On tuning a guitar


“Tuning must come first. Each recital begins with a careful tightening of the pegs on the cross-bar, twisting them in their socket of red threads as each string is plucked and tested. He uses his thumb for this, softer and subtler than the plectrum, his head bent to the vibrating string and his lips slightly open…”
― Ann WroeOrpheus: The Song of Life

That is to say, it’s a delicate business, tuning an instrument. You can’t rush it. You have to listen carefully, and go back and back until it’s all done.

And even then, after every song, there may be a little more adjusting. In fact, with every piece played, one pulls a little at the strings, sometimes quite strongly, if the passion of the melody requires it. When it does, one bends the notes and slurs them for effect. And all of this heightens the tension of the strings and threatens their balance, their relative tuning. So the musician must stay alert to the composite sound of the strings.

It’s easy enough to do, because one learns to hear the whole sound together, and the false note jars on the ear, immediately.

I’m told that I grimace, that I actually pull a face, when my instrument out of tune. The moment creates in me, that is to say, a tiny frisson of pain, a microscopic shudder.

But sometimes one cannot quite hear which string is out of balance. And then the musician must go back to basics, checking through each one in turn. Many musicians will use an oft-practised scale that they carry in their mind, an old tune perhaps, or some sequence of notes that aids the discovery of the note that is out of sequence, or that breaks the tune.

The thing is, it’s easier to discover which string is out of tune when it stands in relation to the others, and not when it is considered individually, tout seul.

And then when the errant string is at last discovered, it is nursed gently back into position.

At this point, if you do it wrongly, too quickly or too wildly, then you may even break the string.

Imagine that.

All your effort to bring everything into balance, and your very attention to the problem has made things worse than ever.

Of course, a new string is a small matter, but when it is lives that are out of tune with each other, then the issue is very serious.

The nearer the relationship, the more attuned you become to hearing the jarring note. Old married couples finish each other’s sentences and “just know” when the other is in pain or distress without a single word spoken.

And in a real community of faith, we need no instruction to “mourn with those who mourn” or “rejoice with those who rejoice” because we do anyway, through simple empathy. We hear the false note and respond.

So Paul acknowledged that, to the church of the Colossians, encouraging them to “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other.” (Col 3:17 MSG) Keep in tune, guys!

Once that perfect, balanced harmony is heard, there is nothing else quite like it.

Now, it is the “peace of Christ” that creates unity, restores balance and creates community. Offence and unforgiveness, bitterness and resentment are the old jarring notes of an untuned instrument.

And we keep fine-tuning, loving, keeping “no record of wrongs,” forgiving each other, “bearing with one another” or simply putting up with a bit of nonsense, until the very hills are alive with the sound of music.




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