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The history of "A"

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Andy Mopley, Jul 11, 2018.

  1. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    s van order and james condino like this.
  2. wathaet


    May 27, 2007
    Fairly weak paper. The author fails on the basic premise that there is a current standard of 440 in western music.
  3. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011

    Are you trying to say that there is not a current standard of A = 440 in western music? That's simply not true. The standard pitch is A = 440 Hz. Many orchestras tune higher than that, as the author of the paper clearly indicates. We all know that. In fact a number of instrument manufacturers are now building instruments at higher than A = 440 (flutes, for example). That does not negate the existence of this standard pitch, it just means that there are a lot of people who tune to something other than the standard.
  4. wathaet


    May 27, 2007
    It is one of the two most common practises and making it the standard has been attempted but not implemented across what constitutes «western music». At best it can be called one of several standards. It is a typical anglocentric fallacy. It is like saying the metric system is the western standard, when in fact it is one of the two dominant western standards.
  5. Well, A 440 is the standard, according to ISO, and ISO is the most authorative standards organisation, by a hugh margin. Calling a paper "weak" when it refers to an internationally accepted standard is meaningless.
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
    C_Becker likes this.
  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    redwookie and wathaet like this.
  7. Let's separate between standard as in "what most people use" (then there is no standard) and as in "the frequency that has been agreed on by all major countries in a major international organisation (ISO)" (then 440 is the standard).
  8. wathaet


    May 27, 2007
    Nobody who actually plays for a living cares what ISO says. For instance, IRL 440 is in the minority in western classical music. Barring the UK, you probably cannot find a single professional 440 orchestra or chamber group in all of Europe and Russia. One scandinavian radio orch just went from 441 to 442 last season. As obsessed as broadcast is with standards, not one time was ISO mentioned in the discussions.
  9. (442 has been the most common pitch in Scandinavia for many years).
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
  10. And: a lot of people who plays for a living cares what ISO says. The same with a lot of people and companies who create instruments, software, and numerous devices that relates to this standard in some way (everything from keyboards to mobile phones).
  11. After reading up on this last month, the impression I got is that A is whatever the conductor or concert master says it is. The EU voted on that and has something different than 440. Lots of variation. There are other threads about this here in TB.
  12. yodedude2

    yodedude2 Supporting Member

    this must drive the folks with 'perfect pitch' right outta their skulls!
    GrooverMcTube likes this.
  13. There's still a standard, and the majority of countries and organisations (ISO, ANSI etc) support this standard. I have found no documentation that EU has voted on something else. ISO 16:1975 - Acoustics -- Standard tuning frequency (Standard musical pitch)
  14. For whatever it's worth (which may be nothing)... in review, what i found online is this:

    1989 - European Common Market selected A435 as the standard for all Europe.

    I do think though that all the standards mean nothing to an orchestra that has to tune to a pipe organ or to perform in a concert hall that has unique acoustics.
  15. All countries in EU support ISO and their 440 standard officially. Do you have a link to something else? The standard is basis for a lot of instruments, devices, other standards, software etc etc, even if orchestras don't use 440. And, I can promise you that all organ builders (and instrument makers) would love it if everyone adhered to the standard. For wind instruments, different tunings means they have to make extra parts for different markets (long and short barrels for clarinet, long and short slides for brass instruments etc).

    And: there are a lot of international standards that are in use behind the scene, even if most people use something else on a daily basis. Like the standard for dates. The ISO standard (accepted all over the world) is YYYY-MM-DD. In Europe, most people use DD-MM-YY(YY). In US, it's MM-DD-YY(YY). In most of Asia, they use the correct standard, YYYY-MM-DD. If you are going to design software that use dates, you'd better adhere to the current accepted standard.
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2018
  16. Wind instruments can only tune down, so they are (often) produced with a higher tuning than a=440Hz to be able to adapt to a higher tuning and also to be able to tune for different tapers turned (which affect tube length and therefor pitch).
    If orchestras tune higher, these instruments can get to their limits. Some can adapt with other barrels, S-bows etc., but at least flutes would need a new head which is expensive and the instrument won't play the same as before.
    (Not that an S-bow for my bassoon would be much cheaper...)

    And the relative tuning of the pitches of an instrument does suffer, at least for wood winds (brass instruments can adapt the vent crooks a bit).

    But if you go back far enough in history there have been local area tuning frequencies that could have been a lot lower (like 415 Hz which is about a halftone lower than 440Hz) but also higher than our current standard.

    The tendency to tune higher than 440 Hz is based on the try to make an orchestra sound more brilliant. Which is mostly in the string section because the strings get higher tension. A rather extreme variant of that is using a DB Solo string in orchestra tuning first and then tune up to solo tuning (or tune Spiro 4/4 up a halftone on a 3/4 scale which is about what it was designed for).
    But since a few Hz up is such a small deviation from the standard (compared to the upturning of the Solo strings), it doesn't make that much difference in sound.
    Other aspects might have a much higher influence on the recognition of the played music like interpretation, articulation etc.

    For professional orchestras it might be recognizable, but that can start an up-tuning rivalry that can move more and more away from the standard. Also the integration of instruments that are hard to retune (like the previously mentioned organ) or whose strings have pitch height limits like some historic keyboards would contradict an up-tuning war.

    So I think we should stick to the standard and only deviate from it if there are instruments that have a different tuning and are hard or not allowed to be retuned.
    Fredrik E. Nilsen likes this.
  17. CayGee


    Feb 21, 2018
    so - I never realized this about the Go-Go's song. Was there some corruption in the original recording in terms of tape speed that makes it sound 'off-standard' (sorry) or did they tune that way on purpose?
  18. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    There is no A440 pitch standard in 20th century rock/pop music, is the short explanation.
    wathaet likes this.
  19. Let's repeat again:

    If you want to be a good allround musician, stick to the standard, and adjust when neccessary.
    Mushroo likes this.
  20. TwentyHz

    TwentyHz Supporting Member

    By my read, the author makes no such claims. The author merely explains the history of the establishment of what a 1939 conference called "international standard pitch" as 440, and that this happened in the "western world"

    On p1 pg 2, lines 2-3, he says it "was adopted in the Western world" , not "by the Western world".
    On p3 pg 2 lines 9-10, he says "it was agreed" (upon by the conference)

    He makes no claims that a "a current standard...in western music" exists, persists, or is credible or relevant. He makes no claims regarding the conference's authority, and there is no evidence of even some implicit assumption (that I can sleuth out), even in the closing paragraphs. He seems to be agnostic in tracing the history of 440 using the terminology used by those who "chose' it.

    He seemed to be careful, in anticipation of such critique that might distract.

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