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November 6, 2006 | Tuning the Mandolin with harmonics

Every beginning mandolinist learns that he/she can tune the instrument to itself by playing unison notes, the 5th fret of each preceding string. The G string fretted at the 7th fret is D (the next string) the D string fretted at the 7th fret is A (also the next string), and the A string is E at the 7th fret.

You can certainly get a rough tuning this way, but if you want to be more precise, you can do something similar by hitting the harmonics at the 7th fret and 12th fret of the next thinnest string. Harmonics are played by lightly tapping on the string, and allowing it to vibrate in two sections. You've probably already learned this trick at the octave or 12th fret, especially if you've ever set or checked the bridge placement on your instrument.


Notice how you get pulses or "beats" when two sets of out-of-tune strings are played. Of course you want to make sure each course (pair) is in tune with itself, but when you ad the next set, listen for these beats. The slower they are, the closer you are to true pitch. No beats means you're there!

Assuming your G course is already in tune, you can tune the other strings this way, from the bottom up. You can also work your way backwards, as well. This is an ergonomic reach for mandolin, too. Simply spread your fingers so the 1st is on the 7th fret, and the pinky is on the 12th.

Electronic tuners are the easiest & fastest way to tune, but this is good ear training, and if you are in the middle of a performance and need a quick tweak, this is a fast way to do it. It just takes a little practice.

Posted by Ted at November 6, 2006 9:58 PM

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