The strings of the mandolin need to be tuned to the following notes:
The strings of the mandola need to be tuned to the following notes:
The strings of the mandocello need to be tuned to the following notes:
Notice that the tuning keys on the left side of the peg head, work the exact opposite of the tuning keys on the right side of the peg head. So if you want to tighten your strings, you will turn the keys in different directions depending on which side of the peg head the tuning key is on. (If you can't remember which way to turn them, look at the string you are picking, and follow it all the way up to the tuning key. Then look at the direction that the string is wound around the peg.) It's also helpful to make sure that you are adjusting the peg that goes with the same string that you are picking. Look at the string you are picking, and verify which peg it is attached to. If you seem to be turning and turning, but nothing is happening, you are probably turning the wrong peg.
If you can afford one, an electronic tuner is the most accurate way to tune. Let's look at the different types of electronic tuners available.
The least expensive models have a tiny microphone built in to them, and the notes of the scale on the front.
When you play a note in to the tuner, a red light flashes on whichever note you are closest to. A second light flashes at one of two symbols – one that looks like a "b", which is musical notation for being "flat", or low, and one that looks like a pound sign "#", which is musical notation for being “sharp”, or high. Follow the general tuning rules above. If you’re trying to tune your "A" string, and the tuner tells you that you are at "B", and the "B" is "b" (flat), that means you are too high and you need to loosen your string. If you're trying to tune your "A" string, and your tuner says that you are at "A", and the "A" is "b" (flat), then you are too low and you need to tighten your string. You know you are exactly right, when the green light that says, "TUNE" lights up. These tuners are accurate, and relatively inexpensive. The potential problem exists with the built in microphone. If you are in a room with a lot of other noise going on – maybe other musicians tuning up – the microphone will pick up what they're playing in addition to what you're playing, and the tuner will become confused.
Another type of tuner has no microphone, but attaches to the peg head of your mandolin and reads the vibrations that come through the neck when the string is picked.
The readout is a little different, but the basic principals are the same. The tuner displays a letter which tells you what note you are closest to. On either side of the letter are arrows. If there are three arrows on both sides of the letter, then the note is exactly right. (Remember that, even if the note displayed is exactly right, it still might be the wrong note. This would happen if you were trying to tune your "A" string, and your tuner displayed a perfect "G".) If there are more arrows on the right side of the letter, then the note displayed is high. If there are more arrows on the left side of the letter, then the note displayed is low. These tuners can be useful when you are playing in a group, because they react only to the vibration of your instrument - not to the sounds around you. And as you probably guessed – they're more expensive than the basic models.
Another type of tuner also reads the vibrations of your instrument, but notice how it attaches.
Unlike the second tuner shown above, the clip on this is large enough to use on many different instruments, including violins, guitars, woodwinds and brass. The range is also larger – meaning that it will register very low notes on very low instruments, as well as very high notes on very high instruments. The display and operation is similar to the second tuner. These are very expensive tuners but, if you have multiple musical instruments in your house, you will probably find that you can use this one on all of them.
If you have some experience with musical instruments, you can also tune the mandolin using a piano:
Or a tuning fork (by ear).
When you tune the mandolin, you tune open strings only – meaning that you need to make sure that your fingers are not touching the strings in any way that could interfere with the note you are playing. When you pick an open string, most tuners will tell you what note you are closest to. Resist the temptation to pick the open string several times while tuning – if you do that, you will just confuse the tuner. For tuning purposes, pick the string once, and make your adjustments using only the information that the tuner displays immediately after you do it. You can completely ignore any different information it might give you, as the string continues to vibrate. That is because the note "degrades" after time.
Hopefully your new mandolin will be somewhat in tune, and your tuner will tell you that you are at least somewhat close to G, D, A and E. It is possible, though, that one or more strings could be badly out of tune. So what happens if you are trying to tune your E string, and the tuner tells you that the note that you just played, was closest to an F? This can be interesting, since an "F" is not an option for an open string on a mandolin!
The notes on the musical scale go in alphabetical order like this - A, B, C, D, E, F and G – and then they repeat over and over – A, B, C, D, E, F and G. (There's more about that in the Scales section). "F" comes after "E" in that sequence, so if you were picking your "E" string, and your tuner told you that the note you played was closest to an "F", that means that the note your string just produced, is higher than it should be. If you loosen it just a little bit at a time, picking only once after you adjust the tuning peg, the tuner will eventually tell you that you are closer to "E". Different tuners have different ways of communicating how close or far away you are - more about that below. Whether you tighten or loosen the strings, though, always depends on the information that the tuner gives you. If you are trying to tune your "G" string, and the tuner tells you that you are closest to an "A", then you need to tune the string down (loosen it) – because "A" is the next note after "G" and therefore higher. If you are trying to tune your "A" string, and the tuner tells you the same thing - that you are closest to an "A", but the "A" is low, then you need to tune the "A" string up (tighten it).
One very good question was raised about tuning, and that was: “If those notes repeat and two identical notes exist (called an octave), then how do you know which one relates to where you want to be? Good question! Let's say that you are trying to tune your "D" string, and your tuner tells you that the string is currently tuned to an "E". Since the letters of the scale repeat, one of those "D" notes would be one letter away (or one step below) from where you are now. To get to the other "D", you would have to first pass through five steps (or higher notes) - F, G, A, B and C. To play it safe, you should assume that your mandolin is somewhat close to being in tune, and choose the option that involves the least amount of adjustment – in this case, by loosening the string by one note, rather than tightening it by five.
If you still have no idea at all where you are in terms of your tuning, then play it safe and loosen the string completely – to the point where it almost flops around on the fingerboard. This is what will happen every time when you restring your mandolin anyway, so you might as well try it out. Just make sure that you DON'T completely loosen all of your strings simultaneously, because it is the tension of the strings that holds the bridge on to your mandolin. If you loosen them all at the same time, your bridge will fall off and you will have to take it to a professional to have it repositioned.
When a string is too loose, you will notice that it has no resistance to your fingers and, even if you are able to produce a note, it will sound terrible. (On most electronic tuners, those notes will not even register.) As you gradually tighten the string, you will eventually notice some notes beginning to register on the tuner. Because you started in a position that you knew was "too loose", you know that the note that the tuner is registering has to be lower than where you want to be. Continue to tighten the string until you get closer and closer to the note you want to be at.
If you tighten the string too much (or, for that matter, if you happen to buy a defective string), the worst that will probably happen is that the string will break. This is not likely to damage your instrument, but it does make a loud noise that can be quite startling if you’re not expecting it. And, of course, there's the inconvenience of having to go buy another string….
Finally, when you are done tuning your last set of strings, it is a good idea to go back and check them all again. The reason for this is that the strings are wires, and they put tension on the neck as you tighten them. You may have tuned your “D” strings perfectly but, when you move on to the "A" strings, the adjustments you made there may have affected the neck enough that you could have knocked the "D" out of tune. Some mandolins are so sensitive that their owners have to go through the tuning process multiple times – getting closer and closer each time.