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Scordatura

From Academic Kids

A scordatura (Italian) is an alternate tuning used for the open strings of a string instrument. It is an extended technique.

Scordatura is commonly used on the fiddle in folk music of Appalachia and the southern United States. The fiddle may be re-tuned in any number of ways in these musical idioms, but there are two common re-tunings. While the standard tuning for open strings of the violin is GDAE -- with the G being the tuning of the lowest-pitched string and the E being the tuning for the highest-pitched string -- fiddlers playing tunes in the key of D major sometimes employ a tuning of ADAE. In this tuning the open G string is raised to the A directly above it. Even more frequently used is a scordatura tuning of AEAE for music played in the key of A major. Among fiddlers this is referred to as “cross-tuning.” In both of these scordatura tunings, scordatura facilitates a drone on an open string next to the string on which the melody is being played. Relatively well-known American folk tunes that are often played in cross-tuning include “Breaking Up Christmas,” “Cluck Old Hen,” “Hangman’s Reel,” “Horse and Buggy,” and “Ways of the World.”

An example of notation using scordatura, by Heinrich Ignaz Biber (1644-1704): Missing image
Biber_mysterien.jpg
from Biber's Mysterien

Though Biber was the most extensive Baroque composer for scordatura tuning, there are examples by Bach, Schumann and Bartok as well. Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird is a rare, perhaps unique, piece which calls for the entire violin section to retune a string, in order to play some natural harmonics.

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