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Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

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Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

Postby Elephone » Thu May 23, 2019 6:44 pm

Has anyone else noticed that someone playing or singing consistently slightly sharp can be quite pleasing, but flat not so much? What's that about?

Miles Davis usually played slightly sharp of the intended notes as do many trumpeters, even in classical music (Bach trumpet). A lot of blues singers also did it for effect and although I'm not a fan of his, Mark Almond made it his signature (perhaps after Gene Pitney).

I wonder if there's some acoustic reason why, perhaps the harmonic series.
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Re: Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

Postby BJG145 » Thu May 23, 2019 7:23 pm

It's an interesting theory...I've always had the idea that I found singing sharp more grating than singing flat, though thinking about it calmly, I just hate both.

I could imagine that some jazzy instrumental soloing that was a tad sharp might be less annoying than playing flat...I dunno though, I heard some flute playing slightly sharp the other day and it sounded awful. Maybe Miles got away with it because he was a genius musician allegedly. (I didn't get into him yet, but I'll keep trying.)
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Re: Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

Postby Elephone » Thu May 23, 2019 7:25 pm

Yes, I mean there's a limit. I suppose less than a quarter tone, unless it's Arabian or Turkish music, then they're like 'blue' notes I suppose.
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Re: Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

Postby Exalted Wombat » Thu May 23, 2019 11:27 pm

It's not unusual for operatic sopranos in search of a bright sound that cuts through the orchestra to sing sharp. Or for baritones and basses, looking for a 'big' sound to actually sing flat.
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Re: Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

Postby resistorman » Fri May 24, 2019 4:21 am

I don’t know why sharp doesn’t bother me as much as flat. Maybe it’s because most amateur musicians seem to go flat.
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Re: Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

Postby The Bunk » Fri May 24, 2019 5:47 pm

Just a thought: is it maybe something to do with: Sharp - "at least the singer can hit the notes". Flat - "the singer can't even hit the notes"?
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Re: Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

Postby Elephone » Fri May 24, 2019 8:53 pm

Exalted Wombat wrote:It's not unusual for operatic sopranos in search of a bright sound that cuts through the orchestra to sing sharp. Or for baritones and basses, looking for a 'big' sound to actually sing flat.

There might be something in that. Maybe singing/playing flat sounds less undesirable in the lower registers.
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Re: Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

Postby Elephone » Sat May 25, 2019 7:33 pm

That said, didn't Edith Piaf actually sing flat quite a lot? Less so during the 'hopeful bits', otherwise ...maybe to convey a pointless hankering after the unattainable.

And of course, we all tolerate out-of-tuneness of modern instruments I suppose. Maybe it's about how consistent the out-of-tuneness is that matters.

Since all our 3rds are out of tune compared to a 5:4 ratio (not just a little but actually by 0.15 semitones, only 0.10 semitones off from a quartertone) maybe it's also why we tolerate them... although in the C18 they made in-tune 3rds a priority because they're closer together than 5ths and are more jarring, which makes sense, but I suppose the convenience of equal temperament is too valuable, especially when tuning cast-iron strung pianos.
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Re: Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

Postby dedindi » Sat Jun 01, 2019 3:54 pm

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov mentioned in his harmony book that the folk singers with whom he worked preferred the flat keys to the sharp ones
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Re: Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

Postby Elephone » Thu Jun 06, 2019 9:58 pm

dedindi wrote:Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov mentioned in his harmony book that the folk singers with whom he worked preferred the flat keys to the sharp ones

By 'flat keys' he must mean F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb key signatures although it doesn't really make a lot of sense even then.

This might refer to 'key colours'. Keyboard instruments were often tuned to various 'temperaments' that gave all keys a slightly different flavour. Church organs often still are.

This is like a less extreme (nuanced) equivalent of associating major & minor scales with different moods, although the simple 'bright & melancholy' association is a little over-simplified. (For instance, I find the new South African national anthem as melancholic, yet it's in a major key.)

So composers often preferred certain key signatures for certain tonalities, although it's difficult to separate this from the likelihood that they simply were more familiar with certain keys for playing/improvising certain things that then inspired their compositions.

Then there's associating certain keys with certain moods due to 'perfect pitch'. This is a different thing. I remember a teacher telling me he felt the 'darkness' of Bb minor (as opposed to say Db minor) because of his perfect pitch, but actually, instruments were tuned over a semitone lower back when this association was taken for granted (during the romantic era), so it must be an arbitrary association in his case (the teacher). Instrument tunings follow the piano, which has been tuned brighter since cast-iron frames were introduced.

Also, in equal temperament, there are supposedly no key colours, because all keys are tuned equally ...although pianos are unlikely to be tuned so accurately as to adhere to equal temperament so much that all keys are absolutely equivalent. But then the key colour would alter for each piano and might alter each time it's tuned, so I don't know.

With human associations, it's difficult to separate what could be arbitrary (association) with what key colours could be inherent in the tuning.
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Re: Playing/Singing a little sharp vs flat...

Postby John Egan » Fri Jun 07, 2019 9:56 am

When playing guitar, using finger vibrato, I obviously sharpen the average pitch of the note, whereas using a tremolo arm I tend to flatten it. I find both of these pleasing, but the finger vibrato sounds to me more "urgent" and the trem arm more "gentle".
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