Standard Pitch or Concert Pitch for Pianos

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Standard Pitch or Concert Pitch

What is Standard Pitch or Concert Pitch and why do we need it?Standard Pitch is a universal frequency or note that allinstruments are set to. Today’s standard pitch is A440 orC523.3 and this concert pitch enables musicians to play instrumentstogether in harmony. A form of standard pitch has been around ever since two individuals wished to play two instruments together or sing to an instrument. A tuning fork is normally used to set the pitch. However, in the past, pitch pipes have been used, and today electronic tuning forks are also used, but the most common is the tuning fork. The tuning fork was invented by John Shore in 1711 and it had a pitch of A423.5. He was the sergeant trumpeter to the Court and also lutenist in the Chapel Royal.

In May 1938 an international conference was set up to look at a universal pitch. The conference studded the matter at great length, quite a few where in favour of a pitch of A439 tep: 68 F. The mathematician Sir James Swinburne put the case for A440 on the grounds it rounded numbers up and made calculation in the scale simple. The conference finished with no full agreement on pitch only that each country should set up subcommittee to look at the problem. The UK and US agreed on A440 tep: 20 C The UK, ISP committee was held at the BBC and not all were in favour of A440 In 1939 some wanted the Philharmonic pitch of 1890. The BSI committee passed a resolution for a pitch of A440 at 68F. In December 1939 the BSI published a book called "British Standard Concert Pitch"

Of course, once you have your "A" or "C" set to a pitch, the rest of the instrument will have to be tuned. A scale is set in the middle and this scale also determines the pitch of all the twelve notes in the octave. The most common system used to day is known as equal temperament. This sets the pitches of the twelve notes so that the player can play the instrument in all keys by dividing the roughness equally among the twelve notes. The roughness is called the "wolf." This term may have come about because if the "wolf" is not set right the instrument will be howling out of tune.

Like standard pitch A440, equal temperament is not the onlytuning scale that has been used. Ptolemy started using justintonation in 136 AD. Meantone tuning was perfected by Salinas in 1577 AD. Equal temperament was proposed by Aristoxenus, a pupil ofAristotle, and had been in use in China for some centuries before.It would seem that equal temperament was used in North Germany asearly as 1690. In 1842 the organ of St. Nicholas, inNewcastle-upon-Tyne, was tuned to equal temperament, and this isbelieved to be the first organ to be tuned in this way in Englandfor a concert. Willis the organ builder did not use equaltemperament until 1854. However, in 1846 Walter Broadwood directed Mr. Hipkins the head piano tuner at the company to instruct theirtuners in the use of equal temperament. Mr. Hipkins used two tuningforks, one for meantone at A433.5 and one for equal temperament atA436. Meantone was the most common scale used at that time. See Ed Foote for more information on the use of meantone on today's pianos.

Musicians are not the only people to work with pitch. In 583 BC, a Greek philosopher called Pythagorus was making use of themonochord. This device is simply a soundbox with a single stringstretched over a movable bridge, the position of which can bedetermined by a scale marked on the soundbox. This was more of a scientific instrument than a musical one. Before this time, the Egyptians and Greeks made use of the monochord. For 5000 years, it was used to make intricate mathematical calculations. The ratio of intervals and many other facts that make up the fundamentals of acoustic science were discovered using the monochord. Pythagorusused a pitch of 256Hz on his monochord. The study of mathematics was known as philosophy in the time of Plato.

Modern science began to measure pitch accuracy in cps or cyclesper second around 1834 when a group of distinguished German physicists using a mechanical stroboscopic device found that the pitch of the tuning fork that they were testing was at A440 cps. It was only later that the frequency was expressed in Hz.

In the fifteenth century Arnold Schlick of Heidelberg, gave us the pitch of the time as being A.502. An Organ in Hepusdat dated 1351 with a pitch of A505 Scholars who have studied historical instruments claim that thepitch of the note "A" in the seventeenth century may have variedfrom 373.7 Hz to 402.9 Hz. The following is an incomplete list of pitch standards from various sources.

1640 Vienna Franciscan Organ A457.6
1663 Bernards Schmidt's Orgain in Duham, England A474
1699 Paris Opera A404
1711 John Shore's tuning fork, a pitch of A423.5 He invented the tuning fork, one of which still exists today.
1780 Stines, for Mozart, A421
1780 Organ builder Schulz A421.3
1714 Strasbourg Cathedral organ A391
1722 Dresden's chief Roman Catholic church organ A415
1759 Trinity College Cambridge organ A309
1762 Stringed instruments at Hamburg A405
1772 Gottfried Silbermann built the organ in the main Roman Catholic church in Dresden, and it had a pitch of A 415 at the time.
1780 Organ builder Schulz A421.3
1780 Stein's tuning fork A422.6
1751 Handel's own fork A422.5
1800 Broadwood's C fork, 505.7, which is about half a semitone lower than that of today
1811 Paris Grand Opera A 427
1812 Paris Conservatoire A440, as modern pitch
1813 George Smart adopted for the Philharmonic Society the pitch of A423.3.
1820 Westminster Abbey organ and possibly Paris Comic Opera used a pitch of A422.5.
1823 In Veienna pitch was A437 and it 1834 A 440
1828 Philharmonic Society A 440
1834 Vienna Opera A 436.5
1835 Wolfels piano maker A443
1836 Pleyel's Pianos A446
1846 Philharmonic pitch was A452.5 (very high) which lasted till 1854
1846 Mr Hipkins piano tuner (Meantone) A433.5 (Equal) A436.0
1849 Broadwood's medium pitch was A445.9 which lasted till 1854
1858 New Philharmonic pitch C522
1859 The French government set up a commission for a standard pitch. which was A435 the fork temperature was15 degrees centigrade.
1860 Cramer's piano makers of London A448.4
1862 Dresden Opera A 440
1871 Covent Garden Opera House A 440
1877 Collard's piano maker standard pitch was A 449.9
1877 St. Paul Cathedral organ A446.6
1877 Chappell Pianos A455.9
1877 Mr Hipkins piano tuner A448.8
1878 Her Majesty's Organ A436.1
1878 Vienna Opera A447
1879 Covent Garden Opera A450
1879 Erard's factory fork 455.3
1879 Steinway of England A 454.
1879 British Army regulation pitch for woodwinds A451.9
1880 Brinsmead, Broadwood, and Erard apparently used a pitch of A455.3
1880 Steinway may have been using a pitch of A436. According to Steinway of New York, 1880 is right around the time they switched from three piece rims to the continuous rim that is used today. So it is unlikely the pitch was any higher before 1880, yet Steinway of London had a fork A454.7.
1885 In Vienna a pitch of A435.4 was adopted at a temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit for A.
1885 At an international exhibition of inventions and music in London a pitch of A452 was adopted.
1896 Philharmonic pitch A439, giving C522
1925 On the 11th of June the American music industry adopted A440.
1936 American Standards Association adopted A440. yet; New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, use 442 Hz
1939 At an international conference A440 was adopted.

The pitch of A440 has remained the standard since 1939. Pitches have risen a little, particularly in Eastern European countries, which often wish pianos to be tuned to A 444 or even a bit above. Some concert halls in the UK and European countries have two pianos on site, one tuned to A440 and one tuned to A 444. This is to keep the pianos stable, as constantly raising and lowering the pitch is not good for the piano; it makes it hard for the piano tuner to make the tuning stable.

Here is a full list of the theoretical frequencies for all the notes on a piano tuned to A440: theoretical frequencies.

If you would like to hear a tuning fork visit

Barrie Heaton Dip. AWVH, MABPT, FIMT, CGLI
© copyright 1998-2002

Visit my website Piano Tuning in Lancashire.

Acknowledgements and Selective Bibliography

 Note  Frequency (Hz)
A 27.50
A# 29.14
B 30.87
C1 32.70
C# 34.65
D 36.71
D# 38.89
E 41.20
F 43.65
F# 46.25
G 49.00
G# 51.91
A 55.00
A# 58.27
B 61.74
C 65.41
C# 69.30
D 73.42
D# 77.78
E 82.41
F 87.31
F# 92.50
G 98.00
G# 103.83
A 110.00
A# 116.54
B 123.47
C 130.81
C# 138.59
D 146.83
D# 155.56
E 164.81
F 174.61
F# 185.00
G 196.00
G# 207.65
A 220.00
A# 233.08
B 246.94
Middle  C   261.63
C# 277.18
D 293.66
D# 311.13
E 329.63
F 349.23
F# 369.99
G 392.00
G# 415.30
A 440.00
A# 466.16
B 493.88
C 523.25
C# 554.37
D 587.33
D# 622.25
E 659.26
F 698.46
F# 739.99
G 783.99
G# 830.61
A 880.00
A# 932.33
B 987.77
C 1046.50
C# 1108.73
D 1174.66
D# 1244.51
E 1318.51
F 1396.91
F# 1479.98
G 1567.98
G# 1661.22
A 1760.00
A# 1864.66
B 1975.53
C 2093.00
C# 2217.46
D 2349.32
D# 2489.02
E 2637.02
F 2793.83
F# 2959.96
G 3135.96
G# 3322.44
A 3520.00
A# 3729.31
B 3951.07
C 4186.01