October 16, 2013

What scale do you tune to?

This whole series of posts has arisen because I am frequently asked to teach tuning.  The requester is almost always sheepish about asking - they seem to feel that you shouldn’t have to ask.  But really, if you haven’t been taught to tune, how will you ever learn?!?  Typically get a very short instruction (pluck the string, twiddle about with the key, get the green light, go on to the next string) very early when you're a little overwhelmed with everything! 

You do need to know in which scale you intend to tune.   You can tune to any scale but we tend to tune into one of a few major scales (please take this on faith, if you’re really interested, let me know and I’ll do a post on it later).  Those scales we tend to tune in are C, Eb [read E-flat], or F (here too, I am going to assume you know the notes of the scales – if this is a wrong assumption, again, let me know and we’ll do that too!). 

C is familiar, it is a key many other instruments can play in, it “maps” directly to the white keys on the piano, and you are probably familiar with the scale from school music classes.  You would use your tuner to get the following notes in the scale: C – D – E – F – G – A – B (and back to C) all the way up your harp.  From the key of C you can get to other well used scales including G (one sharp – the F# [read F-sharp]), D (two sharps – F# and C#), A (three sharps – F#, C#, and G#), and E (four sharps - F#, C#, G#, and D#).

Tuning in the key of F gives you a very lovely and sing-able key.  It does mean that you will have to raise one lever to get into the key of C but it also gives you a flat note – Bb.  You would use your tuner to get the following notes in the scale: F – G – A – Bb – C – D – E (and back to F).  From the key of F you can get to C (no flats or sharps – raise the B lever), and then move into the successive keys above (just start with the B lever going up to get you to C to start).

But you’ve probably heard lots of people say they are tuned to Eb.  They may even look at you like you’re crazy if you say you’re tuned to C.  DO NOT LET ANYONE INTIMIDATE YOU!!  There is nothing morally or musically superior about being tuned in Eb.  There, I’ve said it.

Many people tune to Eb because it gives you the most options to change scales without having to retune your harp.  From Eb you can get to the most other keys - that’s the only reason to choose it.   So if you tune to Eb, you will have to raise three levers to get into the key of C but it also gives you three flat notes – Eb, Ab, and Bb.  You would use your tuner to get the following notes in the scale: Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C – D (and back to Eb).  From the key of Eb you can get to C (raise the E, A, and B levers), and then move into the successive keys as above (just start from C to start).  And you can get into the keys of F (which we have already talked about, just put up the E and A levers but leave the B lever down) and Bb (put only the A lever up).  And of course, from this tuning with all the levers down, you are in Eb.

Now you can get around the scales a little easier and tuning might make more sense.  As always – let me know if you have questions, otherwise I’m going to go on to other topics!

1 comment:

Kathy DeAngelo said...

I spent a good part of a student's lesson showing her how to tune the harp--and then her parent afterward--then your blog post came in my email! Timely!