Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tuning Tips

A student was concerned about the condition of her strings. She was having trouble getting her entire instrument "in tune" and wondered if she should restring the instrument. Now, that would be a drastic move!

After asking her a few questions I realized that she was having difficulty getting the instrument tuned properly across the treble bridge.

You know... each course of strings crossing the treble bridge must be tuned on both the left and the right sides. Believe it or not, it often takes new players a while to realize this.

It's not unreasonable for a person to think that if a course of strings is tuned correctly on one side of the bridge, it should be in tune on the other side as well, right? Wrong! In a perfect world... maybe. But in the real world... it's a lucky day when the tuning comes out just right!

So, when it doesn't come out just right, what's the problem?

Sometimes, the treble bridge itself can be out of whack. The bridges on a hammered dulcimer are floating, i.e. not glued to the sound board. It doesn't happen very often, but the bridge (or a section of it) can get bumped out of place causing one half of a course of strings to be chronically sharp and the other half to be chronically flat. When that happens one must loosen the strings and gently tap the bridge back into place. It takes something like a wooden dowel, a wooden mallet, and a bit of courage to accomplish. But before you jump to conclusions ...

The more common problem, is that tension is not being distributed evenly across the bridge. The strings must slip easily over the bridge, allowing pressures to equalize. It's all physics!

What to do?

First, don't be afraid to touch your strings.

Determine which side of the bridge the string is being stubbornly sharp. Push the problem string on that side. Wiggle it. Jiggle it. Sometimes that will be enough to bring that note ever-so-slightly down in pitch (flatten)  and the other side up in pitch (sharpen).

Sometimes, if one side of the course of strings is sharp and the other side is flat, the simple act of lifting the string off the bridge will totally fix it... just a little elevation will do the trick... just like magic!

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