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Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Woodchuck, Jan 4, 2003.
I see people doing it a lot, but I can't grasp the concept. How do I learn this?
Its really easy.
Once you have one string tunned, all you have to do is play the harmonics over the 5th fret of one string and the 7th fret of the next string higher. All you have to do is tighten or loosen the string untill you have harmonics at the same note on the same octave. On a good set of strings with an even tone on all strings you shouldnt even hear a different tone from one string to another.
Its alot easier than using the 5th fret or the 7th fret as a reference for other strings because you dont need to use your hands for fretting, and can use them for plucking and tunning the strings while the notes ring.
Basically, your in tune if you only hear one tone after hitting both harmonics. If the tone warbles then your out of tune. the farther you are away from being in tune the less its sounds like a warble and the more its like a frizz, but you don't need to know that, just know that if the same tone is hit on both harmonics it will not only ring as though its one tone(as if you only hit it once) but it will mean your in tune!
5th fret of D string harmonic is a D
7th fret of G string harmonic is a D
of course thats the amatuer way the real pros do it an octave higher
harmonic Right in front of the 3rd fret on the G string and about halfway between frets 2 and 3 on the D string, it will play the same notes and you COULD tune to it(I don't recommend this cause its harder to hit these harmonics
There is a description along with a Real Player video at
Using harmonics is the easiest way to make sure a bass is at least in tune with itself, especially if you're caught without a tuner. If I'm trying out a bass in a music store, it's the first thing I do. I usually use the D string as the point of reference--for whatever reason it always seems to be the one that is closest to still being in tune, maybe cuz it takes the least slapping/popping abuse. Or, maybe it's just my imagination.
Also, it's a lot easier to tune harmonics, since the dissonant "warbling" is a easier to hear. Sometimes it's easier for the tuner to "hear" too, especially cheap ones. And, as has been mentioned, it leaves your left hand free to turn the tuning keys.
And that's the whole thing that you're listening for, and trying to get rid of. The actual term for is is "Beat frequency". It happens anytime you have two sound sources that are very close together. You get areas of constructive and destructive interference. The "Warbling" you hear is the resultant beat frequency due to the slightly different wave frequencies creating constructive interference. It seems like the resulting sound should be 1/4 of the wavelength of the difference of the two sources. It's been a while since I researched this, so this could be wrong. It's useful in all music / harmonic systems. You're able to tune systems using this property.
This beat frequency is called such because it is used in certain music styles as the main beat of the song. Two instruments are set up at slightly different tunings to create the Beat of the music when percussion isn't available or used. Very interesting stuff, and very interesting music styles.
But, as always. I could be full of it.
Ya know its funny that you mention the D string as being the one you find to be in tune most often,gump. On all the basses I've owned(3 total) the D string tuner has always been the quickest to go flat
weird the way the world works
Tuning using harmonics isn't bad for situations where you have a string out of tune that you need to get in tune quickly. However, you can't get your instrument perfectly in tune using harmonics even if you get the harmonics on each string exactly in tune with each other.
The reason is that the fretboard on a bass has an equal distance between every note. When you play the required harmonic at 7th fret, you are playing a note that don't correspond exactly with the equivalent fretted note. The difference is small but it is there. Therefore, if you tune from your lowest string to your highest string using harmonics, your lowest and highest strings won't be perfectly in tune.
If you have to tune using harmonics, tune the middle strings outward. That lowers the potential error between the lowest and highest strings.
For more info, check out:
Thats odd you say that Dave, because I find I sound most in tune across all the strings when I tune using harmonics bassed on one string.
Dave is right, actually. Harmonics representing anything but the octave are not in tune, by the equal tempered scale. For example, when you play the harmonic over the 5th fret on the E string, and the one of the 7th fret of the A string - technically, for the bass to be in tune, they shouldn't be exactly in tune with each other.
The harmonic over the 5th fret of the E string is giving you an E (2 octaves above the pitch of the open string) - this is in tune (provided the E string is in tune, that is). However the harmonic over the 7th fret of the A string is giving you the 5th - i.e. an E - and this is not in tune, using equal temperament. The difference is slight however.
So really, there is no perfect way to tune with harmonics, because the only ones that are in tune are the octave ones. E.g. on the E string, the only harmonics you can produce that are in tune are also Es - so it's no good for tuning other strings. Unless, that is, you wanna play harmonics on the 2 strings at the same fret, giving you a perfect 4th, and tune the string in order to get that 4th in tune.
Thanks guys, I REALLY appreciate the info. I found myself without a tuner at rehearsal last week. I had to tune by playing "Good Times", and adjusting each string until it sounded right. Not the most efficient way to tune.
It's possible that the way you are tuning the instrument is tempering the different strings in a direction that is slighly closer to something more natural and consonant. There are tradeoffs though. The equal-temperment tuning was invented in order to make every key sound equally good. When you get away from that, you may be sacrificing the sound in other places. That is, certain intervals or chords will sound more in tune but other will sound more out of tune.
There are many, many different temperments for instruments. Most are really only applicable to the piano since you can't adjust your fret positions. At least, not after the instrument has been built.
In the old days, instruments were tuned such that only a few keys were playable. The rest sounded bad. Then the idea of tempering the tuning to make more keys playable came about. That's what Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier was meant to take advantage of.
Here's an excellent PC-based tuner that supports more than 30 different temperments:
Those temperments aren't really applicable to the bass though. Unless you can move your fret positions!
Cool links, Dave, although the guitar one is a tad anal. I like the line at the end, "No further tuning adjustments are PERMISSIBLE." Okay then. All I know is that you can get a bass a lot more in tune with itself than you can a tuba.
Using harmonics ain't perfect, but neither is tuning open strings and then fretting them. You can chase intonation around until you go crazy. But it'll get you to within 3 cents in a pinch, which is as accurate as most tuners. And that'll get you through "Free Bird" without anyone crying, uh...