Sunday, February 8, 2009


Guitars are a great object for tuning experiments. The Viola Caipira traditionally has a variety of different tunings. To that repertory I would add the one I learned in Portugal, used in the Viola Amarantina and Viola Braguesa. I was actually surprised that this tuning is not known in Brazil, or at least I have not found any mention of it anywhere. The original tuning goes(from lowest string upwards): D A B E A, or the same 1 tone below: C G A D G. Now the Viola Caipira is slightly larger, so given this change in string length, the tuning goes down a fourth: A E F# B E (or G D E A D). It works quite well because of the fifth in the bottom two strings. Chords of I,IV and V are very easily placed:

Here's a little action on the Viola Caipira:


Just now, looking at the common tunings of the viola in Brazil, I see that one arrangement is very close to the Portuguese tuning I use. That's the 'boiadeira' tuning, which goes G D F# A D, so it only really differs in that by displacing the second between the 3rd and the 4th into a major 3rd, we now have the chord on the dominant in the middle 3 strings. I suppose this makes the V - I very easy, while the IV degree is not so comfortable perhaps. I'll have to think about other chords, but on the whole, I prefer the one I use. The open strings make up a nicer 6th-9th chord, instead of the harsher major7th-9th in this 'boiadeira' tuning.

Another tuning I think might be quite good is the "rio-abaixo": G D G B D, which has a simpler open-string sonority, with the I triad in the top three strings. This looks better for modal stuff, as the V - I voicing is not that clear on the fingerboard. It should allow great play on G major modes, Mixolydian, Ionian, Lydian. The open B makes it a little awkward for minor modes, I suppose (well, I might get told otherwise, but that's how it looks.)

More later... this is an evolving story.


  1. qué linda música y qué guapo!

  2. i recently bought a Braguesa in the Minho (north Portugal). My aim is an open tuning. I was going for G. To keep a decent tension on the strings i tried different gauges to get to GDGBD, starting with a wound 20 for the low G. I was, however, running out of highs when getting to the high D (008 tention too high with breakage). I do like the high tention it provides overall.Before that i had tuned it in B, and that gave me nice lows and good balance.However, it's hard to play w other instruments in that key, as i would mostly join the G and D brigade. Capo use is kinda limited for the small Braguesa.I did buy a Viola Brasileira stringset for the Rio Abaixo tuning. The strings look a tad on the heavy side (036-011). Any experience with that tuning?

  3. I finished the Braguesa and have it tuned to open G: low G (09/020) D (011/018) G (014) B (011) D (012).
    The Viola Brasileira strings are no good for this. The Braguesa is a smaller scale.Full details here:

  4. If you're not tied to open G i strongly suggest open D.It lowers the pitch and feels more natural in tension than the high pitched open G.The Braguesa can take the lows (026/028 for low D string) easily.
    Open Gtuning on Youtube linked here: