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On a guitar it's possible to play in different tunings and depending on this the positioning of fingers and the sounding will vary, but is the same possible on keyboards, I as a keyboard player can't figure it out. Trying to understand if that is possible in terms of tuning rather that chording.

Edit: I mean how to achieve the same way of playing chords, and notes, and intervals with repeating notes within the same octaves, but with different tones on keyboards according to a tuning based of the guitar tuning.

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    I don't understand the question. With guitars, the strings themselves get retuned, but not with the piano. A certain chord requires a certain guitar hand shape depending on the tuning, but on piano that chord is always the same. Are you asking if the keys of a keyboard can be programmed to produce different pitches than they normally would?
    – Aaron
    Jul 12, 2023 at 8:03
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    I see your update, but I'm still not understanding the question. On guitar, each string, after tuning, can achieve many different notes, but on piano each key is responsible for exactly one note. Maybe if you add a concrete example of what you have in mind...?
    – Aaron
    Jul 12, 2023 at 8:33
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    I’m sorry because I also don’t understand this question, and I have a lot of experience with both guitar and keyboards. I do think the best answer is “no”. Guitars have “open” notes, where the player does not have to fret anything and can strum and get a note. There is nothing similar for keyboards. Jul 12, 2023 at 13:12
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    @SovereignSun no. But guitars can play the same note on multiple strings in standard tuning too, so I don't understand how the tuning part is relevant to the question at all. There are, however, keyboard instruments with multiple keyboards or one keyboard split for different tones, or even setups with multiple keyboards for one player.
    – ojs
    Jul 12, 2023 at 14:39
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    @SovereignSun what makes that "in E tuning", specifically? What do you expect the difference (in resulting sound produced, not technique) to be if you play your keyboard "in D tuning"?
    – Chris H
    Jul 13, 2023 at 8:27

8 Answers 8

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Yes and no.

Yes, you can play all the notes of a retuned guitar on a keyboard.
Alternatively you can tune the whole keyboard to any pitch you like. Some keyboards will let you retune notes individually, and there are software MIDI remappers that will map any input note to an arbitrary output note.

No, that's not going to give you the same acoustic effect as retuning a guitar.

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Physical keyboards normally have transpose button, which sometimes may help playing some passages, as the black and white key patterns change.

I'm not sure about physical keyboards, but quite many virtual instruments, like piano and synth plugins, allow custom tunings. This allows not only to change what notes are played by the instrument when a given key is pressed, but also play notes outside of 12 note temperament.

I never investigated it (but I see PiedPiper confirms it), but I'm quite sure there are also MIDI plugins which can be set to change note mapping, e.g. when you press C4, the plugin sends D4 instead to the following virtual instrument.

can the notes be the same pitch, but a different tone?

Yes. Some instruments allow to split the keyboard into several regions playing with different tones. E.g. one can play with double-bass sound in the lower register, and piano sound in the upper one. The specifics of the functionality vary between various instruments, again you will likely find virtual synthesizers more configurable.

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    "Physical keyboards normally have transpose button" then later "I'm not sure about physical keyboards" I think I understand what you mean, but the way it's worded is a little funky to me.
    – Chipster
    Jul 12, 2023 at 23:07
  • @Chipster I don't know if there are keyboards allowing for custom tunings, not just transposition. But I don't know so much about market, so there could be some. Jul 13, 2023 at 3:47
  • My point is you seem to say contradictory things. First you say what is normal, then you say you don't know. I think you may be talking about digital/physical keyboards, but it's not clear to me.
    – Chipster
    Jul 13, 2023 at 17:29
  • @Chipster there are things I know, and some other things I don't. I try to indicate that clearly. Each paragraph speaks about different functionality. Yes, when I say "physical keyboard", I mean instruments like digital pianos, as opposed to virtual instruments which I also mention in my answer. Is that wording unclear? Jul 13, 2023 at 18:02
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    FWIV, I have a keyboard (Arturia KeyStep 37) that has option to remap keys so that instead of full chromatic scale they are fixed to scale. Set it to blues or pentatonic scale and use a monosynth patch, then just mashing the keys at random sounds like a solo.
    – ojs
    Jul 13, 2023 at 19:46
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First, a "keyboard" in this context is usually understood as a device where one key corresponds to one note. Digital keyboards work with sampled individual notes, and usually one sample is used for several close notes. That means that generally the different tone qualities of different fretted notes (and the difference to an open string) will not be reflected by the keyboard. Nor will the subtleties of single lower-tuned strings (which sound muddier and weaker) will be reflected properly. The more specialised a digital device is on guitar sounds (like, well, a guitar synth), the more sound samples and the more realistic modeling may be expected. In particular if your controls will distinguish the string a particular note is played on, there will be more incentive to actually use multiple samples for the same note depending on the used string.

Apart from the tonal qualities, a different tuning reflects itself in the chord voicings. A barebones keyboard will leave the chord voicings to the player who needs to press a key for every note. But often you have some arranger/accompaniment/chord mechanims built in that allows you to indicate chords "symbolically" with the bass note and, say, a third.

A typical digital keyboard will not employ different chord voicings for different patches (instrument sounds). That means that if you have some sort of chord shortcuts, they will not usually get voiced (played with the same notes) as a guitar player would play them, but rather like a piano player would voice them. In that context, it is idle to talk about drop-D tuning since you don't get to even reflect normal guitar tuning.

If actual guitar tunings come into play, it will again most likely be in the context of specific guitar synths, not generic keyboards/arrangers.

In general, if some electronic/digital device goes the extra mile to cater really well for a specific instrument, it will almost always be in the context of a controller that looks like a specific instrument, like digital pianos, wind controllers, guitar synths, virtual accordions and so on. While they should in theory be largely interchangeable in what sounds they support, more often than not the specific emphasis on what gets done really well is for the instrument type that matches the optics and the controls of the digital controller most closely.

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No, not really.

Think of it this way: Guitar strings are independent objects that can be manipulated (by fretting) to produce distinct pitches. A guitar contains six or more of these independent objects, and the relationships between them can be altered by changing the pitch each (open) string is tuned to.

The purpose of alternate guitar tunings, as I understand it, is to change the relationship between those independent strings so that different chords, and/or different melodic patterns, can be accessed with easier hand gestures. Retuning can also change the timbre of the guitar, both by altering the string tension and by presenting different open strings that may sympathetically vibrate in response to notes played on other strings.

That concept doesn't really have any counterpart on a keyboard, because the keyboard doesn't have multiple subsections that can be relocated with respect to one another. Each key is defined to have a certain pitch, and those definitions basically never change; a C is always a C, and the white key just to the right of a C is always a D*. Even if you did want to change those definitions, you have to recognize that each keyboard key is independent of the others, so you can't easily retune a whole section of the keyboard all at once to match the effect of retuning a guitar string.

So no, there is no everyday notion of altering a keyboard instrument to change the accessibility of chord or melodic patterns, and so it doesn't really make sense to talk about alternate tunings.

*(Yes, you can retune individual strings on a piano to change those relationships, but that's a real edge case in the keyboard world.)

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    Different tunings change not only the way the guitar plays but also how it sounds. Different voicings are possible, but even the same voicing will have a different tone because of the difference in string tension and in sympathetic vibrations, etc.
    – phoog
    Jul 13, 2023 at 21:03
  • @phoog Thanks, I forgot to mention that. I've edited the answer to include a bit about the sound changing.
    – Dalbergia
    Jul 18, 2023 at 19:23
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I'd say not. There's no need, as if the player wants to play a different note, that's exactly what he does. On guitar, with your example of a D tuned 6th string, that's for a particular purpose, but those 'extra' notes are available on a keyboard in any case. Sort of a pointless exercise, I feel.

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    Retuning a guitar may make it possible to play an otherwise-impossible chord that would have required multiple simultaneous notes on one string, or it may merely make an already possible chord more convenient. Retuning a piano won't help with the former since every note is available regardless of what other notes are being played, but I suppose it could help with the latter to make certain chords easier to play. Jul 12, 2023 at 17:21
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    @NuclearHoagie alternate tunings also change the tone of the instrument. Compare an E minor chord in standard tuning to one in which the lowest string is tuned down to D. Even if the component pitches are the same, the sound will be different because the low string tuned down and fretted will sound different from the same string tuned up and played open.
    – phoog
    Jul 13, 2023 at 21:09
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Note: I might end up using piano and keyboard interchangeably in this answer even though I probably shouldn't.

[I]s the same possible on keyboards, I as a keyboard player can't figure it out. Trying to understand if that is possible in terms of tuning rather that chording.

Generally no. However, I will say that some digital keyboards offer a transpose function that does something similar to what you describe.

That said, I would still say that the answer is still no generally speaking because 1) this feature isn't necessarily standard on every piano and 2) I've never heard of this at all on an acoustic piano or keyboard instrument (maybe there's a way to do it on an Organ or something, but I've not heard of it).

There's good reason for this, but I'm getting ahead of myself slightly.

I mean how to achieve the same way of playing chords, and notes, and intervals with repeating notes within the same octaves, but with different tones on keyboards according to a tuning based of the guitar tuning.

Doing something doesn't really make sense on a piano or other keyboard instrument (indeed, some of the piano players I've seen comment on this question seem confused). This primarily has to do with the way a keyboard is layed out.

In a standard piano tuning, playing a C Major chord and an A Minor in root position requires making the same "hand shape"--for lack of a better word. Even though one is a major chord and one is a minor chord, because of the layout of the keys on the piano, you make are forced to make the same physical shape with your hand (i. e. playing white keys with your thumb, middle finger, and pinky). There is no universal "major chord shape" on the piano, nor it there a universal "minor chord shape" on the piano. The shape your hand makes when it plays really depends on which specific chord you are playing (Major/Minor/Augmented/Diminished and root note).

Thus, there is no real way to play the same hand shape in a different key on the piano.


As to playing in tune with a D tuned guitar, a Piano can certainly do this. Pianos have a very wide range and can play almost anything you want it to. You can certainly transpose a song into a different key. There's just no way to preserve the same hand shape when you do.

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  • You can totally have a transpose function on an acoustic piano: h2g2.com/edited_entry/A87937609
    – DavidW
    Jul 13, 2023 at 7:21
  • @DavidW - are they still available? Daresay a fair bit heavier and wider than a standard 88, and a lot more expensive.
    – Tim
    Jul 13, 2023 at 16:53
  • @Tim I can find one on ebay at the moment ebay.co.uk/itm/256080160439, although I can't find any evidence that they're currently manufactured. I'm not actually recommending them as something people should buy, of course
    – DavidW
    Jul 13, 2023 at 17:16
  • @Tim modern harpsichords (and organs intended for early music) frequently have keyboards that slide sideways by the width of a key or two, since early music groups sometimes venture beyond 415 Hz and 440 Hz to 392 Hz or 466 Hz. Organs intended for early mus
    – phoog
    Jul 13, 2023 at 21:12
  • @phoog - harpsichords were/are usually 61, not 88 note, though?
    – Tim
    Jul 14, 2023 at 6:38
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Commonest open-note tuning for a six-string guitar is EADGBE

When you use a different set of open-string pitches to tune your guitar, you sometimes get lovely chords by strumming familiar chord shapes, because the notes that speak are not the notes that you'd get if you were using EADGBE tuning.

You're getting something fresh and unexpected from your guitar.

There's no counterpart for this on a keyboard - if you transpose the keyboard then all the pitches move the same amount.

The closest I can think of to get new sounds out of a keyboard whilst using familiar chord (hand) shapes is maybe to play the keyboard from behind, so the high pitches are on your left and the low on your right. Or lie under the keyboard and reach up to play. You're not quite sure what you're going to play, but it might be nice.

Update

I thought another good way of getting fresh sounds would be to try to perform your music in different keys, but not by using the transpose function on your keyboard, but by using the same chord spellings e.g. 5th/7th/root/3rd which fall under your hands nicely in some keys, but need real concentration to perform in all keys. The mistakes you make trying to perform in the unfamiliar keys may reveal the fresh sounds you're after.

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Sure. Turn down the e string to d. Hop up on the keyboard and start to play the guitar. Now you're playing in drop d on a keyboard. Note: there might be damage to the keyboard when doing this.

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    Mostly we don't seem to do levity (or levitation) on this site. More's the pity, sometimes.
    – Tim
    Jul 13, 2023 at 18:13

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