Scordatura: Alternate Tuning For Stringed Instruments

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 24, 2022

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Scordatura is a technique used to alter the tuning of stringed instruments by using alternate tunings. This allows for different harmonic possibilities from the original tuning. Musicians from all backgrounds have used scordatura to create unique and interesting sounds.

Let’s take a deeper look into what scordatura is and how it can be used in musicianship.

What is Scordatura

What is scordatura?

Scordatura is an alternate tuning technique used mainly on stringed instruments such as violins, cellos, guitars, and others. It was developed during the Baroque period of classical European music (1600–1750) as a means to increase the tonal range of string instruments. The purpose of scordatura is to change the normal tunings or intervals between strings in order to create specific harmonic effects.

When a musician applies scordatura to a string instrument, it often results in changes to the instrument’s standard tuning. This creates new tonal and harmonic possibilities that may not have been available before. From changing the character of notes to emphasizing specific tones or chords, these altered tunings can open up new avenues for musicians who are interested in exploring creative or unique sounds with their instruments. Additionally, scordatura can be used to give players access to difficult passages by making them more comfortable or manageable on their instruments.

The scordatura also opens up exciting performance possibilities for composers and arrangers looking for different and innovative ways of writing for strings. Composers such as J.S Bach often wrote music that required players to use scordatura techniques in order create specific and often challenging musical effects–effects that would otherwise be impossible without this alternate tuning technique.

The advantages associated with using scordatura cannot be underrated; it provides a toolkit that allows musicians, composers and music arrangers alike to explore their creativity with respect to sound design and composition without having any limitations put upon them due traditional instrument tuning conventions or pre-defined intervals between strings which don’t necessarily have anything sonically interesting about them per se from a compositional standpoint…

History of scordatura

Scordatura is the practice of retuning a stringed instrument to produce music in unusual tunings, or to alter its range. This practice dates back to the Renaissance period and can be found in many cultures around the world, from historical court composers such as Jean Philippe Rameau, Arcangelo Corelli, and Antonio Vivaldi to various folk musicians. The use of scordatura has been documented for guitars, violins, violas, lutes and other stringed instruments throughout music history.

Although the earliest evidence of scordatura usage was from late sixteenth-century Italian opera composers such as Monteverdi’s 1610 opera “L’Orfeo“, references to scordatura can also be found as far back as the twelfth-century writings of Johannes de Grocheio in his manuscript on musical instrumentation called Musica Instrumentalis Deudsch. It was during this period that musicians began experimenting with different tunings for their instruments, with some utilizing alternate tuning systems such as just intonation and vibrato technique.

Yet, despite its long history and use by famous composers like Vivaldi, by the early twentieth century scordatura had mostly fallen out of general use. Recently though, it has experienced something of a revival with experimental bands like Seattle based Circular Ruins exploring alternative tunings on their albums. With advances in technology more and more musicians are discovering this unique methodology that produces unique tonalities not available when playing instruments conventionally tuned!

Benefits of Scordatura

Scordatura is a tuning technique that stringed instruments can use to create new, interesting sounds and effects. It consists of changing the tuning of the strings, which is usually done by retuning any or all of the strings of the instrument. This technique can provide a vast range of new sonic possibilities that can be used to create unique musical pieces.

Let’s dive into the benefits of scordatura:

Increased range of expression

One of the more interesting benefits of scordatura is that it allows performers to unlock an expanded range of musical expression. This musical range can vary depending on the instrument, but can include effects like subtle alterations of melody and harmony, amplified right-hand techniques, different tonal colors and greater control over range. With scordatura, musicians have further flexibility when it comes to controlling intonation. Tuning certain strings higher or lower makes certain notes easier to play in tune than they would be if the instrument were tuned traditionally.

In addition to these advantages, scordatura also offers a unique way for musicians to minimize common problems with stringed instruments – intonation, response time and string tension – all without changing an instrument’s standard tuning. Even though playing out-of-tune is often a part intrinsic part of any musician’s style and expression, with scordatura techniques both student and master players now have additional tools for fine-tuning their performance.

New tonal possibilities

Scordatura or ‘mistuning’ of stringed instruments offers players the opportunity to explore new sounds, as well as different and sometimes strange tonal possibilities. This method of tuning involves changing the intervals of strings on a guitar, violin, or bass to produce exciting new effects. By using scordatura, musicians can create vibrant and unusual harmonic combinations that can take even the most common melodies to unexpected places.

The advantage of scordatura is that it allows the musician to choose their own intervals and tuning patterns that create entirely new sonic landscapes with alternate notes in the scale – notes that might not normally be available unless you completely retune your instrument. Also, because you are playing a retuned instrument, many more options are available for string bends and slides than are possible on a standard tuned guitar or bass.

Using scordatura can open up possibilities for stylistic experimentation as well. Players have a whole range of playing techniques at their disposal to incorporate into entirely new arrangements. Most notably, slide techniques have become especially favored when utilizing scordatura in blues tunes and American folk music genres like bluegrass and country. In addition you can find more modern music styles such as metal benefiting from this technique too; Slayer used lightly tuned scordatura guitars back in 1981 on Show No Mercy!

Through applying these different approaches via alternate tuning methods using scordatura, musicians can create sounds that differ drastically from when utilizing standard tuning technique without having to purchase an additional instrument- an exciting prospect for any player looking for something truly unique!

Improved intonation

Scordatura is a tuning method utilized in stringed instruments, in which the strings of the instrument are tuning to a note other than what is expected. This technique affects both the instrument’s range, timbre and intonation.

For violinists and other classical players, scordatura can be used to enhance a piece’s musical capabilities, improve intonation accuracy, or simply to give music a different sound or texture.

By applying scordatura, violinists can dramatically improve intonation. For example, due to the physics of string instruments, playing certain intervals can be difficult at tempos higher than 130 beats per minute (BPM). Playing certain chords on the instrument becomes easier if those same degrees are tuned differently. Tuning an open A string down to an F♯ allows for an A minor chord in one fret as opposed to two frets with standard tuning. This greatly reduces finger stretch on some fingering patterns that would otherwise strain a player’s technique and intonation accuracy.

Additionally, adjusting the regular tuning of an instrument creates new opportunities with its intercomponent harmonies. With careful experimentation, players can find unique tunings that yield interesting tonal effects when performed together with other instruments or vocalizations!

Types of Scordatura

Scordatura is a fascinating practice in music where stringed instruments are tuned differently from regular tuning. This can create a unique sound, and it is mostly used in classical and chamber music. Different types of scordatura can be used to create unique and interesting soundscapes.

Let’s take a look at the various types of scordatura available to musicians:

Standard scordatura

Standard scordatura is found in instruments that have more than one string, including violins, guitars and lutes. Standard scordatura is the practice of changing the tuning of the strings to achieve a desirable effect. This form of tuning has been used for centuries and can change the sound of an instrument significantly. Its varied use ranges from simply altering a note’s pitch by lifting or lowering a string’s perfect fifth up or down, to completely tuning an instrument differently when playing fast-paced songs or solos.

The most common type of scordatura is called “standard” (or occasionally “modern standard”) which refers to the typical sound made by an instrument with four strings that are tuned to E-A-D-G (the lowest string being closest to you when playing). This type of scordatura requires no change in order though some players may opt to switch between different notes in order to create more interesting harmonies and melodies. Common variations include:

  1. E-A-D#/Eb-G#/Ab – A standard alternate tuning way to sharpen the fourth
  2. E-A#/Bb-D#/Eb-G – A minor variation
  3. C#/Db-F#/Gb–B–E – An alternate way for a five string electric guitar
  4. A–B–D–F#–G – A standard Baritone guitar tuning

Extended scordatura

Extended scordatura refers to the technique of tuning certain notes differently on the same instrument in order to produce different sounds. This is usually done on string instruments, such as the violin, viola, cello, or double bass and is also used by some plucked instruments, such as the mandolin. By changing some of the pitches of one or more strings, composers can create multiphonics and other interesting sonic qualities that are not available with standard tunings. The end result can be quite complex and dynamic, allowing for a greater range of expression than with open tuning.

As a result, extended scordatura has been used for centuries by composers from various genres and styles, such as:

  • Johann Sebastian Bach who often wrote pieces that take advantage of extended scordatura to create unique textures.
  • Domenico Scarlatti and Antonio Vivaldi.
  • Jazz musicians who have experimented with it for improvisation purposes; John Coltrane was particularly known for taking advantage of unexpected sounds from different string tunings in his solos.
  • Some modern orchestras are even venturing into this realm while incorporating electronic instrumentation in their compositions, such as composer John Luther Adams’ “Become Ocean” which uses scordatura specifically to evoke an impression of tidal surges through an orchestra’s unlikely chords and notes.

Special scordatura

Scordatura is when the strings of a stringed instrument are tuned differently than its conventional tuning. This method of tuning was used in Baroque-era chamber and solo music as well as in traditional musical styles from around the world. Special scordatura have different and sometimes exotic tunings, which can be used to evoke traditional folk sounds or simply to explore and expand creativity.

Examples of special scordatura include:

  • Drop A: Dropped A tuning refers to the common practice of tuning one or all strings a full step down from the conventional standard tuning, usually resulting in a lower range of sound. It is possible to drop any string from E, A, D, G down one step – for example DROP D can be done on guitar by detuning all strings two frets lower than normal (in which case fourth string should remain unchanged). On cello it would be detuning G string by one fret (or more).
  • 4ths Tuning: 4ths Tuning describes the practice of retuning a two octave instrument so that each string is a perfect fourth below the preceding one (minus two semitones if the succession is more than two notes apart). This tuning can produce some unique and pleasant sounding chords, although it may feel awkward to some players at first because it requires an unusual grip pattern. The main advantage to using this technique on a four- or five-string instrument is that it permits easy coordination between all strings when playing scales and arpeggios in particular positions up and down neck.
  • Octave Stringing: Octave Stringing entails replacing one or more courses of regular strings with an additional single course that is tuned an octave above its original counterpart; this way players can achieve greater bass resonance with fewer notes. For example if you have a five string instrument then you could replace either your lowest or highest note with their higher octaves – G-string on guitar becomes 2nd octave G while 4th on cello now plays 8th octave C# etc. This type may also involve interchanging order of natural notes within same family – thus creating inverted arpeggio sequences or “slur chords” where similar intervals are played across multiple fret boards simultaneously.

How to Tune Your Instrument

Scordatura is a unique tuning technique used on stringed instruments like the violin and guitar. It involves altering the normal tuning of the strings for a different sound. It is usually used for special effects, ornamentation and performance styles.

In this article, we’ll go over how to tune your instrument using a technique called scordatura.

Tuning to a specific key

Scordatura is the practice of tuning a stringed instrument to a specific key. This method is often used to create unique tonal qualities or to produce a desired sound when playing particular pieces of music. By changing the tuning, it opens up new possibilities for harmonic and melodic relationships in traditional music notation as well as providing opportunities for more adventurous and unconventional sounds for impromptu performances.

In modern day practice, scordatura is widely used in jazz and pop music in order to differentiate from traditional western tonality. Players may also use it to access more extended chord voicings or to set up certain patterns using open strings which can be particularly useful for performance on acoustic guitar.

Scordatura can be applied in two different ways:

  1. Firstly by detuning the open strings of an instrument so that they match the pitch of particular notes associated with the chosen key signature;
  2. Or secondly by retuning individual fretted notes and leaving all other strings at their original pitch so that chords have different voicing than usual but still remain within the established key signature.

Both approaches will effectively produce different sounds than those normally associated with an instrument tuned traditionally as well as creating some unusual harmonic possibilities which are often explored during improvisational courses or jam sessions.

Tuning to a specific interval

Tuning a stringed instrument to a specific interval is called scordatura and is sometimes used to produce unusual effects. To tune a stringed instrument to a unique or higher pitch, it will be necessary to adjust the tuning of the strings on its neck. When adjusting the length of these strings, it is important to note that it takes time for them to fully stretch and settle into their new tension.

Scordatura can also be used for alternate tunings in different musical styles, such as folk music or blues. This type of tuning allows for each open string on your instrument to create different chords, intervals or even scales. Some common alternate tunings include drop D’ tuning as used by Metallica and Rage Against the Machine and ‘double drop D’ tuning which provides more flexibility in key changes.

Exploring alternate tunings can help you develop a different sound when writing music and playing at gigs; it can also give your instrument an entirely new character when mixed with standard (EADGBE) tuning parts. Scordatura is fun way to explore your instrument’s versatility; why not give it a try?

Tuning to a specific chord

As with other string instruments, scordatura can be used to create a certain sound quality. By tuning the instrument to specific chords, the composers and performers of the Ayala Baroque era took advantage of this technique. This type of tuning is still popular today, as it allows players to produce unique timbres that would otherwise be unavailable.

There are multiple ways in which to tune an instrument according to a chord. Experienced players can generate many different sounds by outlining arpeggios and particular intervals based on different chords (e.g., I–IV–V) or by shifting register ranges or altering string tension levels in relation to their particular orchestration or composition desired at any given moment in the piece being performed.

To tune your instrument according to a specific chord, you will need to:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the notes required for that particular chord.
  2. Restring your instrument accordingly (some instruments have special strings available for this purpose).
  3. Check for proper intonation – slight variations in pitch may require further attention.
  4. Check for accurate temperament across the entire range and make any minor adjustments if necessary.
  5. Finalize your scordatura tuning setup.


In conclusion, scordatura is a useful tool for stringed instrument players that allows them to alter the pitch of their instrument. It has been used in classical, folk, and popular music for centuries. It even can be used for creative expression in improvisation and composition.

As a result, scordatura can be an extremely effective tool for the modern musician.

Summary of scordatura

Scordatura is a tuning technique used primarily with string instruments, such as the violin, guitar, and bass. This technique can be used to give the instrument a unique sound while still playing in standard notation. By retuning the strings of an instrument, players can achieve different timbres that open up otherwise unavailable possibilities for their repertoire and compositions.

Scordatura can be used to adapt any instrument to an alternate tuning system or even allow for new chords and fingerings on a different set of strings. The main purpose for scordatura is to create new harmonic textures and melodic opportunities with familiar instruments. While this technique has commonly been utilized by classical musicians, it has recently become popular among players from various genres of music as well.

Scordatura may sometimes alter tunings further away from standard than some musicians are comfortable with; however, its use offers incredible flexibility and room for creativity when applied properly. Musicians who embark on this journey are rewarded with a novel way of exploring their instrument’s sonic capabilities through experimentation with unorthodox tunings and voicings!

Benefits of scordatura

Scordatura can have many musical benefits, such as offering the player more freedom to be creative in their musical performances, or opening up new possibilities for unique musical ideas. It also allows musicians to produce interesting tonal colors by ‘tuning’ the strings of a stringed instrument in a different way.

The tuning of certain intervals might provide greater dynamic range and flexibility, or even make unusual chords possible. This type of ‘alternate’ tuning is particularly useful for bowed instruments like the violin and cello–where advanced players can quickly alternate between scordatura and standard tuning in order to access a wider range of sonorities.

The technique also offers composers much greater scope for creativity as they may write music specifically designed for scordatura. Certain pieces may benefit from having specific notes being tuned higher or lower than usual on one particular instrument, allowing them to achieve sounds that could not be created with conventional piano writing or organ arranging methods.

Finally, the more adventurous musician may use scordatura to create atonal improvisations amidst more traditional tonal works – for example, string quartets in which only one player is using an alternate tuning can create playful distortions of perceived harmonic structures.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

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