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Mandolin Lessons: Tuning

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we're gonna talk about tuning the mandolin
And somebody once said that if you play
the mandolin for 30 years,
you tune it for 15 and you play out of
tune for 15.
[LAUGH] But, it's true.
It takes a lot to tune a mandolin and get
it really right.
As I said earlier, there's two notes for
every one.
So you have two E strings, two A strings,
two D strings,
and two G strings, so it's, tuned exactly
the same a violin.
But it's, twice as hard to tune because of
all these pairs.
So, there are several ways, to go about
tuning, and I'm just gonna march you
through them, each of them, because they
each have their, their pluses and minuses.
Of course a lot of us are using electronic
tuners these days and
I'm, I'm also one of those fellas.
Got my little, D'Addario tuner here.
I like it a lot, it keeps, it keeps
everything at 440.
You always know that you're getting a, a
440 pitch, off of off of that.
But they're not perfect, you know?
And I think that there's a real danger,
these days of people tuning with their,
eyes, rather than with their ears.
And, when I think back of the old days of
how in tune some of those old records are,
before the invention of these things, I
realized that those are skills that we
should check in on, and make sure that we
don't forget how to tune with our ears.
But, you know, so we know that this, this
is the A string,
second string and I usually get that
string first.
I don't know why, it's just A 440.
And I, you know, tune that thing so that
it's in tune.
If you, if you go flat, I like to always
up to the note rather than, rather than
Tony Rice taught me this that, that
bringing the string,
the tension of the string up is going to,
actually settle the string, the tension in
the string settles towards the gear.
Where as, if you come down to the pitch.
There's chance that there might be some
tension caught, either behind the bridge
or behind the nut, and as you play,
that tension will release.
And the string will actually go flat, but
by coming up [SOUND] to that note,
you're pulling all the tension out of the
wire and
it's, it's inclined to be a little more
So tuning with an electronic tuner is real
simple, you simply match up,
you know that's the G string, you go until
the G string is green,
the G, the visual is green, or the little
cable comes up to the center.
But, doing that on a mandolin is tricky
because you've got two strings so
when you pluck, you think you're plucking
just one of the G strings and
actually you're, you're hitting the other
G string a little bit.
And so if it's out of tune,
they're both gonna sound out of tune
because you're hearing that other string.
You're hearing the other G note resonate.
So, what I've figured out to do is, what's
called a rest stroke.
I pluck the string with the pick and I let
the pick rest on the other G string.
So I'm playing the lowest of the pair, the
one closer,
when I say low I mean the one closest to
your nose.
So, I'm playing the, what you call the top
G-string and
I'm letting the pick rest on the other
string after I pluck it,
and that mutes one of the G-strings, and I
look at the tuner,
I, I bring it below the actual pitch, and
then I bring it up.
Then to get the other G string in tune I
pull the pick the other way, I actually
angle it backwards so
that it's now resting on the one.
The G string is closer to the nose.
That's the one I was just tuning, and I do
the same.
Bring the pitch down, then bring it up to
that so
that that note is really in tune.
And I usually have to go back and
check the first one again.
The other thing you can do is that if you
that one of the pairs is really in tune,
then what I like to do is bring the other
the other of the pair really down low,
play them separately and gradually bring
that second G note,
G string up until there's no vibrating.
If something's out of tune you'll hear
You actually can hear the beats wiggle.
[SOUND] Like that, and as you get closer
to pitch.
The beating goes away.
But isolating the pairs of strings with
your right hand,
is really essential to all of this.
And of course you go through and do that
for each string.
with an electronic tuner you will end up
being pretty close [NOISE].
But I still like to check things.
[NOISE] Something that, what happened just
then was,
there was a little bit of tension that was
starting the bring the string up and
there was, something was caught in the nut
and it sort of slid up beyond the pitch.
So I don't.
I don't bring it down to pitch.
I bring it way down below pitch.
So that I pull that tension out of the,
out of the nut.
Always tuning up to the note.
We're pretty close now.
The next thing I'll do is I'll check my
This is the A string.
This is an A note.
Second fret on the low string.
I'll check those two, and make sure
they're in tune, and
then I'll do the same with the E.
I'll check it with the second fret on the
D string.
Those are octaves, and
I'll make sure those are in tune.
So sometimes,
there's a tiny bit of adjusting.
though the tuner might say that the open
strings are in tune.
Mandolins don't note exactly perfectly.
Some are pretty close but, particularly if
you have really high action,
when you fret a note it may sound, want to
sound a little bit sharp.
So there's some manipulating that has to
happen in order to adjust that,
to get it perfect.
But you know, are we ever really perfect?
Probably not.
The other thing to check on your mandolin
is the note at the 12th fret.
The 12th fret is the middle point between
the bridge and the nut.
And it's really important that the bridge
be in the right place.
You'll see a lot of, first time
mandolinists who just got an instrument
from a music store and because it wasn't
set up properly, the bridge is in
the wrong place and so the whole
fingerboard doesn't note properly.
And this can be really frustrating.
It'll make your mandolin sound horrible
and you'll think you're a bad player, but
actually it's the instrument.
So what you wanna try to achieve is that.
At the 12th fret.
You're in
tune with what's called the harmonic.
We're going to get into how to do those,
basically you should be exactly an octave.
I'm actually sounding a tiny bit flat
right now, not bad.
The 12th fret has to be the same as the
and again, if you're afraid to move your
bridge around yourself,
I would take it to somebody and make sure
that it's, that it's noting properly.
Couple other things to check as far as
There's so I showed you this octave.
The opening A string, then the low A.
The other one to check is the open A, and
this A on the fifth fret, first string you
have an A.
You can check that octave and you can do,
go right across all the pairs and check
them all.
The D.
Open third string should match up with the
D at the fifth fret.
Second string and the open G should match
the fifth fret on the D string.
Those are all G notes.
you get really good at harmonics, you can
check the harmonics.
But if you are a beginner, this might be
something that you're not quite used to.
A harmonic is when you just barely touch
the string, you're not actually
fretting it, you're just lightly touching
it at the twelfth fret and
if you hit the low string at the seventh
fret, that's also a harmonic.
The same harmonic.
12th fret third string, seventh fret
fourth string, and
you can go across now to the seventh fret
third string and
12th fret second string, and those are
also harmonics, same harmonics.
So you can tune to those.
See what I'm doing?
I'm trying to make the beating go away.
Pretty close.
Never perfect, of course, but we do the
best we can.