Keynotes for peals of bells

oakcroft13 bill at h...
Mon Sep 9 19:03:31 BST 2002

So many messages on this subject, I hardly dare enter the debate!

I suggested to DJB that he pick a convention for Db / C# bells for 
his list. This, as it happens, is the only note for which the 
published list has two alternative names. The reason (which I think 
is quite valid) is that when scanning the list, it helps to quickly 
see what order the pitches come in (B, C, C#/Db, D, Eb, E etc.), 
especially when comparing with the order of the weights. The presence 
of both C# and Db was a slight inconvenience, no more, and I 
personally have no strong views about it.

The various discussions about pianos, string instruments etc. are 
valid but I think are missing one key (pun intended!) point. The 
various musical temperaments etc. were developed primarily to solve 
one unique problem, that of key changes on a keyboard instrument or 
one with frets. Players of other instruments and singers make the 
adjustments automatically as they perform, but keyboard players are 
stuck with the choices of the tuner.

What makes change-ringing bells so different is two things:
* the physics of their vibration is quite different from strings, 
pipes and voices (they have inharmonic higher partials)
* bell-ringers never change key (apart from e.g. the front six of a 
ten, which in any case sound OK in almost every tuning).

Therefore, the distinction between Db and C# which matters so much 
for piano and organ tuners (and also I guess the players of 
carillons) is meaningless for pitching the tenor of a ringing peal.

When pitching a tenor, we are trying to specify a frequency, not a 
key (after all, just because we know the tenor is C# does not tell us 
if the rest of the peal is tuned in equal, just, meantone or anything 
else). I'm happy with frequencies in Hz, but am very sympathetic with 
people who don't think that way and would prefer to see a note name.

Jim Phillips actually makes a very important point. The various 
founders make changes from time to time in their profiles which makes 
quite a difference in the sound even between bells which are tuned 
identically. They also change from time to time the way they tune the 
nominals (e.g. from just to equal).

Some of the recent changes (i.e. last two or three decades) have not 
met with universal approval. It is beginning to be possible to 
measure the differences, placing people's reactions at last on a 
scientific basis. The fact that these changes co-incide with changes 
in nomenclature (e.g. from Db to C#) is I think co-incidence rather 
than some fundamental issue with the tuning.

Bill H

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