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Does it take less time to learn the fretboard when all strings are fourth apart, EADGCF, and then adjust your learning for the standard tuning of EADGBE ... vs... learning in standard tuning from the start?

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    It's an interesting question, but I'm not sure if it's answerable, that is if there are any people who started learning guitar using all fourths. People most often start with either standard tuning, or open tunings, or maybe drop tunings, but all fourths would seem unusual to me. Perhaps some teacher made such experiment on their student? Jul 6 at 1:35
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    I feel like it would take MORE time to learn all fourths because you'd have to teach yourself everything - there are not existing tools to learn all fourths like there are for standard tuning. Also, you couldn't learn most of the common chord shapes with all fourths tuning because they wouldn't work. Frankly, I can't see how learning all fourths would help at all unless one were going to keep playing all fourths for at least many years. Jul 6 at 4:04
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    Playing single note tunes may be easier, but chords 8will* be more difficult - in comparison. And since guitar is one of very few chordal instruments, it's an unsound idea. And to answer your question - learn wrong first, then re-learn? How could that take less time ultimately? It's twice the job !
    – Tim
    Jul 6 at 7:13
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    you would lose the ability to play barre chords easily Jul 6 at 9:13
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    One of the main point of this tuning is that the lowest and highest strings are the same note, and tuning all fourth will defeat this. I think it's really more convenient to have those strings the same note than having the same interval between strings.. Or you can still pick a real instrument instead: the bass ;)
    – Kaddath
    Jul 6 at 13:56
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If you learned to play a guitar tuned in all fourths you will not be learning the guitar fretboard. You will be learning how to play an instrument tuned in all fourths, or an alternate tuning of a guitar. Since your question says that the ultimate goal is to play in standard tuning, tuning in fourths will ultimately delay that goal. An instrument tuned in all fourths would be easier to learn to play from a melodic standpoint because of the consistency of intervals and patterns but this would not be helpful in the long run. First, playing simple open chords would be next to impossible and learning other types of chords would have to be either put on the back burner or completely re-learned once standard tuning is implemented. Second, any scale patterns across all 6 strings will also have to be re-learned, as well as playing intervals between the G and B or E strings. The major 3rd between the G and B strings does complicate things in many ways for guitarists but it also allows guitarists to do things that would not be possible on a 6 string instrument with all fourths tuning.

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    "Since your question says that the ultimate goal is to play in standard tuning, tuning in fourths will ultimately delay that goal." Jul 6 at 6:13
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    Absolutely. +1. It can only slow the process down, as re-learning has to occur after. After what? After learning badly! And we all know that 'unlearning' takes longer than 'learning'. That G>B string is part of guitar playing. Surely if all 4ths was better, wouldn't guitars tend to be tuned thus?
    – Tim
    Jul 6 at 7:09
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    We have to admit it works on bass, but chord playing isn't what basses are renowned for...
    – Tim
    Jul 6 at 7:14
  • Taking off some of the strings would be just as effective - quicker initially, slower in the long term.
    – Tim
    Jul 6 at 9:34
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    I was thinking more in terms of - my 6 string bass is all 4ths, and I used to play with a guy who had an 8 string (F#>F) again all 4ths, but no problem as we tend to play single notes mainly, not chords - which as you know, on guitar, don't work well when it's tuned all in 4ths. It's not a well thought out idea - for beginners.
    – Tim
    Jul 6 at 14:34
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This question is not really answerable as asked. There aren't many individuals who first learned on an instrument tuned to all fourths and later learned to play on "standard" tuning as if it were an "alternate" tuning. If they existed and we had a way to survey a lot of them, we could compare the average time it takes to learn one way with the other.

Instead, think about a couple related questions:

  1. Why isn't standard guitar tuning uniform?
  2. Who does tune a 6-string instrument uniformly?

The short answer to 1. is that it is tied to a series of musical traditions where standard tuning makes for accessible fingerings on chords likely to be used.

One answer to 2. is [some] 6-string bass guitar players, who might use B-E-A-D-G-C. It does make for more uniform fingerings of scales across the whole neck. In bass guitar context, chords are much less common (and often limited to dyads).

Also, consider another 6-string (or more correctly, 6-course) instrument, the oud. In some traditions (e.g. Turkish), it is tuned in fourths, where it fits well with tuning systems that are essentially Pythagorean. In other traditions it may be tuned even more irregularly than standard guitar-- sometimes even in a reentrant tuning. In any case the tunings are chosen for musical reasons, not for ease of teaching or learning.

As one other answer has pointed out, there are guitarists using all fourths, and although I didn't watch all 50 minutes of video I do gather that these players are not (at their present stage of practice) learning standard tunes from books or the web. They're also using more complex chords than standard tuning was meant to support.

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I would compare the idea to one of the most famous educational mistakes in modern history - the ITA [Initial Teaching Alphabet] reading system.

The idea was to standardise spellings, like tuning in all 4ths.
Great idea, until you then had to re-train everybody to spell properly.

I was fortunate to be just too old to have had to go through this, but I know people slightly younger than me who still cannot spell 50 years later.

See i.t.a: a great idea but a dismal failure for more background.

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    'famous' or 'infamous'? I was teaching at that time, and ignored it completely! Rather like the idea of U.K. changing driving from left to right side of road. The plan was to experiment with lorries and buses on right for the first week. If it was successful, all others could change over after...
    – Tim
    Jul 6 at 7:59
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    Infamous, for sure… & yup, about as dumb as the traffic transition period;)) I was lucky enough to miss it, but my younger sister got caught up in it all, it was around the same time as they dumped grammar/secondary & went to the abysmal comprehensive system instead. I got away with that one too.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 6 at 8:08
  • Oh well it certainly works a lot faster than anything else I have ever tried. So what is the explanation for that. And no one is being asked to learn anything new. Just a simpler version to get a jumpstart. Jul 6 at 18:52
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    This is an interesting digression, but not actually pertinent to the question. Jul 6 at 20:23
  • @MarkDominus - it's an exact parallel. Randy - sure, you'll learn one bit, then have to relearn it. You'll also have to learn standard chord voicing over again. It's just not worth it.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 8 at 10:43
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There are professional guitarists that use an "all 4ths" tuning, Tom Quayle being the example that came to mind. Tom Quayle uses EADGCF tuning, which is most frequently used between 4ths guitarists. An alternative is EbAbDbGbBE, tuning down the lower strings to match the higher, used by Ant Law.

The main benefit of 4ths tuning is that it improves improvisation and consistency between strings by maintaining the intervals. This would improve the ability to memorise and navigate the fretboard, and is beneficial for Jazz guitar especially.

It can however limit the amount of music you can play. Guitar music historically has been built around standard tuning primarily, so there will be a number of that you just won't be able to play using an alternate tuning, phrases from popular songs as well as the traditional open and barre chords. This may prevent you being able to perform certain music and styles in the future (as discussed in other answers).

Video Discussing 4ths Tuning in general, including some of the disadvantages.

Video discussing 4ths tuning with Ant Law.

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I have never heard of anything like that - I would not be so arrogant to say it does not exist, but I am pretty sure there is no significant amount of non-subjective data points to look at regarding time to learning the fretboard.

I believe it is safe to say that all except for maybe an incredibly negligible amount of people have learned the fretboard with the regular style of tuning. Alternative tunings are usually a concept for advanced players, used for musical reasons, not as a tool for beginners to learn easier.

Using the standard tuning means you can pull from a plethora of resources on how to learn efficiently; you can learn all the regular chords and scale patterns "mechanically" (without even knowing what the absolute notes are) and work your way of knowing the actual notes. At the beginning everything is fresh anyways; there is some amount of just learning stuff by heart (i.e. the intervals or absolute names of the open strings).

Didactically, for me the most important thing is to have some sort of "mental anchor" (the open string) and then teach the pupil to learn to infer the rest from that. This works of course well with the hand at the basic position (index finger at 1st fret), which the average pupil is probably spending a lot in, in the first few weeks as finger/hand strength develops.

I would see no reason that this would be faster if the tuning were different. At the very beginning, there's more rote learning anyways; and in an intermediate state, when pupils can really "grok" the interval stuff, they will probably be used to the idiosyncrasies of the fretboard that it doesn't really matter.

Things get "worse" when not playing at 1st fret - as soon as you introduce moving the left hand around, everything is relative anyways. At this state, the intervals between strings don't really matter anymore - it is much more important to intuitively quickly "know" which note is on 8th fret of the D string without thinking too hard. And in the state that you still need to think about it you'll probably simply infer from 0th, 12th or maybe the popular 5th fret, and probably less often from the parallel fret on an adjacent string.

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A six-string guitar tuned in fourths starting with E would be EADGCF, which would have six different string pitches. Adding a seventh string at the bottom would make it BEADGCF, which would be seven different pitches. By contrast, the present tuning uses a repeating pattern of five pitches, and even if one were to add a seventh string, BEADGBE would still only have five different string pitches. If one used a fanned-fret nine-string guitar to accommodate the wide range, GBEADGBEA would still only be five pitches.

The aspect of standard tuning which is slightly tricky is that while it uses a repeating pattern of five pitches tuned in fourths, the "seam" in the pattern occurs between the second and third strings from the top. If one recognizes the five-string pattern, however, I would think it easier to learn than a straight fourths pattern.

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  • Why would learning with a seam be faster. With fourths it's one single two or three-string pattern all the way across depending how you count it. Instead of CAGED there is one single basic chord form. If you're not playing open chords then fourths is far simpler. The pattern is that every other string changes by a whole note so you can quite quickly map one pattern. I've found it far far faster. Imagine you're learning checkers or chess and two rows of the board are moved one position to the left. How could that ever be easier than a perfectly symmetrical pattern? Jul 7 at 18:22

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