Pitch Standards

Miscellaneous topics on Carnatic music
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Vayoo Flute
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#1 Pitch Standards

Post by Vayoo Flute » 11 Aug 2018, 21:15

Carnatic music, of course, is based on frequencies relative to the base SA, and not determined by absolute frequencies, as in Western music. However, when you buy an instrument such as a flute or saxophone, the instrument is pitched to a certain standard. In electronic shruti boxes, options for the base SA are given as C, C#,D, etc..., so the shruti box is also pitched to a standard. Nowadays, in India and the US, the standard used is A=440hz. In Germany and Japan, I believe they use a different standard, A=445hz and A=446hz.

I find that some old shruti boxes (pre-2000) have been pitched to a higher standard than A=440. Has anyone experienced this? Perhaps they were using pitch pipes tuned to German or Japanese standards.

Is there any reference in the ancient classics as to what 1 kattai is meant to be?
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thenpaanan
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#2 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by thenpaanan » 17 Aug 2018, 20:26

Vayoo Flute wrote:
11 Aug 2018, 21:15

I find that some old shruti boxes (pre-2000) have been pitched to a higher standard than A=440. Has anyone experienced this? Perhaps they were using pitch pipes tuned to German or Japanese standards.

Is there any reference in the ancient classics as to what 1 kattai is meant to be?
Indeed, I noticed this possibility many years ago when shruti boxes were still in vogue, but the general standard of manufacture of those boxes was so poor that one could not draw any reliable conclusions. Indeed I asked a harmonium player the same question but he did not know the answer either since he was not familiar with the manufacturing sideof the instrument. Surely there must have been a standard for the reed makers but I could not find it in those pre-Internet days. Also I found that most Indian musicians did not care much about absolute frequencies and adjusted to whatever the shruthi box on the spot played. The one exception to this in my experience was vocalist Shri B. Rajam Iyer. He carried around with him a tiny whistle that played a fixed note which he used to tune his tambura to 1.5 kattai. In those days we in the US used a western pitch pipe for tuning and when I used a pitch pipe to tune the same tambura I remember that his whistle tuning was a hair higher than C# on my pitch pipe. Of course there was no way to know if this was just an aberration due to device manufacture (no way to know if the whistle was standard since I had seen only one such). There were many shruthi boxes around and they mostly disagreed enough with each other enough on absolute pitch that such considerations were untenable.

But elsewhere in the Usenet group RMIC I recall this question was picked up but no satisfactory conclusion was reached. Maybe someone else in this forum who was also on RMIC can recall better.

-Thenpaanan
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shankarank
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#3 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by shankarank » 17 Aug 2018, 21:15

The only ratio that is valid is 3/2 and that is not even "pointed out" in the classes of Engineering which teach the principle however! In Electrical engineering when discussing Fourier transforms. In Mathematics when teaching matrices and transformations - the diagonalization of matrices when the eigen values are taught ( yes it was taught in thiagarajar engineering college not in IIT by the way! - - where the teacher ended his last day of Math class saying if you submit an empty paper - evaluators get Rs 10 effort free!) , and then in advanced physics courses in the form of eigen states of the wave function - eigen functions etc.

None of them mention the fact that the 5th is 3/2. Of course 9/8 is a suspect - it is not even attained in a Sruti bhedam from tODi to to kalyANI or kalyANI to harikambodhi - rather!

So much for Secular / Scientifically minded institutions teaching music - nah Science!
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shankarank
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#4 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by shankarank » 18 Aug 2018, 07:14

Reminds me of a story narrated by the Tanjore Marathi Grundig tape collector ( part Dr N . Ramani's friends circle and Mali fan club) . This was in the house of one Mr Venkatachalam. Mr V had bought a reeded flute and kept it around. SrI N. Ramani noticed it when he was on a visit and they were all there. Asked him what that is. Mr V said, yes I bought it , but it is of no use , seems not working, something wrong with it, I cannot produce any good sound out of it.

Dr Ramani took it and played a one short phrase of Mohanam and kept it down. There was pin drop silence in the house! :lol:
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uday_shankar
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#5 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by uday_shankar » 18 Aug 2018, 08:20

shankarank wrote:
17 Aug 2018, 21:15
The only ratio that is valid is 3/2 and that is not even "pointed out" in the classes of Engineering which teach the principle however! In Electrical engineering when discussing Fourier transforms. In Mathematics when teaching matrices and transformations - the diagonalization of matrices when the eigen values are taught ( yes it was taught in thiagarajar engineering college not in IIT by the way! - - where the teacher ended his last day of Math class saying if you submit an empty paper - evaluators get Rs 10 effort free!) , and then in advanced physics courses in the form of eigen states of the wave function - eigen functions etc.

None of them mention the fact that the 5th is 3/2. Of course 9/8 is a suspect - it is not even attained in a Sruti bhedam from tODi to to kalyANI or kalyANI to harikambodhi - rather!

So much for Secular / Scientifically minded institutions teaching music - nah Science!
shankarank wrote:
17 Aug 2018, 21:15
Reminds me of a story narrated by the Tanjore Marathi Grundig tape collector ( part Dr N . Ramani's friends circle and Mali fan club) . This was in the house of one Mr Venkatachalam. Mr V had bought a reeded flute and kept it around. SrI N. Ramani noticed it when he was on a visit and they were all there. Asked him what that is. Mr V said, yes I bought it , but it is of no use , seems not working, something wrong with it, I cannot produce any good sound out of it.

Dr Ramani took it and played a one short phrase of Mohanam and kept it down. There was pin drop silence in the house! :lol:
I don't know where/how any of this shit is relevant to the original poster's legitimate question about absolute pitch standards, especially in India. It is a very pertinent question and the one other poster has made relevant remarks until you came along and true to form hijacked it and muddied the waters like a kerala river in spate. Ugh.

So the pertinent question is:
Is there any reference in the ancient classics as to what 1 kattai is meant to be?
I.e., some natural absolute reference. Since the pitch of resonant pipes of a certain length and nominal dia are somewhat constant at STP, I think if any reference existed, it should be that. Perhaps there's a standard ancient "kuzhal" :). Certainly not strings, since that depends, on length, thickness, etc etc etc..
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shankarank
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#6 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by shankarank » 18 Aug 2018, 09:56

The retort question could be do we really need an absolute pitch reference for anything? Or an ISI standard for a certain measure? I only added to say for some musicians even some non standard flute worked!
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uday_shankar
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#7 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by uday_shankar » 18 Aug 2018, 10:34

shankarank wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 09:56
The retort question could be do we really need an absolute pitch reference for anything? Or an ISI standard for a certain measure? I only added to say for some musicians even some non standard flute worked!
That's not the point...don't try to explain away prior stupidity with more stupidity. If that's all you wanted to say, it can be said in a non-hijack non Mr. Muddy Waters mode. You are truly a jerk (actually the word begins with an 'a'), with whom no meaningful interaction is possible.

Non-standard references has always worked, is kind of working, and will continue to work in some fashion.

However, when multiple instrumentalists, especially those with untunable instruments like flute, and to an extent ghatam, meet up for the first time on stage, there are problems. Very often an entire vocal concert goes by with the ghatam uneasily tuned to someplace Sa++ or Sa--. At least in the old days with Alanagudi Ramachandran, Vilvadri Iyer, etc who used "untuned" ghatam (i.e., the "shruti" was anywhere and didn't play a musical role) it was OK... but a "nearly tuned" ghatam is problematic. How much care mridangists take to tune the chappu so perfectly... how would it be if C S Murugaboopathy was "slightly" off... would MMI or GNB been able to sing ? And yet, sometimes ghatam artists (and on one occasion even a stalwart mridangam artist who could never get it tuned up exactly due to the cold) go through entire concerts playing helplessly on "nearly tuned" instruments. If the main artists were a little more accommodating, they would tune down or up to the ghatam's shruti and all would be well. But main artists in Carnatic concerts are jerks too... very insecure about tuning up or down half a hair of shruti ! It's an all round low class affair... all shankarank types on stage, never attempt to accommodate and create a whole better than the sum of the parts.

Tuning two flutes to unison is a very non-trivial problem, further complicated by the fact that each player's embouchure is slightly different. "Vayoo Flute" is a flute maker and his questions about with standardization are very pertinent, Mr. Muddy Waters. Even if the flutes are slightly off, they will start beating and it will all sound horrible. But since when did the actual practical experience of other people concern you if muddying waters is the sole purpose of your life...
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shankarank
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#8 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by shankarank » 18 Aug 2018, 11:03

Thanks for the interaction nevertheless !
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Vayoo Flute
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#9 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by Vayoo Flute » 18 Aug 2018, 19:59

uday_shankar wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 10:34
shankarank wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 09:56
The retort question could be do we really need an absolute pitch reference for anything? Or an ISI standard for a certain measure? I only added to say for some musicians even some non standard flute worked!
Non-standard references has always worked, is kind of working, and will continue to work in some fashion.

However, when multiple instrumentalists, especially those with untunable instruments like flute, and to an extent ghatam, meet up for the first time on stage, there are problems.
Precisely. Not only the flute and ghatam, but also nadhaswaram, clarinet, saxophone, keyboard instruments. When you buy an instrument that is marked as pitched to, say, D, you want to know exactly what frequency that D is. If you buy your saxophone from the US, that may be tuned slightly different to a saxophone from Japan because of the difference in standards. Has India adopted any standard? With increased orchestration and use of multiple instruments, it is very necessary to have a standard.
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SrinathK
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#10 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by SrinathK » 18 Aug 2018, 20:20

I think A440 is what is used here as well. I have an old shruti box that is slightly higher than the standard pitch and I need to use fine tuning to correct it. A later model by the same manufacturer doesn't seem to have that problem. I conclude that the hardware of the earlier models wasn't robustly tested.

Some even earlier models that looked like old transistor radios aren't even steady in their pitch - over time it drops.

We do not know at what point this 1 kattai, 2 kattai etc. got connected to the modern scale, or whether there was actually any separate standard of absolute pitch in Indian music at all. The 12 tone Equally tempered scale got popular after the 18th century and was the temperament of choice by the time the British were getting a strong foothold in India.

So I think we just took the western scale itself, found it convenient as an established standard, called C as 1 and G as 5 and used that - maybe the popularity of the harmonium at the time led to this development. It's very clear that the sequence of 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 4.5, 5, 5.5, 6, 6.5 clearly follows the C scale. Personally I stopped referring to terms like 1/2 kattai or quarter kattai a very long time ago as it made no sense to me.

It was only by 1936 in fact, that A=440 Hz became recommended officially. Only by 1955 was it made International Standard. So it's far more recent than it looks.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concert_p ... tern_music

Before this, people would have tuned the shruti according to their voice range by ear -- singing and finding their limits of vocal range and what was convenient for them. With a strong ear and a good sense of tone, it is possible to achieve some reasonable accuracy. But there was no absolute pitch standard.

When I had to find a flute for a friend last year, we had a horrible time with the quality control - the cheap flutes were all over the place - my friend was always making wrong notes when we played at home in the past. We then got the costliest flute we could find in Sapthaswara and we found it very well aligned to D - a nicely tuned instrument overall.
Last edited by SrinathK on 18 Aug 2018, 21:56, edited 1 time in total.
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thenpaanan
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#11 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by thenpaanan » 18 Aug 2018, 21:09

My conjecture that even the term "kattai" when used in the context of Carnatic music came into vogue only after the harmonium was introduced to us in the 19th century. Terms like "one-and-a-half" kattai make absolutely no sense unless you visualize the sruthi going up in discrete quanta such as on a keyboard. Otherwise there is no need for sruthi to be discretized. Unfortunately for us, the introduction of harmonium in Carnatic music (perhaps in bhajanai, initially?) was done before such stuff was recorded or documented. So we don't even know how musicians referred to absolute sruthi values before the common usage of the "kattai" term! My guess is that things were generally termed "male sruthi" and "female sruthi" (though there was less gap between the two back in the 19th century) and accompanists managed, mostly because musician pairings were very stable back then unlike today.

-T
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uday_shankar
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#12 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by uday_shankar » 18 Aug 2018, 21:39

thenpaanan wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 21:09
My conjecture that even the term "kattai" when used in the context of Carnatic music came into vogue only after the harmonium was introduced to us in the 19th century. Terms like "one-and-a-half" kattai make absolutely no sense unless you visualize the sruthi going up in discrete quanta such as on a keyboard. Otherwise there is no need for sruthi to be discretized. Unfortunately for us, the introduction of harmonium in Carnatic music (perhaps in bhajanai, initially?) was done before such stuff was recorded or documented. So we don't even know how musicians referred to absolute sruthi values before the common usage of the "kattai" term! My guess is that things were generally termed "male sruthi" and "female sruthi" (though there was less gap between the two back in the 19th century) and accompanists managed, mostly because musician pairings were very stable back then unlike today.

-T
I agree with this analysis. Also lending to the stable situation was probably the highly local nature of musical practice... a Thanjavur network of inter-related musicians and instrument makers, a Mysore network, etc...

Nagasvaram was the easiest... the thavil has no shruti and the nagasvaram was played with just "othu oodal" for shruti. Due to the variability of the seevali, getting a certain pitch on the nagasvaram is much more a matter of breath than the flute. Therefore, "tuning" two nagasvarams to be identical is an oxymoron. If they are both the same length (i.e., bari or timiri lengths) then the players' lips can tune them to unison. This is different from the flute, where there's much less (practically none in some schools like the Ramani school) leeway to adjust the pitch ever so slightly by blow pressure and/or blow angle, etc...

It is the ideal scenario, as it can take care of natural drift, player tiredness, etc... during a marathon, hours long temple procession. They took turns to do othu oodal, and intuitively adjusted to the players' tiredness... There were no recordings, everything was fresh and live and the shruti drifted slowly all over the place during the night of the procession but nobody noticed. TNR did a great disservice to nagasvaram by starting to use the shruti box. Thereafter players have always struggled with the natural drift problem.
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SrinathK
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#13 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by SrinathK » 18 Aug 2018, 21:54

uday_shankar wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 21:39
thenpaanan wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 21:09
My conjecture that even the term "kattai" when used in the context of Carnatic music came into vogue only after the harmonium was introduced to us in the 19th century. Terms like "one-and-a-half" kattai make absolutely no sense unless you visualize the sruthi going up in discrete quanta such as on a keyboard. Otherwise there is no need for sruthi to be discretized. Unfortunately for us, the introduction of harmonium in Carnatic music (perhaps in bhajanai, initially?) was done before such stuff was recorded or documented. So we don't even know how musicians referred to absolute sruthi values before the common usage of the "kattai" term! My guess is that things were generally termed "male sruthi" and "female sruthi" (though there was less gap between the two back in the 19th century) and accompanists managed, mostly because musician pairings were very stable back then unlike today.

-T
I agree with this analysis. Also lending to the stable situation was probably the highly local nature of musical practice... a Thanjavur network of inter-related musicians and instrument makers, a Mysore network, etc...

Nagasvaram was the easiest... the thavil has no shruti and the nagasvaram was played with just "othu oodal" for shruti. Due to the variability of the seevali, getting a certain pitch on the nagasvaram is much more a matter of breath than the flute. Therefore, "tuning" two nagasvarams to be identical is an oxymoron. If they are both the same length (i.e., bari or timiri lengths) then the players' lips can tune them to unison. This is different from the flute, where there's much less (practically none in some schools like the Ramani school) leeway to adjust the pitch ever so slightly by blow pressure and/or blow angle, etc...

It is the ideal scenario, as it can take care of natural drift, player tiredness, etc... during a marathon, hours long temple procession. They took turns to do othu oodal, and intuitively adjusted to the players' tiredness... There were no recordings, everything was fresh and live and the shruti drifted slowly all over the place during the night of the procession but nobody noticed. TNR did a great disservice to nagasvaram by starting to use the shruti box. Thereafter players have always struggled with the natural drift problem.
Very interesting.
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Vayoo Flute
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#14 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by Vayoo Flute » 18 Aug 2018, 22:31

uday_shankar wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 21:39

This is different from the flute, where there's much less (practically none in some schools like the Ramani school) leeway to adjust the pitch ever so slightly by blow pressure and/or blow angle, etc...

It is the ideal scenario, as it can take care of natural drift, player tiredness, etc... during a marathon, hours long temple procession. They took turns to do othu oodal, and intuitively adjusted to the players' tiredness... There were no recordings, everything was fresh and live and the shruti drifted slowly all over the place during the night of the procession but nobody noticed. TNR did a great disservice to nagasvaram by starting to use the shruti box. Thereafter players have always struggled with the natural drift problem.
[/quote]

Interesting. We should discuss, perhaps privately, the inflexibility wrt pitch with Ramani's school. In practice, if you are willing to sacrifice on some other aspects (such as lower volume, or hiss), it is possible to vary the shruthi in a Carnatic flute by more than 1/4 tone. For example, as you know, it is common practice to attain the sudha ma from the antara ga by tilting the flute. This becomes more difficult on the longer bansuris. I am going off the topic so I will stop here.
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shankarank
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#15 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by shankarank » 18 Aug 2018, 22:34

uday_shankar wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 10:34
And yet, sometimes ghatam artists (and on one occasion even a stalwart mridangam artist who could never get it tuned up exactly due to the cold) go through entire concerts playing helplessly on "nearly tuned" instruments.
uday_shankar wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 21:39
TNR did a great disservice to nagasvaram by starting to use the shruti box.
uday_shankar wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 10:34
At least in the old days with Alanagudi Ramachandran, Vilvadri Iyer, etc who used "untuned" ghatam (i.e., the "shruti" was anywhere and didn't play a musical role) it was OK... but a "nearly tuned" ghatam is problematic.
uday_shankar wrote:
19 Jul 2018, 11:47
SB was far more cavalier and simply added a contact mike and moved on. Also, as the years went by, the extreme pulling became a sort of perversion...
It is surreal how your story makes itself!! :twisted: SB seems to have solved the problem. Ghatam artistes using contacts to alleviate the pressure they have to apply for producing sound - go metallic :evil: :twisted: :lol: :lol:
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shankarank
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#16 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by shankarank » 18 Aug 2018, 22:40

Needed a Mic. implant with auto tune chip embedded! For vocalists !! problem solved !! :lol: :lol:

tonDayA pADum ?? gyanam tAnE pADum - a famous MVI quote. So much vidvath waiting to be unlocked !! :lol: :lol:
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thenpaanan
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#17 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by thenpaanan » 19 Aug 2018, 00:31

Vayoo Flute wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 22:31

Interesting. We should discuss, perhaps privately, the inflexibility wrt pitch with Ramani's school. In practice, if you are willing to sacrifice on some other aspects (such as lower volume, or hiss), it is possible to vary the shruthi in a Carnatic flute by more than 1/4 tone. For example, as you know, it is common practice to attain the sudha ma from the antara ga by tilting the flute. This becomes more difficult on the longer bansuris. I am going off the topic so I will stop here.
Since you mention Carnatic flute, I want to ask if anyone knows the situation with respect to Hindustani flutes. Do they have the same problems? Are the construction of Hindustani flutes or the blowing technique different enough that these problems of unison are eliminated or reduced? Are Hindustani flutes generally manufactured to better quality or do they also vary like Carnatic flutes? I have seen many a Hindustani flautist come to a concert with a bagful of flutes whereas the few Carnatic flautists I have seen on stage seem to bring only a couple -- I don't know if that is significant.

Reverting back to the original topic, Hindustani music seems to have fared no better than us with regards to absolute pitch. They too use the equivalent of "kattai" but they call them "safed" (white) or "kaali" (black) referring to the keys on the harmonium. You may recall that the famous singer Saigal referred to his favorite drink as "kaali paanch" (black 5 aka A#) -- perhaps it was also his preferred pitch to sing at. One could could ask the same question of our Hindustani cousins -- when did these pitches get standardized for them?

-T
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shankarank
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#18 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by shankarank » 19 Aug 2018, 02:09

uday_shankar wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 21:39
Due to the variability of the seevali, getting a certain pitch on the nagasvaram is much more a matter of breath than the flute. Therefore, "tuning" two nagasvarams to be identical is an oxymoron. If they are both the same length (i.e., bari or timiri lengths) then the players' lips can tune them to unison.

....
There were no recordings, everything was fresh and live and the shruti drifted slowly all over the place during the night of the procession but nobody noticed. TNR did a great disservice to nagasvaram by starting to use the shruti box. Thereafter players have always struggled with the natural drift problem.
https://youtu.be/DRHURzt0rqQ?t=3489 She does some phrases from that drift 58:30 for a brief 10s of seconds. Drift became music!!

Concert reviewed here : viewtopic.php?f=13&t=27993
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Vayoo Flute
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#19 Re: Pitch Standards

Post by Vayoo Flute » 19 Aug 2018, 02:12

thenpaanan wrote:
19 Aug 2018, 00:31
Vayoo Flute wrote:
18 Aug 2018, 22:31

Interesting. We should discuss, perhaps privately, the inflexibility wrt pitch with Ramani's school. In practice, if you are willing to sacrifice on some other aspects (such as lower volume, or hiss), it is possible to vary the shruthi in a Carnatic flute by more than 1/4 tone. For example, as you know, it is common practice to attain the sudha ma from the antara ga by tilting the flute. This becomes more difficult on the longer bansuris. I am going off the topic so I will stop here.
Since you mention Carnatic flute, I want to ask if anyone knows the situation with respect to Hindustani flutes. Do they have the same problems? Are the construction of Hindustani flutes or the blowing technique different enough that these problems of unison are eliminated or reduced? Are Hindustani flutes generally manufactured to better quality or do they also vary like Carnatic flutes? I have seen many a Hindustani flautist come to a concert with a bagful of flutes whereas the few Carnatic flautists I have seen on stage seem to bring only a couple -- I don't know if that is significant.

Reverting back to the original topic, Hindustani music seems to have fared no better than us with regards to absolute pitch. They too use the equivalent of "kattai" but they call them "safed" (white) or "kaali" (black) referring to the keys on the harmonium. You may recall that the famous singer Saigal referred to his favorite drink as "kaali paanch" (black 5 aka A#) -- perhaps it was also his preferred pitch to sing at. One could could ask the same question of our Hindustani cousins -- when did these pitches get standardized for them?

-T
Hindustani flutes have the same issues. To get a well-tuned flute, you really need to go to one of the professional flute makers. Buying from the shelves of some shop does not usually work. There also, flute makers tune their flutes to the A-440hz standard currently but this might not have been that consistent in the past. Some 20 years ago, I got a E bansuri (according to Hindustani fingering method, which is different from Carnatic) from one of the top makers. However, it is clearly higher than E at A=440, which will not be the case today.

Blowing techniques, including the embouchure, vary among all flutists, depending of mouth formation, lip muscle, etc... I tend to vary the embouchure and blowing depending on flute length and wall thickness - it is a question of finding a position that is comfortable and develops a tone that is pleasing and with sufficient volume. Given this, there is really no fundamental difference in blowing techniques between the Hindustani and Carnatic flutes. With shorter Carnatic flutes, there is more scope for accommodating to slightly out-of-pitch situations. As mentioned previously, it is possible to vary the pitch by + or - half note by controlling the tilt, lip coverage of the blowhole, and blow force and direction. This will not be possible with longer bansuris, where the possible variation is more limited.

Todays Carnatic flutists such as Shashank and Jayanth do use different length flutes in their concerts. I think these flutists use more flutes in a concert than their Hindustani counterparts. One point to note. Somebody like Jayanth has been using the same main flute for the last 5 years or more. Pandit Chaurasia, on the other hand, is supposed to use a new flute every 4-6 weeks. I don't know the reason. Perhaps the Hindustani flutist brings several E tuned bansuris (the usual standard) and chooses one for a particular concert for whatever reason. Flutists who play for orchestra and film music need flutes that cover all the range, so their case is different.

KL Saigal's pitch seem to vary somewhat, which is probably common in the film industry because these singers will have to coordinate with others and the orchestra. In his evergreen Babul Mora, his pitch is around 142hz, making it somewhere between C# and D. In his Jub Dil HI Toot Gaya, his pitch is lower, close to A#. Note that Saigal hardly ever descended below the SA.
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