Mandolin tuning

Y'all come on in and sit a spell. All things Slide and alternate tuning. Celtic, country...whatever. Get your fill of DADGAD, open G and whatever tickles your fancy. Strictly on topic please.
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tinsmith
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Mandolin tuning

Post by tinsmith » August 12th, 2011, 6:40 pm

I find it odd, that is the opposite of guitar tuning; E-A-D-G....& mando is G-D-A-E.
I was considering trying a mandolin type tuning for 5 string banjo...to fit in with that crowd...
Is this where our guitar tuning originated? History buffs?
I've never dubbed with this tuning before......

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Re: Mandolin tuning

Post by NoteBoat » August 13th, 2011, 2:49 am

It's actually the guitar that's the odd one.

Most stringed instruments are tuned in perfect fifths. That includes the mandolin, the violin, the viola, the cello, and even the banjo - four string banjos are tuned to C-G-D-A from low to high, exactly the opposite of the guitar. (Five string banjos are a modern development, and they're usually tuned to an open chord, like slide guitars). The only exception is the double bass, which is tuned in fourths, just like the guitar - that's done because the notes are much farther apart, so it's not practical to play 'three on a string' scale steps.

The guitar is actually a bit shorter than a cello in scale length, so there's not really a physical reason we tune differently.

Some folks think that the tunings differ because of the origins: bowed strings developed in Asia; while plucked strings are found worldwide, fretted plucked strings originated in the middle East.

But I think the reason is different, and complicated. I think it has to do with three elements: intonation, temperament systems, and repertoire. I'll only bore you with the details of my thinking if you're interested, because it would take a while to write out (and read through)
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Re: Mandolin tuning

Post by tinsmith » August 13th, 2011, 5:35 am

Thanks Noteboat......actually I am interested, if you care to continue....
That's what makes DADGAD so Gregorian.....all those 5ths.
I'm still gonna try it on 5 string for S's & G's......eventually.

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Re: Mandolin tuning

Post by NoteBoat » August 13th, 2011, 1:49 pm

Ok...

1. Intonation. Fretted instruments are 'fixed intonation', which means when you finger a note, you always get the same pitch. First fret first string will always be F. Although you can bend a note a bit to raise the pitch, you can't lower it if it's off a bit in the other direction. But instruments without frets aren't fixed - so a violinist can make small adjustments either way.

2. Temperament. That's the spacing between pitches - how far it is from F to F#. Our modern temperament is called 12TET (twelve tone equal temperament), but in earlier times a lot of different tuning systems were used.

The first guy that we know of to think seriously about tuning methods was Pythagoras (the triangle formula guy). Using his math mind and string harmonics, he realized that a perfect fifth was exactly a 3:2 ratio - if the lower note was vibrating 100 times a second, the upper one would vibrate at 150 times a second.

But Pythagoras also realized there was a problem... if 3:2 describes a perfect fifth, and 12 perfect fifths make 7 octaves, then multiplying a frequency by 1.5 twelve times should get you an exact multiple of your starting point (because octaves are perfect multiples: the octave of 100 vibrations per second will be exactly 200 vibrations per second). But it doesn't. Starting with 100 vibrations per second and multiplying it by 1.5 twelve times gets you to about 12,974.6, and it should be 12,800. The difference is called the Pythagorean comma - in order to get your octaves in tune, you need to bury that discrepancy somewhere.

In early tuning systems, they shot for the most perfect fifths and thirds they could get. Since a key will use a few chords often, you also want the notes of THOSE chords to be as perfect as possible. After you've done that, the notes that are seldom used in a key are candidates for being changed to absorb the comma. Early tuning methods packed the difference into a couple of pitches that would sound completely awful in the key (called 'wolf tones').

Now this doesn't cause a problem for instruments like the violin... but it creates a mess for fixed intonation instruments like the guitar or piano. They actually didn't have either in those days, but they had their precursors. Keyboards were actually made with split black keys, giving you 17 pitches per octave - F# was different from Gb. (I'm simplifying things quite a bit here - entire books have been written on the history of temperament systems)

On a fretted instrument, it meant that a note good in one key might not work well in another key. The G you use in the key of C could be different from the G you'd use in the key of Eb. The solution was to add additional strings tuned a bit different... by the early middle ages, some lutes had 11 strings. You might have a G string that you'd use in C, F, or G, and a slightly different one you'd use in Bb, Eb, or Ab.

(As an aside, this caused a notation problem too - since G is always G on the staff, how do you write which one to play? The solution: tablature, which was developed to solve this problem!)

Combining the fixed intonation of the instrument with the changes in temperament over the years meant guitarists/lute players were used to changing tuning. In the early days, they actually combined this with moving the frets slightly - the frets were strips of leather tied around the neck, and you could move them up or down a bit so you'd be acceptably in tune for the song.

All fretted instruments shared these problems. But that brings me to the third factor:

3. Repertoire. Historically, the guitar was a SOLO instrument. Although guitars were used in ensembles (like Vivaldi's guitar concerti), the majority of works were solo pieces. That's not true of the mandolin, where early repertoire consisted mostly of small ensemble pieces - probably because the instrument's range doesn't really carry the day by itself. So while all fretted instruments, including the mandolin, experimented with a large number of different tunings, I think it makes sense that ensemble instruments would tend to converge on the same tunings as other ensemble strings (like the violin).

Here it comes down to simple economics: it's cheaper to have a violinist double on mandolin than to bring in a specialist when you need one. I've seen the same thing in studio work - if a producer wants a balalaika, he's more likely to call a guitarist who owns one and pay a doubling fee than to hire a balalaika player. And the guitarist is a lot more likely to tune the balalaika as a guitar than he is to learn a different tuning. I've known a few guitarists who do studio doubling on lots of instruments - all tuned like a guitar (including a mandolin). Makes sense for the guitarist - he'll get 50% more for the doubling, and another 20% or so for triple duty. Makes sense for the producer - 170% of scale is cheaper than 300% of scale. The only guy who gets the shaft is the mando specialist who can't double on all the others.

Anyway, that's my thinking on how the guitar's tuning diverged from other strings - we did what was easiest for solo work, since that's most of what we did. Other instruments that could be practically doubled by classical strings when needed ended up changing their tunings to meet the demands of conductors and other impresarios.
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Re: Mandolin tuning

Post by tinsmith » August 13th, 2011, 5:46 pm

Thank You for explaining it further Note Boat.
I did learn a bit about "Meantone" from a Berkley dude.

Still the question regarding mandolin tuning on a 5 string, would it work, is it worth wild or should I stick to G?

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Re: Mandolin tuning

Post by Crow » August 14th, 2011, 10:22 am

You might want to look into Robert Fripp's "new standard tuning" for guitar (CGDAEG).
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Re: Mandolin tuning

Post by tinsmith » August 14th, 2011, 4:19 pm

Crow wrote:You might want to look into Robert Fripp's "new standard tuning" for guitar (CGDAEG).
Why Crow....what does that have to do with mando or violin tuning.
I've played lots of weird tunings throughout the years.....I don't see the connection.
I used to play tunes, some Hedges & Kottke (who is more traditional), so I am used to fooling around with tunings, but have not messed with this......& I am still referring to playing this on banjo.
Thanks for the reference though Crow.

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Re: Mandolin tuning

Post by imalone » August 21st, 2011, 2:30 pm

Meant to say thanks for NoteBooks post, very interesting.
tinsmith wrote: Crow wrote:You might want to look into Robert Fripp's "new standard tuning" for guitar (CGDAEG).
Why Crow....what does that have to do with mando or violin tuning.
It is mandolin or violin tuning (5ths) on the lowest strings. Actually I ran into that when I first saw your post and googled mandolin tuning (which led as wikipedia does, to violin tuning and then onto bizarre guitar tunings). Unfortunately for me any phrase that starts with 'new' instantly flags itself as marketing, which is maybe unfair.

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Re: Mandolin tuning

Post by tinsmith » August 21st, 2011, 5:09 pm

I see it now imalone....how unobservant for me not to notice.....I wouldn't mind, but I was looking for that......the 5th thing.

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Re: Mandolin tuning

Post by willson2 » September 16th, 2014, 12:51 am

The mandolin is my favorite instrument and I just love the sound of it. I consider Chris Thile to be one of the best mandolin players among the new generation and I love his performances.

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Re: Mandolin tuning

Post by Caggrable » August 27th, 2016, 8:53 pm

NoteBoat wrote:It's actually the guitar that's the odd one.

Most stringed instruments are tuned in perfect fifths. That includes the mandolin, the violin, the viola, the cello, and even the banjo - four string banjos are tuned to C-G-D-A from low to high, exactly the opposite of the guitar. (Five string banjos are a modern development, and they're usually tuned to an open chord, like slide guitars). Burn belly fat with these phen375 reviews http://ohdivinehealth.com/phen375-reviews/ The only exception is the double bass, which is tuned in fourths, just like the guitar - that's done because the notes are much farther apart, so it's not practical to play 'three on a string' scale steps.

The guitar is actually a bit shorter than a cello in scale length, so there's not really a physical reason we tune differently.

Some folks think that the tunings differ because of the origins: bowed strings developed in Asia; while plucked strings are found worldwide, fretted plucked strings originated in the middle East.

But I think the reason is different, and complicated. I think it has to do with three elements: intonation, temperament systems, and repertoire. I'll only bore you with the details of my thinking if you're interested, because it would take a while to write out (and read through)

i am into playing guitar and i started using it since i was 9. and i alone learned it all by myself. i find it really fun to play plus the idea of singing while playing it. i played a guitar and i find it really hard to tune it. i think this is the hardest part for a guitar player. the history that you shared really an eye opening because the first time i played my guitar i didn't think of where it came from. but i know that guitar is part of string family.

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