult job and one that takes a long time to master.

I'll say it now. If you have perfect pitch, I feel bad for you. My brother has perfect pitch and it took a long time for him to deal with out-of-tune instruments...
 

KamaK

Platinum Member
Drop D is fine, it's when you forget! D is still a major second out from E. Not as bad as a minor second but still pretty painful when you don't expect it!
For me, it's when someone asks you to stand in on a song, hands you an instrument, and SURPRISE.. It's tuned to Eb... Which wouldn't have been such an ordeal had I taken the stage two beers ago.
 

BacteriumFendYoke

Platinum Member
That's always a bugger right there! I played this trick once on a mate and the guitar was in new standard tuning. CGDAEG. That made me giggle.
 

Morrisman

Platinum Member
I've had the experience where the bass player used to do a song in A, but this band does it in Bb. Bass on one side of the stage playing a semitone away from guitar on the other. Neither can hear each other very well, especially if I'm playing loud drums in between them. Might take half a minute before they realise and start looking at each others left hands to see where they're playing.
But I can hear them both quite well - Aggh!
Hard to keep going in that situation, and a great relief when they sort it out.

This has happened 3 or 4 times. Punters never seem to notice though, they just keep on dancing.
 

BacteriumFendYoke

Platinum Member
I've had the experience where the bass player used to do a song in A, but this band does it in Bb. Bass on one side of the stage playing a semitone away from guitar on the other. Neither can hear each other very well, especially if I'm playing loud drums in between them. Might take half a minute before they realise and start looking at each others left hands to see where they're playing.
But I can hear them both quite well - Aggh!
Hard to keep going in that situation, and a great relief when they sort it out.

This has happened 3 or 4 times. Punters never seem to notice though, they just keep on dancing.
Ouch! The minor second! Ouch!

That's why it's a good idea to have crib sheets with the keys written down on them! It's actually amazing how little players listen to each other on stage and noodle in their own World.

My favourite was an incident in an orchestra. I wasn't playing (never played in one, been around them a lot) and the piccolo player was having a few issues with her instrument. The end of the piece had a standard iib-V-I ending but with a high piccolo note on top of the chord. She was a quarter-tone out and was desperately trying to tongue the note down, creating a nice wandering note. I reminded her of that one at every possible opportunity for months afterwards...
 

radman

Senior Member
... once a bass player was tuned to E flat,rest of band E,but when this happens not only does it sound horrible .....
Bassist's response (in raspy voice, while wearing shades): "I was just playin' outside, man ...."

Does this happen to anyone else? And if so any thoughts, theories on why?
I can't remember this happening for any more than a few bars. With the jazz guys I play with, there are sometimes some brief errors if we play a standard in a different key (usually to accommodate a singer). But these errors are correctly very, very quickly. Said offender usually giggles while receiving several hairy eyeballs from the rest of the group. Our group is all ears.

.... and impressive posts from Mr. BFY! It is tempting to say you don't sound much like a drummer. [cue the drummer jokes...]

radman
 
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