ALTERNATE TUNINGS

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Alternate Tunings For Bass by Lee Barry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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THOUGHTS ON ALTERNATE TUNINGS

Alternate tunings are a dialect or slang of the standard language or understanding of tuning systems.

Alternate tunings are like a prepared piano, or like the Harry Partch 43-note octave. Visually the piano is the same, and you can play as you normally would but it turns into something strange and interesting.

Standard tunings are great to know how to achieve a result from intention, but alternate mappings are full of surprises. It's also interesting that when you've been playing in an alternate tuning for a while, standard tuning seems new again.


BOOK ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Very special thanks to Larry Benedetto, Michael Greco and Chris Colletti; Sant Darshan Singh and Levia Hoppszallern for their spiritual inspiration; Tom Multon for his artistic input.

COPYRIGHT

Copyright 1992, 2001 L.A. Barry. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. All musical examples copyright 1992, 2001 L.A. Barry

HISTORICAL NOTE

Unconventional tunings, or scordatura (It., from scordare, to mistune); were first used in the 16th century by Italian lutenists. They were primarily used to facilitate difficult passages, but also used to alter timbral characteristics, reinforce tonalities through the use of open strings, and to extend the instrument's range.

Violin scordatura was employed in the 17th and 18th centuries by Italian and German composers, namely, Biagio Marini, Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Pachelbel and J.S. Bach; whose Fifth Suite for Unaccompanied Cello calls for the lowering of the A string to G. In Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante K. 364, all the strings are raised one-half step--most likely to make more open strings available. Scordatura for the violin was also used in the 19th and 20th centuries in works by Paganini, Schumann and Bartok. In Bartok's Contrasts, the violin is tuned G#/D/A/E-flat to facilitate the playing of tritones on open strings. American folk violinists of the Appalachians and Ozarks often employ alternate tunings for dance tunes and ballads. The most commonly used tuning is A-E-A-E.

INTRODUCTION (Edited 9/2011)

The inspiration for this book grew from my fascination with musical innovation. In the early 1990s I had been experimenting with alternate tunings on guitar and was intrigued by the musical ideas that they were generating, and began exploring them on bass.

Music theory has a tendency to constrain musical possibilities in a top-down fashion. Experimentation works in the reverse direction, and the composer tries to join them in the middle somewhere. If you remove theory as a constraint, you are free to react to the music without being boxed-in with rules.

Jazz is a perfect example of a genre that sounds like it is free of constraints, but is full of rules, e.g. that an F natural cannot be used over C major 7 chord. (This in fact is a rule that has been grandfathered in to our understanding of how western music is supposed to work. The tritone interval of B-F naturally implies a dominant 7th chord, while the Cmaj7 is a tonic chord that gives us a feeling of resolution.) But when the instrument has been mapped to dislocate pitches from where they normally are, it immediately gives you a new set of possibilities to work from without first judging them as being correct from a theoretical standpoint.

Working freely is very liberating and exciting at the initial stages of creative work, but as we all discover, the middle ground is where it typically ends. The more I've used alternate tunings, the more I realize just how powerful the middle is. But it isn't where anyone really wants to operate creatively.

The different tunings presented in this book are mere drops in an ocean of possibilities. At the very least, they serve as a springboard for musical invention, which will ultimately expand our personal and collective artistic horizons.

I would be remiss if I didn't give ample credit to the preeminent practitioners of alternate tuning technique, namely, bassist extraordinaire Michael Manring, guitarists Michael Hedges, Leo Kottke, Pierre Bensusan, and a long list of notable others that have experimented with tunings.

May this also take you in an interesting direction...

***

SUGGESTIONS FOR USE OF THIS BOOK

IMPORTANT!! THE TUNINGS IN THIS BOOK WERE FORMULATED WITH USE OF A FAIRLY STANDARD SET OF STRINGS, IF YOU PLAN TO EXPERIMENT WITH HIGHER PITCHED TUNINGS, DEFINITELY USE LIGHTER STRINGS. HEAVY GAUGE STRINGS WOUND TOO TIGHT COULD CAUSE NECK DAMAGE.

I. GRAPHS

Fingerboard graphs are provided for each tuning to show the layout of pitches. For the sake of clarity, enharmonic equivalents have been excluded, utilizing either a sharp or a flat, but not both. For instance, the tuning C-G-C-F has certain physical properties that facilitate playing in the keys of C minor, F major, etc; thus employ only the flat enharmonic equivalent. Similarly, tunings that lend themselves to sharp keys use the sharp enharmonic equivalent.

II. EXAMPLES

Musical examples are included to illustrate the possibilities and characteristics of each tuning. They should be used as a springboard for your own compositions. The examples are usually written on 2 staves: the top line shows how the passage is played in standard tuning and the bottom line represents actual pitch. Fingerings and string designations are given in places where passages could present difficulty. They only apply to bass guitar, but may be adapted on the double bass.

The symbols used in the fingering systems are:

1 -index finger
2 -middle finger
3 -ring finger
4 -thumb
I -first string
II -second string
III -third string
IV -fourth string

III. HARMONICS

There are several systems for the notation of harmonics: Ex. A illustrates the classical method whereby a diamond-shaped note represents the location at which the note is fingered (in this case, E), and a regular note designating the open string. Ex. B illustrates a more modern method where a small circle is placed above the note, showing that it is a harmonic. Ex. C illustrates the method that is used in this book: a fretboard graph is placed above the notes. The alternate method is to show the fret location with the fret number in a circle, or a pair of numbers, e.g. 2/7, designating the string/fret.

IV. MUSICAL AND TECHNICAL PRACTICALITY

Once one reaches a level where they feel comfortable with the altered tuning, the tuning can be used in more traditional ensemble situations: The instrument simply becomes a transposing instrument. Also, bass duets and trios become more feasible because of the greater accessibility of certain melodic and harmonic figures. The fastest and most interesting way to explore a tuning is to leave your instrument in an alternate tuning and pick it up from time to time to experiment. If you can afford it, purchase a more inexpensive bass that you can leave in the tuning. That way you don t have to constantly retune, or forget which tuning it's in.



Video Examples:

Eb-A-C-F#

Essentially this is tuned to a diminished chord, and is naturally suited to playing chords, melodies and basslines that are 'symmetrical', meaning that melodic shapes can be shifted without changing fingering (like bar chords on guitar).

The chiming harmonics form an A minor 6 chord--not so far removed from diminished.