Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

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Adrian Allan
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Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by Adrian Allan » Tue Apr 11, 2017 5:56 pm

I have noticed that many guitarists will tune to a chord of the main key of a piece of music. For example, watch the 1980s video of Julian Bream tuning up for the Aranjuez - he tests several chords of D major; in the first position and on the fifth fret.

I do this as well, almost by instinct after playing the guitar for so long.

Which leads me to the issue that face tuning for the beginning of Sevilla. I test the chord of G at the start of the piece in the open G tuning, and the chord on the seventh fret, the half barre of D fret 7, G fret 8 and B fret 1 seems quite hard to just get spot on, after making tiny adjustments. I have a quality instrument that has been professionally set up, but it just seems that some chords seem harder to tune than others.

Does anybody else tune to a chord and sometimes have to make fine adjustments to an instrument that otherwise seemed to be "in tune"?

Andrew Barrett
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Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by Andrew Barrett » Tue Apr 11, 2017 6:05 pm

I think it is important to test chords for the piece you are about to play, especially in a recital situation. Outside of my normal tuning routine I will check chords, or even intervals that will be crucial. For instance any E to B fifth that I will be using in Asturias. For the Mozart Variations I check the VII fret B on string 1 against string 2 open for use on the theme. For every piece I play I have specific checks that I will do in advance of performing it.

Mr Kite

Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by Mr Kite » Tue Apr 11, 2017 9:06 pm

Bound to happen once you depart from equal temperament. You end up with some notes related by just temperament, others by equal temperament, and still others by the bastard child of the two. The latter are unlikely to appeal to the shell-like.

There was a video in the luthiers section of some kind of conference where one of the speakers was trying to sell a new fret spacing that someone had patented. His pitch began with tuning a fretted chord on a standard guitar according to just temperament (without saying that's what he was doing) and then demonstrating that a fretted chord from a distant key then sounded totally out of tune, as if that showed the standard fret spacing was wrong.

I can't say I have experimented much with this, but the difficulty I always have with the idea is that you end up adjusting the tuning of one string for one note, when you are inevitably going to play lots of other notes on that same string, and when the note you were so concerned about - I guess it will normally be the third of the tonic chord - will pop up on other strings anyway.

What you need is 12 guitars with the wavy frets, one for each key, and a really fast roadie.

Oh hang on, there are more than 12 keys in just temperament...

Adrian Allan
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Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by Adrian Allan » Tue Apr 11, 2017 9:15 pm

Mr Kite wrote:Bound to happen once you depart from equal temperament. You end up with some notes related by just temperament, others by equal temperament and others by the bastard child of the two. The latter are unlikely to appeal to the shell-like.

There was a video in the luthiers section of some kind of conference where one of the speakers was trying to sell a new fret spacing that someone had patented. His pitch began with tuning a fretted chord according to just temperament (without saying that's what he was doing) and then demonstrating that a fretted chord from a distant key then sounded totally out of tune, as if that showed the fret spacing was wrong.

I can't say I have experimented much with this, but the difficulty I always have with the idea is that you end up adjusting the tuning of one string for one note, when you are inevitably going to play lots of other notes on that same string, and when the note you were so concerned about - I guess it will normally be the third of the tonic chord - will pop up on other strings anyway.
Thanks for your explanation - I think in summary, the way we tune is a sort of compromise that sometimes lets us down or needs re-adjustment.

I would be interested to see if other people have a particular problem with the G chord (D shape) on fret seven that I mentioned, or if they could pick up their guitars and report back (also tune the fifth string to low G and the sixth to low D).

It is also worth noting that the tuning of the instrument is not always as elementary for even the professionals. I note that a number of Youtube videos from Ana Vidovic, Eliot Fisk and a few others, are met with comments about how the players' tuning was out and the performance was spoilt.

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bacsidoan
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Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by bacsidoan » Tue Apr 11, 2017 9:26 pm

Everyone knows there are more than one way to play a chord on a guitar. Even if piece is written in just one key, the moment you deviate from the position that you have tuned the chord to just temperament for a nicer sound, even the same chord will be more out of whack. I'd rather stay with a well tuned guitar to equal temperament where everything is tolerably wrong.

Adrian Allan
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Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by Adrian Allan » Tue Apr 11, 2017 9:30 pm

bacsidoan wrote:Everyone knows there are more than one way to play a chord on a guitar. Even if piece is written in just one key, the moment you deviate from the position that you have tuned the chord to just temperament for a nicer sound, even the same chord will be more out of whack. I'd rather stay with a well tuned guitar to equal temperament where everything is tolerably wrong.
I think my main issue with the piece in question, Sevilla, is that keeps returning to the chord of G on fret seven, and the piece starts on that chord - so I don't want to start the piece badly, so I tend to base my tuning around that chord.

nsoliven
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Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by nsoliven » Tue Apr 18, 2017 3:03 pm

I think that just like violin and string players it's easier to hear fifths than it is to hear fourths. That tuning chord you hear when orchestral string players are tuning their instruments before an orchestral performance is a progression of fifths. Fingering a chord on guitar to hear the fifths makes it easier to VERIFY that you are in tune with yourself and with other instruments. Just my two cents ...

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Andrew Fryer
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Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by Andrew Fryer » Tue Apr 18, 2017 3:43 pm

Often. In general I tune strings 1, 4, 5, 6 with a Snark, then I tune strings 2 and 3 according to what piece I'm playing.
For the Villa-Lobos Mazurka Choro, I tune strings 3,4,5,6 for the A-minor chord. Mileage may vary.
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Adrian Allan
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Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by Adrian Allan » Tue Apr 18, 2017 3:56 pm

Andrew Fryer wrote:Often. In general I tune strings 1, 4, 5, 6 with a Snark, then I tune strings 2 and 3 according to what piece I'm playing.
For the Villa-Lobos Mazurka Choro, I tune strings 3,4,5,6 for the A-minor chord. Mileage may vary.
Do you find some tunings (to a chord) more difficult to "ring true" than others - such as my example of the G chord on fret 7?

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David Jones
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Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by David Jones » Tue Apr 18, 2017 4:37 pm

I often play the roots and fifths of a handful of simple chords in open positions and listen for any beating. I generally avoid playing the 3rds to keep it clear. The C# on the 2nd fret of open A always sounds a bit off to me.
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Luis_Br
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Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by Luis_Br » Tue Apr 18, 2017 9:14 pm

I avoid tuning 3rd string in its open position.
Eventually tune to a chord for some specific piece.
Fifths are not in correct tune for the tempered scale, but sometimes I use them to tune for some chord/key.
Sometimes, I don't know if it is the place, wheather, guitar, strings or my ear, it seems hard to tune well. But when I tune to harmonics, even when in fifths, despite not correct for tempered tuning either, they seem to be easier to hear and tune in this adverse conditions, so I use them (it is better a bit out of tune than totally out of tune...).

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Paul Janssen
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Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by Paul Janssen » Tue Apr 18, 2017 9:45 pm

I nearly always tune my guitar to an Em7/11 chord!!

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David Jones
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Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by David Jones » Wed Apr 19, 2017 7:26 am

In his book "Tuning the Guitar By Ear", Gerald Klickstein presents an interesting method for tuning. I can't remember all the details, but basically he suggests a method whereby you listen to the beating of various harmonics using a metronome then cross-reference against fixed notes so that you've always got a hand free to tune whilst notes or harmonics are ringing together.

This book is currently at the "maybe someday" end of my bookshelf.
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Mr Kite

Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by Mr Kite » Wed Apr 19, 2017 7:37 am

David Jones wrote:This book is currently at the "maybe someday" end of my bookshelf.
I know what you mean - my bookshelf has two "maybe someday" ends and one "maybe someday middle".

Mr Kite

Re: Do you tune your guitar to a chord?

Post by Mr Kite » Wed Apr 19, 2017 7:45 am

bacsidoan wrote:Everyone knows there are more than one way to play a chord on a guitar. Even if piece is written in just one key, the moment you deviate from the position that you have tuned the chord to just temperament for a nicer sound, even the same chord will be more out of whack. I'd rather stay with a well tuned guitar to equal temperament where everything is tolerably wrong.
That's what I was thinking too. I hadn't taken into account the effect of intonation though. Is it fair to say that no guitar is perfect and generally the notes will get progressively sharper as you go up the fretboard? If so, then even if we are sticking with ET it might make sense to tune the notes of an important chord to the corresponding pitches, rather than tuning the open strings knowing that that will make all the notes of a fretted chord slightly out (still compared with ET) and some more than others.

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