One of the fundamental problems – I see it as a fatal flaw – with electronic tuners is that they help users to set single pitches (=tuning), whereas what would really be helpful is an app that enables tuners to check intervals (=temperament). This would presumably need to mean, in practice, setting pitches first and then checking resultant intervals.
Many times I’ve seen instruments supposedly tuned in 1/4 comma meantone that had been conscientiously set from a machine (and even from a good app), but because the process did not ever encourage the tuner to check those eight major thirds that must be precisely without a beat, the result was faulty. The tuners thought they had done it correctly, but had omitted the crucial step of checking whether the intervals that are supposed to be pure were indeed pure. Anyone who can tune well without an electronic tuner knows that the business of checking intervals is a permanent process, built into every step of the tuning process.
I’ve noticed the same problem with organs supposedly tuned in Vallotti – or, in another case, in Sorge’s excellent 1744 temperament, with four pure fifths. The fifths that are supposed to be pure were not in fact quite pure. Single pitches had been set, apparently very precisely to the machine, but no one had checked whether the fifths that were supposed to be pure were in fact pure. And they were not! This was true even when I checked at the start of the tuning process – when the temperament had been set only on the 4’ principal. And these slight imperfections at the very start were then amplified and multiplied when the rest of the instrument was tuned. So, in practice, simply sticking very closely to the machine/app for single pitches is absolutely not good enough. Checking intervals is the very easy (and quick) way to verify (and correct) the accuracy of the tuning of individual pitches. Eliminating that aspect of the tuning process opens the door to a lot of errors.
What would be really helpful is an app that enables tuners to check the correct quality of intervals, not just individual pitches. In an ideal world those two things would be the same, but in practice, in this imperfect world, they often are not. Good temperament is always about the quality of intervals. Could there be a way of building in a process that enables the users to check intervals? At the very least, when each temperament comes up on the screen, could there be a little checklist of which intervals are supposed to be pure, serving as a nudge to the tuner to check them? Could there perhaps be some sort of split screen, where each note could be played and then the app could confirm whether the interval is pure? Or even better (in the best of all worlds), whether the interval is tempered to exactly the extent needed for that particular temperament on those pitches?
As a trial, it would be interesting to see whether this could be done just for 1/4 comma meantone, for example. I know all this is much harder to do, but I feel it’s worth asking this question. In fact, it seems to me prodigiously complicated – and so much more complicated than mastering the basic parameters of checking intervals and learning to tune correctly by ear! It’s not rocket science! (For me, creating such an app does seem like rocket science. I am full of admiration for anyone with the skills to do it…)
I have another idea – and it’s more revolutionary – for what a good tuning app could provide. But that must wait for another message, and perhaps a different thread…