Many fiddle players have only experienced playing their instruments within the standard tuning format of GDAE. Each tuning is used to achieve a different key, and trying alternative tunings can allow you to coax new and different sounds out of your fiddle, including the open string drone. (A drone is a string above or below the melody that vibrates throughout the piece as you play.)
The great majority of fiddles have friction pegs, the connection between the wood of the peg and that of the pegbox. Temperature and humidity changes cause wood to expand and contract, which in turn causes a loss of friction at the connection. As a result of this natural process, stringed instruments like the fiddle and violin become out of tune over time. There are ways to protect your instrument from weather changes, but nothing is foolproof and eventually you’ll need to tune your fiddle.
Learning to tune is a necessity for folks who own stringed instruments, and once you get comfortable with the standard process, why not try one of the alt tunings? You’ll get to hear your pieces played in a different key, and you may even find you like the feel of the strings and the sound on the instrument better.
You can start with cross tuning in A. To tune to the key of A, tune the bottom two strings up a full step. In terms of notes, this moves your G up to an A and your D up to an E. Instead of GDAE, your strings will now be AEAE. Note: If you’re looking for tunes that are played in Cross A, the Slippery Hill site has quite a few options.
Next, give cross tuning in G a try. For this configuration, you will tune your top two strings down a full step. By doing so, you’ve brought your A string down to a G and your E string down to a D. Your fiddle has now been changed from the standard GDAE configuration to GDGD. Try playing some of your favorite tunes in the key of G or again, check out the Slippery Hill site for alternatives.
One more cross tuning you may want to experiment with is high bass tuning, which involves tuning your low G string up to an A. The resulting string configuration is ADAE, and is used for the key of D.
The more you know
In your quest to become a better musician, give alt tunings a shot. Cross tuning helps develop your natural ear for music and allows you to experiment with various sounds like the open string drone. As you become more comfortable with your instrument, tuning back and forth between the keys will come more naturally as well.
Find out more about topics like this one and “Are violins and fiddles different?” on our online site. Our blogs pages include many articles covering a wide variety of topics to do with stringed instruments. You are also welcome to call the store and speak with one of our knowledgeable staff members for any additional questions.
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