I’m going to commit to P4. I asked Mr. Reed for his opinion and got this astoundingly comprehensive and thoughtful response.
It’s a very personal decision. I’ve used P4 exclusively in my own music practice for more than 10 years and I love it more each day. It is quite literally impossible to imagine the incredible benefits that you get from having a perfectly regular tuning. It goes far beyond the obvious simplifications in your thinking. What’s even more exciting is what your mind does with this extra mental energy now that it no longer needs to waste so much energy just picturing musical shapes on the fretboard. Once you can see those effortlessly, your mind starts to look BEYOND those shapes, to even larger patterns and connections. You begin to see entire chord progressions and even entire songs anywhere you look on the fretboard. Also on a physical level, something begins to happen to you when there is a one-for-one connection between any musical phrase and its physical shape on the fretboard. It allows you to relax more deeply into your own subconscious mind and just play what you feel. It’s a feeling of simultaneously being totally lost but also totally oriented, because everything around you is so familiar that you don’t even have to think consciously about where you are because you can simply FEEL the sounds around you. Especially if you’re already practicing the IFR method so you’re learning to associate the sounds with their location on the tonal map, adding P4 tuning to this process is like having super powers!
There is absolutely nothing about P4 tuning that would ever hinder your progress if your goal is to create and express your own music. It’s just the opposite. P4 tuning is a tremendous accelerator of that progress.
But you’re right to be thoughtful about what you lose with P4 tuning. With any tuning, certain combinations of sounds become possible and others become impossible. So there’s no net gain there. The advantage of P4 is the simplicity and the order. But in terms of the total number of sounds available to you, it’s no better or worse than traditional tuning. You lose some combinations but you gain others. Where this could be important to you is if you value playing other guitarists’ music note for note. Here are some examples of pieces you might not be able to play note for note in P4:
- famous riffs and intros to classic rock songs
- classical guitar repertoire
- flamenco guitar falsetas and arrangements
- certain specific blues performances
What all these kinds of music have in common is the use of open strings and a very “guitar centric” way of composing. If the musician only discovered those combinations of sounds by noodling around on a guitar in traditional tuning, then obviously the traditional tuning will be essential for recreating those exact sounds. So if that’s something you care about, then that would be a reason to stay with traditional tuning. Also if you want to teach guitar lessons someday, most of your students will be playing traditional tuning so that might be another thing that keeps you tied to traditional tuning.
So a big part of this question is what kind of materials you want to work with as a musical artist. Some very brilliant and avant-garde musical artists work with very traditional pop sounds. So even if their musical concept is quite revolutionary, they still need to be able to strum big bar chords on the guitar because they want to make reference to that very specific sound from our culture. So if strumming those big chords on the guitar is an important ingredient in the music you want to make, then you might be more of a pop or rock artist who needs to use these important sounds from our shared culture.
But if you are more of a musical purist who is simply fascinated by notes, chords, sounds and rhythms, then you might imagine playing the guitar much more like a piano. In that case what you most care about is simply having the most empowering tool to express the sounds that you imagine. And that would certainly be P4.
So probably before deciding about P4 tuning, the real question is how you envision yourself using sounds in your music. Are the traditional guitar sounds from rock and pop music going to be an important ingredient in your music? Or do you see yourself as more of a jazz or experimental guitarist with a much more open palette of sounds? If you can answer this question, I think you’ll be able to see whether there is any reason to stay with traditional tuning or whether you would be happier with P4.
I would love to know your thoughts!
I have to say that I’m really glad I joined this program. And y’all are nice bunch of folks.