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Thread: Tuned in Fifths

  1. #1
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    Default Tuned in Fifths

    Please explain what is meant by this, I've played guitar for 30 years and Mando now about 6 years; delve into a lot of theory, scales, pentatonic, arpeggios etc.......... and have looked at the circle of fifth's;

    Don't laugh at me sometimes not seeing the forest through the trees, but why do I hear folks say a mandolin is tuned in fifth's.

    Lots of intellectuals on this forum and many will think funny, but I've wondered for a while.

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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    G to D is a fifth, D to A is a fifth, A to E is a fifth, as opposed to standard guitar tuning E to A is a fourth, A to D is a fourth, D to G is a fourth, G to B is 3rd, B to E is a 4th. So what that means is guitar chord shapes are not necessarily moveable across the fret board. Where as mandolin chords are always moveable across the fret board.
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    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    It's from the position of the notes in a scale. The space between any two notes is called an interval, and all the intervals have names.

    If we start with the G on a mandolin, a G major scale is G A B C D E F# G, so the spacing between the G and D string on a mandolin is called a 5th. If you start with a D scale, the 5th is an A. If you start with an A the 5th is an E. The strings are always a fifth apart. If you start with any note, and then move up to the 5th note above it in a major scale, that's an interval of a 5th.

    Guitars are usually tuned in fourths (E to A, A to D, D to G, then B to E) plus one major 3rd interval B-E, which makes some chord forms easier.

    Mandolins mirror the tuning of violins, violas and cellos, which all have strings tuned in fifths. The string bass came from a different family of instruments, it's tuned in 4ths, much like a guitar.
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Quote Originally Posted by sheets View Post
    It's from the position of the notes in a scale. The space between any two notes is called an interval, and all the intervals have names.

    If we start with the G on a mandolin, a G major scale is G A B C D E F# G, so the spacing between the G and D string on a mandolin is called a 5th. If you start with a D scale, the 5th is an A. If you start with an A the 5th is an E. The strings are always a fifth apart. If you start with any note, and then move up to the 5th note above it in a major scale, that's an interval of a 5th.

    Guitars are usually tuned in fourths (E to A, A to D, D to G, then B to E) plus one major 3rd interval B-E, which makes some chord forms easier.

    Mandolins mirror the tuning of violins, violas and cellos, which all have strings tuned in fifths. The string bass came from a different family of instruments, it's tuned in 4ths, much like a guitar.
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Freaking perfect, I didn't know what I already knew.................... Kevin, mind walking me through the circle of fifths in the same way.
    Both responses much appreciated.

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  11. #6

    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    The string bass came from a different family of instruments, it's tuned in 4ths, much like a guitar.
    I believe the reason the string bass and guitar are tuned in fourths and the others in fifths is scale length. If a bass were tuned in fifths it would be an immensely long distance to move up and down one string before you reached the next making playing difficult. Guitar fourth tuning leaves about a normal hand span to the next string just as a mandolin does with fifths tuning. The fourths tuning does make it easier to assign one finger per fret when playing scales though.

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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    As far as I know the 4ths thing is found back in the day of the renaissance lutenist and vihuela players.
    Iím sure some of our lute folks here can chip in proper detail, but as far as I understand it, they mostly needed to play across the fretboard rather than so much along it.
    Even on the relatively short scale tenor lutes this was a vital component in their playing which often aims at multiple voices & complex plucking patterns, with pinched courses sounding simultaneously across unplucked courses between.
    To achieve this they had some pretty complex interval combinations even going for 6ths between some courses.
    Get a load of the tunings listed on the Lute Soc. page

    As for why throwing in the 3rd with the b works, Iíd love a solid explanation, as Iíve only had sketchy explanations in the past.
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    My scenario explaining 4ths vs 5ths is that when the bowed-instrument players wanted more power, the Italian violin-family designs offered an instrument with a more arched bridge but fewer strings, only 4. In exchange for more power, they tuned in 5ths to have a larger melodic range which was the goal for the baroque ensembles and their show-off music. In order to apply more bow pressure the bridge can't be as flat as the multi-string viols like d'amore.

    4ths tuning is much more convenient for a solo player, but the 5ths tuning offers wide range for orchestrations, as long as other instruments can provide the harmony.

    Guitars have the odd interval so that the outer strings are the same note name, making broad chords more convenient.
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    I suppose the reason it is a circle is that if you go up the different keys in fifths, you eventually come back to where you started.
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  17. #10

    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Quote Originally Posted by Beanzy View Post

    As for why throwing in the 3rd with the b works, I’d love a solid explanation, as I’ve only had sketchy explanations in the past.
    Unable to give a historical/etiological explanation, but practically speaking - the closer intervals render denser harmonies (within chord forms), as others have pointed out.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Wright View Post
    ...

    4ths tuning is much more convenient for a solo player, but the 5ths tuning offers wide range for orchestrations, as long as other instruments can provide the harmony.
    Perhaps nowhere is this more exemplary than in the case of (four-stringed) banjos: plectrum - par excellence for solo; tenor -orchestral/ensemblist tool..

  18. #11

    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    As has been said, having one third on the guitar allows for more handy chord shapes. Lute tuning was in fourths with the third in the middle, so had an F# instead of G. A little more symmetrical, but not as handy for favorite keys.

  19. #12

    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    The answers you got are right on. Bass was one of my main instruments in college so I figured I'd pitch in with a little more info and hopefully help you solidify your understanding of the answers you got.

    Historians believe the bass is from the viol family, like the viola da gamba.

    Scale is definitely a factor. Upright bassists usually don't even cover "one finger per fret" back by the nut. So to get from D to G (a fourth) it's open, 1, 4, open (try that in the air and notice you're only using your outside two fingers to get from one string to another). Whereas even the fairly large cello you can play open, 1, 3, 4 so the next pitch is open and you've got it tuned D to A (a fifth). You're skipping frets between fingers on your mandolin!

    I'll try to help you understand the circle of fifths. It's mostly just for remembering/understanding key signatures. Each time you move clockwise (up a fifth) you add a sharp to the key signature. Moving counterclockwise (down a fifth, which is the same as up a fourth so people usually call that moving by fourths) you add a flat. Play some chords in either direction (do it right now) and you might feel that moving clockwise (by fifths) you are adding excitement whereas moving counterclockwise (by fourths) it sounds like it's resolving. Here's an example of each.

    In the first movement of most symphonies composers play a theme, then play a second theme up a fifth (one key clockwise), show off a bunch by weaving around ideas from those themes, then move back to the original key (counterclockwise) to play those themes again and sound resolved. Establish theme, create excitement, resolve. And part of that process is moving by a fifth to create excitement then by a fourth to create resolution.

    The bridge to I Got Rhythm is all fourths. The chords all move counterclockwise. Play around in the key of Bb until your ear is centered there. Then play a couple bars each of D, G, C, F, and end on Bb. Notice how each chord sounds like it's resolving until you get a final resolution back to the home key. Listen to some recordings of the song and you'll see what I mean.

    In folk music when people string together sets of tunes they often move one or the other direction around that circle for the same effects. Hopefully that helps! I actually just came to this forum to see if people tune the fifths beatless, lol! I found this thread, then searched to find a bunch of great advice on finding a beginner instrument. My wife just decided to try mandolin so I grabbed a cheap one from work. I want to get her a decent one and the advice here echoes what the only shop in our metro that knew anything at all about mandolin suggested. They said to order an Eastman md305 and they'd do a nice setup on it, which appears to be a respected beginner model here. In fact, this forum is full of people that know what they're talking about and are sharing great info with beginners, both of which are rare on the internet!

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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Quote Originally Posted by trmptr View Post
    It's mostly just for remembering/understanding key signatures.
    Not to nitpick, but this one statement is pretty misleading. In truth, the circle of fifths contains more info than -- and is useful for -- much more than folk realize until they really begin to take note. What it's "mostly just for" will depend on how the individual musician uses it, and what information he needs from it. It's certainly for identifying the keys and key signatures, and all else you've written about is true, but there's so much more. For instance, seeing at a glance the entire diatonic harmony of a chosen key! These days, that's the most important use in my own musical journey for the COF.

    All I'm saying is that the COF can be "mostly used for" remembering/understanding harmonic relationships that go beyond simply key signatures. For example, the circle diagram below illustrates how the entire diatonic harmony structure of a major key is represented at a glance by the COF:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Where C is the major key, this slice of the pie, with its 6 sections, indicates the Root at top, the vi below it, the IV at left, the ii below it, the V at right, the iii below it, and just to the right of the three would be the vii, which of course would be a diminished chord.

    Thus, it instantly names the diatonic harmony of C major:

    I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - vii*

    C - Dm - Em - F - G - Am - Bdim

    That's a great lot of information to garner instantly from glancing at a compact chart.

    Again, I'm not writing this to nitpick your excellent overview, just to illustrate that the COF is invaluable and not to be dismissed as mostly just useful for understanding key signatures.

    BTW, trmptr, welcome to the forum! I hope your wife enjoys the mandolin.
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Following on from Mark’s point, I though I might as well share these aids I did to help visualising the relationship:

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    As different people think in different ways one may click when learning.

    It’s a wicked quick way to save writing out or needing chord sheets if you know the circle, the formula for the style you’re in, or the number sequence. No more sweating about transpositions or ‘will I get the wrong chord?’ if you can relate these to the circle.

    Just a quick edit to say that the resources I found most use when getting what the mandolin 5th tuning is about, were “Mandolin Masterclass” by Brad Laird and “Guide To Making Any Chord Anywhere for fifths tuned instruments” by Frank Geiger
    Last edited by Beanzy; May-29-2018 at 4:56pm. Reason: Back to tuning
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    It never ceases to amaze and amuse when someone claims that guitar chord shapes are not moveable up and down the neck... these are called barre chords, folks (among other shapes). The so-called "cowboy chords" are not moveable, but neither are open mandolin chords.
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Quote Originally Posted by jaycat View Post
    It never ceases to amaze and amuse when someone claims that guitar chord shapes are not moveable up and down the neck... these are called barre chords, folks (among other shapes). The so-called "cowboy chords" are not moveable, but neither are open mandolin chords.
    (Sigh)

    This kind of talk only serves to further confuse the beginner.

    ALL chord shapes are movable - on guitar, mndln, or any other stringed instrument.

    So called "open"/cowboy chords are merely lower position chord forms with the nut taking the place of a "barring" finger, usually taking advantage of a couple of open strings. It's as movable as any other chord form.

    With the guitar's six strings, you tend to have an open string or two to account for. The approach - so commonly employed by learners of beginning with a few basic lower position forms, then learning "barre chords" - probably does more to impede a complete understanding of the fingerboard, intervallic relations, and chord theory than just about anything else - as evidenced here.

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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    I believe the reason the string bass and guitar are tuned in fourths and the others in fifths is scale length. If a bass were tuned in fifths it would be an immensely long distance to move up and down one string before you reached the next making playing difficult. Guitar fourth tuning leaves about a normal hand span to the next string just as a mandolin does with fifths tuning. The fourths tuning does make it easier to assign one finger per fret when playing scales though.
    I have known bass players who have strung their bass in 5th's and said they would never go back. Play classical and jazz.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    I believe the reason the string bass and guitar are tuned in fourths and the others in fifths is scale length. If a bass were tuned in fifths it would be an immensely long distance to move up and down one string before you reached the next making playing difficult.
    Fine then why are the uke family instruments which are much shorter scale tuned 4th-3rd-4th similar to the top 4 strings of a guitar?
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  31. #19
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Quote Originally Posted by jaycat View Post
    It never ceases to amaze and amuse when someone claims that guitar chord shapes are not moveable up and down the neck... these are called barre chords, folks (among other shapes). The so-called "cowboy chords" are not moveable, but neither are open mandolin chords.
    And another sigh here ... Like you (and prolly catmandu2 and others) I also took issue with that quote, I move chords around all over the guitar neck as well ... but like catmandu2, I don't limit myself to making the "E" shape (which is also "F" shape), "A" shape and "Am" shape barre chords, but also the "C" shape as a barre chord (which by the way also becomes the "D" shape) and bunches of other four- to six-string movable chords (like the C7 shape, for example), and on and on.

    There's not much limit to chord voicings on a guitar, which should be obvious with six strings to work with, and shapes can be moved around for sure. The reason I don't think it bears much notice here is because (1) mandolin forum, and (2) movable shapes on mandolin are inherently different than movable shapes on guitar because due to consistent 5ths tuning the shapes can be moved both horizontally and vertically on mandolin -- a different situation on guitar where the inconsistent 4ths plus tuning means that shapes can't consistently be moved across strings without changing the character.
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    And another sigh here ... Like you (and prolly catmandu2 and others) I also took issue with that quote, I move chords around all over the guitar neck as well ... but like catmandu2, I don't limit myself to making the "E" shape (which is also "F" shape), "A" shape and "Am" shape barre chords, but also the "C" shape as a barre chord (which by the way also becomes the "D" shape) and bunches of other four- to six-string movable chords (like the C7 shape, for example), and on and on.

    There's not much limit to chord voicings on a guitar, which should be obvious with six strings to work with, and shapes can be moved around for sure. The reason I don't think it bears much notice here is because (1) mandolin forum, and (2) movable shapes on mandolin are inherently different than movable shapes on guitar because due to consistent 5ths tuning the shapes can be moved both horizontally and vertically on mandolin -- a different situation on guitar where the inconsistent 4ths plus tuning means that shapes can't consistently be moved across strings without changing the character.
    I've played guitar for 40 year. I know all about barre chords and gasp power5 chords that you can move up and down the neck. That is why I was careful to point out that mandolin chord shapes are more easily moveable ACROSS the neck. Sigh all you want jaycat.
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  34. #21
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Quote Originally Posted by jaycat View Post
    It never ceases to amaze and amuse when someone claims that guitar chord shapes are not moveable up and down the neck... these are called barre chords, folks (among other shapes). The so-called "cowboy chords" are not moveable, but neither are open mandolin chords.
    I've played guitar for 40 year. I know all about barre chords and gasp power5 chords that you can move up and down the neck. That is why I was careful to point out that mandolin chord shapes are more easily moveable ACROSS the neck. Sigh all you want jaycat.
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    bon vivant jaycat's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    I guess I'm outvoted. Still, I (and I would wager most grassers) don't often see a guitarist barring an open G, C or D shape. Maybe I just don't get out enough...

  36. #23
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Quote Originally Posted by jaycat View Post
    I guess I'm outvoted. Still, I (and I would wager most grassers) don't often see a guitarist barring an open G, C or D shape. Maybe I just don't get out enough...
    Hey, not to worry, catmandu2 had a good point to make about your statement re: cowboy chords and he made it. Part of the problem seems to be that some of you guys automatically assume everything about music in the forum relates to bluegrass players and only bluegrass players. As Kevin said, moving chord shapes and scale shapes ACROSS a guitar neck is more complicated ...

    Edit to say: Go ahead and make a barre chord on guitar using the open C shape, and you'll see that the "D" shape triad is automatically included. Not that it matters, it's not the same as moving mandolin chord shapes across the fingerboard (as opposed to up and down the fingerboard).
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  37. #24

    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    Oh we're talking BG - sorry I missed that. Sorry for jumping all over jacat

    There's just a practical limit in terms of technique and the discrete limit of the nut that is evident - and prbly what jaycat was thinking of with his post.

    Only that, this is horrid way to start/approach guitar (yet, prbly how most of us did it - which is a horrendous pedagogic device ... but sound good for a few songs? - you bet!)

    But even before playing all your Keith Richards tunes with a 1/2 bar and a modified "C" shape, for ex, it's eminently useful for the beginner to *conceptualize* this way.

    If you played jazz guitar, or plectrum banjo, or...you'd just have a different concept. We just apply, or divide up/extract what we want/need from guitar, it's all cool. Only that - do know - it's ALL connected/relational, without real limits.

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  39. #25
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    Default Re: Tuned in Fifth's

    I didn't think of moving anything other than the E and A shape for years. Then I went to a church music seminar and sat with a guitar player who showed me how he moved the D shape to get different chord voicings. When I move a D shape it is often just using the the DGBE strings or even the GBE strings only and I rarely go to the trouble since I play with a piano in the ensemble in church.
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