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How do you tell what tuning a guitar in a recording is in? (Blues)

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Apr 3, 2020 - 1:46:13 PM

Kellie

USA

95 posts since 1/19/2018

I really like listening to the blues and attempting to learn by ear, but there are so many alternate tunings used in country blues. I've heard that it's possible for someone to figure it out by listening. How could one do such a thing?

Apr 3, 2020 - 2:10:16 PM

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

24265 posts since 8/3/2003

I think you're talking about KEY, not tuning. It's fairly easy to figure out what key the song is in but would be rather difficult to figure out the tuning unless you could study the chord fingering and changes.

As far as the KEY a song is in if listening to a recording, the way I do it is to get out my banjo (or guitar) and strike a chord as the song starts (most songs ... not all.... start on the home or root chord). If the chord doesn't sound right, start the recording again and hit another chord and another until it sounds right, then see if you can vamp or chord along with it and figure out the chord sequence.

Apr 3, 2020 - 4:40:15 PM

Mooooo

USA

7816 posts since 8/20/2016

quote:
Originally posted by Kellie

I really like listening to the blues and attempting to learn by ear, but there are so many alternate tunings used in country blues. I've heard that it's possible for someone to figure it out by listening. How could one do such a thing?


research, practice and a good ear

Apr 3, 2020 - 5:11:05 PM

chuckv97

Canada

49197 posts since 10/5/2013
Online Now

Skip James used some kind of odd C tuning. Others used open G,,some open D. Stefan Grossman tabbed out a lot of those old country blues. Hard to tell unless you’ve got lots of experience. You can slow down YouTube stuff to .25 speed.

Apr 4, 2020 - 3:43:03 AM
Players Union Member

OM45GE

USA

96583 posts since 11/7/2007

This is one of the things tablature is very useful for. There is an amazing amount of good tab for stringed instrument songs of all genres. It will show you the tunings used as well as how to play the music.

I’ve been playing finger-style guitar since the 1960’s and use several different tunings and I still find it very difficult to suss out what some guitarists are using. Some are obvious and there are players who typically only use a couple of different tunings so they’re easy to figure out. Others, not so much.

Apr 4, 2020 - 4:12:23 AM

2048 posts since 1/16/2010

What Moo says...mainly an experienced enough ear to listen and just tell what most of the guys were doing. Lots of guys just stuck to basic tunings...plenty of country blues to be played in any standard tuning.

Mance Lipscomb did all sorts of numbers in standard E, open G, drop D...you name it.

Apr 4, 2020 - 9:18:47 AM

2601 posts since 4/19/2008
Online Now

Apr 8, 2020 - 3:48:47 AM
Players Union Member

OM45GE

USA

96583 posts since 11/7/2007

Back in the 1960’s, I used to do a set where I would progress from standard tuning to drop D, to DGDGBE, or DADGAD, to DADF#AD to DGCGCE. No electronic tuner so I used a harmonica for a D and tuned to that and got as close as I could in a reasonable amount of time. It could be challenging in a noisy bar.

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