Alternate Tunings?

July 16, 2004 at 05:01 AM · Has anyone ever heard a song where an alternate tuning was required? I also play guitar so sometimes i have to tune to different pitches to play different songs. Are there any professional recordings of any songs or any songs in general? If so what do you tune to?

Replies (41)

July 16, 2004 at 05:13 AM · No there isn't, at least not within the common repertoire?

July 16, 2004 at 05:10 AM · my friend tess does it sometimes... I never really figured out how to though...

July 16, 2004 at 06:13 AM · I know a fiddle tune called th Georgia Railroad that can be played with a DGDG tuning (top to bottom). Very fun.

July 16, 2004 at 06:16 AM · tuning up or down for the other strings?

July 16, 2004 at 06:21 AM · I don't think there are any alternate tunings in classical music, but in Iranian music, alternate tunings are used frequently. For instance, we tune E,A, E, A, (the third and fourth strings are tuned an octave lower), for easier playing.

July 16, 2004 at 07:48 AM · I see... I think...

July 16, 2004 at 07:55 AM · Lots of Paganini solo G pieces required to tune to B flat or even B natural. But to me the most extreme is the set of Biber's Mystery Sonata. One of the 16 needs to tune the strings to DDGG, and others have some weird tuning as well.

July 16, 2004 at 08:38 AM · I believe in Saint-SaĆ«ns' Danse Macabre the solo violin tunes the e string down to an e-flat.

July 16, 2004 at 12:53 PM · hmm that would make sense in the moses fantasy... you know what? I played it straight (without the tuning) forward one day and the really high harmonics like toward the end... you can play them... and they sound!!! I was fascinated by it to the point where i was playing three octave scales on each string In G D A and E!!!

July 16, 2004 at 01:10 PM · There are modern pieces which use this, the term is scordatura. A Google search on "scordatura violin" may locate something of interest to you.

July 16, 2004 at 02:49 PM · Danse Macabre down to an e flat? Doesn't tell me to do that on my score. :S

The Poeme Elegique (sp?) by Ysaye requires re-tuning the g string, to which note, I cannot remember for the life of me though. In Baroque repertoire (if you are playing in traditional baroque style) you also generally tune the A differently if I remember correctly.

July 16, 2004 at 04:33 PM · I heard that about Danse Macabre too...

July 16, 2004 at 05:34 PM · Dance Macabre.

It needs E-flat on the Solo violin in the orchestral version, however, if you are talking the violin/piano version, it's a different matter.

R.Strauss (either Alpine or Heldenleben, forgot which one) needs the 2nd violin to tune down to G flat somewhere in the middle of the piece.

July 16, 2004 at 07:53 PM · Ok! I was confused then. I have played the piano and violin version. :)

July 16, 2004 at 10:05 PM · yeah i did danse macabre with an orchestra and i had to tune down, its an aweseome sound although its hrad to decide where to put the e flat, low or high etc.

July 17, 2004 at 02:22 AM · I have seen that other countries use different tunings instead of your usual EADG. In many parts of Asia, people tune their violin to either DGDG or DADG. It all depends on which styles your playing.

July 17, 2004 at 02:11 AM · Mark Feldmann has some very fascinating and amazing unaccompanied pieces. In a few of them he tunes his strings differently. I can't remember exactly how...

July 17, 2004 at 02:23 AM · Mahler 4, of course

July 17, 2004 at 02:22 AM · There's several Bach sonatas for violin and keyboard that have scordatura tuning, G D A D and so forth.

Of course, on viola, there's always the Sinfonia Concertante...

July 17, 2004 at 11:40 AM · Saint-Saens Danse Macabre...

You play guitar too? That's great, guitar is my primary instrument and I think about half our repertoire is in a different tuning...

July 17, 2004 at 03:47 PM · I know the Mozart sinfonia concertante in Eflat for violin and viola, is sometimes (but rarely) played scordatura by the violin and viola soloists. I don't know how they tune, I think they lower everything by half a step, so the E string will change to eflat, and the A string will change to a-flat, etc.

July 17, 2004 at 03:55 PM · The violin part is unchanged. The viola tunes _up_ a half step across the board. I've performed it twice this way, and it works wonders for the viola's timbre and brilliance when matched with the violin. Not to mention that it's much less awkward when you're in D major than E flat.

That Mozart guy really knew what he was doing...

July 17, 2004 at 09:58 PM · one more. paganini concerto no.1, although nearly no one plays with the original e flat tuning anymore.

April 7, 2009 at 12:54 PM ·

Lots and lots of old-time fiddle tunes use a variety of tunings, so that the lowest string can be used as a kind of drone and to avoid the need for lots of shifting left-hand positions.  There are many viewable in this book:

I recommend looking into some of these tunes- they are great fun to play and people I have played them to can't resist bobbing up & down and grinning!

I play mandolin also and have frequently tune the A and E strings down to G and D respectively.  It gives a lovely choral effect similar to that of a 12-string guitar (only better!).


April 8, 2009 at 01:44 AM ·

I love those Biber sonatas.

April 8, 2009 at 04:32 AM ·

 Orchestrally, there is alternate tuning in Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, in the second violin part.  

April 8, 2009 at 05:51 AM ·

Here is a link that discusses some different cross tunings:

April 8, 2009 at 03:19 PM ·

For my recital this fall, I'm learning a solo violin piece by a student composer that requires me to tune my G string down to F during the performance. Ha, now that's going to take some practice. :)

April 8, 2009 at 04:03 PM ·

My orchestra played a piece by Schnittke a few years ago where the principal 2nd violin had to create a trill on the G string (I forget what notes exactly) by turning the peg rapidly back & forth.  It was, I'm glad to say, a humorous piece.  "Moz-art a la Haydn" or somesuch was the title.

April 8, 2009 at 04:39 PM ·

I've played around with a lot of open-chord tunings on the guitar. While some will do this with mandolin, even tuning some of the string pairs to different notes, I haven't done that. But while on a regular violin I prefer keepin things in fifths, the Hardanger fiddle almost requires alternate tunings; mine is at present in  ADAD, and is a lot of fun.

April 9, 2009 at 01:37 PM ·

 In the Haydn Symphony No. 60 ("Il distratto"), the violins are required to tune their G-strings down to F during the performance.  After hitting an open F during the last movement, they must then tune them back up to G.

April 9, 2009 at 01:54 PM ·

Paganini 1st Concerto, was originally written in Eb, tuning the violin up a 1/2 step. 

April 11, 2009 at 05:47 PM ·

I understand that some "authentic" baroque orchestras sometimes decide on a particular tuning system before the first rehearsal. As I'm not involved with this I don't know any more, so maybe someone in this field could explain about this.

April 13, 2009 at 02:58 AM ·


You're questions deserves attention, without getting to far from the original posters question.

The "baroque pitch' which is usually ca. A=415 to A=435, for early classical period music. The idea of tuning as we know it was instituted through a long evolution of necessity of bigger concert halls and string instrument creation. It would be an error to state, as gospel truth,  that A=415 or even A=400, denotes that this is an absolute "A" . When one states that one is in "standard" A 440 it means that it is the standard that was set, through necessity, around the late 19th century. The intervals in any given scale are distanced exactly the same whether it is A 415 or  A 440. Therefore, this makes pitch "relative". The overall effect of this lower tuning is one of a more richer sound, where as a higher pitch tuning produces a brighter sound. Historically, there was no absolute tuning, which varied from location to location until it was standardized in the late 19th century. There is much debate about these things in the early music community, but most evidence is recorded as to what the practices were through treatsies and surviving instruments, particularly organs.

The original post is asking about the practice of "cross-tuning" which is actually a very ancient  practice, and is still widely practiced by fiddlers, particularly those who play the Norwegian Hardanger Fiddle. It allows the player to achieve certain tonalities by tuning the strings at different pitches, usually in a chord, and produces a great effect in the hands of some skilled fiddlers. The tunings can be very experimental and it seems very little has been scholarly written, as it is truely a practice that is handed down from one fiddle player to another, by ear.



June 27, 2009 at 08:28 PM ·

The Tao of Tunings, A Map to the World of Alternate Tunings

New book, for guitar, but might give you some ideas.

June 27, 2009 at 10:04 PM ·

I've heard that Paganini had alternate tunings.

June 28, 2009 at 12:21 AM ·

I've read before at the String mag, that John Adams' American CD (not sure the CD title) that the violin was tune to FDAE, instead of normal GDAE. And violinist keep reminding herself that its an open F and not G.

Interesting isn't it?

June 28, 2009 at 01:07 AM ·

Danse Macabre by C. Saint-Saens requires the solo violin to tune the E string down to E-flat.

There are also fiddle songs that require alternate tunings, as well, but I can't name them off the top of my head.

June 28, 2009 at 03:35 AM ·

I recently gave my grandson a ukulele as a prize (he earns stickers for certain things, and when he gets 4 stickers he can select from the prize basket).

I'm considering tuning a violin to the GCEA just for fun, and seeing what we can do together. He's 6...

June 28, 2009 at 07:16 AM ·

Alternate tunings (scordatura) are used extensively in American and other folk traditions.  Two of the most common ones are AEAE and GDGD.  Most songs can be playes with either conventional or alternate tunings.  They may sound quite different because the overtones are different in each tuning.  They're a lot of fun to try and hear how different they sound.

September 6, 2009 at 01:43 AM ·

Paganini's "Variations on 'The Carnival of Venice'" uses alternative tunings, but they generally aren't played like that anymore.

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