Darren Frate on Altered Tunings
Hi, welcome to my new column. In the upcoming months I will be exploring the use of altered tunings for the electric bass. Many musicians fear breaking out of the confines of standard tuning, however, by incorporating altered tunings into your playing you will discover that there are many new chord voicings and approaches to scales. By altering your tuning you can also break out of creative ruts in your playing because of the initial unfamiliarity that comes with learning things in a new way. Artists, for instance, are advised to try drawing with their opposite hand to provide new perspectives and enhance creativity; playing your instrument with an unfamiliar tuning can provide the same serendipitous effect on your music. Many musicians have come up with their greatest material when they have gone outside of their comfort zone into unfamiliar territory.
On a practical note, when trying any new tuning always be careful to allow time for the neck to adjust to the different tension being applied on it. I also find that a lighter gauge set of strings – or even piccolo strings – eases the stress on the neck (I have a graveyard of broken strings that have given out as I tried to stretch them beyond their limits!). If you have a second bass, it’s often a good idea to use that one for the new tuning and let it sit for a while before playing. Also, depending on which tuning you decide to experiment with you may have to alter the bridge. I will be covering all of these nuances in subsequent columns.
The video is an original composition entitled “Hummingbird”, which uses a tuning of C-G-D-A (low to high). In my next lesson we will begin to look at some of the chord voicings for this tuning. Until next time, check out Michael Manring, the “master” of altered tunings, to see what’s possible when you go beyond standard tuning.