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Thread: Naming convention: tuning sequence vs string numbers?

  1. #1
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    Question Naming convention: tuning sequence vs string numbers?

    I was asked recently if I had any explanation for the opposite naming sequences of the ukulele - and I had no clue, so I thought I put this question to the broader community:

    Why are we numbering the strings bottom to top and yet name the tuning top to bottom?

    4th string is tuned G/A/D
    3rd string is tuned C/D/G
    2nd string is tuned E/F#/B
    1st string is tuned A/B/E

    Is there any reason for this? Or did it just happen at some point in the past?
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  2. #2
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    Good question......

    ....all I can say is that it's the same as guitars, (& other stringed instruments, possibly?).

    Start at the bottom & work your way upwards, for the strings - start with the low notes to the high notes, conventional linear tunings.(?)
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.

  3. #3
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    If I had to guess, I'd say that the string numbering refers to the pitch of each string when plucked hile open. In other words, the 1 string is the highest string, not geographically (farthest from the ground when the instrument is being played) but in pitch. So the numbers go from highest pitch to lowest pitch. (I realize that ukuleles at first had only reentrant tuning, but I'm guessing that this convention was imported from guitars, which have linear tuning.)

    The tuning convention, from the string closest to your head to the string closest to the ground, could come from strumming. It's common when you pick up an instrument to strum it from the string closest to your head to the string closest to the ground, so it makes sense to identify the open string notes in the order in which you would hear them during that strum.

    Just speculation on my part.

  4. #4
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    The string numbering convention predates ukes and guitars. The best theory I’ve heard on it is that older lutes had varying numbers of strings, with the high strings fairly consistent and varying numbers or low strings. The melody could be consistently numbered on the high strings. Adding high strings was rarer.

    Fun fact: tab predates standard notation.

    No idea on the tuning direction naming

  5. #5
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    I openly admit it is just one of those things which makes no sense but it merely is. Kind of like the phenomenon of how the urge to pee increases the closer you get to home: I don't understand it but I obey it. On a similar note I have always disliked how when you go down the fretboard, you have to say you're going up the fretboard.

  6. #6
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    I thought about it once when I first started and quickly decided that pursuing the whys and wherefores would be theoretical at best and of no practical use to me, so I just accepted it and moved on. I will however follow this thread now to see how others have tried to make sense of it.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

    I just want everyone to understand that I am not a ukulele expert, even though it may look at times like I'm pretending to be.

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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by mds725 View Post
    ...The tuning convention, from the string closest to your head to the string closest to the ground, could come from strumming. It's common when you pick up an instrument to strum it from the string closest to your head to the string closest to the ground, so it makes sense to identify the open string notes in the order in which you would hear them during that strum.
    ...
    I think tuning starting from the low string (guitar string #6, uke string #3) is because it is easier to tune from the lower string. This is tuning without a tuner.

  8. #8
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    I think they spell them and number them differently just to be PC. They don't want the strings to be jealous of each other so they count from the bottom up and spell them from the top down so none of them think they're better than the others. I don't agree that they number them from highest pitch to lowest because the 4th string would be the 2nd string and things would be all out of order.

    You may ask why do guitars have a dot at the 9th fret and all normal instruments have them at the 10th fret? Because they do.

  9. #9
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    The Renaissance guitar had four courses

  10. #10
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    The Renaissance guitar had four courses—G D E A—and was tuned both linear and reentrant. The first published music for the Renaissance guitar dates from the early 1500s and was in TAB. Basically the early guitar was the first ukulele...

    Although TAB is old (was used for organ music first), mensural notation used for singing Gregorian chant predates TAB. Here's a sample of Renaissance guitar TAB:

    And finally, the sound of Renaissance guitar, sorta a long scale taro patch tenor...

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