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Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths

Marion 22 Apr 02 - 12:08 AM
JohnInKansas 22 Apr 02 - 01:15 AM
GUEST,.gargoyle 22 Apr 02 - 01:55 AM
greg stephens 22 Apr 02 - 05:43 AM
JohnInKansas 22 Apr 02 - 07:02 AM
GUEST,Hilary, not logged in 22 Apr 02 - 01:30 PM
JohnInKansas 22 Apr 02 - 03:24 PM
JohnInKansas 22 Apr 02 - 03:33 PM
Don Firth 22 Apr 02 - 03:52 PM
Marion 22 Apr 02 - 04:00 PM
GUEST,Hilary,not logged in 22 Apr 02 - 05:13 PM
JohnInKansas 23 Apr 02 - 01:04 AM
greg stephens 23 Apr 02 - 06:15 AM
Mooh 23 Apr 02 - 08:57 AM
GUEST,Russ 23 Apr 02 - 10:43 AM
Don Firth 23 Apr 02 - 11:45 AM
Mooh 23 Apr 02 - 02:25 PM
GUEST,Les B. 24 Apr 02 - 05:34 PM
Peter T. 25 Apr 02 - 08:38 AM
JohnInKansas 25 Apr 02 - 09:02 AM
greg stephens 25 Apr 02 - 09:23 AM
GUEST,Les B. 25 Apr 02 - 11:58 AM
GUEST,Marion 25 Apr 02 - 07:15 PM
greg stephens 25 Apr 02 - 08:13 PM
GUEST,Les B. 26 Apr 02 - 01:06 PM
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Subject: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: Marion
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 12:08 AM

I'm wondering why certain stringed instruments (fiddle, viola, cello, mandolin) have neighbouring strings a fifth apart whereas others (bass fiddle, bass guitar, most pairs on guitar) are fourths. Is there a reason for this that can be explained in less than two hundred words? Is one kind of tuning considered more useful for one kind of musical function, and vice versa?

Actually, let me rephrase that in terms of what I really want to know:

I've just bought a cello. Besides learning to play melodies and countermelodies on it with a bow, I want to make it serve as a fake bass fiddle for bluegrassy type backup, playing triads and plucking the strings. But a cello is tuned in fifths, and a bass fiddle in fourths. Is there any reason why I should - or shouldn't - consider retuning the cello into fourths when I want to pretend it's a bass?

Thanks, Marion


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 01:15 AM

Note: the following is TIUI (total idiot uninformed opinion).

Alternate tunings are commonly used on most stringed instruments, but moving more than a note or two can affect the "sound quality." The general rule of thumb for steel strings is that string tension needs to be near 80% of yield in order for the string to "ring" properly. If you lower the pitch more than a couple of notes, the string gets "floppy," and if you raise it more than a couple it breaks.

The instruments tuned in fifths are typically the "4-stringers," and re-tuning in fourths drastically reduces the "range." The four available fingers can only reach about a fifth up on a string without shifting positions. One string can play the notes in a span of a fifth, and the next note comes on the next string, so that all of the notes are available.

Unfortunately, an instrument tuned in fifths has great difficulty playing full chords in normal inversions so if you want chords, you tune the strings in fourths and add a couple of strings to get the range back - i.e., you use a guitar instead of a fiddle.

Since the base-line instrument normally plays "one-noters," tuning in fifths is okay, although - if you're a guitarist - you have to relearn where the notes are.

In principal, you could "re-string" and make very large changes in individual string pitch without sacrificing sound quality, but just retuning (without new strings) is likely to make some of the strings pretty "flabby" or break some other one(s).

Someone with some real experience at it will be able to give you the benefit of what they "know for sure," but the above is the "basic" theory of it.

John


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 01:55 AM

Thank you both!!

I learned something tonight, the question and the explanation are wonderfully logical. Good enough for this folk anyway.

Sincerely
Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: greg stephens
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 05:43 AM

there's a long-standing history in the british isles of using cello as the bass instrument in a fiddle-led dance bands and the traditional tuning in fifths is just fine! Have no fear.But i have to say it doesnt look as cool as a stand-up bass.


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 07:02 AM

It might be noted that the longer strings of the standup base make it difficult to reach the full fifth - in this case with reasonable forearm/hand motion, rather than just finger stretch. Instead of running out of fingers, you just don't have large enough hands (although me S.O. says she met a lot of guy who were all hands). Hence the tuning in fourths instead of fifths, and the fairly common addition of a fifth string to recover the lost range in pitch.

John


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: GUEST,Hilary, not logged in
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 01:30 PM

thanks for the above - very (whatever the aural equivalent of illuminating is).

Thread drift here though,

Why does standard guitar tuning go 5 semitones up from E to A, 5 semitones to D , 5 to G but then 4 to B & 5 again to E ????

Useful chord shapes ??? Producing the E-E octaves ?????

Hilary


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 03:24 PM

The guitar is in fourths on the lower strings because that's where you play chords. The fourth is the "longest" interval between strings that lets you play the major third/minor third diad intervals withing typical chords with "closely spaced" fret positions.

The top 3 strings are "respaced" to make it easier to move around through "all of the notes" to play the melody (or the licks) there. The guitar is a relatively large instrument, so the same principal as with the standup base comes into play. To easily reach the notes you need for what is normally played on the upper strings, the strings themselves are tuned "closer together."

For some uses, the respacing helps with the "modulations." When you use changes between major, minor, dim, or "fourth note" (6th, 7th) chords, you encounter "shorter" entervals (and especially adjacent short intervals), that also are more readily fingered with the spacing on the top 3 strings.

In typical tunes, the chord changes "move" in thirds, fourths, and fifths (intervals between the tonic of consecutive chords), so the jump from one chord to the next is facilitated by the same spacing that makes it easy to play the notes within a given chord. The single-note-shift that moves the chord to modulate between major/minor, or to add/drop a seventh, frequently involves two adjacent minor third intervals. Just as the fiddle strings in fifths don't permit the major third/minor third pair in a typical major chord (two notes are always on the same string) the strings tuned in fourths don't permit a "ready facility" in playing the minor third/minor third adjacent interval in a dim or 7th chord.

Same principal with "drop/open/slack tunings" etc. When you want to "do something different" sometimes you "tune a little different."

Fiddlers commonly use double-stops on open strings. The bow can only contact (for mere-mortal players) two strings at a time, and the open strings are a fifth apart. Unfortunately, moving to the next pair of strings jumps the "chord" by a fifth, and the tune probably went only a fourth. It is somewhat difficult to finger two adjacent strings at the same "fret", especially if you need to be ready for the next quick note, so fiddlers sometimes retune a string or two so that they can "double stop fifths" - the "characteristic sound" - somewhere up the neck without having to use the "dreaded barre chord."

John


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 03:33 PM

... just like it's hard to finger the adjacent keys / and > to turn off one's italics after "fret",.

mumblemumblemumble

John


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: Don Firth
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 03:52 PM

The lute used to be tuned very much like the guitar, but the interval of a major 3rd, between the 2nd and 3rd strings on a guitar, was between the 3rd and 4th courses on a lute. Chords aren't quite as easy on the lute as they are on the guitar, but then, lutenists didn't play all that many block chords. They generally played a lot of ornamented melody lines with bass notes thrown in, along with occasional chords. When the lute was in it's heyday, harmony (as a vertical structure) wasn't all that well developed. Viols were developing at the same time, but even though the nimble-fingered could do multiple stops, they were primarily melodic instruments.

Standard guitar tuning is about optimum for a stringed instrument that can play both melody and harmony, or melody and harmony at the same time (no, I'm not a guitar-chauvinist, it's just a fact).

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: Marion
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 04:00 PM

Thanks for the input, all. That's a good point, John, about too much retuning being bad for the strings - replacing cello strings is expensive.

It would make sense for the bigger instruments to be in fourths because a fourth is too long a reach, except that I think that a cello's invisible frets are actually farther apart than a guitar's or bass guitar's. I'll have to check that when I get home.

I play fiddle as well, and sometimes like to play "power chords" on pairs of strings. You said that going up to the next higher pair goes up a fifth when a fourth is more likely desirable, which is true, but the other side of the story is that you can go down to the next lower pair of strings to get the fourth chord. The key of D is great because you have the D-A, G-D, and A-E double stops on open strings. And barring two strings with one finger for an E chord (for example) isn't hard either if you're just playing chop chords in a song.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: GUEST,Hilary,not logged in
Date: 22 Apr 02 - 05:13 PM

Much much thanks,

That makes sense, (and was understandable).

Hilary


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 23 Apr 02 - 01:04 AM

Marion, et.al.

Agreed on the double stops, although it is a limited selection. Food for thought: is it the selection of doubles available on open strings that makes a certain few keys "fiddlers favorites." (I've heard answers, and they're not too relevant here.)

And as long as you're playing "chops," a bar may be okay. The problem with a bar fingering comes in mainly when you try to mix the doubles in with a quick melody. Fine if you can do it and get the result you want.

Since the crown of the bridge prevents most bowed instruments from playing more than two strings at the same time, the reach problem for "chording" (such as it is) is not too severe, even on a large(r) instrument, regardless of the tuning. It's when you try to play a "full" 3-note chord that, no matter how you turn it around, 2 of the notes you need are on the same string - unless you resort to "strange" inversions, when the strings are in fifths. It does make a difference, sometimes, which side up a chord is played.

Bowed instruments don't have quite as much problem with retunings as the plucked ones, since they don't have to have their normal tension up to near breaking where they "ring." You can always add more input with the bow, where once you've plucked - that's all that note's gonna get, so you have to be sure it "gives it all back."

You can probably detune a given fiddle or cello string further than you can a guitar. The resulting tone may suffer some, but within reason you won't be as likely to break the strings. On the other hand, I've seen some comments from fiddlers that the strings "go dead" a lot quicker if the tuning is changed too often; but the mythology of "good string/bad string" is a little beyond me.

There is also a relatively high string angle at the bridge on most bowed instruments, so retuning too much higher can put large (relative to normal) downloads on the top plate.

John


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: greg stephens
Date: 23 Apr 02 - 06:15 AM

The "fourth tuned" instruments (guitar and lute)mentioned are interesting...the odd pair ofstrings that only span a fourth certainly makechordplaying in the "home keys" easier. It'snotable that the Spanish laud(think that's the right spelling) has 6 pairs of strings, ALL tuned a fourth apart. That is used for playing melodic lines primarily, so they dont need any strings a third apart, it's easier to have identical relationships between the strings to avoid brain scrambling at high speeds.


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: Mooh
Date: 23 Apr 02 - 08:57 AM

I always thought that the evolution of standard guitar tuning was based on easily barred chords. Instruments with more than 3 strings (and courses) do not chord majors and minors well (using all strings) with "stacked" 5ths, particularly if the scale length is as long as a guitar's. Also, while using said barre, a vast number of scales and scalar patterns fall easily under the fingers, especially if that barre is really the nut. It's no coincidence that standard tuning is so universal, it is very user friendly. The minor 3rd between the 3rd and 2nd strings is necessary to make full barres work, and allows for scale patterns which centre around that barre.

Standard tuning also came about, at least in part, by the availability of durable strings able to maintain their pitch without breaking.

A shorter scale length, like that of mandolin for example, is more user friendly for scale patterns utilizing stacked 5ths. Basses tuned in 5ths (there's a Cdn bassist who does this with considerable success but his name escapes me at the moment) work well in spite of the increased scale length because most of the playing is single note stuff, and like other fiddle family members, open note drones will work well with harmonized notes above. Basses tuned in 5ths often get as low as C (CGDA tuning) giving both a higher and lower range than 4th tunings. It's a very instinctive tuning, and easier to learn, imho.

However, full barre chords aren't as managable with more than four strings, a guitar's scale length, and tuning in 5ths. Arranging the traditional and classical guitar reportoire in 5ths tunings would take some doing...anyone up to it?

By the way, tuning the lower courses of a 12 string in 5ths (CGDABE, or CGDGBE), guaging up a bit for the lowered strings, can make it sound alot like a cittern.

Peace. Mooh.


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 23 Apr 02 - 10:43 AM

Responding to your original question. I jam with a professional cellist at the Appalachian String Band Festival (Clifftop WV). He does not retune. Sometimes he bows and sometimes he does something that looks to me like frailing.


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: Don Firth
Date: 23 Apr 02 - 11:45 AM

Small nit-pick, Mooh. That's a major 3rd between the 3rd and 2nd strings.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: Mooh
Date: 23 Apr 02 - 02:25 PM

Don. Right you are, and just when I thought no one reads me! I shoold proof reed bedder, eh! Thanks.

Peace, Mooh.


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 24 Apr 02 - 05:34 PM

JohnInKansas, et al: You've explained, in a very straight forward, way some things I've wondered about for years - especially the bit about the strings giving back the energy put into them. Thank you!

Greg - When the cello is used in fiddle bands in England, do they mainly pluck it or bow it? (or both, as Russ mentioned?)


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: Peter T.
Date: 25 Apr 02 - 08:38 AM

Open tunings are far more user friendly for beginners. I am surprised that standard tuning won out, on guitars at least (banjos seem to be often in open tunings). Blues players headed for open tunings. You can easily bar the three main I IV, V chords in a tune. I have yet to run into any serious drawbacks, except that some of the minors are a bit jazzy.
yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 25 Apr 02 - 09:02 AM

"they" always told me "you can't tune a banjo." ;>}.

So is a hammered dulcimer tuned in thirds???

John


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: greg stephens
Date: 25 Apr 02 - 09:23 AM

Re cello in old UK string bands. Bowed or plucked or both? The only pictures I recall seeing were bowed or ambiguous, and I know of no written evidence. Who knows? Afraid I dont.Mainly bowed for a guess, because I think thats the sound you'ld want, the fiddles would provide the percussive rhythm you need. It's notable that the plucked double bass is reckonedto have really caught on with New Orleans bands: the significant point being that in that sort of music the lead instruments wanted to get away from the beat, so they needed maximum solidity from the rhythm section. Quite different in the British/irish tradition when the rhythm as well as the melody was carried by the high lead instruments. Of course, things are changing dramatically nowadays, I'mtalking of the heyday of the string bands, a good while ago.


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 25 Apr 02 - 11:58 AM

Greg - so what is the string band tradition in British music? What time period, basic instrumentation, and types of tunes (maybe some typical titles)?

Here in America it generally was/is - fiddle/s, clawhammer banjo (or resonator for bluegrass), guitar, sometimes mandolin and sometimes upright bass -- instrumentals played for dances, with some songs. Tunes & songs differ, depending on whether it's pre-bluegrass (old timey) or bluegrass.


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: GUEST,Marion
Date: 25 Apr 02 - 07:15 PM

Peter T. said, "Open tunings are far more user friendly for beginners." But what's logical isn't always what's practical. I think one thing that makes standard tuning easier to learn is precisely that it is standard - the books and people that you consult when you're a beginner assume standard tuning. When I started on guitar I got my basic chord vocabulary from asking and observing my friends, none of whom ever used alternate tunings.

JohninKansas said, "Food for thought: is it the selection of doubles available on open strings that makes a certain few keys "fiddlers favorites?"

My theory is that there's two more reasons why D,G, and A are easiest on the fiddle:

1. All the open strings appear in these keys (except the open G string in A, but you don't need the G string nearly as much as the others), which makes not only the double stops but also the fast melodies easier.

2. None of these keys have notes that are a semitone above the nut (no Ab, Eb, Bb, or F). So your index finger is always a full tone above the nut, and it's easier to play in tune if that first position is stable.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: greg stephens
Date: 25 Apr 02 - 08:13 PM

LesB :string bnds for dancing were standard in britain 1700-1900 ish.Cello and a couple of fiddles, augmented with flutes tambourines(bodhrans people would say nowadays but tambourine was the word used in england and in ireland at the time i think) clarinets etc as available.Repertoire the standard jigs reel hornpipes strathspeys etc of the time. judging by the old fiddlers MS books, i would guess Soldiers Joy was the most common tune but there thousands and thousands of fiddle tunes in england. as in scotland wales and ireland likewise.


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Subject: RE: Tuning intervals: fifths vs. fourths
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 26 Apr 02 - 01:06 PM

Greg - thanks - hadn't thought about the flutes & tamborines. Soldier's Joy is also one of the most common fiddle tunes here. Standard banjo players comment to a fiddler - "Just play Soldier's Joy, they all sound like it anyway!"

Marion - You got it right about the stability of that first position - if I don't get that locked in, my intonation really suffers. It's especially hard, I find, to lay down the guitar or banjo, grab the fiddle and play a tune well - takes about half a tune to get the fine adjustment of the ear/hand/fingers.


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