Hermode Tuning

Hermode Tuning is a program that replaces the poor static tuning models of key instruments and virtual computer instruments by a richer self-adjusting dynamic tuning which is a customary practice for qualified ensembles with string and wind instruments and for singers at well-educated choirs.

Our human ear can differentiate subtle sonic nuances. However, it needs some minutes to work optimally. Therefore, listen a few times to our musical examples and compare the different tuning models. Within short you will notice amazedly the different sound quality of various tuning.

Here you can listen to an ensemble making music with fifths and thirds in just intonation. Pressing the start button below the image starts the video. A diagram will be displayed inside the image, showing the tuning corrections by moving bars. A bar pointing upwards means a pitch correction to a higher position than with equal temperament, pointing downwards means a correction to a deeper one.

The same ensemble, the same musical piece. But now the quartet intones with fixed equal temperament. Therefore, no tuning diagram is shown. The sound is sharp and dull.
Why does music in just intonation sound better than with fixed, almost equal temperament?

As soon as two or more tones sound simultaneously, they produce as a result of their superimpositions so-called differential or combination tones. The frequency of such differential or combination tones can be calculated as “frequency of the higher tone minus frequency of the lower tone”. If the differential tone matches one of the original tones, the sound result will be clear and forceful. Otherwise the sound will be sharp and unsteady. The following diagram shows two differently tuned A major chords and their resulting differential tones. Equal temperament induces two disharmonious notes: A flat and B flat.

Dur Rein

For the just intonation of major triads, the major third should be set to a relatively deep frequency position, while the minor third requires a relatively high frequency position. In both cases the fifth should be tuned a little bit higher. See the diagram below.
Reine Akkorde

More detailed information can be found in Historical.

The previous musical example has been produced with virtual instruments. In the following, we present a recording of a real orchestra, the „Scottish Chamber Orchestra“.
They play the beginning of Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 (with the timpani roll). It starts with the timpani roll, followed by four measures of a bass line. Subsequently follows the first chord of the woodwind section. This is the dominant-seventh chord F_A_C_E-flat, followed by the tonic interval B-flat_ D. Intonating a dominant seventh chord precisely is difficult, and when it appears in the beginning, it is twice as hard. Many orchestras fail, but the “Scottish Chamber Orchestra” masters it impressively.
Haydn 103-1 Clip

The flute in soprano position has the most delicate part. The A, representing the major third, must be set to a deep pitch, although, shortly before, the whole orchestra tuned to an A of 441 Hz. This musical clip is published with the kind permission of DELOS. The complete Symphony is published under DE 3063

The analysis of this musical clip with the specific tones of this chord sequence shows a high level of consistency between the ideal of just intonation and the real pitches. The elements drawn in blue show the ideal values, the black ones show the real performed pitches.
SCO Haydn Stimmung
Notabene: In a common system of just intonation, considering only the thirds and fifths, the diminished seventh (the E-flat in this example) has an indifferent tempered position. Alternately it is possible to tune this seventh to a very deep position as “natural seventh”. In Symphonic Orchestras it is not common to practice this idea, since many instruments cannot tune that low. String ensembles and chamber choirs have less problems with this natural interval.

Here you can find the both chords presented with virtual instruments

First with optimal purity, controlled by Hermode Tuning

And now with equal temperament

You will find the complete movement at Examples

It is frequently asked whether it is possible that in a concert for piano and orchestra the orchestra follows the ideal of just intonation although the piano is tuned to equal temperament. This is no problem, as you can hear for yourself in the following example.

In the following clip, both, piano and orchestra, are controlled to just intonation by Hermode Tuning. This sounds even better. Unfortunately this is only possible with digital and virtual pianos.

Tuning both, piano and orchestra, to equal temperament, creates a dull and rough sound. Compare the wind instruments from time 02.27 on. Sensitive ears my notice this already during the string passages before.

SCO Haydn Stimmung Here you see an amazing technologic and musical development: A pipe organ with Hermode Tuning inside. Each pipe has a tuning device, controlled by a magnetic drive. A CPU controls these magnetic drives in real time, depending on the current harmonic situation. The organ has been developed and constructed by the Mitteldeutscher Orgelbau at Bad Liebenwerda/ Germany.

This organ is currently installed behind the Art-Deco facade of the St Petri-Pauli church in Eisleben, where Luther was baptized on November 11, 1483.
There is no sound example here at the moment, but we will include one at a later stage.
If you want to visit the church, hear the organ, or perhaps want to play the organ for yourself, you are asked to contact the organ builder:

Now it is possible for skilled choirs to perform music with this organ without tuning conflicts.
Compare two versions of the chorale “Jesu meine Freude” of Johann Sebastian Bach. We begin with an equal tempered organ together with a choir in just intonation. The organ overlays the choir with a rough sound.
And now the counterexample: Organ and choir both in just intonation. The parts “organ and choir in common” get a new quality.

Further musical examples will be found in Examples.