Orkney Tuning Improvisation | Video

While I was writing and recording The Fall Will Probably Kill You, I experimented with the Orkney Tuning and, although none of those sketches got turned into tracks for the album, I enjoyed it a lot.

Orkney Tuning is very strange – it is familiar in some respects, yet very different from expectation in many others. You can get into a little groove thinking you have it all under control, but then one little misstep, and you are suddenly way outside of the lines. It is lovely and brutal.

1 2 3 4 5 6

Similar to the open D, with a dropped C, except for that 5th string raised to a C

So we have the stacked fifths down the on the low end – a full, open, sonorous, almost Mu chord while the top end has much closer intervals with 4ths and then that pesky second. The non-standard open chord makes pull-offs and clams perilous. Also because of the fifths on the low-end many chord formations up the neck involve notes lower on the neck, which can be confusing if your CAGED theory of fretboard analysis starts with the nut or the barre. For example, the basic F chord on the mandolin, also tuned in 5ths, looks like this, with the basic F chord on the guitar (in standard tuning) beside it:

G D A E     E A D G B E 
----O--     -----------
      1     1       1 1    [first fret]
                  2        [second fret]
  2           3 4          [third fret]
                           [fourth fret]
3                          [fifth fret]

So basically, in fifths, the lowest note on the instrument is the highest one on the neck, where as in fourths the lowest note is satisfyingly low on the fretboard. Then with the longer scale on the guitar, those pinky stretches for the fundament become very troublesome.

Have you been watching Esperanza Spalding streaming on Facebook this week? I have watched a lot of it, missed a lot more, but have thoroughly enjoyed it. Here is an explainer video about what she’s doing. She talks a lot about exposing the album with the process they are undertaking, and it’s just been a blast to watch it unfold.

So I undertook a little improvisation with the Orkney Tuning as an attempt to expose a tune or a song within. I hope you enjoy!

If you enjoy American Primitive Guitar, Check out my Zirque Bois d’Arc album, The Fall Will Probably Kill You.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *