I wrote a song, and have a guitar I never got to using, and I decided to write a guitar part to the song. The thing is, I know what intervals and harmonies sound good so I just got my guitar out, and started playing with the tuning until I found notes that sounded good together. While I wrote the song I made it really simple so I play two notes at one time and the outcome sounds really simple and pretty, I have a low note keeping a steady beat and high notes that make really nice harmonies when I'm singing and harmonizing with my sister. So, my question is, is it really weird/uncommon to just tune the notes however the heck I want? Also do I have to play with the neck pointing right or left, it feels most comfortable for me to lay my guitar on my right thigh and my left hand on the neck of the guitar. I'm planning on singing and playing this song for my school's talent show so I just want to make sure i'm not going to embarrass myself up on stage when other guitar players notice i'm doing everything wrong..
[I]s it really weird/uncommon to just tune the notes however the heck I want?
Contemporary guitar practice includes a large number of tunings. Commonly used systems include open tunings (where the open strings are tuned to sound a particular diatonic chord), slack tunings (where the standard series of intervals between strings is preserved, but the entire tuning is lowered by some number of semitones, usually between one and five) and dropped tunings (where the standard series of intervals is preserved for all strings except for the sixth string, which is lowered to form a perfect fifth interval with the fifth string), but that is hardly an exhaustive list.
Using a non-standard tuning is certainly a valid artistic choice.
Can I just tune my guitar how ever I like?
Having said the above, there are limits to what is possible and/or practical that result from the physical properties of guitars and strings, as well as your hands.
Guitars and strings are designed to operate within a specific range of tensions. If a string is stretched too tight (tuned too high) it is more likely to break. Excess tension on the guitar neck - as a result of tuning a number of strings too high - can result in warping or breakage. I have personally witnessed bridges being pulled off acoustic guitars due to excess string tension.
Another potential issue is intonation along the length of the string. A guitar is typically set up with certain assumptions about what strings will be used - including material and thickness; and therefore, tension - and how they will be tuned. If you choose to string and/or tune your guitar differently, it is possible that the strings will not remain in tune along the entire length of the fingerboard. This can be remedied through intonation adjustment - if your guitar permits such a thing. Most acoustic and classical guitars have fixed bridge saddles, however, making intonation adjustments difficult, if not outright impossible.
Finally, the standard guitar tuning has evolved to facilitate a wide variety of material and playing styles. Alternative tunings tend to be more specialised, so they might make it much easier to play certain pieces or styles (for example, open tunings are favoured by slide guitar players), at the cost of making other things more difficult.
If you only need to play one particular song, whatever tuning makes it easiest is perfectly fine (within the limits set out above). If you want to play a large variety of material, an unorthodox tuning may be a hindrance.
Also do I have to play with the neck pointing right or left, it feels most comfortable for me to lay my guitar on my right thigh and my left hand on the neck of the guitar.
If I understand you correctly, this would be a lap guitar style - the guitar is laid in the lap of the player with the strings facing upwards and the player plays with both hands reaching down, much like a keyboard player might.
This way of playing guitar is most often used by slide players - for example, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour - as it is closely related to lap-steel guitar (essentially, a pedal-less version of pedal steel), but as Tim points out, it has also been used by guitarists who fret with their fingers, such as Jeff Healey. It is not common, but - again - is a perfectly valid artistic choice.
I just want to make sure i'm not going to embarrass myself up on stage when other guitar players notice i'm doing everything wrong.
It is possible that you might get asked why you play in an unusual way, in which case "because it's easier for me like this" is a completely sensible answer. At the end of the day, the quality of your performance is what matters. Whatever lets you reach your musical goals is good.
Alternate stringing methods
Aside from different tunings, some guitarists also choose alternative stringing methods - changing the order in which the strings are put on the guitar.
The best-known alternative is reverse stringing - reversing the order of the strings, low to high, so that the lowest string is closest to the floor when the guitar is held in a conventional fashion and the highest string is furthest from it. This is typically done to enable a left-handed guitarist to play a right-handed guitar (or vice versa), by holding it upside down. Jimi Hendrix is the canonical example of this, having played upside-down, right-handed guitars extensively.
Reverse stringing isn't the only possiblity, however. It is possible to come up with any number of alternative stringing methods - from reducing the number of strings to changing their order (one example I have seen involved having the bass strings in the middle of the fingerboard, surrounded by the higher ones). Alternative stringing methods may involve non-conventional tunings, as well, especially if the order of strings is changed considerably.
As with alternative tunings, alternative stringing systems can be quite specialised - making some things easier, while other things are harder, than if conventional systems were used. Reverse stringing - when used to convert a guitar for reverse-handed play - is an exception here, since the resulting stringing and tuning is standard, albeit suited to a different handedness than the guitar was originally built for.
The importance of standard tuning and technique
It has been pointed out in the comments that - while using alternative stringing, tuning and playing posture is a perfectly valid artistic choice - there is a lot to be said for developing proficiency with standard tuning and playing styles. It is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with.
I have have stressed repeatedly in this answer, that alternative stringing, tuning and posture involves trade-offs. The "normal" way of doing things is standard for a reason: it works best in a wide variety of applications. Following mainstream instrumental teaching allows us to tap into a legacy left by generations of past musicians, who have refined both the instrument and the playing techniques. When we choose to step outside these bounds, we are given freedom to explore new musical territory, but we are faced with a whole host of new mistakes we must make ourselves, in order to learn from them.
Having a solid foundation in well-trodden territory can be quite helpful when we decide to strike out into the wilds.
It is NOT wrong! It's unorthodox. Provided you're not going to strain the guitar neck by putting lots of unnecessary tension on it, do what you like. The only problem I forsee is when your friend who has a guitar asks you to play it. It's going to be awkward for you!
As far as playing the guitar on your lap - I've often thought that actually, it's in many ways a better option. There are some excellent players who play like that - the late Jeff Healey is one - worth a google - and just because it's different doesn't make it wrong. You'll probably be able to play things that standard players struggle with!
Your question reminds me of a saying my dad often repeated - "different strokes for different folks".
I admire your creativity and talent. It's easy to follow the path laid by those who precede you, but it takes courage and inventiveness to forge your own path.
There is nothing wrong with creating or inventing a tuning that perhaps few if any have ever used. So called standard tuning is just one method of tuning the guitar that is popular and has been repeatedly taught through the ages. There are many guitarists who use a different tuning as a matter of course and other guitarists who use many alternate tunings.
The most prolific purveyor of alternate (many self invented) tunings is an artist named David Wilcox DavidWilcox.com I met him at a house concert several years ago and he changed tunings between every song during his performance. I asked him and he told me he has used over 100 different tunings.
Many of his tunings can be found here David Wilcox songs with tunings. Some are common alternate tunings used by many but many are very unorthodox.
It should be noted that he uses composite guitars which may be capable of withstanding more string tension than a wood guitar - which could allow for some tuning tensions that might damage a wood guitar.
Feel free to continue to invent tunings for other songs. It's a valid way to exercise your personal creativity. Just be sure to write down the ones you like so you will remember how to reproduce them. Use a chromatic tuner to help identify the pitches you end up with and keep a journal of all your custom tunings.
Just be sure not to put too much tension on the bass strings which could put damaging stress on your bridge or neck. If you over tighten your treble strings they might just break before your guitar does.
Have fun with your song writing and guitar playing and good luck at the talent show. You will be displaying a talent for writing songs, inventing alternate tunings, stunt guitar playing, singing, AND playing an instrument! With all those different talents on display, I think the audience is in for a real treat!
Of course you can
And you'd hardly be the first player to do so. John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls does some pretty crazy tunings:
Rzeznik is well known for his distinctive and unusual guitar tunings ... Perhaps the most famous example of this is the B-D-D-D-D-D tuning of his signature hit "Iris" wikipedia
Ultimate Guitar even compiled a list of their Top 10 Favorite Songs with Alternate Guitar Tunings
Learning to create good music on the guitar using alternate tunings takes a lot of time, creativity, and patience. But that is par for the course when it comes to doing anything well in a "non-standard" way.
Succinctly, the limits are:
1) If the strings are too lose, they will flop rather than resonate.
2) If the strings are too tight, they will stress the instrument or break themselves.
3) No one else will be able to play it easily.
Other than that, "Fill Your Boots".
I got my start playing guitar with a tuning which I invented to make things easy for me, but which I think yields better voicing than standard tuning for a wide range of music. Swap the bottom two strings, and tune G-D-d-f-g#-b. When using that tuning, the left hand will generally be further up the neck than with standard. For C and G chords, the index finger will be on the fifth fret; for D chords, it will be on the fourth.
More specifically, a G chord is x-5-5-6-6-8: index finger bars the top five strings, the middle finger bars the top three, and the pinkie hits the top string. For a C chord, reach around a bit and use the ring finger instead of the middle finger, to play 5-5-5-7-8-8. For a D chord, pull back and go down to the fourth fret, to play x-0-4-4-6-7. Chords for other keys can be played by simply shifting the G and C chords up and down the fretboard. For a seventh chord, lift up on the ring finger (if used) or else the pinkie. Other chords including Minor chords, major sevenths, minor sevenths, etc. can also be accommodated easily.
Different people have differently shaped hands, and Flat Finger Tuning probably won't work well for everyone, but I'd be interested to hear any thoughts by people who try it out.
You can definitely tune however you like but there are some things to consider. As Tim mentioned in his wonderful answer, you wouldn't want to be tuning your strings too tightly, or you may risk warping your neck or ripping the bridge off. The other thing to consider is Intonation and Tone. Guitars are set up to handle specific strings tuned at specific frequencies. There is plenty of wiggle room in how this all works but once you get too far away from it, you start to have problems. When the strings are too tight, there isn't enough give to the string to allow proper vibration, which will affect the tone and the sustain. The same thing can happen when the string is too loose, as well as the potential of the string vibrating against the fretboard.
If your tuning is drastically different than a normal tuning, I would recommend taking it to a shop and having a technician check it out. Some of the issues can be resolved by using different gauge strings. For instance, if you're tuning a lower pitch string too high, it adds tension but if you swap it out for a smaller string, you can achieve the desired pitch without having too much tension.
Lots of players are known for having atypical tunings, such as Ani DiFranco, who seems to have a different tuning for every song and basically has to change out her guitar every song, one, to avoid retuning constantly, and two, each guitar can be set up for that specific tuning.
Also, it sounds like you're holding the guitar the same as most people do. A normal right handed guitar has the left hand holding the neck. When sitting, most place the guitar on their right thigh, though the Classically trained and/or posturepedically aware are taught to keep it on their left leg with the leg elevated slightly.
I'd say: "sure!" in agreement with most freedom-loving knowledgeable folks writing about it here. CAVEAT: make a recording of it-- in case you forget what the tuning was, you can always have that reference which might just save you from a boatload of brain-hurt! That said, I advise against it. It's hard enough learning one tuning, as in really learning it, to a "muscle memory" degree, which is crucial for impressively jamming live. I recently have come to appreciate this way more than ever. A ukelele came into my posession that actually stays in tune (i.e. is playable) - something I hadn't been able to afford. Jamming to magnificently splendourous Grateful Dead concerts with it, I found myself way less concerned with needing to keep my eyes on the fingerings or even my mind concentrating on the patterns-- because all four strings are equally spaced wrt pitch, unlike the standard guitar tuning! So what's happened is, I can generally bang out counterpoint just as fast as the chord changes get, without having to think about it. Maybe consider such a tuning across 6 strings-- I've yet to go there.
Absolutely fine - if you like it, for yourself. If others like it, for them also! You could even emulate some non-12 tone music that way (Indian, etc.) - however your frets would still be a limiting factor as you move up or down the neck (bending might make that available to you however - consider John McLaughlin's work with scalloped fingerboards)
Interesting question, and some interesting points raised in the other answers.
I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the practicalities of using a non standard tuning whilst performing live.
It's a pain to change tuning during a live performance, it interrupts the flow of the set. You can't blend songs together, you can mitigate this by having other band members carry on while the guitarists switch, but it depends on how picky you are about your performance ;-)
Switching to drop D and back again is relatively simple, but if you have an exotic tuning, that is quite a departure from your current tuning, you'll probably find it impractical to change tuning on stage. You could just use a different guitar for each tuning, but you'll need enough guitars, and you'll have to accept the break in flow caused by the instrument switch.
protected by Doktor Mayhem♦ Sep 16 '16 at 12:43
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