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Sunday, 26 October 2014


With modern tuning aids so readily available, the names of the old pitches used by tuners up to the 1970s are now rarely mentioned and are almost forgotten. There is no theoretical limit to the number of possible pitches. Wind instruments particularly demand some widely accepted standard so that instruments can be played together.

In 1920, in the UK, 4 pitches were used: The French Normal pitch; The New Philharmonic Society Pitch; The Medium Pitch; The Old Philharmonic Pitch.

For C (note 52 on the piano keyboard) the respective frequencies are: 517; 522; 530; 540. (Through the years these pitches themselves changed to accommodate the thinking of the time.)

Since the 1640s, fixing a standard pitch has been a story of constant change. It seems that organ builders particularly decided for themselves. 

For Piano Makers, an increase of pitch instantly requires a stronger construction to deal with the increase in tension across the strings. 

In 1800, Broadwood used a pitch of C 505.7 but by 1849 they were using A 445.9 - which is a higher pitch than 'concert pitch'!

Cramer of London, was using A 448.4 for his pianos in 1860. 

In 1877, Collard was using A 449.9; Chappell A 455.9; Broadwood A 448.8.

1879, Erard A 455.3; Steinway A 454.

1880, Brinsmead, and Broadwood A 455.3.

What is known as Concert Pitch which is defined from the A (note 49 on the piano keyboard) which has the frequency of 440. This pitch was accepted as standard in 1939 and is almost universally used. Occasionally a higher pitch is asked for: A 442 or even A 444. 
© Steve Burden 

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