Questions about tuning and stability

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    Hi all, first-time poster and long-time lurker on this forum.

    A couple days ago, I finally got up the nerve to try tuning my Yamaha P37D. First, I used TE Tuner (iOS) to record the frequency of every note. All notes were sharp, some as high as +20 cents. Then I took everything apart and started scraping the base of each reed in the 1st octave. After many cycles of scraping and re-testing, I was making progress but all were still sharp, still far above zero. I gave up for the day.

    The next day, I retested all notes in the first octave and got very different results. Some notes were flat, others were still very sharp as if I hadn’t tuned them at all. So I did some more scraping and re-testing. I was getting wildly different results on every test.

    My general questions: is it normal for melodica intonation to shift from moment to moment? Could this be my tuning app’s fault? What’s the best way to ensure an accurate reading before scraping?


    Alan Brinton

    It almost certainly is not the fault of the tuning app. I suggest spending some time working on getting relatively consistent readings (within a few cents), starting with the melodica out of its plastic tray. If you are getting wildly inconsistent readings, it is because you are not blowing consistently into the melodica. You can practice this on single notes, prolonging the stream of air until the reading stabilizes. Try also alternating between the key and adjacent keys (and an octave up or down). Experiment trying to change the reading up or down as you prolong the flow of air. The idea is to “get the feel” of determining the intonation of the key.

    I revisit each key at least three times before finalizing the readings during a round of the entire process that involves opening the reed chamber, scraping, reclosing it and proceeding to the next round. Once I get within 3 cents + or minus on a key, confirmed with a couple of readings, I’m done with that key. On my tuning sheet I mark the ones that are not yet within those parameters.

    You should be able to set your tuner app to read within a tolerance of one cent or 1/10 of a cent. Set it to one cent and it will be easier to get clear readings and not drive yourself crazy.

    Once all keys are at + or – three cents, I call it good and play a few tunes. If I’m happy with the sound, I call it all good. I never recheck the melodica the next day or anytime soon thereafter, not wanting to drive myself crazy. I don’t believe there exists such a thing as a perfectly tuned melodica. But there definitely is such a thing as a melodica that is much better tuned today than it was yesterday.

    Also, make sure you are pinging the reeds after scraping.


    I think its impossible to tune a melodica to perfection. There’s some things you can bear in mind though to help you:

    * Make sure when you tune, its at the same temperature, for accurate comparisons. Some players warm their instruments up first.

    * When you start playing your instrument, its likely to be dry. After a few minutes of playing, it will be wet, and after half an hour, its probably saturated. So the first reading will be accurate …for dry reeds. Take a few full readings, of the whole 3 octaves, and you’ll see that by the 3rd or 4th reading, the notes have dropped a few cents. The reeds are slightly wet – this is a good place to start your tuning. The problem is that the moisture on the reeds, that causes the drop in pitch, is unstable, and can lead to very different readings in succession.

    I get round this by taking lots of readings, so I have a ‘rough idea’ of wha pitch the reed is at under moist conditions. There isn’t much point in aiming for perfection, because, as you’ve discovered, what’s perfect today, is flawed tomorrow!


    Ben, I usually get it close within octaves and call it a day. I have used several apps and they usually work OK. I do have a small chromatic tuner that works better than the apps as far as consistency but like I said most apps work fine. One thing that I have found is that if you just blow into the melodica you will always blow different, What I do is fill my lungs with air and release it as even as possible. Try this and then just blow and see if that makes a difference for you, also don’t forget to ping the reed after scraping. One more thing, make sure that there are no other sounds while you are tuning, a fan, air conditioning sound, background radio/TV noise, kids. even faint sounds can effect the tuner.
    hope this dose not confuse you any more 🙂


    Thanks for the great tips guys! I will review your comments more carefully and try another round of tuning over the holidays. The hardest part is finding quiet moments in my house.


    Hi All and Ben,

    Long time no post!

    Welcome Ben.

    I have been checking in, but have been preoccupied with some non-keyboard-harmonica projects. So lately, I have not been active on Melodica World. I have, however, continued to experiment and I am back to focusing on the keyboard harmonica. The keyboard harmonica is my favorite instrument, enabling me to play more expressively than with my other instruments for some crazy reason.

    Ben, in reference to your tuning question, here is an answer at the opposite end of the scale of where most people are. I offer this just to provide an alternative viewpoint and to add some contrast to the world.

    Because of the music and keyboard harmonicas I play, I decided to give up on tuning.

    First, the keyboard harmonicas I play (inexpensive, out-of-production {but still plentiful} Hohner Piano 26s, 27s, and 32s) are never in tune, even when they arrive in near mint condition. Ninety percent of them as found on the used market sound 5 to 15 cents flat. Relative tuning among keys and octaves can be very good, but often the whole instrument can sound 5 to 10 cents flat. Many of mine come from Europe, so I wonder if they were tuned to a different expectation for that market.

    In any case, as soon as I blow into these Hohners with any sort of pressure, individual notes can drop another 5 to 25 cents or more depending upon how hard I blow. That is a lot of variability and flatness! After I play one for a few weeks, the relative tuning starts to go away, further increasing variability. Admittedly, I blow hard and am tough on the reeds from several perspectives.

    The above variation is further amplified depending upon the keyboard harmonica’s temperature and the dryness or wetness of the reeds (they get soaking wet pretty quickly).

    Given the above, my keyboard harmonicas sound anything but uniform. They sound a bit trashy, with beating, dissonant intervals and octaves. They sound flat. Sometimes they sound downright “way out of tune.”

    But guess what? I like it! The flat, detuned sound fits perfectly with the music I play and my endeavor to create my own recognizable sound. I mostly play blues and some roots rock.

    So why should I spend hours and hours trying to chase tuning?

    I could not find a good answer to that question. LOL




    I may have brought this up before (forgive my aging brain).
    Is anyone familiar with the construction of pitch pipes?
    In this electronic age they are still making and selling these things.
    A quick look on Amazon and most of the models have a majority of positive reviews.
    I read a few reviews of various models and most of the reviews say the tuning is spot on.
    Obviously pitch accuracy is one of the main points of selling a pitch pipe.
    Yet they face many of the same issues we do, moisture, temperature, over-blowing and so on.
    I’m curious what the pitch pipe makers are doing right that the melodica companies aren’t?


    Kevin, pitch pipes are basically harmonicas, they to get out of tune. Since they are not played like an instrument they do not get continuous use so they tend to stay in tune longer. If over blown, they can get out of tune as well. I had one when I was in college and used it for relative pitch during voice training. Great question.

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