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I don't get it...why de-tune?


EZ

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:confused: I was talking to a guitar player last night about a possible gig. He was telling me that they always tune down a whole step to make it easier to sing some of the songs. My question is why they dont just play the song in a different key, I mean if E is too high then play it in D; I really do not get it.

To me it seems like more trouble than it's worth.

If you smell something stinking, it's juz me, I'm funky like that
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Many major artists tune down. Hendrix, Stevie Ray, several others did. Sometimes just a half-step; sometimes a whole.

 

We all (guitarists and bassists) like to hunker down on the low note. If a cover song was originally in E, F, or G, and the vocals are out of range, tuning down will allow the singer to hit the appropriate note and keep the instruments down low.

My whole trick is to keep the tune well out in front. If I play Tchaikovsky, I play his melodies and skip his spiritual struggle. ~Liberace
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I've always felt it was too much trouble as well. I can see valid reasons as mentioned above.

 

If you try to play along with older records generally late 60's or 70's, you might find it difficult to play along. A lot of time, after the recording was made, it was mastered a bit slower or faster as an artistic/business decision for the release.

 

And I also heard it made it more difficult to cop licks, but I doubt that was the intention.

 

And then, of course, there's the Stephen Stills "experiment with every possible open tuning and no-one will ever figure out how you are playing that song" tuning practice. Drove me crazy, I must admit.

Yep. I'm the other voice in the head of davebrownbass.
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I think I get what we're talking about but I'm a bit hazy. The cover band I'm in tunes each string down a semitone to suit the singer's voice. I'm in two minds over it. Having the open strings in those keys helps for the feel of some of the covers and hit lower notes. Then again, playing a semitone down messes with my head when it comes to solos and some improvised lines as I never feel as fluent as in standard tuning. I guess that a different sound is coming out of that position on my bass than my brain expects. I don't have perfect pitch so I don't know why. I also find the slightly slacker tension not to my liking either. Once I practice a few hours in the new tuning, it gets easier however.

I tried playing in standard and have learnt the songs in 'new' keys (for my fingerings that is) - mostly B, Ab, Eb and Gb. It works fine on most songs but some need a low open Eb and some in Gb sound more fluid with an open Db (Hot Love - T.Rex). At the end of the day, I chose to play detuned, it's justa covers gig and more craft than art.

 

Here\'s a thread that discusses this issue (if I'm on the right track!)

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Thanks everyone I asked the question because I may be working with this group on some gigs, and they de-tune their axes. I've never done that before I've heard of it, but i always just played in a lower key. It was just easier to me.
If you smell something stinking, it's juz me, I'm funky like that
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the guitar players in my band tune to drop A (AEADF#B) and standard B (BEADF#B)

 

We play in a metal band, and one of the reasons they tune down its because it allows for a bigger range in the low end direction, and it makes the music very bass heavy.

 

Personally, i dont tune down, i play EADG... i think detuning your bass is only necessary when a particular riff uses an open note and it is too difficult to play it without that open note... but for the most part, you can always find a way to play what you need or want to play...

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I think detuning first started in order to make the vocals easier. Also a lot of rock riffs are easier played with open strings and are difficult to transpose to closed positions. Some bands just do it cause they think its heavier and todays amplification allows clarity to be maintained when they do tune down.

 

Grunge popularised the use of Drop D tuning on guitars this was really about making it easier to play riffs using power chords(R5).

 

I have been tuned to e flat for so long now that standard 440 sounds of to me.

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Originally posted by jeremy c:

Phil voiced something that also happens to me.

I don't have perfect pitch, but if my instrument is not tuned to A 440, all of a sudden I don't seem to able to hear as well.

I don't have perfect pitch, either. I do have what I call pretty good relative pitch. I suspect JeremyC does as well. We have a few tunes that we do in different keys and they always bug me and I never seem to feel as comfortable playing them. It just sounds off to me.
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Originally posted by SeamyD:

I think detuning first started in order to make the vocals easier. Also a lot of rock riffs are easier played with open strings and are difficult to transpose to closed positions.

That has been my experience too. All but one of the rock bands I have been in tune a half step down for those reasons.

 

I have been tuned to e flat for so long now that standard 440 sounds of to me.
I know what you mean by this. I keep my ABG tuned A440 to keep my ear used to it.

 

Alternate tunings of all sorts seem to be pretty common these days. I run into them all the time.

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Join the club, SteveC. Relative pitch doesn't explain our problem though does it. If we only had good relative pitch (excellent in your's and Jeremy's cases, I'm sure) it wouldn't bother us tuning down or playing in a different key. The relative intervals must be the same, regardless. What we seem to have seems more related to perfect pitch in that it is a memory of an absolute pitch or key somehow.

On a side note, my wife doesn't play anything right now (she's an ex-clarinetist). Recently I was trying to improve my (awful) singing. She was shocked and amazed that I couldn't just sing a C with no reference pitch. She thought all musicians could do that (she could do it effortlessly). She didn't realise she was doing anything related to perfect pitch. I need to talk her into learning an instrument again!

 

I did used to keep a tuning fork in my bag and listen to it many times a day to try and remember what A440 Hz sounded like.

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My fingers know where they notes are depending on which bass I am using, but I don't have perfect pitch. I think is a comfort thing. Tuning down on SRV songs doesn't throw me off, I thought it would. I like the open strings but do try to play most songs in standard tuning to see which I like better.

 

On a similar topic, do you ever have those notes/chords that everyone in the band thinks sound fine but you think is way off? What is that? Only occurs once in a while but it is weird.

"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
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Oh yea... do you change tunings between songs, use different basses or are all the songs detuned?

 

I just bought a new rack tuner that I can mute and see in the dark. I think I can tune/detune faster than changing basses... thoughts?

"When I take a stroll down Jackass Lane it is usually to see someone that is already there" Mrs. Brown
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Didn't Stevie Ray Vaughan tune to Eb so the strings would be looser and he could bend them farther?

  • There is a difference between Belief and Truth.
  • Constantly searching for Truth makes your Beliefs seem believable.

 

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Yes, SRV did. I said that in the fourth post in this thread.

 

I spent years and years working on my ability to hear relative pitch.

 

Playing songs in various keys other than the original is no big deal for me. I "hear" chord progressions as a set of relationships, not as a list of letter names.

 

But as I said before, it's harder for me to hear anything if my bass is tuned to something other than standard pitch.

 

I doubt that I will be hired to play in a death metal band or a grunge band in the near future so I don't really have to worry about it.

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Holy smokes...I haven't heard this debate in years....and NO it's not cheating. Why is it cheating? Where is it written that an musician/artist must tune to a specific tuning? That's like telling an artist that they're only allowed to use red, blue, and green and anything else is cheating. Forget that.

 

I hate A440; I always have. It just doesn't feel or sound right to me. To me, it's too...uptight. BUT that's just me. I'm not saying that it's wrong. I'm just saying that as a musician, that's not the key for me. As an artist, those aren't the colors I would naturally use.

 

And de-tuning your instrument does provide heaviness and thickness and sometimes a darker vibe. The first dropped D song I ever heard was MetallicA's The Thing That Should Not Be on their Master of Puppets release (1986 - long before Grunge was ever thought of). The rest of the album is in A440 and if that song would have been tuned to E and not dropped D, it wouldn't have sounded so heavy and scary and simply put evil. The song is based on H.P.Lovecraft's story The Call of Cthulu which is a scary story, therefore the song needs a dark vibe to it that E just doesn't provide.

 

But I would say for the majority of Metal bands these days, de-tuning is simply used for the heaviness and the beefy lows; It's not for the singers who are just growling and screaming.

 

If the band de-tunes just for the sake of the singer, I think that's fine. The singer is part of the band right? So fit him/her in or find someone else. It's kinda when you write a song and you're looking for the right tempo. The song might sound better at 210bpm but what if 1 of your guitar players can only play the song at 195bpm? You then play the song at 195bpm or you find another guitar player who can play the song at 210bpm.

 

And of course, de-tuning too much just sounds like mud.

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I prefer plain ol' standard tuning myself, but I don't have anything against de-tuning or even alternate tunings. I read an article that showed how Jimmy Page uses all sorts of de-tunings experimental tunings, eastern tunings, etc. etc. for Led Zeppelin songs he wrote.

 

Frankly, more tunings adds more variety, IMO.

 

Joe

-- Joe --

 

"If you think you're too old, then you are." --Lemmy Kilmister

"I have not seen a man who is not god already." --Austin Osman Spare

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