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Why is standard tuning.......standard tuning?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Alex, Jan 7, 2006.

  1. Just curious why standard tuning is EADG. Why not GCFBb? or anything else?

    And another related thing - Why are guitars tuned EADGBE It should continue tuning in 4ths and be EADGCF, eh? Why is it tuned in a flat 4th from G to B? That has always bugged me. :confused:

  2. It would be really hard to do a barre chord with the string all tuned in consecutive 4ths.
  3. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Because the definition of standard, according to webster is: 4. a tree standing alone.
  4. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    FF already gave you the answer for the reason that a guitar isn't tuned to all fourths.

    There are two reasons that a bass guitar is tuned EADG.

    First, one of the mother instruments, the string bass (or upright bass) is tuned EADG.

    Second, the other mother instrument, the spanish guitar, is tuned EADGBE.

    Leo Fender designed the Precision Bass as an instrument that a guitarist could double on, so why not tune it the same as the 4 lowest strings on a guitar, only an octave lower?
  5. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    Well, yes, that's fairly obvious, the bass is tuned in 4ths because it is a baby and it's forebearers tuned in 4ths(or some variation thereof)

    However, digging deeper on the question reveals some more interesting thoughts, such as, why 4ths at all? why 4ths starting on E? why are some classical instruments tuned in 5ths and others in 4ths?, why not 3rds? why not a mixture of various intervals? why did the lute die out?...etc...etc. I would be more interested in examining that information, if anyone has any input.
  6. The first (sort of) 6 string bass, the Bass Viol, was tuned in 4ths and 5th I believe (I have to go and check).
  7. Once you get as big as an upright bass tuning in fifths makes it kind of hard to play. It works all right on the BG, as long as you like shifting, but it would be a little unwieldy on an instrument that size. Probably doable if you really wanted to though. Smaller instruments, on the other hand, work fine in fifths, and since the bowed strings are primarily single note at a time players, they can use a fifths tuning even though it makes playing smaller intervals together harder.
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    That's not true - Red Mitchell, one of the best Jazz DB players tuned his double bass in fifths and played some amazing virtuosic stuff!!

    Many other players have done this - like Joel Quarrington a visrtuoso classical DB player who used to be an Ask the Pro on TB , it's fairly common as this is the way cellos are tuned and it's just a different mindset rather than any practical consideration.
  9. jondog


    Mar 14, 2002
    NYC metro area
    Here's another twist on tuning, why is concert A 440 hz? I was reading an old music psych book (19teens?) and they were using about 437 hz or something like that. Who decided the world reference frequency and when? Is it the standard for everybody or just western music? Can we lobby them to make it a cooler bass frequency? :-D kidding . . .
  10. The intervals used in go all the way back to the gamba family (possibly earlier). The gambas precede the violin family and usually had 6 or 7 strings. The upright bass is technically a member of the gamba family, this is why the corners look different on most instruments and this is where the 4ths tuning comes from. Six string gambas were tuned with the same intervals as a modern guitar, even though they are bowed instruments.

    Concert A is not technically ALWAYS 440. There are plenty of orchestras that use other hz as a measure of the concert pitch, especially orchestras specializing in period works.
  11. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    You know, I can't remember if it was on TB or not (probably, though) but the explanation to this question is both very long and VERY interesting.
  12. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002

    Again, fun information, but less interesting than getting to the root of why. Why were gambas tuned in 4ths? (and don't say "because X was also tuned in 4ths :p )

    So, I did some research on my own and it seems like 4ths tuning is probably the best for efficient hand motions. But still, making great music should stan outside of how efficient your technique is(though there is understandably overlap)
  13. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002

    Yes. Tuning systems are pretty wild. It's pretty amazing that we can tune instruments at all, let alone with such mathematical precision, even more gnarly is that we have been doing it for hundreds of years. Very cool.
  14. I'm not sure that 4ths is the most efficient for hand motions but that's a pretty subjective matter anyway.

    I have no researched basis for this idea but I've always assumed part of the reason we see violin family instruments tuned in 5ths is to make the instrument sound more "open". It would seem that having strings tuned a 5th apart would promote sympathetic overtones, especially on harmonics or open strings.

    I've also heard a lot of upright bassists who use 5ths tuning talk about how their bass seems to open up when tuned that way. I suppose one could scientifically prove whether or not the different tension in the string influences the amount of vibration in the wood but, to my knowledge, no one has done that.
  15. tuning in 5ths would obviously, and most like primarily, extend the range of the imstrument. And with fingering as tight as it is on a violin, it would be easy to pull off.
  16. Basshole

    Basshole Banned

    Jan 28, 2005
    I think you touched on the definitive answer:

    Because of the larger neck on the bass, 4ths instead of 5ths is easier, whereas on smaller necked instruments, one can take advantage of the extended range offered by tuning in 5ths without paying as much of a penalty in reach.
  17. Minger


    Mar 15, 2004
    Rochester, NY
    Yeah, you just about nailed it - I switched from Viola to Double Bass this year, and if it were tuned in fifths, my hands would have to be so much larger (they're pretty small a guy)

    I mean, wouldn/'t it suck if you were to do a scale and had to shift around for something simple like a G major scale? :p
  18. Tuning in fourths makes perfect sense.

    And now I understand the barre chord tuning.

    But........Why tune from E??? I mean, was it just an arbitrary choice, to tune up from E? I would understand if it was A, but.....E?

    Indulge me
  19. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    E is a very nice note to be the lowest note for playing things written in the Bass Clef.

    So - it works out that the lowest E sits on the leger line below the stave and a high C is on the one above - this just about covers the range that most bassists use for most of their working life - i.e. anything on or below the 5th fret!! ;)

    Move to anything below the low E and you've got lots of leger lines below the stave, which makes reading harder and similarly with going higher - a 5th fret C on the G string will also need more than one leger line!

    With a low E - most of what you play, sits very nicely on bass clef. :)
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    PS - to see the benefits of the above, you have to imagine 2 or 3 centuries of orchestral bass players, spending all their time sight reading parts written for them in Bass Clef - EADG with a low E seems to be the most efficient way of covering that clef!