Experimenting with Scordatura

My experience with tuning my G up to an A

I’ve been a fan of bluegrass, new-grass, and fiddle music for years. As a music teacher I had my students play lots of this music as it is fun and educational. But as a bassist I always envied how this music just flowed for the violins, violas, and even the cellos. Being a teacher I had to study the other instruments and could play the music on those.

I worked on playing this music on my bass in thumb position. I took lessons for a year at a local Irish school to learn the ins and outs of Celtic fiddling. But man, it was hard! That was about 4 years ago.

In early 2009 it dawned on me. If I tuned my G string up to an A then my thumb acts like the nut on the violin and fingers 1,2 & 3 are just like a violin. I could read the violin music with ease! This makes perfect sense. Why didn’t I think of it before?

Not only did it work wonders for classics like Bile’em Cabbage Down and Cripple Creek but also for classic violin music to play on the bass.

In the example below, Ciarda by Alberto Curci, I’ve made some notes and put in fingerings for this tuning. I’ve left the lower strings the same so my tuning, from low to high is E-A-D-A. (I also like opening my extension to a D to get a very resonant D-A-D-A for some music.)

Notice at the Piu Vivo how easy this become if we think of the A & E harmonic as the open A & E strings of the violin – using our thumb to be the violin nut.


  • Peter, have you ever considered tuning your instrument in fifths, one octave bellow the violoncello?

  • It has crossed my mind but I’ve never done it. I do have a C extension for the low C which works nicely. Do you tune like that? How is it for orchestral playing?

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