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Aug 8, 2020 - 12:50:06 PM



3 posts since 8/8/2018

Hi all -
This question has I think been asked in a different way on here but looking to clarify my understanding from previous posts.
I am a pretty new clawhammer player.
I have been tuning my banjo with an electronic tuner, adjusting each string until the tuner reads out the desired note. I have since come across tuning instruction in some books/online where it is advised to first tune one string, and then proceed with the following strings by fretting them at whatever position in order to match the note to the first string, and tune by ear until they are in unison.

I gather the principal reason to NOT use my beginner/lazy method is related to the equal temperament issue, and tuning strings to each other helps develop your ear? Is there any other reason not to tune each string with an electronic tuner ?

Also,what is "tweak" tuning? Is that what it is called when using the electronic tuner for each string?

Aug 8, 2020 - 2:19:08 PM

5 posts since 12/5/2018

I'm relatively new to the banjo but not new to stringed instruments which I've been playing for many years. I started using an electronic tuner when I first started learning to play instruments and never ever tried to tune by ear as I just couldn't be bothered, but found that I developed the ability to tune by ear after a number of years anyway just by hearing the same notes again and again even though I was using the tuner. I think most people will have a similar experience to be honest.

It seems counter intuitive to me to expect a beginner to start tuning by ear right away. Of all the things a newcomer has to worry about picking up, it seems silly to force something onto the list that will likely develop on its own eventually anyway.

Aug 8, 2020 - 2:19:30 PM
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Eric A


792 posts since 10/15/2019

Both methods get you to the same place, but electronic tuners have not always been available. Us old timers (and I'm only 59) remember when we only had pitch pipes or tuning forks.

Philosophically, I suppose it's a lot like calculators. If you are young enough to have always had a calculator, did you ever learn to do much math in your head? Or to understand the actual formula involved?

If you've always had an electronic tuner, is your ear really as sharp as it could be?

Do both. It's fine.

Aug 8, 2020 - 2:49:21 PM



142 posts since 2/18/2005

Originally posted by Kayjay

I gather the principal reason to NOT use my beginner/lazy method is related to the equal temperament issue ...

Also,what is "tweak" tuning? Is that what it is called when using the electronic tuner for each string?


If your electronic tuner is in equal temperament, you should have the same result when using it and the "stopping a lower string at a certain fret" method, because the frets of a banjo are spaced according to equal temperament.

"Tweaking" the tuning means using your favorite method (electronic tuner, piano, pitch-pipe, fretted lower string ...) and then just slightly altering the tuning of a string (in the classic gCGBD tuning, usually the 1st string) that yields a subjectively "off" note in a chord. This does have to do with the equal temperament issue!



Aug 8, 2020 - 6:45:08 PM
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2835 posts since 4/29/2012

And I guess I'm not alone in using a tuner when playing with others and tuning the banjo to itself with string matching when playing alone.
And if you are learning and/or practising by playing along with a recording , particularly an old one, it may not be in an exactly precise tuning, either because it was recorded slow or fast or because the musicians were not tuning to standard pitch (or both). So a tuner isn't always needed and isn't always useful.

Aug 8, 2020 - 10:40:11 PM



3 posts since 8/8/2018

I love the calculator analogy! Makes total sense ( and who doesn't love doing math by hand!?)

Aug 8, 2020 - 11:54:13 PM

189 posts since 8/11/2015

Using an electronic tuner isn’t going to delay your ear’s development in my opinion. You are still listening to the strings plucked. Its merely a visual representation of what you are hearing.

Tuning by fretting one string and comparing is a useful method but its accuracy depends on pressing the string down evenly. This isn’t likely to be much of a problem tho and you should certainly use the method if you find it useful.

Make sure you listen to the strings and «taste» the tones. You need to hear that a low g and a high g are the same although one is deeper than the other. Eventually you will tune and then run slowly through all of the strings and hear if one is off. This is easier on a banjo than say a guitar in regular tuning since the open strings together form a chord that rings nicely together.

Don’t worry about it.

Aug 8, 2020 - 11:58:02 PM
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40634 posts since 3/7/2006

There are actually two ways to tune by ear.  This example is standard G tuning

  1. First tune one string, for example the third string to G, with an electric tuner, pitch pipe, pitch fork or another instrument. Then tune the second string as equal to third string 4th fret, and the first string equal to second string 3rd fret, or third string 7th fret. The fifth string can be tuned as first string 5th fret or third string 12th fret, or by ear: one octave higher than the third string. The fourth string is tuned so fourth string 5th fret matches the open third string, or by ear: one octave lower than the first string.
  2. First tune one string, for example the third string to G, with an electric tuner, pitch pipe, pitch fork or another instrument. Then by ear tune the first string. A good ear should hear when it is a kind of resonance between the first string (D) and the third string (G). The relation between the frequencies should be exactly 1.500 (or 3/2). The second string can be tuned in the same manner with a kind of resonance between the third and second string .The relation between the frequencies should be exactly 1.25 (or 5/4)

The first method will give exactly the same result as an electric tuner tuned in"equal temperament",but will differ from the second method which is "just intonation". For example the relation between the frequencies of first and third string is about 1,498307  (=(2)^(7/12)) in equal temperament but 1.500000 (3/2) in just intonation. The relation between the second string and third string is 1.259921 (=(2)^(4/12)) in the equal temperament but 1,25 (5/4) in just intonation.

Aug 9, 2020 - 9:45:13 AM
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1180 posts since 8/7/2017

My opinions:
1. There is nothing lazy=bad about using an electronic tuner. In a noisy environment (jam, bar, home when someone else is making noise), your electric tuner may give you better tuning results than your ears (ears can be overwhelmed by ambient noise).

2. Your perception of tone/tuning will change as you get more experience. At that point, you may find yourself making small tweaks of the banjo tuning button(s) to get a better sounding banjo (that is, you will deviate from what your electronic tuner said...far as I can tell, all pros do this). This is subjective, and somewhat dependent on what ears you were born with, and how you treated them during your life (loud sounds wreck hearing eventually..I wear foam earplugs a lot to protect my ears in a noisy environment).

3. Your ability to hear tones will vary day to day; some days I can tune by ear and be happy with results, other days I have to use my electronic tuner.

4. As mentioned above, when the strings are perfectly tuned, they will resonate with each other when a chord is formed (lightly pluck each string separately, and listen for a faint ringing of the other strings). This resonance is most easily heard, by me, with the open chord.

5. As frets wear down, they will start to give false notes (the farther the fret wears down, the sharper the fretted note will be). This may take a lot of experience to hear, or not, depending on your ears. I don't think there is much you can do about this, other than getting the frets replaced. Pressing the strings more lightly will help, and is good player technique anyway. Press only hard enough to keep the string from buzzing/muting...I'm still working on this one :-)

6. Tuning is a skill that will improve all through your banjo career :-) Some strings will benefit from being tuned slightly differently for different songs; this is because some songs use specific chords more than other chords, so tweaking the tuning to favor those chords will make the song sound better.

7. I'm a big fan of tuning using "just intonation" frequencies, which are quite different from the way a piano, and electronic tuners, are tuned in "equal temperament" frequencies. This is a highly controversial topic, at least on BHO, hoho. If you want more info, send me an email.

Hope this helps.

Edited by - BrooksMT on 08/09/2020 09:49:43

Aug 9, 2020 - 10:28:31 AM

47 posts since 3/13/2014

It's been said, "Banjo players spend half their time tuning, and the other half playing out of tune".

Aug 9, 2020 - 10:50:11 AM
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40634 posts since 3/7/2006

How long does it take to tune a banjo:

Edited by - janolov on 08/09/2020 11:02:38

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