All Fourths



A ‘regular’ stack of perfect 4ths (also a Dmin11 arpeggio). Kind of like Standard‘s more logical cousin – the ‘odd one out’ gap between 3-2str is eliminated, simplifying the fretboard’s geometry. Great for quartal voicings, and the C & F open tones are useful for common keys too.


Guitarists arrive here from many different angles: when tuning his first guitar, an 11-year-old Stanley Jordan jumped ahead while reading the ‘5-5-5-4-5’ sequence from a beginner book (“I saw the pattern and said, ‘OK’, and tuned the whole guitar up that way”). Today, he uses ‘5-5-5-5-5’ as the canvas for his incredible ‘touch tapping’ style.


Bill Sethares notes that while All Fourths has “a distinct lack of full six string major and minor chords…there are, however, numerous easy-to-finger four and five string chords which can be moved readily around the fretboard. All [6-5-4-3str vocab] from Standard tuning can be used verbatim, and can be transposed directly onto the upper two strings”. Highly recommended!


(n.b. Probably the best instant-freedom arrangement for bassists switching to the guitar – and also ideal for players of the Mexican bajo sexto, a booming 12-string bass that sets EADGCF tunings across double courses.)

Pattern: 5>5>5>5>5
Harmony: (E quartal) | 1-4-b7-b3-b6-b2




Aside from Stanley Jordan: used by Ant Law (often lowered a semitone to Eb to suit jazzy keys) – also Tom Quayle, Deirdre Cartwright, and, sometimes, Emett Chapman (of Chapman Stick fame). And Alex Hutchings puts it in the Baritone register to form BEADGC.


  • Tale of discovering 4ths tuning – Stanley Jordan (2013):


6str 5str 4str 3str 2str 1str
Note E A D G C F
Alteration 0 0 0 0 1 1
Tension (%) 0 0 0 0 +12 +12
Freq. (Hz) 82 110 147 196 262 349
Pattern (>) 5 5 5 5 5
Semitones 0 5 10 15 20 25
Intervals 1 4 b7 b3 b6 b2
  • See my Tunings Megatable for further such nerdery: more numbers, intervallic relations, comparative methods, etc. And to any genuine vibratory scientists reading: please critique my DIY analysis!


—Associated tunings: proximities of shape, concept, context, etc…

  • All Fifths: essentially just a cycle of 4ths in reverse
  • All Tritones: a semitone’s difference goes a long way
  • Turkish Oud: also ends with a regular ‘line of four 4ths’


—Further learnings: sources, readings, lessons, other onward links…

  • Fourths tuning discussion: more from Bill Sethares, and British axeman Tom Quayle’s interview with (“Essentially, I’m cheating…I’ve made it much easier to visualise when you’re improvising, playing crazy chord changes, or even coming up with simple stuff”) – and check out the fourths-based systema teleion of Ancient Greek music
  • Stanley Jordan’s style: see him discuss and demo it in interviews with Isaac Stevenson Jr. (1985) and Dave Lawrence (2016), watch his famous covers including Impressions, Eleanor Rigby, and The Sound of Silence, and check out his film cameo in Blind Date (1987), serenading Bruce Willis and Kim Basinger (adeptly enough that they’re kissing by the end…)


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rāga: ‘that which colours the mind’

George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and other global improvised traditions. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them. Site above, follow below, & hit me up for…


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Dedicated to Nigel Tufnel – a true tuning connoisseur

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