Standard tuning

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In music, standard tuning refers to the typical tuning of a string instrument. This notion is contrary to that of scordatura, i.e. an alternate tuning designated to modify either the timbre or technical capabilities of the desired instrument.


Violin family

The most popular bowed strings used nowadays belong to the violin family; together with their respective standard tunings, they are:

Viol family

The double bass is properly the contrabass member of the viol family. Its smaller members are tuned in ascending fourths, with a major third in the middle, as follows:

A more recent family is the violin octet, which also features a standardized tuning system (see page).

Guitar family

Guitar standard tuning.
D/F♯ slash chord Play  .

Standard tunings in plucked string instruments cover many different instruments which are plucked either by the fingers or with a plectrum. Guitars and bass guitars have more standard tunings, depending on the number of strings an instrument has:

Guitar notation is an octave above the actual note, so Middle C (C4) in guitar notation is the third space on the treble clef, whereas the note written as one line below the treble clef is C3.

Guitars are thus normally tuned in fourths, with the exception of a major third between the 2nd and 3rd strings. This is done to simplify fingering. A few guitarists, mostly those using tapping, play without this interval, instead tuning in all fourths; thus on a six-string guitar the top two strings become C and F instead of B and E. Other unusual tunings include all major thirds, all minor thirds, and various other choices.

In standard notation, the guitar sounds one octave lower than it is written. This is to avoid switching between treble and bass clef, or using ledger lines or 8vb, since it is very common to play past the 12th fret on the E string (E5) and drop down to lower open string notes. This is also more practical for the whole playing range of E2–C♯6 (on a 21-fret guitar), as it can fit easily into the treble clef when written as E3–C♯7. Transposing by an octave may be explicitly indicated by a suboctave clef, where a treble clef has an '8' placed below it, or a normal treble clef may be used for simplicity.


Other plucked string instruments and their respective standard tunings include:

See also