How to find the right tuning?

When you want to play a song, it’s very important to know which tuning is used. If you find ou, after several hours of work, you can’t play a part because the tuning isn’t the good one, you have to start over again. No need to say how angry, how desperate, how suicidal you get then…

1. The different types of tuning
Alright, I’m going to be very general here but it will help a lot!
According to the kind of music, some tunings will appear. Let’s see…
  • Radio friendly, pop… : Keep it simple with standard tuning (EADGBE)
  • Hard rock and 80’s Rock  (from AC/DC to ZZ Top including Alice Cooper, Van Halen and so on) : Standard tuning or 1/2 step lower!
  • Metal : in this category, there are a lot of possibilities but there is a general rule : we’ll have a low sound! So : Drop D (Low E string tuned down 1 step), one, one and a half, two steps lower… 7 strings (Coal Chameber), 7 strings but 1/2 step lower (first Meshuggah’s albums) or 1 step (Korn), 8 strings (Meshuggah’s last albums) and so on…
  • Traditionnal Irish music, some folk songs : DADGAD (Led Zeppelin also used that tuning on some songs)
Some bands use these particular tunings, System Of A Down for example, plays une step lower with a DropC (low E string, already tuned down one full step, is tune down one more step to a C). In their last albums they tuned a half step higher though.
In general, there is a coherence on albums in term of tuning. So when you find out the tuning of a song, often you have the tuning for the whole album. Of course there are alo a lot of exceptions.
Now you see there are a lot of possibilities! Some songs also use unique tunings, we’ll see some in the lesson part of the blog.
2. How to find out what’s the tuning?
The method I use is pretty simple. Simply listen to the song trying to focus on the lowest notes. We’ll try to find what is the lowest note in the song. Very often, the lowest string will determine the rest of the tuning.
In this first example, you can hear the lowest note between the 11th and 12th seconds. The low E isn’t low enough : we’ll have ton tune down until we reach the right note (here is a D, one step lower). Now we have to find out what is the rest of the tuning. In this situation, we hav drop D en ne descendant que la corde de Mi e 2 options : either we tune all the strings down one full step, or we use a DropD tuning. In this song, it’s a Drop D tuning.
Second method : focus on the open strings.
In this second example, we can clearly hear the open high E string played during 6 seconds then the open B string. We can imply that the tuning is a standard tuning (the low strings are not used in this song).
3. Special tunings
According to the songs, we’ll have to determine if we are playing a standard tuning but lower, if we’re working on a seven strings, if there’s a drop…
There is no precise rull to find out what is the tuning of a song but the previous method works in every cases. Let’s see two examples.
Here, we can here 2 notes played on open strings (they reverberate more). They are too high for the E string, too low for the A and D strings… Allright we’ll have to downtune! Let’s tune A and D down one step : we obtain G an C. Now the melodic part. It’s played on only one string (the lowest). In-between the 2nd and 4th second we can clearly hear its lowest note. It’s a C. the beginning of the tuning is CGC (DropC). The other strings will therefore be tuned down one step : CGCFAD.
In this last extract, we can here annother note played on and on. It’s an open A string. Ok no problem, it should be a standard tuning. But, in the second part of the extract I chose a very low note. This note is a Bb. We will need a very low tuning or a 7strings. Usually tuned from a B note, we won’t tune every strings down a half step because we’ll loose the open A string. What do we do then? Well, we’ll use a DropA, we tune the low B string down a whol step to a A. We’ll play the Bb in the first fret!
Conclusion : 
To tune is the first step when we discover a song we want to learn. Most of the time standard tuning will be fine but we’ll sometimes have to solve real puzzles before starting to work. Particular guitars such as 7 or 8 Strings guitars won’t be always necessary, there are alternatives (tune down 2 and a half step to get B tuning) but sometimes it will be hard to do without them.
I haven’t mentionned all the curious possibilities. o know more, check out the song lessons of the blog, if the tuning isn’t a standard one, I’ll mention it and explain how to find out how to tune!


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