Why are some songs recorded out of tune?

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DiscoStuDiscoStu Frets: 2402
edited November 9 in Music
Not alternate tunings, not one instrument out of tune, but the whole song recorded slightly off standard tuning? I was listening to Metallica's Ride The Lightning album in the car today and remembered when I used to play along to the whole album on guitar and when 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' came on it would always sound wrong cos the original is slightly off tune. Same goes for Radiohead's 'No Surprises', it's not quite in tune with the rest of the album.

Why?? Conscious decision or a mistake made in mixing with the tape speed? 
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  • BridgehouseBridgehouse Frets: 8732
    Might be they are using an instrument with a fixed (not tuneable) pitch...
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  • Danny1969Danny1969 Frets: 2955
    In the days before Protools etc everything was recorded to tape. If the tape machine used to master the track was running at a different rpm to the mastertrack then the pitch of the song would be changed

    Some producers also deliberately used the varispeed to change the pitch of the song as well

    In the very old days people often tuned to the studio piano which could be wildly out of tune


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  • DiscoStuDiscoStu Frets: 2402
    Might be they are using an instrument with a fixed (not tuneable) pitch...
    I did wonder that for No Surprises because of the glockenspiel but I'd have thought that an instrument like that would be made to concert pitch.

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  • BridgehouseBridgehouse Frets: 8732
    DiscoStu said:
    Might be they are using an instrument with a fixed (not tuneable) pitch...
    I did wonder that for No Surprises because of the glockenspiel but I'd have thought that an instrument like that would be made to concert pitch.

    It can depend on temperature and all sorts of factors - specially if an instrument is in the main part made of metal!
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  • I wonder whether it was sometimes used to adjust the tempo slightly in the old days before digital processing allowed the tempo to be varied whilst maintaining pitch.
    It's not a competition
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  • GavRichListGavRichList Frets: 4003
    Street Spirit is also significantly off standard tuning. Try playing along - sounds hideous. 
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  • A song is recorded. Then it’ll be slowed downed slightly. 
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  • mudslide73mudslide73 Frets: 1441
    The original version of Kind of Blue is slightly flat iirc. Zep's No Quarter is much slower than it was recorded but I think it's still in pitch. 
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  • Danny1969Danny1969 Frets: 2955
    Or sped up, basically if it's not digital then the pitch of a song could only be maintained if all the tape machines along the process ran at exactly the same speed. Now tape machines in the same studio could be synced by using one track of the multi to carry the time code which was just a reference pitch rather than modern time code but once a multitrack was moved to somewhere  else anything could happen. 

    Everything my originals bands recorded in the eighties was to tape, in the early nineties we started to have to use 8 track ADATS's synced to the 16 track which could often go badly wrong ..... nothing was concrete pitch wise until the advent of digital with the Mitsubishi and Sony digital  machines which were still tape but fully digital ... then came Protools 24 etc and from then on loads of digital harddrive formats. 

    I have quite a few songs recorded in studios in the eighties and early nineties and the pitch is off concert on all of them 
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  • EricTheWearyEricTheWeary Frets: 5964
    Danny1969 said:
    In the days before Protools etc everything was recorded to tape. If the tape machine used to master the track was running at a different rpm to the mastertrack then the pitch of the song would be changed

    Some producers also deliberately used the varispeed to change the pitch of the song as well

    In the very old days people often tuned to the studio piano which could be wildly out of tune


    I seem to remember that My Best Friend’s Girl was recorded in E but sped up to F leaving generations of guitarists trying to find a way to play it. Certainly if you go back to things like pre war blues tracks they’re often quite indistinct in terms of keys and turntables weren’t always that exact either so there could be multiple interpretations of what key something was  in. Apparently A as 440 hz only came into general acceptance in the 1950s. 

    Just reading about No Suprises it seems they had a lot of problems recording it and the final version was actually the first take but then with the tempo changed which also affects the pitch ( I’m assuming recorded to tape) and part of a different session ( at a different studio) than most of the rest of the album. 
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  • sweepysweepy Frets: 1191
    It wasn’t uncommon for tracks to be sped up or slowed down to the Producers whim to change the “feel”
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  • not_the_djnot_the_dj Frets: 5069
    Bruce Springsteen's Hungry Heart is speed up, makes his vocal sound like a totally different singer to the rest of the River album. 
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  • ToneControlToneControl Frets: 3586
    weren't a lot of 80s US metal bands using varispeed to create very fast solos that sounded strangely high pitched and shrill?
    I can remember using a 4 track to do the same trick, and getting exactly the same voicing 
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  • ToneControlToneControl Frets: 3586
    I think "Still loving you" by the Scorpions is half a semitone out
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  • DiscoStu said:
    Might be they are using an instrument with a fixed (not tuneable) pitch...
    I did wonder that for No Surprises because of the glockenspiel but I'd have thought that an instrument like that would be made to concert pitch.

    I think some early Coldplay stuff was tuned to the piano they were using, which wasn’t in 440
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  • guitarfishbayguitarfishbay Frets: 6049
    edited November 10
    Also ‘concert pitch’ for a glockenspiel isn’t necessarily 440, lot of them are made to 442

    Eg

    https://m.thomann.de/gb/thomann_glockenspiel_thtg25.htm?o=1&search=1510299768
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  • In fact entire orchestras in Europe tune to 442 or in Germany sometimes also 443 

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concert_pitch

    “Despite such confusion, A = 440 Hz is the only official standard and is widely used around the world. Many orchestras in the United Kingdomadhere to this standard as concert pitch.[15] In the United States some orchestras use A = 440 Hz, while others, such as the New York Philharmonic, use A = 442 Hz.[16] The latter is also often used as a tuning frequency in Europe,[3] especially in DenmarkFranceHungaryItalyNorway and Switzerland.[17]Nearly all modern symphony orchestras in Germany and Austria and many in other countries in continental Europe (such as RussiaSweden and Spain) tune to A = 443 Hz.[15][17]The Boston Symphony Orchestra tunes to A = 441 Hz.

    In practice most orchestras tune to a note given out by the oboe, and most oboists use an electronic tuning device when playing the tuning note. Some orchestras tune using an electronic tone generator.[18] When playing with fixed-pitch instruments such as the piano, the orchestra will generally tune to them—a piano will normally have been tuned to the orchestra's normal pitch. Overall, it is thought that the general trend since the middle of the 20th century has been for standard pitch to rise, though it has been rising far more slowly than it has in the past. Some orchestras like the Berlin Philharmonic now use a slightly lower pitch (443 Hz) than their highest previous standard (445 Hz).[3][19]

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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 26303
    Street Spirit is also significantly off standard tuning. Try playing along - sounds hideous. 
    All Radiohead is like that, it's Thom Yorke's voice.



















    ;)

    Actually Street Spirit is one of two Radiohead songs I more or less like. (The other is Fake Plastic Trees.)
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  • CirrusCirrus Frets: 3285
    @ICBM you're usually so right. Does it hurt to be this wrong?
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 26303
    Cirrus said:
    @ICBM you're usually so right. Does it hurt to be this wrong?
    Sorry, I have to admit that I do actually like those songs.

    :)

    He doesn't actually whine quite as gratingly on them as most of their other stuff.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • Elected by Alice Cooper is another. Everything is detuned slightly for some reason.

    @ICBM "I've always said that boy would make a cracking country and western singer." John Peel, immediately after the 1997 Glastonbury set by Radiohead.
    If you must have sex with a frog, wear a condom. If you want the frog to have fun, rib it.
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  • BigLicks67BigLicks67 Frets: 281
    Because it's close enough for Rock N Roll, as one of my old band mates used to say.
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  • rlwrlw Frets: 1263
    I have an entire B.B. King album somewhere that is impossible to play along to as every song is between definite keys.   Probably recorded from wobbly 78s.....
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  • notanonnotanon Frets: 151
    I tried playing along to the wall movie and they definitely slowed that down. I play along to Gilmour live and no problem matches perfectly.
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  • ReverendReverend Frets: 1430
    The first Sepultura album drifts as it progresses. Theybcouldnt afford tubers and so just times up themselves.
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  • scrumhalfscrumhalf Frets: 3860
    A lot of Chuck Berry's early stuff was speeded up to make him sound younger.

    Apparently Barry White's natural voice is almost identical to Joe Pasquale's. Maybe.
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  • bingefellerbingefeller Frets: 5050

    I've found a lot of stuff is out of tune when I play along with it.

    Of course, you have Pantera's funky tunings.  I can't remember the exact tuning right now but when Dime tuned down to what we'd call flat, he called that E standard.  When some of their songs sound as though they are down a whole step, Dime called this E flat IIRC.  The actual cents of the tunings were quite strange.  I wonder how he came up with this?

    The guitars on the Racer X album Second Heat aren't exactly flat.  From memory, I have to adjust the cents on Transcribe to something like +75 to get my guitar in tune with the album. 

    Suede also have some out of tune sounding guitars, not quite flat and not quite in standard.  I'm not sure if this was done to suit Brett Anderson's voice or to just add to their trashy type sound. 

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  • Tuning is relative.

    If everything is tuned to A=442 then it’s not out of tune.

    Out of tune is when the notes are out of tune relative to each other.

    I know I’m being a bit pedantic but there’s a difference. I think guitarists tend to think A=440 is the only valid tuning when that’s not the case, as I posted earlier many orchestras tune to different references, this doesn’t make them out of tune, it’s just a different tuning standard
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  • guitarfishbayguitarfishbay Frets: 6049
    edited November 15
    The other thing is how the guitar is tuned.

    The way this can happen is if you tune only to the decay of a note, but then play with a heavy pick and heavy attack style on songs that are fast enough/have enough notes that the note never has time to settle back down to the decay pitch.  This is how some recordings end up a bit sharp of the intended reference pitch, usually in heavier styles.

    Guitar is actually a poor instrument for keeping to a reference pitch as the pitch of the notes is so tied to the dynamics, but some styles demand dynamics that will put the guitar out of tune (most specifically metal).  While the sound of the guitar being picked hard can be very pleasing for heavy rock playing the tuning will often be sharp way before the guitar is being hit too hard to ruin the tone, if that makes any sense.  If you listen to some dual guitar band live recordings with a keen ear you can sometimes pick out that one player hits a lot harder than the other and they'll end up slightly out with each other.  Most of the time it isn't a problem and sounds fine, but it happens.

    These days for recordings people either keep retuning and punching in on out of tune parts, or use an Evertune bridge (several rock/punk/heavy music albums have been recorded with these now, including the latest Blink 182).  But historically there are loads of heavy guitar albums that are just a bit out either consistently or on certain notes (usually the low string which typically has the lowest tension and is hit the hardest) and sometimes that can be the player and not down to speeding up/slowing down of recordings.  This is a reason many producers will track guitar first - then if when the bass goes down the guitar has ended up slightly sharp on some notes it's easy to retune a single note to where it sounds in with the guitars than it is to go re-do a load of guitars. 

    If a recording is in tune with itself the majority of people are happy.  People who have perfect pitch maybe have a different experience but I'm not one of those people and I don't understand how that works with different tuning standards.

    It is annoying if you just want to play along with another guitar track but I think there are apps to slightly re-pitch songs as necessary.

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  • scrumhalfscrumhalf Frets: 3860
    Back in the old days guitarists would tune to the most stable instrument. This was often a piano, and if the piano itself was off-key then everything else would be as well.
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