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Tune Your Mandolin: Our Top Expert Tips

man with mandolin tuning a mandolin in mandolin lesson

Mandolin tuning (much like mandolin playing) may seem easy, but the more you dive in, the more becomes possible!

Read our 6 tips below for insider thoughts on electric tuners, tuning by ear, and much more!

1. Take care with your electric tuner.

Amateurs and professionals alike find it easy to use electric tuners; you know exactly what you're getting. Still, don't rely completely on your fancy piece of equipment. If you grow too accustomed to using an electric tuner, you may never develop the ability to tune by ear. Tuning by ear allows you to connect with the instrument and the sound in a more enriching way; you will develop the ability to perceive subtleties of pitch, which will carry over onto the rest of your playing.

If you're using your electric tuner, you have to be cautious. It's easy to assume that a "green light" for a string indicates a perfect pitch. But since mandolins have two of each string, you might be accidentally plucking the partner string at the same time, muddling your tuner's ability to detect the correct pitch for each individual string.

2. Use a Rest Stroke.

To prevent the above phenomenon from occurring (the incidental "bleeding over" of the other string's vibrations) - use a rest stroke. For example, if you are tuning a G string, pluck the G string closest to your nose, then let the pick rest on the other G string, to mute it. Complete the same action, reversing the strings, and complete the tuning on that pair.

3. Tune From Way Down.

In general, it's safer to tune from a low place to a high place, rather than vice-versa. Bring that string down low and tune up from there. If you tune from high to low, occasionally your mandolin might get out of tune in the midst of playing, as some extra tension stuck behind the bridge or nut releases with the vibrations generated from the music. If you bring the string way down low before starting to tune, you will release all of the tension and start from a "fresh palate."

4. Check Your Note at the 12th Fret.

The 12th fret is directly between the bridge and the nut. Make sure that your bridge is in the correct place; a misplaced bridge will cause the fingerboard to be out of whack. If you feel uncomfortable with adjusting the bridge yourself, take it to a professional.

5. Check Your Octaves.

As we discussed, you want to play a high and low version of the same note on two different strings. Use your low string to play an A on the second fret, then check that A with the string below it. If you hear a sort of "beating" or "wavy" sound, you'll know that the pitch needs to be tuned more finely. You can use this method for each of your strings, to help achieve a more polished level - the synchronicity of pitch.

6. Don't Go Too High!

You're finally having fun with the tuning process - but don't get reckless just yet. There is a very real risk that the string will break if turned too high. Nobody wants to end a tuning session with a string repair. This is another reason why it is helpful to tune from way down, as above - this way you won't risk your string bursting at a point of maximum tension.

Looking for more great tips on how to develop your skills as a mandolin player? ArtistWorks offers you the amazing opportunity to work with expert mandolin instructors, Mike Marshall or Caterina Lichtenberg.

Not only will you gain access to hundreds of lessons, you’ll also have the opportunity to submit practice videos for expert feedback. We welcome players from novice to advanced levels. At ArtistWorks, you can learn from the best!

purple bar mandolin tuning blog

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