View Full Version : Tuning Down a Half-Step
I've been asked by a friend to sit in with him at a local gig next week. Singer-songwritery type stuff, along the lines of a Howie Day or a John Mayer. The problem is that he tunes his guitar down a half step for the sake of his voice.
This obviously creates a problem for me. I talked to him about it, and he would prefer to stay tuned flat a half step. So, I decided to try out tuning my second mando (a Breedlove oval-hole down a half step).
It's interesting... the Breedlove is a fat sounding instrument to begin with and this just adds more bottom end, sounds "looser" but not really flabby. I've also had success tuning down my F5.
Any thoughts or opinions on tuning down mandolins? I hope this isn't frowned upon like capos! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif
skip gorman does this a lot. he also tunes his old supertone mando like a fiddle.
Maybe this is just my lack of understanding, but couldn't you simply play the notes flat by half a step? This is easier with bar chords, but I suppose it depends on the style and the key.
Just my two cents, but... if you have perfect pitch, don't you usually sing a little flat?
Also, a few weeks ago I was jamming at someone's house where they do that about every weekend and they had some new groups there. Well, the guitar players were using capos and I couldn't figure out where to go. Somebody put a capo on my mandolin. I played with it for the next two songs and then figured where I should be and said I didn't want to learn to use something like that if all I had to do was switch the key we were playing in. I know they were being helpful, but it didn't feel right.
Was I playing a half step (sound) down? Is it OK to just join in and make it sound right? Or should you do capos and get the right chord?
I am so new to this instrument that sometimes I'm afraid I come off just sounding stupid about it.
The advantage of capos or tuning down is that you can play in keys that normally use few open strings or non-barre chords on the guitar (like E-flat, for instance) but you can play easier chord shapes and easier scale positions. For instance, capo the 1st fret and play in "D", but you'll really be playing in E-flat which is 1/2 step up from D. Depending on what key the singer wants to sing in, you may or may not need to tune down or capo. If a song is normally in A, but he wants to tune down and play "A" chords but actually be in A-flat/G#, then you might want to retune in order to have an easier 1st position scale to pick over. It all depends on whether or not you are comfortable playing in a key with normal tuning.
I play a few songs on guitar with a capo just to get a different tone without having to play all barre chords up the neck. I capo the 3rd fret and play "D" chords on a song I wrote (actually in F). I also play "Last Date" capoed at the 3rd fret fingerpicking over "A" chords. This puts me in C to match Floyd Cramer's version.
Long story short....(and this is not directed at Nora at all) I don't see any reason to frown on alternate tunings or capos. The idea is to make the music sound good, not to win some macho "I only play closed position scales and barre chords on my 1/2" high action.".....my $0.02. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif
David Lee Roth always had the band tune down a half step. Is he your friend? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif
I don't know, but he sure looks funny balding nowadays!
You could put a capo on the first fret if the mandolin sounds real funky tuned down; then you play as though you were playing in the key one step below the key for the fingerings he is using. For example, if he is playing the chord fingerings for the key of A, then you would play as though you were playing in G. His lowered tuning puts him in Ab, while your capo puts you in G#, which is the same as his Ab musically. As to Nora's questions,
the guitar players may be using capos to allow them to play licks or riffs that can be done easily using certain chords. For example, the G run used in "Uncle Pen", which is usually done in the key of A, is done with a capo at the second fret and played with the G position chord. So the advantage the capo has for them may not exist for you, and it often would be easier for you to just play in the actual key. (Play "Uncle Pen" in A, rather than capoing and using key of G fingerings.)
The advantage of capos or tuning down is that you can play in keys that normally use few open strings or non-barre chords on the guitar (like E-flat, for instance) but you can play easier chord shapes and easier scale positions. #For instance, capo the 1st fret and play in "D", but you'll really be playing in E-flat which is 1/2 step up from D. #Depending on what key the singer wants to sing in, you may or may not need to tune down or capo. #If a song is normally in A, but he wants to tune down and play "A" chords but actually be in A-flat/G#, then you might want to retune in order to have an easier 1st position scale to pick over. #It all depends on whether or not you are comfortable playing in a key with normal tuning.
I play a few songs on guitar with a capo just to get a different tone without having to play all barre chords up the neck. #I capo the 3rd fret and play "D" chords on a song I wrote (actually in F). #I also play "Last Date" capoed at the 3rd fret fingerpicking over "A" chords. #This puts me in C to match Floyd Cramer's version. #
Long story short....I don't see any reason to frown on alternate tunings or capos. #The idea is to make the music sound good, not to win some macho "I only play closed position scales and barre chords on my 1/2" high action.".....my $0.02. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif
I didn't mean it was a macho thing and I'm not sure I even know what 'non-barre' chords mean (or barre for that matter). I just want to be able to put my fingers where they need to be to make the right sound.
Like I said, sometimes I feel so stupid that I am afraid to ask the questions.
And my honest $.02, I think it is probably easier to find a chord on a mandolin (and put your fingers there) than it is on a guitar.
The idea really is just to make the music easier to play. This gig is at a wine tasting thing, so I somehow think that the people listening won't be able to tell the difference in short order, lol! Also, the mandolin in its lower tuning seems to compliment the overall sound better. Cool to see that others have tried this, and thanks to all for your comments.
I guess I didn't 'obvious'ly see what the problem was. And I'm not sure I knew that capos were frowned on.
Hey, I'm still tryin'. I just wanted to figure out the fingerings.
I guess I didn't 'obvious'ly see what the problem was. #And I'm not sure I knew that capos were frowned on.
Hey, I'm still tryin'. #I just wanted to figure out the fingerings.
I've heard people talk negatively about capos, for straight-ahead bluegrass playing, they're never used... I've heard of a few people that use them, though. I tried clamping my Shubb guitar capo on my mando the other day, and I can see how it might be a useful tool for someone looking to get an open, ringing chord sound in a higher key.
What, exactly, is an open chord?
Open chords are chords that utilize the open strings... like playing a G chord, fretting the E and A strings and leaving the D and G strings open.
Oh goody goody, the capo discussion again!
I like this idea of tuning down a 1/2 step. #I think Flatt & Scruggs used to tune a 1/2 step sharp. #The rationale was they felt it was a "brighter" sound. For people that have a 2nd mandolin, it might be nice to carry two instruments, tuned differently.
Now hand me the saxophone capo so I can play in B!
I'd rather use a capo than tune down. Good instruments are designed to be played "at pitch" and you tend to lose tone if you detune. All the metal guys that do it use heavier strings- Hendrix and SRV as well. If I had to go 1/2 step down, I'd probably want to go up a notch or two on string thicknesses. That said, if it sounds good to you, go for it!
Using a capo isn't lame if you use it for reasons of sound- to get open strings ringing if you want them. Being able to play in any key is great, but certain styles require certain sounds.
I've heard of some serious celtic players who tune their instruments up half a tone so most tunes are in Eb not D(generally fiddle players), the idea being that it gives everything a brighter sound.
This has the added "bonus" - in the eyes of some of these folk - that it prevents beginners joining in with the session. In my view this is pretty antisocial, but sometimes backfires quite amusingly when a player with not such a good ear who recognises the tune joins in a semitone down http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/laugh.gif
lots of great rock bands have done this. Look at Guns and Roses or Nirvana both those bands tune down a half step. Heck didn't Lester Flat do this quite a bit also?
Personally, I don't buy any blanket statement that it is always wrong to tune down, or differently, or use a capo. These instruments are tools for our creativity and musical expression. Sure, certain styles have certain techniques that are characteristic of the style... but imho, there's no reason NOT to adapt them to whatever we need them for.
So if a capo helps, or using a GDAD or ADAE tuning helps, or tuning down a 1/2 step in order to be able to sing a long better... why not?
I also agree with John McGann that it is important to know that instruments are constructed to sound well at a certain pitch, and that the tone will change when tuning lower or capo-ing higher. Sometimes different string gauges are called for in order to maintain the right tension to get good resonance. But really, the "standards" we have are conventions... developed over years, but not carved in stone.
It is also true that some of these methods are understood to be shortcuts for good technique. And in some cases, that's true. But not everybody has the time, inclination, talent or whatever to learn optimal technique. To me, the proof is in the music... how does it sound? And are the players and listeners enjoying it?
otterly, what a great response. i bought a capo, but haven't used it as of yet as i'm trying to learn to play in different keys. however, i wouldn't even hesitate to slap it on there if i wanted to play a song with some friends and couldn't figure it out.
great concept- "the proof is in the music" - couldn't have said it better! ;thanks:blues:
You may want to use this gig as an opportunity to learn to play in keys that are unfamiliar at this point. Will definitely make you a better player.
If you tune down, you probably won't learn anything new. Just a thought... :cool:
Hey Nora, I'm sorry if it sounded like I was directing anything towards you - I sure wasn't. You'll hear people say things about how there's only one right way to do something sometimes, and it urks me. You weren't doing that though, nor was anyone else on this thread. Please don't be afraid to ask questions around here if you want to learn something. You or anyone else is not stupid just because you're new to something. I may have been trying to sound like it up there, but I'm certainly not the biggest expert you'll hear from. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
You may want to use this gig as an opportunity to learn to play in keys that are unfamiliar at this point. #Will definitely make you a better player.
If you tune down, you probably won't learn anything new. #Just a thought... #:cool:
That was my original intent in not tuning down... but I've played some of these songs with him in standard tuning so we already have some semblance of an arrrangement worked out. And, boy, is that first fret/sixth fret double-stop a pain to manage!
It's kind of interesting, though, trying to turn everything you know upside-down on the fly. Definitely a good skill to develop.
If your buddy was tuning up, then use a capo. If he's tuning down a half-step then tune on down too. Heavier strings will help.
If anyone asks; just say you've tuned to a baroque A.
I'd rather use a capo than tune down.
Interesting idea there...let's say the guitar is tuned down a 1/2 step. In this example a C chord whould sound as a B (in concert pitch). B is a great key for the mandolin and one that is used quite a bit in bluegrass music. A G chord now becomes a G-Flat, that's where it gets interesting...
With the challenge of G-Flat aside, a capo at the first fret of the mandolin would allow the mandolin to function as though it was in the key of F, which may be a little more "user-Friendly". Capo at the secong fret and you can go into E, which is nice too. Go up to the fourth fret and you can use the handy-dandy key of D!
I've found that beyond the fifth fret it's pretty hard to get a capo to work very well. Now all of this shifting around really makes you think about chords and the harmonic structure of what you're doing. In some ways this may be just as instructional as learing to play in G-Flat without the capo.
Just a thought...
2 1/2 steps , or a whole Maj2nd down is where Kawlija (that wooden head) works best.
F C G martin bari uke strings, D a soprano one, the 8 string electric also, C is then Bb. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/blues.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/blues.gif
transposing is a good brain chore.
Capos are for banjo players http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wow.gif
Hey Nora, I'm sorry if it sounded like I was directing anything towards you - I sure wasn't. #You'll hear people say things about how there's only one right way to do something sometimes, and it urks me. #You weren't doing that though, nor was anyone else on this thread. #Please don't be afraid to ask questions around here if you want to learn something. #You or anyone else is not stupid just because you're new to something. #I may have been trying to sound like it up there, but I'm certainly not the biggest expert you'll hear from. #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif
No offense taken. Sometimes, I guess, I can be a little too blunt. What I really meant is that (from the original post by siren), I don't see what is 'obvious' about it being a problem. Other than you have to tune again. I know I'm missing something here but I'm not sure what it is.
Just a quick note of thanks to those who responded to my question on this. The gig was last night at a local winery, a crowd of about 400 or so, it was real fun! I ended up tuning down a half step and leaving the mando in that tuning for about a week, and just banging the heck out of it any chance that I got. That helped me to get used to the feel of the strings under my fingers (which was very different) and helped the instrument get used to staying in the altered tuning (the first few days were iffy, but it settled down after that). Tuning down was the right thing to do in this situation for a couple of reasons:
1. The material was somewhat unfamiliar (we played a few tunes that I'd never played before including 'Runaway Train', 'Let it Be', 'Wish You Were Here" and a couple others) but since I didn't have to worry about shifting positions by a half-step, I was able to pull it of with some semblance of grace.
2. We ended up playing for about three hours. The lower tension in the strings definitley helped out my left hand, since I have problems with carpal tunnel and tendinitis from time to time.
3. Lastly, the different timbre that the lower-tuned strings gave really complemented the other instrumentation well (keyboard, acoustic guitar, and djembe/hand percussion).
I was really surprised how beneficial this was in this particular situation.
Thanks again for your thoughts, everyone!
[quote=Lee957,Mar. 31 2005, 14:13]If your buddy was tuning up, then use a capo. #If he's tuning down a half-step then tune on down too.
No reason you can't tune down if he tunes up, or use a capo if he tunes down. #An Ab7 chord is not his fingers and your fingers, they are sounds. #He might like to use a "A7" fingering and tune down, you might like to use an "G7" fingering and capo up. #Or visa-versa. #If the chord is right for the song, and you are both in tune with each other, then you are both playing the "correct" chord, in every possible sense.
You didn't mention anything about the repertoire or the keys your friend was playing in. #The mandolin can easily be played in all 12 keys (unlike some more limited instruments) and is particularly easy to play in D and A. #Perfect for all those well loved standards your friend may have learned in their original keys of Bb and Eb.
Nothing wrong with capoing up, tuning down, or playing in any key you want. #Tuning up can be harmful for a mandolin. #Tuning down a half step should be ok, any more and you can have fret buzz and/or intonation problems. #Mandolin scale is optomized for it's usual tuning.
Oops, I didn't see page 2 before I replied. Glad the gig went well.