Effective Stage Presence: For the Open Mic and
Get In Tune!
By Spook Handy, MusicDish.com
Whether it's fair on not, people judge your musicianship
by how in tune your instrument and singing are. Let's talk about
getting that instrument in tune. Much of what follows is about tuning
guitars, but some the ideas mentioned here will apply to any stringed
instrument. Here are some pointers I learned from the experts:
First, do your best to have your instrument tuned
before you go on stage. There is limited time at open mics, and
often there are a lot of performers who want some of it. Many musicians
and audience members will consider it inconsiderate if you spend
stage time tuning up. It's not a good idea if you want to make friends
or impress anyone in the audience. Furthermore, imagine how many
fewer songs would be played in the course of an evening if every
act spent stage time tuning up.
Second, tune up at the venue. Some like to tune up at home. Others
remember that their guitar was in tune when they last put it in the
case so they assume it is still in tune. But, this is not always true.
Changes in temperature, humidity and air pressure over the course
of a few days or the jostling in a car on the way to the gig often
makes an instrument go out of tune.
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How do You Tune That Instrument?
There are countless ways to tune your instrument.
One obvious way is with an electric tuner. I strongly
recommend a chromatic tuner. These will indicate which of the twelve
chromatic tones the string is closest to and whether it is flat
or sharp of that tone. It has two distinct advantages over tuners
that only have the 6 pitches of the standard tuned guitar. First,
you or a friend may want to use the tuner for a mandolin or violin
which have strings tuned to pitches different from a guitar's. Second,
one day you may wish to use an alternative tuning or tune the whole
guitar down a half step or whole step. Without the chromatic pitches
on your tuner, it won't be of much help. The six tone tuners may
even deter you from attempting alternative tunings and thereby stifle
Keep in mind that no stringed instrument has perfect
intonation and that its intonation changes with the seasons and
climate. So you need to learn how to fine-tune your instrument.
The way to do this is usually particular to the specific instrument
you own. But, here are a couple of neat tips I learned from some
of the experts:
* Have you ever seen someone tune the A string of
there guitar to the 5th fret of the low E string, then tune the
D string to the 5th fret of the A and so on? This may work, but
usually it leads to problems. This is because if the intonation
of the 5th fret is off by the slightest amount, the A string will
be a tiny bit off. The D string a little bit more off and by the
time you get to the high E you will be off by four or five times
the original amount.
* A different and often better way to tune up is by
using harmonics. When tuning one string five half steps above another,
the 5th fret harmonic of the lower string and the 7th fret harmonic
of the higher string should be basically identical. I say 3basically
identical2 because, again, no intonation is perfect and you may
have to make minor compromises here or there to get the best sound.
With my guitar, for instance, I have to tune my A string so that
it's 7th fret harmonic is just the tiniest bit higher than the E
string's 5th fret harmonic. This method avoids some of the potential
problems. But once again, by tuning the A to the E and then the
D to the A and so on, you are compounding slight deviations. So,
further refinement may be necessary.
* A third way of tuning is to use a combination of
harmonic and fret tuning. This can work wonders on that elusive
B string that always seems to sound off. To get my B in the best
tune possible, I like to tune the B string's 3rd fret (which is
a D pitch) to the 12th fret harmonic of the D string. Further, I
tune the high E string's 3rd fret (which is a G pitch) to the 12th
fret harmonic of the G string. One reason I do this is because I
play a lot of songs in the key of G or D and thus it is more important
to have those pitches right on rather than an open B or open E.
It would be ideal to have all pitches right on, but that just doesn't
happen very often.
In the long run tuning your instrument becomes a personal
and individual technique. You can use any or all of the above techniques
or others. In the process you can really get to know your guitar
and develop a sense of pitch that can lead to better singing and
easier learning of new songs. You can probably learn additional
tuning tricks by asking those performers at the open mics and professional
concerts who always seem to be in tune. Asking is a great way of
learning and making friends.
Tuning After You Play
Finally, have you ever considered the importance of
tuning your instrument before you put it away? There's a
pretty neat theory that over many years, if the instrument is kept
in tune, the molecules of the wood re-arrange themselves in a way
that harmonizes with the tuning. I'm not qualified to explain this
scientifically, but the end result is a guitar that resonates a
warmer, deeper sound. This theory reminds me of some very old houses
of worship or concert halls I've been in where you can actually
still feel the resonance of the singing and music that has occurred
in them over the centuries. I don't know how true this theory is,
but for some reason my fifteen-year-old Martin is sounding better
and better with each passing year. So, I tune that puppy up before
I put it to bed - just in case it helps.
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