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Standard Tuning. Is it the best?


Chordite
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I know, standard tuning is comfortable as your old Levis. And yes we can cover a lot of ground in it. However I wonder if it is technically the most versatile tuning or just the most familiar which is not quite the same thing.

Is there any mileage in the idea of pressing reset and looking for a core tuning that can achieve more range (for those of us with normal hands)? Bearing in mind also that since its original adoption the repertoire of chords used in modern music is quite a departure from the 'classical and folk' origins.

 

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Chordite, I play in a lot of altered tunings - for me "standard" really isn't. However as one wag put it, an altered tuning usually makes it easy to play in one key and impossible to play in others while standard makes it possible to play in every key, however difficult that may be.

 

In the past year or so I have been concentrating on really learning the fretboard and really learning how chords are put together and what sounds good (and not good). A good jazz player can play in any key, can do chord inversions and all the wonderful substitutions. I'm sure you could do that in DADGAD or something else (Michael Hedges played almost exclusively in DADGAD) but frankly why try.

 

So I'll keep guitars in open whatever and dropped something for certain songs and keys and I'll keep my big old jazz box and the Lester and at least one or two acoustics in good old standard for everything else.

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While we are at it, it might be good to define some terms. I do not consider a tuning with the same order of pitches to be different - in other words tuning everything down two semi tones to so called "D standard" really isn't different from E standard, its just like putting a negative capo on. Same as open D and open E, the notes are in the same sequence, one is just two steps higher than the other. But open E and open A are difference - the sequence of the notes on the fretboard (1, 3, 5) are in different order so you form chords differently. Dropped D is different, Double Dropped D different yet.

 

I also use the terms "altered tuning" and "open tuning" in a different fashion - altered tuning is any change from Standard, an open tuning has the strings arranged to form a major or minor chord when played unfretted. Open tunings are a subset of altered tunings, as are tuning all the string up or down (capo and negative capo).

 

Other people will use different terminology but I think this is pretty much accepted.

 

http://www.accentonmusic.com/alt_tunings.asp

Edited by Freeman Keller
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I tried Gambale tuning for a while. It's a cool re-entrant tuning that goes from A to A so you make chords as if you were playing in a different key' date=' say play in in A for the key of E. But I eventually went back to Standard. Is it "better"? No but it's fun, at least for a while.[/quote']

That's interesting Deep end Thanks. I really like the idea of being able to play piano chords with close notes.

[video=youtube_share;307QNIQAcqY]

 

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I was thinking about this while out in the shop today. Basically a guitar is tuned in fourths with an odd ball string, where violins and mandolins are tuned in fifths. There really isn't any reason that a guitar couldn't be tuned in fifths or lots of other ways.

 

My criteria for a "normal" guitar tuning (one that I would expect to basically do everything) would include

 

- ability to play both chord based and note based songs in any major or minor key

- chord forms that included the triad plus all of the 6ths, flatted 7ths, major 7ths, 9ths etc by adding one easy to finger note

- chord forms that can be inverted and can be moved around the neck

- chords for popular progressions (I-IV-V, iv-V-i, etc) within easy reach (so you don't have to move all over the keyboard

- the root of each chord easy to finger on the 5th and 6th strings (boom-chuck, fingerstyle stuff)

- for note based playing, the ability to play two octaves of chromatic scale in one position

- major and minor pentatonic scales in multiple locations on the fretboard, movable for different keys

 

- the tuning needs to fit a "standard" scale and layout guitar (scale length from, say 24 to 26 inches)

- need to work with normally available strings which when tuned to pitch have roughly the same tension on each string (and an acceptable tension for the average player)

- needs to have equal enough temperment that no one key is significantly out of tune.

 

- additionally, there should be some sort of tablature that allows transcribing music played in this tuning in addition to standard music notation (which tells nothing about the tuning).

- some sort of consensus that enough musicians will use this tuning that it becomes accepted, taught, documented and transcribed

 

There are probably many tunings that meet some or all of those but lets face it, so does our Standard E so I rather think it will be here to stay

Edited by Freeman Keller
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I played violin before guitar. You had to use all 4 fingers playing scales moving from string to string.

 

On a guitar you can pretty much use one finger per fret and you can run a chromatic scale using the open string in the root position. In a higher position you'd substitute your first finger for the nut and you have to shift one fret position running a chromatic scale between strings except between the G and B string because the B is tuned lower.

 

If you tuned the guitar with the pitch separation of a violin you simply wouldn't have the reach to play scales like you would on a guitar without constantly sliding up and down the neck when running a scale across the strings. you'd need a 6 fret reach to play a chromatic scale or a 5 fret reach to play most normal scales which means sliding your position constantly. A shorter neck like a fiddle or mandolin helps with that reach, yet it is played that on instruments like a Cello

 

[img2=JSON]{"alt":"Image result for cello tuning","data-align":"none","data-size":"full","height":"105","width":"544","src":"http:\/\/www.pluck-n-play.com\/en\/tuning\/cello\/cello-tuning.png"}[/img2]

 

 

 

 

 

 

A double bass in an orchestra is the exception. Tuning it like the other orchestra strings would be far to impractical because of the long distances between notes, yet you can do some neat things when you down to the low E to D. Many bass parts are slow enough to allow all the extra sliding if you did have the same pitch separation between strings.

 

You need to ask what would really be gained? String gauging and setup would be the biggest problem on a guitar or a bass. You can only tune the high E up so far before it has problems so you'd be tuning the low strings down to get the pitch separation. Its simply easier to pick up a baritone guitar and just play it normally then having to jack with a normal guitar.

 

 

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I also use the terms "altered tuning" and "open tuning" in a different fashion - altered tuning is any change from Standard, an open tuning has the strings arranged to form a major or minor chord when played unfretted. Open tunings are a subset of altered tunings, as are tuning all the string up or down (capo and negative capo).

 

Other people will use different terminology but I think this is pretty much accepted.

 

http://www.accentonmusic.com/alt_tunings.asp

 

I completely agree with that. :philthumb:

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I drop my low E to D for a couple of songs and down to C for one song. That's the extent of my tuning adventures. I like things to be where I left them. :)

 

Drop D or Drop C. Both of which I'd consider to be altered tunings. I use Drop D occasionally too.

 

While I use both altered and open tunings, I think standard is probably the "best" tuning. Mainly by default and due to history. As Freeman said, it allows you to play in any key, although there are some things that you can do much easier with an altered or open tuning. Not to mention the extended range and different sounds alternate and open tunings provide.

 

While there might be a better tuning from a technical standpoint that would "beat" standard tuning if you became proficient in using that tuning, standard tuning has the additional advantage of being the preferred choice for the overwhelming percentage of guitar music throughout history, whether written or recorded. IOW, there's more material that has been composed, played and / or recorded in standard tuning than any other tuning. If you want to play that repertoire, using the original tuning is going to most readily facilitate that. So while it's great to explore new things, I think having at least a passing familiarity with standard tuning is a good foundation for any guitarist.

 

 

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I drop my low E to D for a couple of songs and down to C for one song. That's the extent of my tuning adventures. I like things to be where I left them. :)

A girl I knew in college played in some tuning I'd never seen. I still don't know what it was. I remember picking up her guitar and thinking it was out of tune. :philpalm: My first exposure to alternate tunings where I understood what was going on was a John Denver songbook back in the 70's that had chords in Drop D.

Altered tunings can be a pain sometimes though, if you only have one guitar. I remember several years ago watching a guy bust a string tuning his Collings OM to "Open F Minor." Fortunately another guitarist had spare strings so no long term harm was done.

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Altered tunings can be a pain sometimes though, if you only have one guitar..

 

I used to really enjoy Leo Kottke concerts - he would often start out with his 12 string in Standard (but it would be three or for steps down so lets call it C#Standard). He'd play a few songs, twist a knob or two and be in whatever the equivalent of Dropped D down three or four steps. Another song, another twist and it was open D, a song or two and open G, then C. All on a twelve string, all tuned by ear, all while carrying on that incredible stream of conscious banter with the audience. Lately when I've seen him he only retunes once or twice and uses a tuner - must be getting old.

 

One of the advantages of having several guitars is that you keep different ones in different tunings and even optimize the strings. I keep one old guitar in open C (CGCGce) - the bottom strings are tuned way down and the second up so I mix some gauges. Resonators are always in open something (and again, have strings that work). It seems like I retune everything except my two electrics.

 

Current guitars and tunings

 

Lester and L5 - Standard E

Three or four acoustics - Standard E but they can go to almost anything as the mood moves me

Three resonators - one in open G, one in open D, one in high bass G

Weissenborn - open D

Martin and one home made 12 string - usually Standard D

Stella style 12 string - usually Standard B or C, often in whatever open G would be four steps down

Old Yamaha acoustic - open C

 

But in the long run, the most versatile tuning of all is Standard E

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Whilst it was the symmetry of "all 4ths" tuning that got me interested in this topic (and it is easy to implement)

Doing more research I came across this "New Standard Tuning" developed by Robert Fripp and approximating 5ths between all strings. It apparently needs a custom string set (most stores here sell individual strings)

I might take a lesser used guitar do the great experiment in the new year.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_standard_tuning

 

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The most uncomfortable about altered tuning is that i have to prepare more than 1 guitars (maybe 2 or 3 and all have to be good to be on stage). I'm playing for several bands and each band use different tunings. So i have to prepare guitars with some altered tuning for the show. This is quite expensive for me.

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The most uncomfortable about altered tuning is that i have to prepare more than 1 guitars (maybe 2 or 3 and all have to be good to be on stage). I'm playing for several bands and each band use different tunings. So i have to prepare guitars with some altered tuning for the show. This is quite expensive for me.

I have no idea what you're currently playing nor or what your tastes are but it might be worth your while to find a Les Paul Robot: http://www.gibson.com/Products/Electric-Guitars/Les-Paul/Gibson-USA/Robot-Les-Paul-Studio/Features.aspx. Turn a knob and the guitar does the tuning for you. I'm guessing from your name that you're in the UK. Here's one in Sutton for £995.00 (US$1329.72) OBO: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Gibson-Les-Paul-Robot-Electric-Guitar/112667413370?hash=item1a3b804b7a:g:nZIAAOSwxndaIcrC. Not cheap by any means but less cost and hassle than multiple guitars. Best of luck.

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I play in standard tuning for the most part on guitar but I do keep one tuned to DADGAD and another to open Dm. I also have a 7 string jazz guitar which is standard with a low B.

 

A few years ago I got into mandolin which open the world of 5th tuned instruments. I have standard 8 string mando's plus a 5 string electric, an acoustic tenor (CGDA) and a Les Paul Peewee (my avatar) that is tuned all 5th - EbBbFCGD (when I capo at the 2nd fret I get FCGDAE).

 

My Peewee in 5th's has more low-end range than a standard guitar (Eb is a semi-tone lower) and more high-end than my Fender electric mandolin (high B that is up 2 semi-tones).

 

Fripp's "new standard tuning" is primarily tuning in 5ths with some accommodation for string gauge requirements on a standard scale guitar. The reason I can do straight 5th's on the Peewee is it is a 19" scale - the high string is an 8 and the low string is quite heavy but it works and sounds great.

Edited by Verne Andru
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Yes standard tuning is the best all-round.

The basic reason for this can be found in the fact that it was developed over a long period to fit a multitude of musics & approaches.

That's how it became standard.

The fact of differences in modern music really has no bearing since the basics of any music has to do with the basics of melodic & harmonic structure.

Modern European-based music or jazz, for instance, wherein there are lots of chordal extensions, etc, only use those things in terms of the basics of harmony, so yer likelihood of needing to reach a b5 or whatever are less than for a plain 5th.

Even other music cultures based outside the European model involve, for the most part, pitch selections very close to what we might expect.

That's just how the physics of pitch & consonance works.

 

As for some other concepts such as Fripp's tuning or "Gambale" tuning (a new one for me), those may work (as do the usual altered tunings---or even any tuning one might come up with to allow certain pitch combinations, e.g. Joni Mitchell) but I suspect they lack the versatility of standard tuning.

That short pitch compass on the 2nd string is part of what makes for comfortable hand shapes & easily inverted chords.

Remember this wasn't set by an individual but evolved over time by what worked best for many ppl to play a wide variety of things.

 

Freeman's point that some other tunings are duplicates of each other is true.

However it's important to consider how those tunings affect the instrument.

Some put greater stress on the strings, some less.

That affects not just the responsiveness of the gtr but the timbre of it.

 

As for me, I play slide entirely in standard tuning.

This was originally both to avoid rethinking the fretboard, since often the slide part might be just a section of a song, & because at the time I didn't have source material for what tuning might be employed on which song.

I can't do exactly what might me on an old blues or bluegrass dobro record but, as I discovered early on, I really don't need to b/c the essential, effective parts of the tune can be represented w/ 2 or 3 notes usually rather than a full 6 string chord.

That's an advantage, esp in electric ensemble/band playing, where the amplification often adds harmonic distortion & the sheer number of instrument voices can make the overall sound a mess.

 

Additionally, I've learned that standard tuning allows for chord structures that cannot be achieved in most altered tunings.

I can play a minor chord, a dom 7th, a major 7th, versions/fragments of dim, & other chords straight across the frets.

Further, by slanting the slide, I can achieve similar forms & even mimic pedal steel effects by moving between slanted & straight barre forms.

I've yet to hear anyone do that in, for example, using any of the usual blues or dobro tunings.

 

One place I do employ a non-standard tuning effect is as a way to achieve varied chord voicings.

By keeping a 2nd gtr tuned a full step low, I'm able to easily transpose chords onto other shapes that can be layered on top of parts played in standard tuning to provide a different voicing.

That has the additional effect of giving me a laugh when those unfamiliar w/what I'm doing try to figure out what I'm playing !

:D

 

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