The Open Major Sixth

We're identifying the strings now by their note name and string number, so for example, the D string, which is the 4th string, is D4.

So in the method for tuning equal temperament by listening to beats, we are listening to the fast-beating open string intervals. These are the major sixth D4 - B2, and the major third G3 - B2.

Most guitarists are probably at least subliminally aware of the beating in these intervals. But even if fully aware of the beating most guitarists probably don't have the confidence to use them as the basis of tuning. But that's precisely what we're doing here.

Of course, to do it, you first have to be confident about what you're listening to. So let's start with that first interval in the method given in the book, the open major sixth D4 - B2. We’re using a nylon-strung classical guitar here, which is probably the most difficult type for hearing these beats, due to the gentle nature of its tone. If you listen to these examples, this should transfer across nicely to any type of guitar.

So here's the open interval:
To be very clear about listening to the beating, we have to listen at the right pitch. The pitch to listen for, if you want to hear it on your guitar, is the same as the harmonic over the 7th fret of the B-string. Here it is, from the example above, now enhanced:
You're listening for this beat, at this pitch, in the open string interval. If you didn't hear it the first time, go back to the open interval and listen again, at this pitch. It's not as loud as in the enhanced recording, and of course in the open string recording the rest of the sound is there, which is supressed in the ehhanced recording, but it's clearly there, in the open string interval.
Another way to train your ear is to listen to the interval, and then listen to it with the beating electronically removed, and then then listen to the interval again. And so on. That way, you can learn to hear the difference, and hear the beating:
The major sixth:
The major sixth with the beating electronically removed:
And just to be sure, here's what you are listening for:
Remember it's quiter in the actual open-string sixth!

When you're hearing the beating at the right pitch, and your attention is really focussed there, then you'll actually hear the open sixth as a B minor chord, first inversion. Because that beating harmonic is an F-sharp.

Now try it on your own guitar. To match the recordings your guitar will have to be tuned at A440 Hz pitch (standard pitch).

You might also want to try raising or lowering the tension on the B string, which changes the beat rate. If your guitar is roughly in tune, then lowering the tension will slow down the beat rate. Increasing it, will speed up the beat.

The beat rate in the examples above is about right for this interval. Remember, the theoretical rate is 6.5 beats per second. But when tuning your guitar, it's going to be also depending, remember, on that octave D4 - D (B-string 3rd fret). You have to account for any stopping sharp on that fret, on the B string.

This website may use cookies to improve your experience