Are we in tune?

I performed at a Christmas Open House for a museum a few months ago.  A dear friend stopped by to listen. She mentioned that she was surprised I didn’t have an electronic tuner on my instruments.  At most of the non-classical performances she attended the musicians had tuners attached to their instruments. 

Her remark made me think. 

Over the past several months I have been fortunate to rehearse, record and perform with several musicians. In each session one musician usually asks, “who has a good A”. Then we all tune to that note. Our goal is to be in tune with each other. It usually stands out sonically when someone is no longer in sync with everyone else.    

Before a concert I use an electronic tuner or usually a tuning fork (I am old school) to get me to a good A or D. But then I tune the remainder of my strings by listening to the sound of the relationship between the strings and feeling the vibrations to get my instruments in tune. 

Tuning is nuanced. Every instrument has its own character. You can own two identical style and models of an instrument, and each one will play and sound different.  Final adjustments to tuning are slightly tempered. 

When people tune solely using an electronic device, the tuning becomes a solitary process. You no longer listen to others around you. Instead, you just focus solely on your display. You don’t trust your ears. You no longer listen to the sonic relationships between the strings or the vibrations of the instrument. 

I wonder whether that is what we do with each other.  Are we ignoring the sounds of our relationship? Are we refusing to feel the vibrations around us and between each of us? Are we giving up too much to stare at a screen and ignore everything else?   

Then we proclaim that we are in tune?

2 comments

  • Eugene Dawson
    Eugene Dawson Wilmington, NC
    I've been playing guitar for over 60 years and as I get older I seem to have trouble getting my guitars in tune. I've had very good guitars like Taylor, Gibson, Takamine and Alverez Yairi. I have a habit of tuning with harmonics and then checking it with the built-in tuners or a clip-on tuner. There's always something different. Any suggestions how to overcome this problem?

    I've been playing guitar for over 60 years and as I get older I seem to have trouble getting my guitars in tune. I've had very good guitars like Taylor, Gibson, Takamine and Alverez Yairi. I have a habit of tuning with harmonics and then checking it with the built-in tuners or a clip-on tuner. There's always something different. Any suggestions how to overcome this problem?

  • Ed Sweeney
    Ed Sweeney
    I would have to watch how you tune. First decide which string is in tune and then do not change it. Then as you tune the other strings to it always go from below the note and raise it up to the note. This will help equalize the tension of a string going over the nut of the guitar. Finally check to see if your neck is in proper spacing. play the string open and then play the harmonic on the 12th fret. The notes should be identical. If they are not identical the neck might be slightly bowed. Each instrument has its slight variances. I have learned to live with my instruments.

    I would have to watch how you tune.
    First decide which string is in tune and then do not change it.
    Then as you tune the other strings to it always go from below the note and raise it up to the note. This will help equalize the tension of a string going over the nut of the guitar.
    Finally check to see if your neck is in proper spacing. play the string open and then play the harmonic on the 12th fret. The notes should be identical. If they are not identical the neck might be slightly bowed.

    Each instrument has its slight variances. I have learned to live with my instruments.

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