Monday, September 23, 2013

detuning/retuning the guitar

This next track might not be for those with perfect pitch.

Gary Prince: Guitar
Andrew Klein: Voice
Rehearsal 9.21.13

The guitar tuning on this track is (low-high)

6 = just sharp of Bb
5 = sharp of a D
4 = very sharp of E
3 = very sharp of D
2 = almost an Ab
1 = almost a Db

This piece comes towards the end of a session in which I returned the guitar before each piece - going off whatever intervals sounded cool, or crunchy, without using the tuner (hence not landing on exact notes). I wasn't really keeping track of which exact notes of any of the strings - just the intervals and the overall sound. I found out what tuning I was in by checking with the tuner afterwards.

Retuning the guitar this way makes for an interesting problem: not being able to rely on muscle or visual memory to know where the notes are, ie, not being able to use physical patterns, not being able to predict what note will sound when you hit a particular string.

But that said, the intervallic relationships on a single string are unchanged - after all, you're not moving the location of the frets. So by playing on one string you can kind of get around being retuned (that is, you can choose pitches deliberately). This gives you the option, to some degree, of being deliberately tonal. Then, having the relationships between the strings be wildly off (especially them not being sequential or standard, ie, string 4 is a higher note than string 3, string 6-5 is a maj 3; string 5-4 is a maj2) frees you up to play atonally while still playing familiar physical shapes. Familiar licks and shapes take on completely new and interesting sounds, allowing you to think more about melodic shape and form, free from the expectation of always knowing what notes will come out, almost taking pitches as they come. To me this is very freeing.

To me, this is almost a shortcut to getting something of the very out Eric Dolphy or Anthony Braxton sound. A less deliberate choice of notes, maybe, but that kind of atonal, angular shape playing that I associate with the sound of those players - something I have always found very difficult to do on guitar, especially at faster tempos, as it is so challenging to break the muscle memory of typical scales and arpeggios, and to play 'non guitaristically'.

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