Monday, December 14, 2009

Altering the Pitch to Play Along with a CD

Hi flutists,
This week someone was asking about the difficulties in playing along with recordings that are not at A-440.

I answered:
You can change the pitch of a CD recording so that you can play along with it. You simply create an mp3 or wav file, and open the music tracks in Audacity, or other freeware that can change the pitch; then click on Edit, then, "Select-all" and then Effects to change the pitch in the effects menu to A-440.

Doing this darkens the recording, of course, and can sound oddly electronic on playback, but then you can use the new flatter version as a playalong recording. I've done this with a few pieces, and burned my own playalong CDs from them, especially when rehearsing remotely from other chamber musicians, and wanting to hear the chords and other features of harmony for practise.

If you simply want to know what pitch centre a given recording is being performed at, use an electronic tuner that has a pitch change mode button, and, in that way, you can find out what pitch center your recording is in.

I have an inexpensive palm-sized electronic tuner has a button that moves the main pitch center from A435 step by step up to A445 and then one can switch function to indicate the pitch of every semitone at the new pitch centre.

By singing or playing an A-natural from the original CD that perfectly matches, pressing pause (so you can re-check) and then simply singing or playing it INTO the handheld electronic tuner,you can discover what pitch the whole track has been recorded at.

I used my handheld tuner to determine that the "A" in the Beethoven Serenade opus 25 Galway recording is at A-446 in the Adagio movement.
(Note: I can see that the original questioner must have had a very difficult time trying to play along without an A-444 flute. This confounded me years ago, when I first started playing along with recordings too!)

Many European recordings are pitched at A-442 or even as high as A-444. Older reel-to-reel tape recordings made into LPs can even have pitch changes between movements! (Rampal's Bolling Suite for example; very useless for students using it as a Music-Minus-One! Doh!)

( Listening sample 2.2 MB mp3 no longer available.)

I'd love to hear more about reel-to-reel speeding up for "brightness" and other facts from the past recording industry from those who might know more. I'd also like to know what pitches the piano tuners use in recording studios in various geographic regions; as far as I've heard, Germany has the highest pitch, whereas most other countries try to stick to A-440 or A442, both of which are easier for A-442 flutes being made today.
Best, and I welcome input.