There is a famous Chinese song
that has survived down through the ages, TU-NING...it's
still one of my all-time favorites. T-shirts bore
the inscription, "TUNE OR DIE", and this adage
is appropiate for yesterday, today AND forever!
How you sound to yourself and others is first of all determined by the tuning of your instrument. If you are out of tune, everything you play will be out of tune and sound like crap! Your guitar is like your mind, if you are thinking about some perceived hurt or anger it will color all your thinking and hence all your conversation, and thus all your relationships. If your guitar is out of tune, everything you play will be out of tune and will create a negative response, not only in your audience but in your own heart itself.
One of the reasons young bands and orchestras sound like young bands and orchestras is that they do not or cannot tune their instruments. The obvious solution is to obtain and use an electronic tuner. This wonderful invention came about many years after I had been playing the guitar, so my mind contains a plethora of alternative tuning methods. For those who are interested, I will elaborate on those shortly.
The electric tuner is a Godsend for everyone, listener and player alike. But what could and should have been the greatest ear trainer in musical history has, sad to say, become a great crutch.
If you manually tune your guitar and then use your tuner to check and correct yourself you will find where your ears are deficient and train your ears to hear correctly and you will develope "Ears To Hear". the human ear has a tendency to hear certain notes of the scale slightly flat. Therefore a singer singing acapella (without musical accompaniment) will tend to drop their pitch on the thirds and seventh notes of the scale as they occur in the song being sung. Without proper training and awareness, the singer will then continue to sing a little flat and if these notes (in a song being sung in the key of "C" the offending notes would be "E" and "B") continue to occur in the song, will continue to go flat, and by the end of the rendition be hopelessly out of tune. A trained voice will compensate slightly and remain on pitch. Singing with musical accompaniment should keep all but the most stubborn singers in tune or, on pitch.
To tune with a tuner first, denys oneself the honor and privilege of having an "ear to hear".
The ability to"hear" when chord changes occur gives you the ability to actually play. If you have to count the number of beats a certain chord is played or read it on a piece or paper, you will never have the Godlike experience of being a spontanious player. To have "ears to hear" means first of all you listen. You listen to something besides yourself. If you are the only one playing then this means also listening to your own heart. If you are playing with other players then this means listening not only to what they are playing but listening to their hearts as well.
If you think, "I tuned with my tuner and now I am in tune," sad to say you do not have "Ears To Hear". First of all, you only tuned the open strings. Try playing another note on one of those strings up the neck and see how in tune it really is. There are several variables that must be taken into account if you want to really sound in tune and have "Ears To Hear". Every guitar has some inconsistencies in the frets and the neck. Secondly the age of the strings will always play havoc with tuning your guitar.
When your strings get old they also become increasingly difficult to keep in tune. The higher up the neck you go, the worse the problem becomes so some adjustment for age has to be made in your tuning. The younger the string the more it stretches. When the stretching stops the string is mature and then the aging process begins. There are a few golden moments when the strings no longer stretch and have yet to age into dullness. Enjoy those and compensate for the rest. Bass player Joe Osborne once told me that he boiled his bass strings to keep them alive. His strings were already fifteen or twenty years old at the time! I once saw him change and put new strings on his Fender bass, but the sound was so altered from his well known and unique sound that he trashed the new strings and put the old ones back on. Once when his house burned down, the only thing he saved was his family and his bass, in that order. I would imagine that he still has the same strings on that most recorded of all basses.
The oldest and most common method of tuning is the "5th Fret" method. By placing your finger (first finger, left hand for right handed guitarists) behind the fifth fret (the frets are those little metal wire things embedded in the fingerboard of the guitar). So, squeezing with enough pressure to produce a clear tone, place your finger behind the fifth fret on the sixth string "E" on the neck, that is the part of the guitar that is closest to your chin as you look down at it. The sound produced by this action should be matched by the sound produced by plucking the open fifth string or "A".
Then place your finger behind the fifth fret on the fifth or "A" string. The sound produced should be matched by plucking the open fourth string. Then place your finger behind the fifth fret on the fourth string or "D". The sound of this note will be matched by the open "G" string. Now here is the variable...place your finger on the third or "G" string only now put your finger behind the fourth fret. This sound will be matched by the open "B" string. Now we go back to the earlier pattern and place your finger on the second or "B" string behind the fifth fret. This note when sounded will match the open first or "E" string. Always tune the ascending or higher string to the lower string because you want to tune the untuned string to the one you have already tuned. This may sound more complicated than it actually is. If you would like visual conformation on this procedure be sure to sign up for "The Finger Tips" interactive live-on the-net, guitar workshop. Also, if this is new to you, find a more accomplished guitar player and they can demonstrate this process for you. An older player would be best because they won't be so locked into their electronic tuner and will remember this antiquated method. Another method of checking your tuning manually is....
THE HARMONIC METHOD
The harmonic produced by brushing lightly on the sixth or low "E" string just behind the fifth fret (be sure to pluck the string with your right hand at the very same time you brush the string ever so lightly with the left hand). This should produce a tone that matches the harmonic produced by brushing the fifth string behind the seventh fret. By sounding both harmoncis at the same time, this should produce a single unvarying tone. If you hear a beating or warbling, keep tuning the guitar until the beat slows and finally stops and the two notes become one. Then brush the fifth string lightly behind the fifth fret. As you pluck the string and brush the fourth string behind the seventh fret again, the tones should be adjusted until oneness occuts. Do the same process with the fourth and third strings until they are one. Now the variable occurs play the harmonic on the third string behind the fifth fret but the "B" or second string will not produce a "G" Harmonic behind the fifth or seventh fret so you must match the third string harmonic by pressing down on the second string behind the eighth fret. Now you can go back to the pattern, play the harmonic by brushing the second or "B" string behind the fifth fret and it will be matched by playing the harmonic on the first or high "E" string behind the seventh fret.
This process can be repeated or interchanged with a combination of harmonics and hard notes by playing the harmonic of the lower note behind the fifth fret and matching to the fretted note of the next higher string behind the seventh fret. Don't forget that the variable will occur going from the fourth to the third string. To tune to the key a song will be played in, tune a chord of that key, for example, in the key of C, play a C chord and make sure the notes in the chord are in tune, first with your tuner or your ear and then adjust to the fixed tuning instrument such as the piano.
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