• Ten Years tuning •



One advantage of tuning via spelling is that you will always stumble upon some melodiously counterintuitive combinations. ‘Decade’ is a fantastic example of this, placing a wide middle between narrow outer intervals (‘major & minor 6ths sandwiched by major 2nds’). Take account of the uneven tension profile – e.g. between the super-slack 5str and tight-wound 3+2str (transpose down if you can’t go that high).


The tuning offers a strange consonance and teasing regularity, brought by the natural near-structure of the word itself (‘DE-CA-DE’ suggests the start of its own repetition pattern…). See what other words sound like in my article on ‘Alphamelodics‘ (“the process of ‘making melodies from words’, or, more formally, ‘creating music by using note names to spell out words, codes, phrases, and other semantically meaningful sequences’.”)

Pattern: 2>8>9>5>2
Harmony: D7sus2 | 1-2-b7-5-1-2


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Sampled by a scattering of YouTubers: e.g. Macedonian guitarist Nikola Gugoski (Last Riff of This Decade), and Japanese string-twister Ichika Nito (DECADE Demo) – who uses it to explore sombre natural harmonics and sliding high melodies. Wider usage remains rare – as is typical for these strange, restring-inclined tunings (send me your experiments!).


  • Last Riff of This Decade – Nikola Gugoski​ (very late in 2019):

Decade: mid-15th-century, meaning ‘ten parts’ or ‘ten consecutive years’…(originally in reference to the divisions of Livy’s history), via Old French ‘décade’, Late Latin ‘decadem’, and Greek ‘dekas’. Likely from Proto-Indo-European root ‘dekm-‘: as evidenced by the Sanskrit ‘dasa’, Avestan ‘dasa’, Armenian ‘tasn’, Greek ‘deka’, Latin ‘decem’, Old Church Slavonic ‘deseti’, Lithuanian ‘dešimt’, Old Irish ‘deich’, Breton ‘dek’, Welsh ‘deg’, Albanian ‘djetu’, Old High German ‘zehan’, and Gothic ‘taihun’ – all of which mean ‘ten’…”

As with ABCDEF, BAGDAD, CABbAGE, and DECADE, the syllables of India’s classical ‘sargam‘ system can be combined to spell out sequences with semantic meaning (sargam is essentially like ‘Do-Re-Mi…‘, but as ‘Sa-Re-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni…’). As recounted in The Hindu, a new raga “was spontaneously created by Pandit Ravi Shankar in 1948. On hearing of [Mahatma Gandhi’s] death, Pandit-ji was asked by All India Radio to play a piece dedicated to the Mahatma. On the spot, he created a variation of the very sombre, powerful Malkauns…that he named Mohan Kauns”.


His raga added a shuddha Ga (major 3rd) to the ascent of Malkauns, resulting in two pentatonic sequences: ‘Sa-Ga-ma-da-ni-Sa’ (1-3-4-b6-b7-8) on the way up, and ‘Sa-ni-da-ma-ga-Sa’ (8-b7-b6-4-b3-1) on the way down. The tension between the two Ga swaras (3b3) gives a special prominence to his chosen pakad [motif] of ‘Ga-Ni-Dha’. Thus, Shankar spells out the Mahatma’s surname in the raga’s most vital movements – something which the rasikas [connoisseurs] who witnessed him play it would have noticed intuitively. Here’s the sloppily distilled ‘Ga-Ni-Dha’ motif on my own sitar – and check out Ravi’s full Raag Mohan Kauns below (the motif appears many times, e.g. 1:56, 12:57, and 18:58):


  • Raag Mohan Kauns (‘Ga-Ni-Dha’) – Ravi Shankar (1981):

“In the olden days, I believe Mozart also improvised on piano, but somehow in the last 200 years, the whole training of Western classical music – they don’t read between the lines, they just read the lines…” (Ravi Shankar)

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6str 5str 4str 3str 2str 1str
Note D E C A D E
Alteration -2 -5 -2 +2 +3 0
Tension (%) -21 -44 -21 +26 +41 0
Freq. (Hz) 73 82 131 220 294 330
Pattern (>) 2 8 9 5 2
Semitones 0 2 10 19 24 26
Intervals 1 2 b7 5 1 2
  • 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…

  • Alphabet: see what these meta-transliterations make
  • Cabbage: provides tastier melodies than meals for many
  • New Standard: another way to shuffle a C6/9 chord


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

  • Composing via spelling: learn about the unpredictable beauties (and awkward dissonances) of ‘spelling-derived melodies’ in my article ‘Alpha-melodics’: the hidden sounds of words – featuring BAGDAD, CABbAGE, and other cryptographic creations, spanning Baroque Europe to recent Hindustani raga (“Despite the apparent chaos of spelling-based methods, many of the resulting melodies showcase their own structures and regularities. In a sense, this is nothing remarkable: could you imagine if our written language really was a truly structureless scrabble-bag of letters? What would it sound like?”)
  • Brain-tingling syllablics: apart from creating pleasing string-translatory resonances, words have their own inherent consonances too – a field of inquiry known as ‘phonaesthetics‘ (“the study of the aesthetic properties of sound, especially the sound symbolism attributable to individual sounds”…”gorn, sausage, caribou, intercourse, pert, thighs, botty, erogenous, zone, concubine, loose, women, ocelot, wasp, yowling…”)

Header image: Salvador Dali’s Dance of Time sculpture

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!

“An intrepid guitar researcher…”

(Guitar World interview)

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