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Thread: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

  1. #26
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    I find it very difficult to play any instrument that isn’t in standard tuning (fifths).
    I play a lot by ear so I immediately feel that I’m tripping up when I move to an odd string.

    -though, of course I love playing ukuleles in fifths tuning, such a relief.
    And badly damaged or cheap old guitars that are in VERY open tunings, now that, I like. Something like GDGDGD... or DGGDAD

  2. #27
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    Quote Originally Posted by atsunrise View Post
    I find it very difficult to play any instrument that isnít in standard tuning (fifths).
    I play a lot by ear so I immediately feel that Iím tripping up when I move to an odd string.

    -though, of course I love playing ukuleles in fifths tuning, such a relief.
    And badly damaged or cheap old guitars that are in VERY open tunings, now that, I like. Something like GDGDGD... or DGGDAD
    I have a number of good friends who have that "tripping" look in their eyes when they try to play my mandolin. It's like the right side of their brains just regressed back to 5 years old and they can't do mandolin left hand fingering anymore.

    By itself, a tuning is just that, a set of fingering patterns that a person gets used to using for the left hand to make notes. If setup properly, the instrument still sounds like what it is; played by hands that are familiar with it, the tuning won't matter.

    Speaking as a strident non-standard tuning user on mandolin and on a few other instruments, about 99% of the people listening won't notice a difference and usually that 1% who does notice, notices it because of what is going on visually, not because of sound. Now if you fingerpick instead of flatpick, that might get more people wondering what's different.
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  3. #28
    gardener catmandu2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    I love variety of tuning. I especially like it for the big resonances to get out of acoustic instruments. Maybe why I like the droning fiddles and harps, the pipes and drums, the huge resonances to draw.. I've always gotten carried away with it tunings and temperaments - how can you not since 1970..?

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  5. #29
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    Quote Originally Posted by atsunrise View Post
    GDGD tuning could be useful to beginners who’ve learned the G scale and the G double stops and want to improvise by ear all over the neck, straight away.
    I’ve heard complete beginners (on guitar) who already had a good sense of rhythm pick up the instrument and sound like pros on the first day when they play in these sort of tunings.
    It’s partly being able to mix bass accompaniment with treble melody lines.

    If that's the beginning, what is the next step? Relearning scales and chords in G? I see no reason not to exploit the symmetry of fifths tuning right away, albeit without the use of open strings (the only instruction I ever had was this piece of advice: don't use open strings at all in the beginning)


    As for the guitar I had a period of experimenntig with open G and open D about many years ago. These tunings offer some nice, but very special, effects on harmonically limited material. I've written one song in G tuning and I used to have an arrangement of Yesterday in D tuning. But after giving up finger picking I've stuck to standard tuning.

  6. #30
    gardener catmandu2's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    Yes those are great harmonic tunings on guitar for that blues/folk/fingerstyle. I guess they called Fahey and kottke and the British players - many emulating american blues guys - "primitive fingerstyle." I also got into dadgad heavy for a while primarily after pierre bensusan, hedges, but that hedges stuff got me into more exotic tunings on gtr. I never really varied from straight 5ths on mndln. I used to love all that stuff and ya it did get hard to remember all those pieces in different tunings. I remember i used to spend all my time working on rickover's dream and aerial boundaries. My favorite since them younger days was bert jansch. Now I just assuage it with hdgfl. Buddy who was also into this stuff with me went on to sitar..
    Last edited by catmandu2; Oct-31-2019 at 9:04pm. Reason: Gramma

  7. #31
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    Sort of waking up a sleeping thread about alternative tunings... Over the last 16 months I've been jamming online almost every day for up to 2 hours, and for doing so my mandolin has become my instrument of choice. This originally was mostly because of the mandolin's size and weight and how those characteristics relate to ease of managing the computer while playing, but it has also been because it is a solo voice instrument that can carry the melody when needed, and like with in-person jams, because there tends to be fewer mandolins in these online jams than other instruments.

    Over these months my mandolin has become a dear friend. And, I'm beginning to really see what some of the advantages and disadvantages of gCEG tuning are. This is speaking as someone who is very familiar with open tuning intervals on other instruments, so I publicly accept that I'm biased -- gCEG is my permanent mandolin tuning and I'm very happy and used to it. But I'll put these observations out there for mandolin people to consider and to add to.

    These observations are not necessarily in order of importance.

    On the advantage side these are my observations:

    1) The tuning lends itself to chord fingerings more than single-string fingerings.

    2) From a music-fundamental side of things, gCEG tuning is a major musical root-third-fifth triad plus a lower fifth. This provides some very logical chord manipulation options.

    3) From a mandolin voice standpoint, gCEG has the same low note as standard mandolin tuning; as such it seems that most of the mandolin's acoustic build theory still applies. The gCEG tone voicing seems pretty consistent with mandolins that use standard tuning.

    4) That said, strung with custom strings but generalized, gCEG tuning is a lower tension tuning especially in the higher pitches than standard tuning, so string tension related wear-and-tear on hands and instruments is bound to be reduced. I had considered using aDF#A tuning, but my fingers prefer the lower tension.

    5) Implicit with this lower tension and the different strings is that this tuning tends to tame down the higher notes on a mandolin.

    6) If a person prefers using barre chords and walking up and down the neck, gCEG tuning facilitates that on the mandolin very nicely.

    7) For me, chromatic and chord-melody playing has become the norm. Fingering over the barre is easy and natural. Part of that is that I have other instruments that I play regularly that are tuned in identical or very similar intervals, so I can smoothly improvise in any key in gCEG on my mandolins

    Disadvantages that I can see of using gCEG tuning:

    1) For best tone, custom heavier gauge strings should probably be used for the E and G courses. I use plain .017 for the E courses and plain .015 for the G courses. This means these strings are thicker and stiffer, so for someone used to standard tuning and standard strings, this by itself may represent an adjustment. And for some people, along with that there is the inconvenience of not being able to tune up to standard tuning with these strings.

    2) There is a loss of 9 notes (frets) from the top range of the mandolin. This may be a drop-dead issue for some mandolin players. In my playing I don't seem to miss the higher notes and I play without missing them. But that's just from my orientation and I understand that.

    3) A person who only plays mandolin in standard tuning cannot recognize my fingering as they play, nor can they fluently play my gCEG-tuned mandolins. Conversely, I also cannot fluently play their standard-tuned mandolins, nor can I walk into a music store and fluently play the mandolins there in standard tuning -- and unless I was strongly assured that it would be no problem, I would not ever de-tune anyone else's mandolin in order to play it, for risk of changing their setup or breaking strings.

    4) Music and music references written specifically for standard mandolin tuning do not work for gCEG tuning. Since I improvise everything I play, that isn't a big issue for me, but for other people this could be a major problem.

    5) I'll put this on the disadvantage side, but it may have some advantages too. Standard fiddle tune fingering on mandolin doesn't work in gCEG tuning. For some that means that their years of fiddle fingering experience doesn't apply to a gCEG-tuned mandolin. For others though, that means their gCEG-tuned mandolin playing is more similar to other instruments that they play, and that their sound has a different character than most other mandolin players. Good and bad. In actual use, gCEG tuning tends to support full chords, harmonies and approximate tune renditions better and more easily than exact fiddle melodies.
    Last edited by dhergert; Jun-05-2021 at 10:21am.
    -- Don

    "Music: A minor auditory irritation occasionally characterized as pleasant."
    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."


    2002 Gibson F-9
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  8. #32
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    Don: I notice that you now call your tuning gCEG. In prior posts you spelled it all caps and it looked like you specced wound strings. Do you now tune the lowest course as re-entrant? So, if I understand correctly you are essentially playing uke tuning with a lowered first course?
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  9. #33
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    Hey Jim, I may have used the note notation incorrectly above there. My intent was to indicate low G with the lower-case g, and higher notes with the uppercase CEG... My apologies if I got them backwards...

    Specifically, I'm using the standard D'A Flattop set's wound strings for low G and for C (which would normally be D in standard tuning). The .017 E and .015 G are both D'A plain (unwound) strings. Everything was ordered from JustStrings.

    Worth mentioning, the standard D'A Flattop set comes with wound A strings. I tried them for the E strings in this open C tuning, but they lasted only a couple of days, the windings are so fine that they wear through with the amount of playing I do. So that's why I'm using plain .017 for the E.

    Aside from using gCEG (or the opposite case if I've got it mixed up) for naming this tuning, it does have some precedence named as Open C tuning, TaroPatch C tuning, SlackKey C tuning, etc.

    And yes, although I'm not very familiar with actual uke tuning, but if uke tuning is usually Gceg (or something like that), it's using a non-re-entrant version of that.

    I hope that helps.

    P.S. I just spent over an hour reading differing opinions on lowercase and uppercase letters for music notation. Stringed instrument people tend to use lowercase for higher notes and uppercase for lower notes (so I did get it wrong in my previous post, by this definition it probably should have simply read either GCEG or gceg depending on your POV). Some music fundamental specialists usually say the break point is middle c, above which notes will be lowercase, below which notes will be uppercase, and, chord names are different -- uppercase chords are major chords, lowercase chords are minor chords. And most guitarists just use all uppercase for note names and chord names. Most uke and banjo players believe noting tunings like gDGBD means a re-entrant tuning, but some music fundamental specialists will say a re-entrant tuning is simply a tuning which has a high note first, out of order for the rest of the strings, and they look to middle c to determine uppercase or lowercase, whether it's re-entrant or not. And, a lot of us just don't know.
    Last edited by dhergert; Jun-06-2021 at 1:15pm.
    -- Don

    "Music: A minor auditory irritation occasionally characterized as pleasant."
    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."


    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug (plus many other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
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  10. #34
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    I think there's one great reason for using standard tuning for Celtic music IF you want to play the tunes, and that's that it's the standard fiddle tuning, so a lot of tunes are writ for it. Us Celtic types aren't generally much good at 'fancy' tunings on fiddle, so we usually just leave them standard, or maybe have a fiddle tuned up a half step all round if Bb Highland pipes are involved. I can see that GDAD could work for playing tunes providing you don't pick too many with a high B in them (fourth finger E string in 1st position). That could make some standard tunes in G and A, (which often include high B), a bit awkward. I know there are exceptions, and Celtic players who do all kinds of fancy stuff, but generally...

  11. #35
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    Looking over the early posts on this re-opened thread I guess my only change is that I have played more in dead man's (deedad), DDAD. For some tunes I really like it.

    I think alternate tunings for a specific tune, to bring out something cool in that tune, is really great. But I don't think I will try and learn to play mandolin in alternate tunings. Just specific tunes on that cross tuned mandolin.

    Too much mental work going back and forth. And for figuring out harmonies and double stops and playing positions and playing up an octave or down an octave, or general noodling - standard tuning with its 98,757,644 symmetries, just has so many advantages.

    But my dead man's mando does get some play.
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  12. #36
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    I tuned my blowback to FCGD seemed to work well.

    I tried it because I liked this song and think it was tuned that way.
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  13. #37
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    In my experience, the open c tuning I use is the only tuning I use on mandolin. I don't know if I'd recommend going back and forth between this and standard tuning unless a person is already intimately familiar with both tuning intervals.

    Honestly, if life had dealt me a different set of interests and I was fluent on the fiddle, instead of on the banjo, I would probably have little interest in using an alternate tuning. As things are, because of open c tuning I have grown to really love playing mandolin, and it now stands even with the banjo as a personal selection for me to play. I doubt if I would have ever reached that level with playing mandolin in standard tuning.

    That said, I'm not against standard tunings per se. I do play double bass in standard tuning, given its physical requirements I can see real strong reason for 4ths tuning. Personally, 5ths tuning on bass seems less useful, but others like it a lot, especially if they also play cello or other violin family instruments.

    And, while I play "at" Dobro in standard DBGDBG tuning, that's easy for me, again since I am familiar with the intervals involved. And it doesn't hurt having fimgerpicking experience from playing the banjo.

  14. #38
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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Hey Jim, I may have used the note notation incorrectly above there. My intent was to indicate low G with the lower-case g, and higher notes with the uppercase CEG... My apologies if I got them backwards...



    A bit confusing to me, since I'm used to Helmholtz notation. By that system the standard tuning on guitar is E A d g b e', on mandolin g d' a' e''. Middle c is c' etc.

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    Default Re: Alternate Mandolin Tunings

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    I do a lot of single-picking (vs. tremolo) chord melody work up and down the neck... Probably similar to what you refer to as chromatic. I use a lot of barre chords, which also allows me to do a lot of full double and triple stop tremolo for both harmonies and chord melodies.

    For me the clearest advantage is that my fretted instruments are all tuned with the same intervals, so they use the same fingering up and down the neck; we're talking about my banjo family instruments, mandolin, guitar and Dobro. So for me working up a song's arrangement on one instrument means I can play nearly the same arrangement on each of them with the only difference being whether I flatpick or fingerpick.
    "Chromatic" means (roughly) one finger - one fret. My motive for picking up the mandolin was that I wanted to play the fiddle tunes and polkas I had transcribed on guitar in their proper octave and without those frequent string changes. I do play a number of tunes, especially some of my originals, on both instruments, exploiting the advantages of either tuning. There are a number of reasons for the "lack of symmetry" of the guitar, e.g., the different roles of different registers. E.g., the top three strings form a minor triad, strings 2-4 a major triad. Changing one note in the first case gives you a major triad in two inversions or the top notes of a dom chord. I don't want or need anything like that on the bottom strings, but there it's very nice to have two bass notes a seventh apart on one fret. Etc.

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