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Thread: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

  1. #26
    Registered User Bob Visentin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    I played with a woman who tuned to A=432. I was playing bass and keep one tuned that way just for that.

  2. #27
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael H Geimer View Post
    Showed up to a gig with a local singer/songwriter only to find out he tunes down a half-step. A 'cheat-sheet' was provided, but I ended up just hanging onto closed positions and not looking at his fretboard.

    Must have done alright because I'm invited back next week.

    What are your strategies for accompanying players who tune down, or otherwise work "outside the box"?
    I'm not dependent on watching chords from guitar most of the time, using my ears instead. On mandolin and banjo I've gotten used to playing in closed positions ~90% of the time and can discover and play in strange keys by ear often before others have caught on to whatever is going on. Like many have mentioned, I do carry a capo in the case for mandolin but haven't used it yet, but I don't carry a capo for banjo at all.

    On double bass it's pretty hard to play closed positions all the time, so unless the double bass also is tuned down, you just have to know the neck and be fast at stopping strings. I've gotten along pretty well without tuning the double bass up or down so far, but I can imagine that playing in Gb, Cb and Db all the time would take the fun out of playing double bass pretty quickly.

    It occurs to me that the OP session with the 1/2 step down tuned guitar must not have had a double bass, or if it did, it had to be turned down 1/2 step too, which may not be optimal for tone and volume on a double bass -- or for that matter, for other instruments too. In these days of everyone in a band or a jam using electronic tuners, it's a lot for any guitarist to expect... If the guitarist has to have slack strings, I'd suggest tuning the guitar down a full step like a 12-string guitar should be and if needed use a capo, and in doing so get along better with everyone else.

    The same really goes for vocalists who insist on having their backup bands play 1/2 step up or down all the time, but really could sing just as well a full step up or down. Come on. Can we all just get along?

    This is of course keeping in mind that some very prominent old bluegrass bands routinely tuned up 1/2 step. But I'm pretty sure all the instruments in those bands, including the double bass, were tuned up for that, again potentially at the expense of tone and volume... And full disclosure, I routinely use a non-standard tuning on my mandolin, so I try to be sensitive to people not recognizing what I'm playing, and plus, I can easily play in whatever keys people are expecting to play in.

    One last point and then I'll slink away... It is important to watch other people play, but what to watch is pretty critical... I've stopped watching guitar players fretting hands, but I watch their picking hands like a hawk to make sure I'm following the tempo as they're playing it. A habit I got into because our main band's lead singer plays rhythm guitar, and she very eloquently stretches measures with singing so I can't follow her voice for exact beat, but she keeps pretty precise time with the guitar...

    On bass or in the absence of a bass, on banjo, I try to be the metronome for player reference, but if a band or jam veers off a bit I try to match them instead of sinking the ship, again referring to the most consistent guitar by vision. Even if a guitar is loud enough to hear over everyone else (which is frequently not the case), there's some audio latency with a wide stage, and subtle audio latency has earned a reputation for throwing the rhythm off; in contrast, visual action (at the speed of light) is always right on the mark.
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  4. #28

    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    This could vault your playing to new heights. Once you learn to play closed positions, you will never worry about playing in any key deemed odd for mandolin.
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  6. #29

    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    The problem:
    "Showed up to a gig with a local singer/songwriter only to find out he tunes down a half-step"

    The solution:
    Tune down right along with him!

  7. #30
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    For me there is a bit of a social subtext to this one which definitely affects my attitude to things.
    Although we as instrumentalists may find it useful to make use of the guitarists left hand for our ease of playing, isn't it a bit rich to expect them to confirm to our needs to make life simple for us? Should we be thinking they're doing it wrong or being unhelpful just because we no longer have an easy ride? It may be kind to everyone else, but is it an obligation they have to remain fixed to or risk being thought of as inconsiderate?
    Eoin



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  8. #31

    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    My best approach is to become familiar with the material outside of the jam. My second best is to listen carefully and quickly learn the song structure by ear. My last resort is to look at the guitarist’s hands - as long as you know the key, even if they are detuned you can still easily see if they are playing root, iv, v or whatever. You can only do your best.

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  10. #32
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Quote Originally Posted by J.Albert View Post
    The problem:

    The solution:
    Tune down right along with him!
    Tuning my mandolin down (or up) by as much as a semitone results in disastrous intonation issues which can only be (partly) solved by moving the bridge, which I wouldn't attempt in the middle of a session. "Get up John" on youtube provides plenty of examples of interesting microtonalities (to put it charitably) due to an unusual tuning of the mandolin.

    I'm with old sausage and dhergert here - ears and quick learning are the best approach. There's also the time honoured tactic of just playing a lot less.
    "Give me a mandolin and I'll play you rock 'n' roll" (Keith Moon)

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  12. #33
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Quote Originally Posted by Polecat View Post
    There's also the time honoured tactic of just playing a lot less.
    ^This my plan for tomorrow! Going to work myself in between the vocal lines, and do my best to anticipate the changes/add dynamics/fills and the take the occasional solo. Last time we played it was 3+hours of covers and originals. Pretty sure this time is 1-1/2hrs of all original material, a last local gig before taking his trade to Music City.

  13. #34
    Registered User Paul Cowham's Avatar
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    I tend to agree with other people here that it is good for musicianship and mando skills to just use your ears, figure the key out and play closed positions.

    That said, if you want to use open strings, then rather than tuning down half a step (which is a right faff), I'd suggest putting a capo on the first fret. If they play in G then play in F (open A string), if they play in D then play in C, if they play in A then play in G etc...
    Last edited by Paul Cowham; Jan-08-2020 at 12:22pm.

  14. #35
    Registered User Polecat's Avatar
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael H Geimer View Post
    ^This my plan for tomorrow!
    As Miles Davis is reputed to have said to John Coltrane "Don't just do something, stand there!"
    "Give me a mandolin and I'll play you rock 'n' roll" (Keith Moon)

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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    The Isaacs, a successful Southern gospel family group, has a unique sound because they play an A at 432 instead of 440 on much of their material. It's especially noticeable in their harmony. I knew it was different but I didn't know why until I heard one of the group talking about the reason for the different sound. I don't think they did it in their earlier days. They have a bunch of stuff on YouTube.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    If this is a frequent gig and you enjoy playing with this person, then learn his repertoire the best you can. I have to admit, though, that playing in Db, Gb or Ab is not the easiest, despite what some folks said. However, I also agree with those who say, why kill yourself with on-the-job-training—life is way too short—when you can play your best licks if you just go along with the flow and tune your mandolin down a half step. That is not so low that your strings will be flopping about and you get a wee bit more bass and you can just pretend to be playing in familiar keys. And if this guy is offering you a national tour with lots of money then you can afford to have a longer scale mandolin built that would sounds great tuned 1/2 step down.
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    If you have another mandolin you can always string it up with the next heavier strings so tuning down a half step will still have a fair amount of tension. Keep that mandolin for this particular gig.
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    If things get really desperate, you could always rehearse.
    Steve

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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve L View Post
    If things get really desperate, you could always rehearse.
    That's important. We want to make sure we have our ad libs and spontaneous remarks down pat.

    Seriously, while certainly not possible for jams and the like, practice makes a big difference in regular gigs.
    David Hopkins

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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    If you are mainly accompanying songs, an octave mandolin capoed wherever you want is very effective.
    I use the octave much more for song accompaniment than mandolin.
    David A. Gordon

  22. #42

    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Quote Originally Posted by Beanzy View Post
    For me there is a bit of a social subtext to this one which definitely affects my attitude to things.
    Although we as instrumentalists may find it useful to make use of the guitarists left hand for our ease of playing, isn't it a bit rich to expect them to confirm to our needs to make life simple for us? Should we be thinking they're doing it wrong or being unhelpful just because we no longer have an easy ride? It may be kind to everyone else, but is it an obligation they have to remain fixed to or risk being thought of as inconsiderate?
    Itís not so much the other instrumentalists relying on the guitar players left hand position as it is the guitar playerís assertion to tune a half step from the generally accepted tuning and then expect every other instrumentalist to also deviate from standard tuning, often times, for no particular advantages for those other instrumentalist, and as discussed, either forces them to play in closed positions, or tune a half step just to match, which can adversely affect volume and tone. There are standard tunings partly for this reason, so that instrumentalist can play together, whatever instrument they have, without having to conform to one particular instrumentalistís different tuning method. Asking others to alter their playing technique, just because one person decided to use a non-standard tuning for their particular instrument is, in my opinion, very inconsiderate of the other players. If itís just a matter of them using non standard tuning, but otherwise play in standard keys, thatís separate issue. I wouldnít knock a guitar player using non-standard tuning, but otherwise didnít change the key being played. Like mentioned, Iíd just not pay attention to their left hand, other than for just chord change timing. I feel like thatís much more reasonable, as itís not asking the other instrumentalists to change actual playing technique.

  23. #43
    Scroll Lock Austin Bob's Avatar
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    What our choir director does is decides he doesn't like the key a piece of music is written in, so he just capos his guitar up X number of frets. A lot of liturgical music is written in keys like Ab or Eb, with chord charts for the guitar suggesting to play in G-capo 1 for Ab, or C-capo 3 for Eb, etc. But our director will often just slide the capo up a few frets, forcing me to transpose on the fly. Some days I can, other days, it's like trying to do algebra in my head using Roman numerals.
    A quarter tone flat and a half a beat behind.

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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Gig Report: Played a Weber Bitterroot with a Radius p/u into a DI for FOH mix, no amp no monitor. Venue is a mid-sized BBQ place with a proper stage and sound engineer. The opener brought along a drummer to back him up, and it turned out to be the drummer from my other band (small world, eh?). So the drummer sat in with us, too.

    For all the strategies discussed above, there was one solution we did not anticipate; Option C: have the sound engineer ride the levels based on my body language, and his good musical sense. Thanks Tim!

    The singer/songwriter made set-list for me, with the key written in red... keys like B#

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    Registered User T.D.Nydn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Lol ,,if someone told me theyre playing in the key of " B# "..I think that's my cue to get up and leave..

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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    I am struggling with the concept 'accompanying a guitarist'. On the celtic music scene I am familiar with guitarists, who are tolerated more than embraced, are expected to play in whatever key the melody instruments are playing. If they can't manage that their conditional welcome is soon retracted.
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  28. #47
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Isn't it supposed to be written Cb????
    THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE JUST FOR YOUR SMILE!

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  30. #48

    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael H Geimer View Post

    What are your strategies for accompanying players who tune down, or otherwise work "outside the box"?
    Lap steel. Sometimes the cats get a little crazy - I find it best to just put my ears to the wheel and go with the flow. Steel lets me get those notes between B# and Cb.

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  32. #49
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael H Geimer View Post
    The singer/songwriter made set-list for me, with the key written in red... keys like B#
    Wait, B# for intents and purposes on mandolin is key of C.
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    Default Re: Accompanying a guitarists who tunes down

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    Wait, B# for intents and purposes on mandolin is key of C.
    Cb... song was actually in B major.

    I do want to say that the songwriter is very talented and most any of us would likely be happy backing him up. He's going to do well in Nashville, I hope.

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