What is the World of Tuning? And why did I make it?
• What is the ‘World of Tuning’? •
As per the Homepage, this project aims to explore how we can rethink our peg-twisting rituals – a rare universal in the wide world of modern guitar. The resources examine new tuning horizons from multiple perspectives – practical, harmonic, historic, social, scientific, spiritual, and more – interconnecting ideas from a global variety of musical traditions.
Originally, the concept grew from my ‘Ultimate Tuning Guide‘ article for Guitar World (Jan 2020) – which was in turn inspired via the editors challenging me to come up with ‘fresh approaches to guitar tuning’. After aimlessly expanding it over the past couple of years, I announced its completion via a quick WIRE profile (Aug 2022).
Open-access, ad-free pledge: This project was mainly a labour of love/obsession (and it’s not really ‘my’ knowledge anyway: I’m just the messenger…or maybe the database admin). To support the site, see:
“There’s perhaps no better guide to alternate tunings than George Howlett’s World Of Tuning: with its compendium of 100 tunings, each helpfully accompanied by recorded samples, details on the intervallic relationships between the strings, and bios of the guitarists who invented or popularised them…” (WIRE: Unofficial Channels, Aug 2022)
• What is the project ‘for’? •
(Adapted from David Mandl’s WIRE interview)
As ever, most supposed ‘intentions’ were formed post-hoc: above all, I just enjoy aimlessly expanding my own musical understanding, and sharing these fascinations with fellow sonic searchers (my site began as a blog for student notes). Thus, there is zero commercial purpose behind the project: overall, I want it to be a zero-bullshit zone of global musical learning: no ads, no paywalls, and no ulterior motives to cloud focus – with everything interlinked as a ‘hyperconnected whole’. As it’s grown, I’ve sought to be more explicit about certain guiding principles, e.g.:
- Choose-your-own-adventure: ‘hyper-hyperlinking’ between all topics allows you to ‘set your own path’ through the site (i.e. just follow whichever link-chains look most enticing) – this navigability is more like the human mind than a book
- Demystify sounds via shapes: Apart from cognitive science pointing to ‘shape-learning’ as our strongest ‘mnemonic encoding’ method, it’s also much less culturally specific than Western stave notation (which I’m still sloppy with…)
- Embed a genuinely global view: Aside from opening our ears to the ‘other 99%’ of the world’s sonic variety, global musical traditions offer up fresh, hyper-effective learning methods, often missed in narrow and static Western music curriculums.
- Draw from disparate fields: For me, necessity isn’t the mother of invention – ‘novel interconnection’ is far more vital. Thus, I look outside traditional musicology for fresh insights (e.g. hand physiology, neurology of other ‘quasi-improvised’ fields).
- Bring the humans to life: Music means more when connected the voices, cultures, and passions behind it – so it’s essential to animate these messy human contexts and associated myth-makings (ideally incorporating the artist’s own words).
NEXT STEPS: I’ve kept rough notes on 200-300 more tunings, which will eventually go up too (if not for London rent, I’d have done more this round…). However, the main next step is to gather and add insights from global guitarists: basically, ‘tuning’ the project itself over time. Similarly, my other projects are churning up new concepts – e.g. delving into Coltrane’s scale mysteries, and recording a ‘raga ensemble’ for ZerOclassikal…
• What even is ‘tuning’ anyway? •
(My attempt at a sensible summary: from the Audio Glossary)
“A broad term, relating to various processes of ‘adjustment’, ‘fine-setting’, or ‘bringing closer to a desired order’. In music, a ‘tuning’ (noun) is the ‘system of frequencies underlying a sonic phenomenon’ – while ‘to tune’ is ‘to adjust the pitches of a sound source’ in some implicitly deliberate fashion. Any philosophy of interval construction can be referred to as ‘tuning systems’: ranging from the ear-derived sruti of Indian raga to the abstruse mathematics of modern microtonalists.
Oddly, ‘detuning’ and ‘tuning’ are only approximate antonyms: ‘detune’ is often used as a synonym for ‘downtune’ (as in ‘to decrease tension’: e.g. ‘I detuned the 6str right down to a low A’). In the broader English language, the word ‘tune’ – also a synonym for ‘melody’ – has spread beyond its original musical meaning, used in relation to radios (‘tuning the wireless’), conscious awareness (‘tune in/out’), and car modifications (including the only other ‘World of Tuning’ I can find)…”
• Humble Dedication •
In loud honour of Nigel Tufnel: a true tuning connoisseur…
“Tufnel’s meticulous mid-song violin retuning is at once touching and iconic, demonstrating not only his own integrity, but also his deeply-held respect for the discerning ears of his audience…” (from my Guitar World article Up to 11: a full harmonic-melodic analysis of Spinal Tap’s ‘Trademark Solo’)
(rāga: ‘that which colours the mind’)
George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher (guitars, sitar, tabla, & santoor). Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the voices, cultures, and passions behind them. See Home & Writings, and hit me up for Online Lessons!
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