Strings for a cello tuned BEAD
September 21, 2007 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Recommend strings for a cello tuned BEAD (low to high).

I recently picked up a decent-lookin' cello on the cheap, and it was tuned to about BEAD in the store. I, a bass-o-guitar'r, quite enjoy this, and plan to keep it this way to avoid relearning a bunch of hand shapes. I'm having enough trouble with this whole "bowing" concept. What a crazy thing to do to a string.

I assume it's just got regular cello strings on it, in regular cello gauges. The tensions feel relatively consistent string-to-string (I probably couldn't tell if they weren't at this point), but if there's a more proper setup, I'd like to hear about it.
posted by Plug Dub In to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
As a fellow bass guitar player, I recommend that you learn the cello with standard tuning.

posted by billtron at 4:05 PM on September 21, 2007

I doubt you want to tune the cello like your bass. Is the store also a guitar shop? my guess is that a guitarist who didn't know what they were doing tuned up the cello for the showroom.

It seems a little foolish to try to learn an instrument in a completely nonstandard way. What may seem easier for you know will cripple you once you are improving and you have to relearn the instrument over again.

As a caveat, I'm guitar player who may be completely wrong. Perhaps this is valid way to tune a cello.
posted by jpdoane at 4:29 PM on September 21, 2007

What may seem easier for you now, ...
posted by jpdoane at 4:30 PM on September 21, 2007

If you're actually trying to learn to play the cello correctly, stick to standard tuning.

(Note: I play the viola, and learned to play in school and with a private teacher when I was a little kid. I guess I find it kind of strange that anyone would want to learn in a non-standard way...)
posted by sellout at 5:04 PM on September 21, 2007

/viola player/erstwhile cellist here, also. standard tuning is the "right way." no, really.

but honestly if it feels right to you, then have at it. concept of modern standardized orchestral strings are in some sense inflicted on us all.
posted by dorian at 5:12 PM on September 21, 2007

Aw jeez, y'all are killin' me. My girlfriend has been trying to get me to tune it normal since I got it, and now I suppose I look rather silly.

I just figure the standard tuning is so that violin family players will feel at home. Since the cello is closer to a guitar in scale, and since I'm already familiar with the guitar's layout, and I'm certainly not serious about playing the cello on any professional level, it'd make more sense to keep using what I know.

Percy Heath tuned it EADG, ya know.

Eh. Maybe I'll try tuning it like a cello. Then maybe I'll switch back. I dunno. Y'all got me freaked out now...
posted by Plug Dub In at 5:40 PM on September 21, 2007

Neil Young plays a six string banjo tuned like a guitar, which works if you want your guitar to sound like a banjo. If you want to sound like Percy Heath, then play the cello tuned like a bass.

But when you consider repertoire, fingering, purchasing strings for optimal tone and stable tuning, and broadening your musical horizons, it makes the most sense to learn the cello as it has been learned for many years.

On the other hand, if you have no interest in learning the cello, tune it however you want. I have had a lot of fun tuning all the strings in unison on several instruments. Just don't expect your cello to be happy.
posted by billtron at 6:18 PM on September 21, 2007

There's no reason you have to use standard tuning if you have no intention of playing standard cello repertoire. But if you want to play cello concerti or whatever, yeah, tune it to standard. Otherwise, you'll want some significantly heavier-than-standard strings, as you're doing some serious downtuning.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:01 PM on September 21, 2007

So, violins, violas, and cellos are all tuned in fifths. That gives you four different notes on one string (including the open string). Now since you have four fingers (thumbs don't count), you can play the open string, three notes, and one note which is the same pitch as the next-higher string, all without moving your hand.

By tuning your cello in fourths, your third finger will now play the same note as the next-higher string. Your fourth finger will also play a redundant note. So you've in effect lost one note per string in each (hand) position, and made two fingers redundant instead of just one. That just doesn't make a whole lot of sense; you have four fingers, might as well make the most of them. (Actually cellists can use their thumb, which I find really strange as a violinist).

I suspect the guitar is tuned in fourths to make it easier to play chords, which have notes that tend to all lie somewhat close together in pitch. If it was fifths, you would be stuck reaching your hand all the way up and down the fretboard all the time. It's also easier to switch hand positions on a guitar than on the cello, so nobody's too concerned about getting the maximum range of pitches in one position.

So remember, the cello and the guitar didn't develop out of sheer caprice; they're designed to be as playable as possible. By tuning in fourths, you're just making it harder to play. Any gain you get from already knowing the tuning will be negated by the increased number of string crossings and position shifts you'll need.
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:49 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

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