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Why EADGBE ?

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 KR2
(@kr2)
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My question in in two parts.

Standard tuning is EADGBE
1. Why start with E?
2. Why the non symmetrical ‘spacing' of the notes on the strings?

The spacing between the notes are 5 semitones (5 half-steps) . . .
except between G and B (the third and second string).
From the G to B is just 4 semitones. (G to A = 2 half-steps, A to B = 2 half-steps). If symmetry was maintained it would be a C instead of a B (B to C is 1 half-step). And then another 5 half-steps to the high e (first string) would make it F instead of E.

And the notes on the open strings would be EADGCF if arranged symmetrically.

If the B and E strings were changed to C and F, fingerings for most (if not all) chords would change, right?
Barre chords, as we know them wouldn't work, right?

My question is basically, out of all the permutations for the notes that the strings could be tuned to, is standard tuning the most optimal for human fingering of chords?
Or worded another way, is standard tuning designed to make it easier for the existing chords to be fingered?

Or is/are there (an)other reason(s) this was chosen as standard tuning?

If this question is asked a lot, I apologize. My knowledge of music theory is weak (as in non-existent).

KR2

It's the rock that gives the stream its music . . . and the stream that gives the rock its roll.


   
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(@noteboat)
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The history of tunings isn't well documented. There are a couple major reasons for this: the guitar is easily re-tuned from one piece to the next (and in fact, had to be - more on that in a bit); and when early historians didn't record tuning information we can't go back and investigate - a guitar left alone will go out of tune, making it impossible to determine the original tuning. So what follows is largely my own speculation, but it's based on a lot of research I've done into the precursors of the modern guitar.

The guitar has a string length of roughly 25-1/2". The nearest orchestral instrument is the cello, at about 27"; it's probable that the first guitar tunings were just like the cello - because the early guitars had four strings... it would be pretty easy for any trained string musician to double on the guitar, since the cello, viola, violin, and all other orchestral strings of the day (except the double bass) were tuned in fifths. Cellos are tuned to CGDA, sounding slightly lower than our four bass strings. It's my guess that tunings in fourths date to the middle renaissance, and minstrels - the first documented folks to sing AND play at the same time - changed the tuning so they wouldn't be distracted by finger stretches.

Fretted instruments have been around for 3 millenia or so, but the frets had to be moveable - because there wasn't a a standard tempered scale. In other words, the distance between G and B (and any other pair of notes) was different depending on what key the music was in. Since stringed instruments can produce the same pitch on different strings in performance, changing the tuning wasn't a simple matter of tweaking the pegs... you actually had to move the frets a bit. These early frets were generally made of rawhide and knotted around the neck. A good shove could probably move it enough to adjust the tuning - but you had to do that with every fret. You can imagine what a pain that was!

By the late Renaissance instrument builders got the idea of adding more strings. In modern reproductions of early lutes these are often tuned to different pitches about a second apart (one string for C, the next for D, etc). It's possible (though far from certain in my mind) that this was the way lutes were tuned, but I think the reason for the tuning was to eliminate the need for moving frets - you could then play a G on one string in one set of keys, and ANOTHER G location in other keys. No matter what the actual tuning was, this development also led to the one forensic tuning tool we have - since you had to know what string to play, standard notation wouldn't suffice... and tablature was developed around the 15th century.

This doesn't solve the problem of researching tunings, because most of Europe used letter names for the pitch on each string line. That was probably neccesary, since existing music for fretted instruments seem to have used different tunings. At any rate, we can get a rough idea of guitar tuning by comparing tab from Italy (which used numbers) to tab from elsewhere in Europe (which used letter names), and cross-referencing those few pieces that were also transcribed for other instruments... my best guess is that at least some Renaissance guitars were tuned to G-C-F-A-D-G. This is a tuning of P4-P4-M3-P4-P4, but it put the major third interval between the third and fourth strings, rather than today's 2nd/3rd. But it's also clear that lutes were tuned in different ways in different places!

Anyway, that's where the major third "gap" in our tuning comes from. And the reason for it is pretty simple: it makes scale fingering easier. Without it, almost every scale fingering (even on a five-string instrument) requires a one-fret shift. Putting the major third in the mix keeps you in one position.

Things change again with the development of metal strings. Guitars* with metal strings start appearing in 17th century Italy - but we're back to four or five strings; we didn't have the ability to support the higher string tension, so we used fewer strings. The sixth string didn't pop up again for about another 150 years - and when it did, it started with gut-stringed instruments. The modern guitar is only about 150 years old, and the guitar with metal strings is only about 100 years old.

The use of the guitar as a chordal instrument is fairly recent; through the baroque era, fretted instruments played single notes or intervals. But by using a major third, once we got around to banging out full chords, the fingering was pretty friendly.

*thoughout this, the word "guitar" really means "fretted instrument" - stuff like Vivaldi's guitar concerti were actually performed on instruments like the chitarra, which are related to our instrument, but aren't technically guitars.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@vic-lewis-vl)
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It also depends on whose definition of "Standard" you accept....

For Hendrix, his "standard" tuning was Eb - Ab - Db - Gb - Bb - Eb; SRV also down-tuned, I believe.
For Keef, a lot of the time he plays in x - G - D - G - B - D (the x marks the 6th string which is removed);
For Derek Trucks, most of the time he plays in E - B - E - G# - B - E;
And for Cobain, standard would be something like C - G - C - F - A - D.

Different strokes for different folks.....

:D :D :D

Vic

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


   
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 lars
(@lars)
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:shock:
Does noteboat gets enough credit around here for his amazing knowledge on musical theory/history? - very interesting!!

...only thing I know how to do is to keep on keepin' on...

LARS kolberg http://www.facebook.com/sangerersomfolk


   
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(@dogbite)
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(@boxboy)
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+2 for noteboat's posts. I read every one. :)

Don


   
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(@almann1979)
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i dont know who keef is, but what advantage would he get from removing a string??

"I like to play that guitar. I have to stare at it while I'm playing it because I'm not very good at playing it."
Noel Gallagher (who took the words right out of my mouth)


   
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(@ricochet)
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That's Keith Richards.

Open G on 6 strings from low to high is: DGDGBD. The bass string is tuned to the fifth, and Keith didn't want it there. Rather than avoiding playing it, he took it off. I love having it there, dropping down to a fifth is a great blues turnaround.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."


   
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(@vic-lewis-vl)
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That's Keith Richards.

Open G on 6 strings from low to high is: DGDGBD. The bass string is tuned to the fifth, and Keith didn't want it there. Rather than avoiding playing it, he took it off. I love having it there, dropping down to a fifth is a great blues turnaround.

I'm with Ric on this one - I know there's one guy on GN (Hello, Roy!) who's tuned a tele to open G and took the bottom string off a la Keef....I'd rather leave it on. It feels weird without it, and not only is it handy for those blues turn-arounds, like Ric said, but it's also great for playing a I-V alternating bassline when fingerpicking.

Almann, you lose 5 street cred points for not knowing who Keef is - the only way to redeem yourself is to tune to open G and learn one of the following; Brown Sugar, Street Fighting Man, Honky Tonk Women or Start Me Up. You have one week, starting NOW......

:D :D :D

Vic

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


   
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(@vic-lewis-vl)
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:shock:
Does noteboat gets enough credit around here for his amazing knowledge on musical theory/history? - very interesting!!

No - Noteboat can NEVER get enough credit for the contributions he's made to this site. Ask, and he will answer....man's a genius, as far as I'm concerned. Not only does he explain things clearly and lucidly, but he pitches his answers to YOUR level of experience....

I, for one, hope his music school's a huge success - if anyone deserves it, Noteboat does. I don't know what he charges an hour for lessons - but he's given a few hundred thousand dollars worth of great advice on these forums over the years. Same goes for David Hodge - where would we be without his step-by-step lessons? Between the two of them, they've got every conceivable base covered....

'Tis a pity Noteboat can't spend the time on GN he used to do - but the man's got to make a living, and feeding the family comes first, right?

Tom (and DH, of course...) those of us who can rock (thanks to you!) salute you....

:D :D :D :D :D

Vic

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


   
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(@noteboat)
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Aw, shucks... ya make me blush :oops:

The school is going quite well, Vic. We're getting great local press, as I've been able to attract stellar teachers (which has its pros and cons - the big guns draw students, but when the classical vocal teacher has to fly off to do a performance of Mozart's Requiem on the East coast, or the flute teacher gets a call to sub for somebody in a major European symphony (both of which have happened so far) we end up canceling some lessons. More of that's on the horizon - the same vocal teacher just got a gig playing the Count in Marriage of Figaro at an opera festival, so I'm going to be losing him for the whole summer.

On paper we're making money, but I'm pretty much reinvesting it all so far. My immediate goal is to make it the finest music school in our local market, and I think we're making great progress. We've been open just under five months, and we've already had one student win IMEA (Illinois Music Educators Association) All-State Honors. I'm sure more are coming - I've got a couple of students who just blow me away with their abilities.

I'm putting in a ton of hours, but it seems to be paying off. And it's even got me more fired up about making music than I've been in a long time - so I get to play all day, and then come home and play all night!

Life is good :)

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@trguitar)
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Yes, Mr. Noteboat certainly knows this stuff! And Almann ........ shame on you! Where do you live again? :lol:

"Work hard, rock hard, eat hard, sleep hard,
grow big, wear glasses if you need 'em."
-- The Webb Wilder Credo --


   
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(@rparker)
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I'm really glad to hear that the school is going so well. Sorry your staff is too good for consistent employee attendance, but the flip side benefits have got to be well worth it. Actual professionals teaching sounds prety impressive, not just some database nerds who plays guitar on weekends to help make up for the plaid shirts and obsession with schema overkill. (I pick on my own profession, so leave me alone)

Yes, it was I who removed the string. It was a "what the heck" moment. I does feel weird, but I got used to it quickly. Sadly, I've not picked it up in weeks. I don't know what's wrong with me. Last thing I did on it was YCAGWYW. Seriously, I did consider putting it back on, but it grew on me quickly and that's about all I do on it is Stones songs. I did leave it on at the beginning for a couple of years. I just felt like I needed to "finish the job", so to speak.

I don't know if anyone knew this or not, but come to find out, Teles can be tuned standard and played like that. I'm not kidding. I've got one to prove it.

Noteboat, one question that I think was elluded to earlier that I'd like to expand on. I know no other intruments, so pardon the lack of k-nowledge. Would it have made sense ultimately to take any instrument and have the standard tuning be an actual root tuning? Take a guitar and say "OK, if you strike all the strings without poking an eye out, it will be a D", and then go from there? Instead it's done by note with mostly the same spacing in between. Why is that an advantage?

Roy
"I wonder if a composer ever intentionally composed a piece that was physically impossible to play and stuck it away to be found years later after his death, knowing it would forever drive perfectionist musicians crazy." - George Carlin


   
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(@noteboat)
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Well, that's exactly what a lot of slide guitarists do - Vic's earlier post mentioned Derek Trucks playing in E-B-E-G#-B-E, which is an open E chord.

The disadvantage to using a tuning like that is you can't get some chords. If you're in that open E tuning, playing G minor would mean fretting 333233, which is kinda tough. Slide guitarists don't have a problem getting that minor chord - finger the third string and it drops below the slide - but they can't get other chords...

To best illustrate the problem, let's say you've got two guitars - one is tuned to a root position A chord (AC#EAC#E) and the other one is tuned to all fourths starting from A (ADGCFBb). You want to play a C7#9 on both guitars - to make it fairly simple, I'll voice it without the fifth, play it in root position, and make the #9 the highest note. I'll figure 'em two ways, one with the notes as low as possible, but playable, and one with the notes on the four treble strings (I'm doing that just because there are so many possibilities).

On the guitar tuned to A, you'd have: 33x12x, or xx8-10-9-11. Neither one is impossible

On the guitar tuned in fourths, you'd have: 3233xx, or xx5755. Not only are these possible, they're finger-friendly.

The same thing is going to be true of any other chord, or any other tuning. If all you want is one sound, you can make it easier by adjusting the tuning - that's a big reason so many bands like drop D (and similar) tunings: you get three-string power chords with one finger. But if you want to be able to play any chord without being a contortionist, fourths work best. And by including a major third in the tuning, we can play a lot of those chords as full barres to get a nice fat sound.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@ricochet)
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Joined: 21 years ago
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You can get several altered chords by fretting in front of the barre (with or without slide) in the common major open tunings as well. Lap sliders can get more (at least in double stop or triad partial chord form) by slanting the bar across strings. Many of them use various 6th, 7th, 9th, & 13th chords open tunings to increase their range of chords, and before pedal steels got popular it was common to have three or four steel guitars in different tunings on one console. Considering the reach of the fingers on the fretting hand, though, "standard" tuning gives about the widest variety of practical chords in many keys.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."


   
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