Orchestra Tuning, "Tuning Down", Etc. ???

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by Elisa, Jul 3, 2008.

  1. Elisa


    Aug 21, 2007
    North Port, Florida
    I am a long-time violinist, used to strings tuned in 5ths and never inclined to tune a violin (or fiddle) any other way. I bought a beauty of a bass from Ideal Music in NYC and am loving learning it (all pizzicato for now), but it's been a bit of a challenge getting used to a beast tuned in 4ths. I play a LOT by ear and probably have perfect pitch - might be off a half-step now and then.

    Now I read about about these other tunings. What is meant by "tuning down"? Isn't orchestra tuning the standard E-A-D-G from low to high?

    WHY would anyone want to change that? I CANNOT read music in one key but hear it in another - such as a lot of horns have to do. I expect a written note to BE that sound.

  2. Bob Gollihur

    Bob Gollihur GollihurMusic.com In Memoriam

    Mar 22, 2000
    Cape of New Jersey
    Big Cheese Emeritus: Gollihur Music (retired)
    There are players who tune basses in fifths, visit my LINKS page (URL in my sig) and look for Joel Quarrington in the players' list, he's probably the most well known.

    I don't know the context of the "tuning down" comment, can't help there, but the tuning you mention is accurate.
  3. Elisa


    Aug 21, 2007
    North Port, Florida
    Youch, 5ths would take BIG hands, wouldn't it?
  4. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Orchestral tuning is as you described and standard. Solo tuning is, I believe up a whole step. I'm not sure why, I'm not an orchestral player, but I can guess that it keeps you from playing to the end of the fingerboard and perhaps gives you a more singing solo voice.

    Tuning Down is when you buy strings intended for solo tuning and in fact tune them in a standard Orchestral way (E-A-D-G). This results in lower tension and can give you a nice tone if you bass likes that sort of thing. Good for playing through an injury or dealing with strange humidity that is making your bass temporarily hinkie. Or, some people just like it. I did it for a while and enjoyed it for all the reasons above and more.

    But, it's the exception. Most people buy normal strings and tune them the normal way.

    Oh and as Bob said, some people tune in 5ths, but that's a different story.
  5. "Solo tuning" is F#BEA, low to high. "Solo tuning" strings are designed for this tuning; "tuning down" means to tune your solo-guage strings down to "orchestral" pitch= EADG. Some players use this for the decreased mass on the string and decreased tension.

    Many of the solo pieces for DB will come with 2 bass parts, one for orchestral tuning and another for solo tuning, meaning that the fingerings are indicated for orchestral pitch but it's transposed a step to account for solo tuning. That'll really mess up your perfect pitch!

    For solo performance, anything goes as far as I'm concerned. For example, the Rachmaninoff Vocalise plays great with a tuning of EAEA. (1/2 orchestra, 1/2 solo!) You only need the top 2 strings to play it, but you get great sympathetic vibration from tuning 1/2 your strings in octaves. I've played the Bach 1st 'cello suite with orchestra strings tuned solo to take advantge of the extra tension.

    Some of the solo guys might want to elaborate on this, but that should cover your question. Have fun with your new bass!

    JQ is an absolute beast. I saw him in recital last year at the ISB convention. It was a siiiiiiiick recital.
  6. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Inactive Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    I think the 'tuning down' comment is often referred only to the low E sting for those that do not have the C-extension to play the lower notes below E or have a 5-string that is tuned down to either B or C on occasion. The other strings above the E are in 4ths, A, D and G.

    For the most part world wide, the 4-string double bass is tuned in 4ths, e, a, d, g. All the other tunings have been tried over the centuries and failed. Since the 1920s (and before in most places), this has been the tuning world wide for orchestra basses with 4 strings.
  7. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    Elisa, the orchestral ouvre may not encompass alternate tunings but the rest of the fiddle world certainly does.

    The French, Scandinavians, Scots and Irish and yes, the American fiddle traditions feature many altered tunings. AEAE, GDGD and DEAD are three that come to mind right away. They all bring a powerful resonant sonority not available with concert tuning.

    I believe that Edgar Meyer plays in a hybrid tuning of EBEA - mostly solo tuning with the regular low E, similar to Gene Libbea's DADG which is great for modal tunes in D.
  8. So, the bass only transposes (other than the usual implied octave) in solo tuning, and you get used to that easily enough.

    Otherwise, non-standard tunings are mostly used to get low notes outside the normal range if you don't have an extension; I used to use DADG very frequently in the orchestra (and very occasionally lower notes, once even a B... and one time I tuned the low B on a fiver down to A... possibly silly, but it was fun)