Monday, June 22, 2009

Perfect Fourths (P4) Tuning – Basics and examples


In this post I will try to explain some things about a tuning not being used very often, which gives advanced and medium-to-advanced guitarists a few great advantages over the standard tuning. I switched to it some time ago, and I want to share the experience. I found very little material related to P4 on the net, and I think I will dedicate some of my time to making some resources myself. But before I strart – a few short notices:

Who can benefit from P4 Tuning?

  • People who are tired of remembering chord and scale positions depending on which string is the starting point.
  • People who use drop-2 chords, or three to five-tone chords.
  • All of you who are into “comping”.
  • People already comfortable with note names, note positions, intervals.
  • People who play on the lower strings a lot.
  • All of you who want to experiment, to try something NEW.
  • Metalheads :) as the power-chord shape is always the same, ideal for rhythm guitar in metal and rock/hard rock.
  • People who want to try out two handed tapping style and can’t afford a Chapman Stick or Warr guitars.
  • Bass players learning guitar.
  • People with two or more guitars – you can keep playing in your tuning while learning P4 on your other guitar.

P4 tuning may not be a solution for:

  • Beginners (some basic chords are much harder to play).
  • People using 5-6 string chords can also find a lot of them harder to play.
  • Soloists who don’t want to change their fingerings, or are comfortable with the standard tuning.
  • People who play on high strings a lot.

How to tune in P4?

You tune all strings like you tune the first four, making the open above string sound like the note on the 5th fret of the lower string. Thus, in “standard P4” you get E, A, D, G, C and F. So, notes on the open top two strings are a hafl step higher then on the standard tuning. It’s like playing in ordinary tuning, but when you play on the top 2 strings, you move everything one fret back. My current tuning is B P4, and the notes are B – E – A – D – G – C, that is why I called the E P4 tuning – Standard P4

It needs time to get used to, but I will explain the reasons why this tuning can become a very nice thing in further text.

So, what do I gain by tuning my guitar in Perfect Fourths?

1 – Intervals are consistent visually.

All intervals are fretted the same on every string set. In standard tuning you have two variations of every interval, that are dependent on whether the second string is involved, and often variations of different intervals look the same. In P4 that is not the case. The fifth of the current note is ALWAYS two frets up on the higher string. Minor 3rd is always two frets down on the higher string, and so on. Here are some pictures, to show you what is it like visually. Download these charts and feel free to print them and use for referrence

Interval fingerings in Perfect Fourths Tuning Interval fingerings in Perfect Fourths Tuning

It’s always a good thing to be sure that the note will sound exactly as you imagined it in your head, without thinking about where you are on the neck, on which string, and which string is next.

2 – Chords are consistent string-wise.

If you use 3-4-5 note chords, or best of all – drop 2 chords, you know what a pain it is to learn all positions and inversions on all string sets. Here is an example. A while ago I got interested in the Drop 2 system, and in order to master the system all through the neck, you have to learn 12 (yes, TWELVE!) fingerings for every chord, including it’s three inversions. Four forms per chord. Three sets of strings. Bottom four, middle four, and top four strings…all with different fingerings. So, to begin, I made sheets for 15 seventh chord types. On each sheet – 12 fingerings…so do the math. And different inversions of different chords looked the same…so confusing, discouraging and time-consuming.

In P4 tuning, if you use triads, four and five-note chords, they keep the visual shape, no matter which string has the root note, no matter which string set! For example - that makes the ammount of drop 2 chord fingerings to learn smaller by TWO THIRDS! For those 15 chords I had 180(!!!) fingerings, and when I rearranged the sheets for P4, I got 60 fingerings. It gets a lot easier when you have shapes for 5 different chords on one page, all 15 on 3 pages, instead of searching through 15 pages.

Here are the examples for a triad, a 4-string drop 2 chord, and a few more. For the sake of saving space, I put different string set variations on the same diagram graphic, I hope it’s not confusing :) and I’m sorry for the messy handwriting.

Chord Fingerings in Perfect Fourths tuning


3 – Scales are consistent all over the neck.

This is maybe the most important thing to gain with transfering to P4. Your scale shapes will always be the same, no matter from which string you begin the scale. You will play the major scale on the top strings exactly the same as you play them on the lower strings. It’s a great thing, consistency. If you’re into jazz, it must be a great pain to remember all the scale variations that are used in combination with the B string in standard tuning, every shape has three or more variations, and multiply that by the number of possible chord scales. Again, the P4 tuning divides the number of scale shapes by two thirds, by making all the shapes look AND sound the same. Visual/Aural consistency is a very important thing when learning, playing, jamming. At least to me it is.

The basic thing is – take the form you are using on the bottom four strings on the normal tuning, and use it on the top 2 strings too. It’s a great thing to have some diagrams as a starting point, and I will provide you with some basic diagrams, I don’t want to give you everything on the plate, because it’s much more fun if you get encouraged to make them yourselves, in a manner that you feel is adequate to you. By doing those diagrams yourselves, you’ll get familiar with your new tuning, and you will get more familirar with your instrument. I made all of these myself, and it was fun, and I now have original study material and a defined way of making it. I am sharing this in hope that someone will maybe learn something.

Here are some scale examples. Remember that the string set is not important, the scale will sound as it should, wether you start it on the E, A, D,or G string ascending, or E, B, G and D descending. The examples are given in one octave, ascending, on the middle string set, starting from the A string, and I encourage you to make your own descending shapes, it’s fun :). As you already saw in previous examples, the outlined dots are root notes, as these patterns are movable. Try it by playing the shape on a random root note all over the neck. As an exercise – you can play the ascending shape up to the seventh, and then shift and play the same shape from the other root note, octave above the starting note. Try to visualy associate the shapes with the major and minor sound, that will help with modal playing, as all modes are somewhat modified major and minor.

Scale Shapes in Perfect Fourth tuning

Have fun with these diagrams, and please, don’t be lazy, make some on you own, that will really help you to familiarize with your new tuning. Also, you can try making fingerings for some exotic scales, symmetrical scales, pentatonics…there is so much material to learn.

Conclusion of this lesson

In conclusion, I will be short. If you read the list on the top, and if you are one of those people who would benefit from this, and if you liked my examples and methodology, try this, especially if you have another guitar. I did this on my second guitar before I tuned my Ibanez in P4. Now my second guitar is in a more extreme tuning, the New Standard Tuning. Since I don’t have the intention to go back to standard ebgdae tuning, all my future lessons will be for P4 and NST, as there is really a small amount of material that we can learn from. Let’s fight that.

I really hope I managed to motivate someone to at least try this interesting new tuning, and these examples were an interesting thing to make.

See you all! Take care, and don’t overdo it :)


  1. Hi Zhille, good blog.
    I have used the P4 tuning since 1988, and have gone some steps further with some useful modifications of the guitar. Please read my
    I have added a link to your blog, as I will add links to other P4 users. Please do the same.
    Best regards
    Finn Schatvet-Riisager

  2. Hi, I've tried P4 tuning before when attempting to make the fretboard more logical, but gave up when I realize how difficult it is to play the old standard chords and familiar licks.
    Reading this entry has inspired me to try P4 tuning again, and since I've improved my theory and improvisation skills somewhat, maybe I'll be able to stick with it this time.
    Thanks for the inspiration...

  3. My regular tuning is P4 on guitar, 4-string banjo and mandolin. I started as a 4 string bass player and now play all these instruments as well as a 5-string bass tuned EADGC. P4 tuning works well on all, makes transitions among them easy, and gives nice, close-spaced chord sounds. On the 4 string instruments range is compromised, but still they fit well in the human voice range for playing singable melodies.

  4. First, sorry for my english language (I'm french...).
    I'm very, very happy to find other guys who practice this guitar tuning. I play like that since nearly 15 years now, and I think I'll never go back anymore to standard tuning!
    If you can read french, I created a blog here, where I try to explain my approach to P4 tuning:

    Thanks a lot!

  5. Wow so many people tune in 4ths! I've written a book about it which will hopefully be published soon.
    Thanks for this blog!

  6. Hi, we have a large facebook group with P4 players. please join:

    Best regards,

  7. Thank you. I have been experimenting with this as well. because i cannot do bar chords due to arthritis, so i have been attracted to moveable 3-note chords, and the simplicity of 3 note chords in all-fourth tuning.


Any questions and comments?