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Cross Tuning on the Fiddle
Origins
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (39 votes) 
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ABitRusty
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February 21, 2023 - 10:46 am
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no worries @Strabo. ive hacked this instrument to death and beat tunes into submission trying to come as close as I was able to play to ones I admire..  😂  theres good days and bad days... any day able to pick up fiddle and play no matter quality is good.  I shared the Rayna link not necessarily to play like that.. although id love to be able to.. but they seem to be helpful on the cross tuning specifically to what she does. Im hoping that maybe with time it will help me play a bit better and thought if you hadnt seen it may be something you find helpful.

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ELCBK
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February 21, 2023 - 12:38 pm
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@Strabo -

I would try to keep in mind that cross-tuning is also done to make playing easier. 

If you normally play a tune on the A & E strings, then having another set of those strings tuned lower A & E - means you can also play the same tune/same way on both sets of strings, but sound different & add variety to your music. 

The same goes for GDGD tuning - if you know the 1st position notes on the G & D string, you are only going to play with these notes, but on 4 strings. 

The other types of tunings Rayna uses definitely helps to make the sound she wants & makes specific notes readily available for string crossings & chords - you'll probably appreciate these more down the road. 

Can you play by ear?  If not, start - it can be very helpful when notes end up where your fingers don't expect, but having a good relationship with your ears will help you adjust quickly.

- Emily

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ABitRusty
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February 21, 2023 - 12:44 pm
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personally i disagree that its to make a tune easier to play, but others mileage may vary.   each tuning has its own advantages / disadvantages and depends.  i dont think ..or at least for me cross tuning has not been a magic thats suddenly allowed a tune to fall in place.  it does add some resonance and a bit different sound, but not having the feel of a tune in gdae pretty much transitions to not having the feel in gdgd or aeae.  but thats what ive found for myself.  just hoping if someone cross tunes they dont get discouraged.  on the other hand it may be the thing that makes everything fall into place somehow.  

guess im venting 😁 

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ELCBK
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February 21, 2023 - 2:20 pm
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@ABitRusty -

I can see the attraction to strong ringing tones (why I appreciate an extra string) and drones, but doesn't how easy I get to the notes I want enter into this? 

I mean, let's say I'm constantly hopping over a string (not using it) to use the next one - maybe it's easier to change that string I wouldn't otherwise use, and weren't most of these tunes originally used for long hours of playing for dancing?  I can't help but think they came up with 'short-cuts' to make playing easier, bit not sound simple.

Do bowing patterns, like shuffle-types, become an important factor in these tunings? 

I haven't looked closely enough, or tried, some of the Nordic cross-tuned pieces.  Thought it could shed more light on this topic, but you know how slow I am... it's on my 'to do' list. (lol) 

I'm eager to hear fiddlers talk more about WHY they cross-tune to a specific tuning, but most of the time I'm lucky if they even mention they did it, or they just show a tune played that way without any explanation.

I need to look back over this thread - been a while. 

https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-RawT_haPyI8/UZ7aMJQiIJI/AAAAAAAAACQ/Qj538hk8zxQ/s1600/OWL+SET.jpg

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Strabo
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February 21, 2023 - 2:29 pm
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Emily, In an earlier time when I mainly played classical, I oc course played from the dots (even though my reading skills weren’t great). When I moved my focus to folk music, with its reliance on improvisation and invention, I switched to learning and playing by ear.

 Dr Molly Gebrian helped me figure out how to learn by ear, and I find it to be very powerful. I stay away from anything written until I can clearly hear and maintain the music in my head. And even then I use the written music very sparingly and for specific purposes.

My cross-tuning experiment is quite interesting WRT playing by ear. Playing the same tune in GDAE and GDGD necessarily involves some different fingerings, so the challenge is to keep focus on the sound and let the fingers follow, not the other way round. And I’d never consider using written music for this -- that would probably explode my brain haha. 

Of course I have been working on this for just a short time so I’m still groping my way ahead. I don’t know if I’ll end up embracing cross-tuning or not, but right now it looks like this little experiment will end up strengthening my ear -- and probably some technique as well.

Strabo

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ELCBK
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February 21, 2023 - 3:20 pm
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@Strabo -

Sorry, I forgot you had mentioned you were playing by ear somewhere - GREAT! 

You said:

Playing the same tune in GDAE and GDGD necessarily involves some different fingerings, so the challenge is to keep focus on the sound and let the fingers follow, not the other way round. 

It depends on if your original tune can easily be played on just the G & D strings...

Fingerings are the same on ALL G & D strings - maybe spaced a little farther apart on really low Octave strings, but you aren't using those on your fiddle. 

I think it's less confusing to think of GDGD or AEAE tuning as pairs of GD or AE strings - not 4 different strings.  

I wouldn't play tunes regularly played on just the A & E strings in GDGD tuning - unless I changed the key I was playing in.

BUT, your ears will help your fingers adapt to your A & E strings being tuned down by one whole tone if you do happen to need to play like you have your original tuning - shouldn't take more than a few times run through if your piece is not super complicated. 😊

- Emily

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Strabo
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February 26, 2023 - 11:59 am
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After a week playing the same tune in GDAE and GDGD I decided to leave off cross-tuning, at least for the foreseeable future. Too much hassle, not enough benefit. While I liked the added resonances, I was put off by the prospect of carrying two fiddles instead of one. 

But it was an interesting experiment, enjoyable.  I found that playing in a different tuning forced me to rely more on my ear, less on muscle memory. That was good.

With the great cross-tuning challenge now resolved, I guess I’ll have to think up another way to complicate my fiddle life!

Strabo

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ELCBK
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February 26, 2023 - 2:09 pm
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@Strabo -

With the great cross-tuning challenge now resolved, I guess I’ll have to think up another way to complicate my fiddle life! 

 

...I think I can help with that - it's an acquired skill!  ...complicating life, that is. 🤣 

 

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/08/4a/10/084a1058691c30e28538decf537b6aea.jpg

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stringy
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February 26, 2023 - 2:33 pm
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I have been working on a tune in cross tuning lately, coming along ok but its a completely new thing to me, keeping me amused though. 

I hadnt used my first fiddle a stentor for a long time  so when I changed my strings last week I put the old ones on it in a different tuning.  I  now want an old french or German one to leave cross tuned all the time, might pick up one of the maidstone ones that were imported from france and germany for school use, and given the maidstone name, I have heard some of them are fairly good, bit of a gamble, but you can pick them up for about 70 quid so may give it a shot

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ABitRusty
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February 26, 2023 - 5:23 pm
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@Strabo said
After a week playing the same tune in GDAE and GDGD I decided to leave off cross-tuning, at least for the foreseeable future. Too much hassle, not enough benefit. While I liked the added resonances, I was put off by the prospect of carrying two fiddles instead of one. 

But it was an interesting experiment, enjoyable.  I found that playing in a different tuning forced me to rely more on my ear, less on muscle memory. That was good.

With the great cross-tuning challenge now resolved, I guess I’ll have to think up another way to complicate my fiddle life!

Strabo

  

i think if I attended old time jams and wanted to cross tune Id just cross tune when the banjos do.  i.e.  you know when they run out of G tunes and wanna move on to something in A or D or whatevwr?  that time when everyones chatting and tuning...just tune then.  no need for another fiddle.  

im like you and just felt staying standard helps at the moment, especially with me focusing on irish vs old time.  i WILL try cross tune depending..buts its usually something specific.  

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ELCBK
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February 27, 2023 - 12:19 am
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@stringy -

That's GREAT! 

Did you find a special group of tunes that made you decide to try this? 

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ELCBK
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Doing a little deeper thinking on 'cross-tuning'.

The other night I was fooling around playing along with the Beatles' Norwegian Wood & found I really wanted my C string down a little lower, so tuned them all down, but that was still only for one evening.  I've been inviting more 4th finger use & don't really play any tunes that warrant actual 'cross-tuning' - just occasionally tuning down. 

This thread has helped me realize it was probably more important (for me) to understand why & where different tunings might be expected in trad music genres, and to watch for them.  It's also important for me to be capable of adapting - so, I won't shy away from more radical tunings, I just haven't found anything I liked enough to learn with them... yet.    

My ears have changed since this thread started, but still glad I did a quick run through this thread again!  The Midnight on The Water tutorial (DDAD) by Andy Reiner (post 28) sounds good to me, but it may be just the way he played it or the warm tone of his fiddle, because I listened to many of the cross-tunings at Sippery Hill (there's 22 other than GDAE) and I REALLY don't like them.  In post #29, Cacklin' Hen and Rooster Too (FCFC) - easier on my ears, but I'm sure the ensemble helps. Think I like the B-Flat Creole/Blues Tuning (post 4), but I may be more likely to explore cross-tuning in Nordic music - unfortunately, there's also a lot of playing on higher strings in that genre that can be a bit much for my ears. (lol)  

@ABitRusty -

Your Hundred Pipers (AEAE, post 30) sounded good to me!  So, THANK YOU - I was ready to give up on most of these tunings, but this tells me it's more about the style of playing at Sippery Hill that's been bugging my ears - not the tuning. 

 

Can't help but think I might look at cross-tuning differently if I was forced to stick to a specific key, needed an easier drone, or wanted more octaves in 1st position - or, if I only played one style of music with other people who cross-tune pieces.  Hope I can remain open to the idea of cross-tuning, because I never know when a great tune might grab my heart.  🤔... just realized this could also work in reverse - a melody I don't like hearing cross-tuned might sound great played in a different style!   

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/54/5e/b0/545eb01c81548847ddcec10268493947.png

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stringy
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February 27, 2023 - 11:56 am
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Emily, its a secret, when I get it reasonably decent enough to actually listen to I intend posting it, its my mystery project, I will tell you its in DDAD, as a clue.

Lot harder than I thought to be honest, but if it wasnt it wouldnt be worth doing😃

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ELCBK
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@stringy -

That's wonderful - I LOVE surprises! 🤗

Glad you found this challenge and you did answer my question - Thank You! 

 

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/dc/40/cf/dc40cf1725bf2c1ba183419b6a7a29f1.jpg

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ELCBK
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Don't think I'll be so leery about changing the tuning of my strings anymore. 

I'm tickled pink with the way a tiny piece (or 2) of heavy-duty clear shipping tape works over the notches on my bridge, I'll just make sure I use some when I get ready to do more tuning.  I'm probably delusional, but think it works better than graphite for me. 

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Ripton
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Thanks for bringing this up. I was just getting into learning more about cross tuning 

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Fiddlerman
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May 17, 2023 - 2:07 pm
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The reason that I never got into cross tuning is that it would make my life more difficult to try to memorize new fingering. I would be automatically putting down fingers on certain strings expecting the notes that I know them to be and hearing completely different notes.
I suppose if I was younger and my brain was more absorbent, I might give it a shot. 😁🤣

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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ELCBK
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I can see it's troublesome if you aren't going to use it very often - only good for tunes you plan to keep & use in your repertoire, better for music that's well memorized & hopefully you know several tunes to play without changing it!

Playing slowly at first, so I can hear & feel what's changed, helps me.

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Ripton
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Fiddlerman said
The reason that I never got into cross tuning is that it would make my life more difficult to try to memorize new fingering. I would be automatically putting down fingers on certain strings expecting the notes that I know them to be and hearing completely different notes.

I suppose if I was younger and my brain was more absorbent, I might give it a shot. 😁🤣

  

that is exactly my fear. Not that I have a very large repertoire but still... 

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Strabo
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As I have gone along adding to my repertoire, I have noticed that many of the great old time fiddlers relied heavily on cross tuning. It increases volume and richness, makes the fiddle a stronger solo instrument, and helps it stand out better in a group.

So I have made a limited plunge into the world of cross tuning: AEAE for ### tunes, ADAE for ## tunes, and standard for everything else. Only the lower strings are retuned so it’s not overly difficult. Time will tell if I get into the more exotic tunings. 

I’m working my way through my A and D tunes and having easy fun with it. And I’ve noticed some ancillary benefits:

- My brain is clearly unable to manage the conflict between written notes (in GDAE) and a fiddle tuned otherwise. So I must rely upon my ear -- not a bad thing!

- Playing cross-tuned, I seem to get more comments about how good it sounds -- and what a great fiddler I must be, haha. And I’m not really doing anything very different!

Ah, the fiddle -- full of surprises and unexpected astonishments!

Strabo

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