Q. What is the best alt. guitar tuning for Indie Rock? P4?

TL;DR - I’m interested in using IFR to learn to create music from my imagination with sounds on guitar based within the Indie Rock genre (examples below). Coming into an IFR framework, I have some questions:

  • What alt. guitar tunings balance a symmetrical
    fretboard with sounds on this genre?

  • Is P4 able to do this adequately?

-I’ve read that Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-B-E with a partial capo
on the first four frets will allow for open chords in
pop/rock music while balancing symmetry - Within
IFR is this helpful and/or necessary?


Hey All! I recently received IFR as a gift for Xmas and could not put it down. I’ve loved music my entire life and have been able to sing by ear in musical productions and community choir for years, all without having to read standard notation. If I can listen to it I can sing it, either from my ear or from my imagination.

Last year when I turned 36 I began a life long dream of learning to play guitar. I told my guitar teacher up front I want to learn to play the music I hear in my head, specifically within a rock and roll framework. My teacher was an awesome guy but didn’t have a framework to address some of my key questions around how to get to the place that I can learn and play and create guitar based on audiation.

I recently stopped lessons in order to work solo with IFR based on reading the book and have begun the IFR guitar class and Sing the Numbers #1. The reason being, David addressed right up front in IFR the biggest question I had to my guitar teacher that he didn’t have a framework for learning to address it. So, here I am and excited to learn. Reading “Architect or Bricklayer” literally made me cry. That’s the question I’ve been trying to deal with in music for a very long time.

I always got scared off from guitar lessons before because they felt so mechanized and all the feelings in music that I connected with got lost in the technicality of music theory. Taking lessons, I could see there was likely a way out there to learn without it feeling mechanical and now coming to IFR I’m very eager and hopeful to have found a way that does just that.

So, I’m excited to be here and plan to take all the classes and workshops if I’m able to start creating from my imagination.

Now, that all aside, my questions come out of trying to get started with the method in an optimal way for my goals.

I see complete logic in playing with the P4 tuning, however, after deep diving all over the interwebs I continue to see conflicting answers around what genres you can realistically play with this tuning.

I want to create sounds from my imagination along with the ability to improvise lead and solo within the specific genres of Indie Rock/Dream Pop. I’ve included four favorite songs to give you a sense of what style I’m looking for to both play and create. These are all songs I would like to learn eventually.

My Own Souls Warning - The Killers

Under the Pressure - War on Drugs

World Party - The Waterboys

Hirzel - Andreas Vollenweider

Learning the guitar at the beginning with 4ths makes good sense to me. If I’m able to create and play songs closely approximating the examples above I’m down for it. However, if a different tuning like All 3rds, Standard or All fourths w/ Capo works better, I’m good with that too.

Any thoughts or opinions are welcome and appreciated! :slight_smile:

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@ironport Welcome to the forum.
I can’t provide an answer because where you want to go is not where I am, or where I’m aiming for. Guitar isn’t even my main instrument anymore (I concentrate on a tapping instrument with 2 groups of 6 strings called a Chapman Stick).

All I can say is that for me the logicality of P4 makes it the tuning of choice for me. It’s how I started on guitar, how my guitars are still tuned & how both groups on my Chapman Stick are tuned (which is not a standard choice there either!).

I hope someone else with the ability & insight to answer you question will be along before long?

Hey @DavidW ,

Thanks for the reply, I know my question is uber specific, I’m hoping someone bites :slight_smile:

Alright, I really like Peter Gabriel and know that Tony Levin uses a Chapman Stick. I’m so curious what drew you to it and if you feel like it allows greater creative expression than a six string?

I love Michael Hedges who often uses a harp guitar which seems to serve similar functions.

And most importantly, can you play indie rock in P4 on a Chapman Stick? If so, you may convert me :slight_smile:

I’m sure I’d seen Tony playing A Chapman Stick in a King Crimson video sometime or other but at that time it didn’t grab me.

Later, about a year after I’d started trying to learn to play guitar (with which I used P4 from day one) someone started a topic on Musical-U on the subject of “Lesser Known Instruments”. The first post in the topic highlighted the Chapman Stick with a Bob Culbertson video. That got me interested enough to dig further & about a month later I placed an order for a Stick. That was in September 2021. I’m still waiting for that instrument to reach the head of the prodiction queue! It’s very close now, but still probably months from delivery…
In the meantime I’ve managed to pick up 3 used Sticks. Two 10 strings & a 12. After I got the 12 I re-sold the older of the two 10 string instruments. After getting the first I spent around a year experimenting with different tunings and have ended up with something very unusual, but it suits me (uncrossed parallel 4ths).

There is no simple answer to either of those. A Chapman Stick is not a guitar with more strings. It’s a distinctly different instrument with a timbre of its own, and the different style of playing leads to different outcomes.

Le’s say that it’s ‘differently expressive’. :smiley: :wink:

I’m sure it’s possible to play indie rock on it. Whether or not it does so in a way that would appeal to you I can’t tell.

A while ago I started to build a page of web related Stick links I’d found, just for my own use. It grew! Eventually I decided to make it publically available. It currently lists well over 250 players and over 60 bands. If you’d like to see if you recognise any names or want to check out some unknown ones take a look at “More Stickists than you can shake a Stick™ at?”.

If you want to investigate players rather than dig in the bands section then for a few very different styles you might start with Greg Howard, Steve Adelson, Bob Culbertson ,Rodrigo Serrão, and of course the man himself Emmett Chapman.

I hope you find something interesting.

I’m just thinking as a barely three-year beginner at guitar playing who has been learning with tabs all this time, am new to IFR, and have decided to re-learn guitar by ear.

I looked at P4 tuning and haven’t jumped into it (yet) for several reasons which may not be an issue for you:

  • Chords are “harder” (more finger stretch needed) with P4. I’ve played open chord accompaniments for a few pop/rock/folk songs (for my spouse at home). If you’re planning to accompany yourself or others singing, then playing open/closed chords may be a consideration.
  • I already started learning notes on the fretboard in standard tuning (though I’m far from having adequate fast recall).
  • I already started learning some triads in standard tuning across the fretboard.
  • I’ve learned the “simplest” 4-fret spanning major scale and have been using it to play melodies and starting to improvise a little bit. This 4-fret major scale is also the starting point in the Chord Melody course which I started on but have put on pause as I’m focusing on the Ear Training for Musical Creativity workshop.

So for me, there would be a lot of re-learning or switching involved between standard tuning and P4, and have decided to hold off on P4 (for now). But none of these may apply to you and you could very well adapt P4 to any of the above if it applies.

If I was starting at guitar today, and my only goal was single-note improvisation, then I’d probably pick P4 to avoid the G-to-B string irregularity headache of standard tuning.

I considered the Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-B-E tuning with a partial capo across the first 4 frets. Not sure about whether it’s necessary or helpful for IFR. For my purposes of singer accompaniment, I’d need to add another capo as well to change the key when playing open chords.

If you’re going to learn the Chord Melody course, it will teach singer accompaniment as well. I peeked ahead at the lessons but it’ll be a while before I’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m stuck with my nice but boring open chords. :smiley:

I’ll just mention that I did the Chord Melody course and had no problem at all with using P4. The same general ideas apply, you just don’t need to take any special action part way across the fretboard. Using P4 does change the shapes & possibilities that involve the two highest strings so in places you go your own way instead of following David Reed (@ImproviseForReal ) exactly, but hey this is improvisation after all. :smiley:

Hi @ironport and welcome to the forum.

Answers to your questions largely depend on two things, your previous experience with playing instruments and your future goals.

You mention singing in your post and I was wondering if guitar is the first instrument you’ve tried learning. The reason I’m asking is that IFR is completely instrument non-specific, the gold in the method is in learning to connect the sounds we hear with a tonal map of the terrain and with our instrument.

So, I’d say the tuning for guitar you choose will have little impact on you learning the method. Either standard or P4 will introduce you to the instrument, get you familiar with the layout, and get you going with the IFR approach. Once you build up that knowledge, swapping over will not be a problem.

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Having said all that, if guitar is your first instrument, then P4 tuning is more simple to get your head around. It gives you a simple, uniform base, much like a piano keyboard, until you develop an understanding for the landscape.

The downside is that you won’t be able to use “standard” chord shapes or any other materials for standard guitar tuning.

What @mem describes pretty much covers the process that led me to use P4 with guitar from day 1.

I had a clean sheet to start from (I didn’t rate a 6 months head start on keyboard as any influence either way) and I had no interest at all in strumming chords, so a lack of the classic open chords and barre chords was no disadvantage at all.

Personally I’m not targeting any particular genre, so that’s no influence either. I’m quite happy to discover what appears out of the arrangement.

YMMV as they say…

That seems to be the major takeaway as I’ve been reading an researching over the weekend - P4 simplifies the quantity of chord shapes by making the fretboard symmetrical but creates work in that the individual player will need to compensate for the loss of standard open and barre chords by building their own chord shapes to approximate, and/or figuring out the triads of standard chord shapes and trying to use them more intentionally. Does that sound true to you based on your experience?

I’ve been checking out some of the artists on there! It’s so cool to see creative expression out of the Top 40 lane. Definitely is a different instrument.

It reminds me of Andreas Vollenweider who invented his own elcto-acoustic harp to play with.

I really appreciate your insights, I’m a year beginner so not fully built into standard tuning muscle memory.

I think my struggle is I know where I want to go, but have struggled to find the road to get there. I think for me I want to master the guitar as an instrument. I’m willing to put in the work with P4 as long as I can get close to approximating the music I love. It seems like if I can have 2/3 cut out from learning the fretboard than starting fresh that works for my goal.

Thank you for the warm welcome, y’all are very kind and gracious with your suggestions. :slight_smile:

You have that right @mem , I am coming into this without any instrument experience. As such I did come at it from the perspective of what will allow quickest, sustained progress? Looking at what you all have discussed here, along with reading about other people’s experience switching after multiple decades with guitar, it has felt wise to pause and consider where to start from.

I think this is the biggest question I’ve come to. Is IFR enough to compensate for losing many of the beginner resources for learning?

This is also why I’m interested in starting out this way. But, to your point about genre, that has again been my only hangup - I don’t want to lose the music I want to play in exchange for easier ability to create the music I want.

I don’t think it’s one or the other, you can stick with standard tuning and learn IFR, many people have, you just have to accept that you don’t have uniformity across the fretboard. IFR will still make perfect sense, and you may decide to switch to P4 eventually, once you start.

Yes @ironport. And I’ll mention that while you loose the full 6 string open & barre chords, you can play (& even strum - with care) various 3 string shapes (& there are a few 4 or even 5 string possibilities).

@ironport With P4 you probably would not be able to play “just what other guitarists do, in the way they do, with the sound they have”. However, I believe it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to create music “in the style of” the music you want. Yes, it would probably be a little different, but not all guitarists play or sound the same & a guitar is certainly not the same as other contributing instruments such as fiddle, mandolin or flute! For some people (me included) being a bit different & having a distinctive sound is not something to be considered as a negative.

As with everything else YMMV :slight_smile:

Hey All, I wanted to give an update to my original question for anyone else considering P4 for rock music - I reached out to a few other guitarists who have written on P4 Tuning, including Keith Bromley who wrote the 60 chords for P4.

Here’s what I decided - I will work on learning guitar using IFR in P4 as a primary tool. Standard Tuning, from what I’ve learned was designed to provide greater volume and sound to help project as a solo instrument. Now that we have the ability to amplify sonically in many ways, it’s not absolutely necessary.
Since chords are built on triads, you can change chord shapes to adapt for P4.

Rock music is still very readily learned on P4 - unless you’re playing very heavy blues like Stevie Ray Vaughn.

If I end up needing standard tuning, it would only be for rhythm guitar in certain songs. My belief is I’ll figure out those moments as I go.

Very much enjoying IFR guitar so far, I’m excited to share any music I create through using the method. Thank You again for everyone’s help! :slight_smile:

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That all sounds very sensible @ironport . I’m delighted to welcome you to the P4 ‘club’. :wink: