Before playing a note, we all need to learn how to get in tune and to stay in tune. It's good to think broadly about this as it relates to all aspects of playing (and life).
To tune means to bring into harmony. On the most basic level, we have to bring our instrument into harmony with itself. The majority of players use a standard tuning that offers the widest range of expressive possibilities. But any tuning can work, however unconventional. If a tuning feels right for just one person or one song, all the rules of music don't matter. Harmony can manifest itself through any sound if the player has the correct spirit.
Some beginners find it easy to tune their instrument; others struglle with tuning for months. There is no trick or technique involved in tuning. If you find it difficult to tune, stick with it. Patience and concentration will be vital attributes as you move along the path. Combat discouragement with your desire to learn. You will not move forward if you insist on instant gratification.
Tuning means learning to HEAR. Too many of us allow our eyes to dominate our ears. Try closing your eyes and listening with the ears of a blind person. Lessen your reliance on one sense and the other senses will grow stronger.
Anyone who can tell the chirp of a bird from the bark of a dog can distinguish a higher pitch from a lower pitch and, thus, learn to tune. In time, with proper listening and experience, the ear becomes sensitive enough to distinguish even between sounds that are very similar, just as the eyes can distinguish between similar shades of color. Notice how a mother can distinguish the cry of her baby from that of another. Learn to hear in the same way and you will have no problems tuning.
Beyond tuning the instrument itself, it's also important for you to be in tune WITH the instrument. In the same way that singers understand their own voices, learn to understand your guitar (self). Every guitar has its own feel and idiosyncrasies (SYNC-crazies:), the same way a car does. Different guitars will lead you to different songs. Pick up a Rickenbacker twelve-string and one kind of song comes out; pick up a Fender Telecaster and another kind comes out. When your in tune with your instrument, your open to receiving theses songs.
MUCH MORE DIFFICULT on the PATH is finding and INTERNAL TUNING - one that brings body, mind, and Spirit into HARMONY. A player (a person)must be clear of internal static such as impatience and frustration; otherWISE, the Spirit frizzles like a radio slightly off dial. Your sound must have what the Chinese call ch'iyun: a SYMPATHETIC VIBRATION of the VITAL SPIRIT. It is a HARMONY that speaks from your heart directly to the heart of the listener -- and intangible element that enables us to TRANSCEND OUR SEPARATENES and FEEL THE GREATER ONENESS. Learn to recognize ch'iyun in the music that inspires you, in your favorite paintings, when watching a great dancer or athlete. When you feel that moment of TRANSCENDENCE, where your SPIRIT is UPLIFTED -- that's what were going for.
One more not note about TUNING as it relates to PLAYING WITH OTHER PEOPLE: TUNING IS AN ABSOLUTE REQUIREMENT FOR FUNCTIONING AS A COLLECTIVE. it is the common ground where players of andy CULTURE can MEET. Think of tuning as it relates to ALL human interaction, on both and individual and societal level. How many bands have broken up for reasons that have nothing to do with music, because they cannot get along together? How many marriages, teams, legislatures, boards, and committees fail to function because the participants can't find a working HARMONY? When people are not in tune with each other, they add to the DISHARMONY OF THE WORLD.
Sometimes, the only way to attune to others is through COMPASSION, COURAGE, and SELFLESSNESS. Such is the DIFFICULT PATH to ......
A famous story describes the DEPTH of what it means to be so in tune. It relates the experience of a monk named Ryokan, who returned home one night to find a thief.
Living an ascetic life, Ryokan had nothing in his home worth stealing. But he surprised the intruder, saying, 'You may have come a long way to visit me and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my robe as a gift.'
He offered forth the robe from his back, and the thief slunk away.
'Poor fellow,' the master said, gazing at the night sky. 'I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.'
To find such HARMONY within ourselves, with others, with all of nature --- this is what it means to think broadly about tuning.
(Zen Guitar: Philip Toshio Sudo)
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