Tuning the instrument
Tuning refers to the notes played by the strings of the instrument when open/unstopped. Tuning is critical to the playing technique required for the instrument, and to determine its melodic and harmonic possibilities. A guitarist cannot pick up a banjo and start playing like that, because in spite of their similarities, guitars and banjos are tuned differently and thus require separate learning; they also play quite different roles in music because of this difference.
Various mechanical ways are avalaible to tune the instrument, more or less easy to use; for instance, the tuning pegs found on most traditional instruments, including modern violins, violas and cellos, are more difficult to use than the machine heads found on guitars and double bass (among others). As the number of strings increases, so does the difficulty of tuning the instrument: as you change the tension of a string, this affects the global tension of the instrument and thus slightly detune the other strings. Thus, while a guitarist can easily tune his instrument himself, tuning a piano is a specialist's job.
This might be further complicated by the quality of the instrument: all instruments detune over time and need frequent retuning, but very cheap instruments are notorious for detuning very quickly, particularly after the strings have just been replaced, sometimes to the point of being impossible to play, as they will audibly detune while being played, thought this problem can also happen with better instruments that have been carried in car and haven't had the time to settle to their new environment—this is not a jest, transport and atmospheric conditions can affect wood and strings critically (this is another reason why nylon strings and plastic skins are often prefered to their animal counterpart: animal welfare aside, they are also much less sensitive to ambient humidity).
A critical aspect notably is the friction at the bridge and nut (the equivalent of the bridge on the tuning gear side of the instrument): if it is too low, the strings will constantly slip and detune).
But enough with the technicalities, let's get into... uh well, other technicalities, but of a different kind.Open string instruments
On instruments that have only open/unstopped strings, the most obvious and simple solution is to go for a diatonic
tuning, that is, tuning the strings to the different notes of the scale you want to play. So say, if want an instrument tuned in the major pentatonic scale of C, your strings will be tuned to C D E G A. If you want a bigger range, you just add more strings following the same formula, so say, for two complete octaves, you would have: C3 D3 E3 G3 A3 C4 D4 E4 G4 A4 C5
[This is the scientific pitch notation, don't worry about those numbers too much, just see them as a way to show the relative heigth of notes: thus C4 is trebler than C3, but basser than C5; C4 and C3 are the same note, but with a difference of one octave in pitch]
When the range covers more than one octave, extra notes might have gaps in the scale. For instance, the Russian gusli is tuned this way:
E3 A3 B3 C4 D4 E4 F4 G4 A4
This is the minor scale of A, but with an extra bass E string (thus missing the intermediary notes of the scale, F and G). This is explained by melodic reasons: E is the fifth of A, and playing the fifth of the scale then rising to the tonic/fundamental (the first note of the scale, so here A) is a very common melodic pattern.
With this setting, we can only play one scale in one tonality, but in many genres of music, this is quite enough; in modal music for instance, we want to explore the different modes
of a single scale, that is, take the same scale but with a different tonic each time; this way, a single pentatonic scale has 5 modes, and a modern heptatonic scale has 7 notes and thus 7 possible modes. In some genres, it is common practice to retune the instrument between each play, so as to achieve a different scale or mode.
There is of course, a cleverer possibility; let's compare two scales, the major pentatonic scale of C, and that of G:
C D E G A
G A B D E
We notice that they have four notes in common: D E G A; so, by just adding a B string to the major pentatonic scale of C, we become able to play in the major pentatonic scale of G as well:
C3 D3 E3 G3 A3 B4 C4 D4 E4 G4
From this, we may pursue this logic and add more notes, until finally we reach the chromatic
tuning, where all the notes of the temperament are used (so, for western music, that gives 12 notes, and thus 12 strings, per octave). Now we can play any mode of any scale with any tonic we want!
In practice, as you may have seen in Miekko's thread, most traditional temperament are constructed so that a reference note has to be chosen, and the other notes are set relative to it. Those are the just
temperament, because they seek to have the notes' pitch as close as possible to the natural harmonic series. The problem is that an instrument tuned this way will sound very well in some tonalities (the tonality used as reference, and neighbouring tonalities) but out of tune in some others. We thus still have to retune between plays, and since we now have 12 strings per octave, this is becoming quite unpractical.
This became especially problematic in western music, where modulation (change of tonality within a single piece) and complex polyphony were requiring more and more flexibitly from the instrument. This ultimately lead to the development of equal
temperament, a temparement that is less in tune relative to the harmonics series, but sounds the same in any tonality.
This innovation explains why chromatic string instruments are very common in the western world, but rare outside of it, where just temperaments and diatonic tunings are generally prefered.
The most common form of chromatic tuning is to have the complete, linear series of notes:
C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C (repeated by the number of octaves we want)
[note: in equal temperament, C# D# F# G# A# = Db Eb Gb Ab Bb; this would not be the case in just temperaments]
Pianos and harpsichords are tuned this way, but their keyboard is arranged diatonically: the white keys represent the major scale of C, with the black keys for the sharps and flats needed to play in other tonalities; the black keys also incidently form the major pentatonic scale of Gb (this makes the piano keyboard very visual and user-friendly initially, but ultimately harder to learn: because the notes do not correspond to equally spaced keys, different fingerings have to be learned for each tonality; by contrast, on a guitar, once you've learned the major scale of C, you can automatically transpose it in any tonality—on the other hand the situation is reversed if you play modal music, but that's not very common in western music).
This is not the only possible chromatic arrangement though. We might also encounter the circle of fifths:
F C G D A E B F# C# G# D# A#
This may seem less logical, as notes go up and down instead of progessing linearly, but it has advantages both melodically and harmonically, as notes pertaining to the same scale or chord are grouped together: for instance we notice that the notes of the major scale of C are all grouped to the left (whereas on a piano, they are interspersed with unrelated notes).
Some instruments might have series of strings tuned to play chords. These are generally diatonic; for instance, a model in C major will include a series of string for a C major chord (CEG), one for a F major chord (FAC), one for a G dominant 7 chord (GBDF), etc.
Combinations are possible: the so-called guitar zither (which has really nothing of a guitar at all) has a set of melodic strings tuned chromatically or diatonically, and another set of chord strings.
A special case is the autoharp:
The autoharp is tuned either diatonically or chromatically, but it also has a series of keys that action dampers: when a key is pressed, all the strings become mute, except the strings corresponding to a specific chord. This allows the performer to play chords that use a large number of strings with minimal effort.Stopped string instruments
We've seen that for stopped strings, we need much less strings to achieve the same range than open strings only. This doesn't mean, however, that we get less tuning options or that they become simpler, quite the opposite. This is because stopped strings add another factor to consider.
When we play an open string instrument, we only do one action: playing the string; the only distance we have to deal with is the distance between the strings, which, unless the playing range is very wide (like on a piano, which spans more than seven octaves) is never really big. With stopped strings on the other hand, we have to perform two
actions: playing the string and
chosing which of the possible notes of the string we want to play. This means we also have to deal with the distance between notes on
a string, which can be big, even for relatively short intervals.
A consequence of this is a critical aspect of the tuning of stopped strings: at which point do we jump from one string to another. As several notes can be played on a string, if we play on the bassest string, we will at some point reaches the note that corresponds to the open note of the next
string. This is were we can jump to the next string
An illustration, as this might sound pretty confusing:
This is a schematized representation of a portion of a (tenor) banjo's neck. The horizontal lines are strings, the vertical lines are frets (the leftmost vertical line is the nut, which can be considered a "0th" fret). The treeblest string is at the top of the picture, the bassest string at the bottom. The numbers at the bottom indicate the rank of the fret. The black letters on the left indicate which note each string makes when played open. The grey and black letters on the rest of the picture indicate which note plays a string when it is stopped at the first fret, at the second fret, and so on (the notes corresponding to a given string are directly below this string).
So, the open note of the bassest string is G. If we stop this string at the first fret, we get G#. At the second fret, we get A, and so on. When we reach the 7th fret, we get D. This is the same D than the open note of the next string
. This is where we can stop playing on the G string and jump to the D string, since all the notes of the G string from the 7th fret onward will correspond to notes on the D string. So, since we jump on the 7th fret, that means the difference between the G and D strings is of 7 semitones, a perfect fifth.
This applies on the other strings as well, we see that each time, we get, on the 7th fret, the open note of the next string (nota: the grey A on the G string is not the same as the open note of the A string: it is one octave lower). So the interval between each string of the banjo is a perfect fifth; the banjo is said to be tuned in fifths
[note: I'm using an instrument with a fretted fingerboard because this is easier to visualize, but all this applies just as well to instruments with fretless fingerboard, you just replace frets with fractions of string length]
[also note: here the starting note is G, but it can be any note at any pitch, what matters in the tuning is the relative intervals between the strings, not the absolute values of the strings themselves]
So, if we want to play, say, a minor scale of A on the banjo, we play A B C D on the first string, then we jump to the second string and play E F G A. Notice that from D to E, we jump a distance of 6 frets; this can already be a big distance, depending of the length of the neck and where on the neck the jump is made. This is why big intervals between strings are impractical.
For instance, we don't find instruments tuned in octaves
. On such a tuning, one could not jump to the next string before the 12th fret—half of the length of the string, a much too great distance, even on small instruments. But this would also be unpractical for design reasons on instruments with 4 strings or more. On a guitar's standard tuning, the bassest and treblest string are two octaves apart from each others. With a tuning in octaves, they would logically end up five
octaves apart. The bass strings would have to be at such a low tension and so thick that this would be unplayable, unless the strings were actually made longer, with an additional length neck and additional head especially to accomodate the extra long strings (some instruments do actually have this design, we'll see why), but then the frets would be out of tune for these strings: since the notes on the string are always on a logorithmic scale, increasing the length of the string also increases the distance between notes, even if the string is tuned to the same pitch. With accomodations, it would not be theorically impossible to compensate this, but it would still remain highly impractical.
So, we use smaller intervals, like the fifth (remember the fifth is the second overtone, the octave is the first). The tuning in fifths is the most ancient attested tuning: a clay tablet found, again, in Mesopotamia, dated from around 2000 BC, gives the fingering for two scales on a lute tuned in fifths. This is a very common tuning even today: instruments such as the violin, viola, cello, banjo, mandolin, tenor guitar, cittern, the Chinese liuqin, erhu, qinqin, the ukrainian domra, the Cretan lyra are all commonly tuned in fifths.
This is a tuning that gives a good range: on a 4-string instrument tuned in fifths, it is possible to play 2 complete octaves without having to move the hand up or down on the neck. However, there are some cases were the interval of fifth is still too wide. For instance, double basses were historically tuned in fifths, but this proved quite impractical because of the length of the strings. It's also difficult to get further than 4-5 strings with a tuning in fifths (for similar technical reasons than with the hypothetical tuning in octaves); for instance, while it is theorically possible to tune a guitar (6 strings) in fifths, in practice this is quite difficult to achieve in a satisfying manner.
[However I have read that a double bass tuned in fifths has better harmonic resonances; I know some double bass players still use this tuning]
The second most common tuning interval is the fourth
, the inverse of the fifth [since fifth (7 semitones) + fourth (5 semitones) = octave (12 semitones)]. Now, instead of jumping at the 7th fret, we jump at the 5th fret. Tuning in fourths have less range, but are somewhat easier, especially on instruments with long necks. Instruments tuned in fourths include the double bass, the bass guitar, the Mexican bajo quinto and baxo sexto, the Russian bass and contrabass balalaikas, the Spanish laud. This is a bit less common than the tuning in fifths, for a particular reason: the tuning in fourth is more common in mixed tunings
(that's my terminology).
If we take a three strings instrument and tune it in fifths (say GDA) or in fourths (say GCF) we notice that in both cases, the first and last string are pretty close to form an octave, with one excedentary tone in the tuning in fifths, and one missing tone in the tuning in fourths. Since a fifth + a fourth is an octave, the solution is obvious: let's have a fifth for the first interval, and a fourth for the second (GDG) or the opposite (GCG). Now the first and last strings are exactly one octave appart, which facilitates the transposition of melody, or the doubling of the melody to the octave.
This is a common kind of tuning on 3-strings instrument; it is found on the Greek baglamas, tzouras and 3-string bouzouki, on the mountain dulcimer (sometimes), on the Balkanic gadulka, on the Kyrgyz komuz, on the Japanese shamisen, on the Iranian setar and tar, on the Turkish kemenche…
For instruments with more than 3 strings, there is another, very common mixed tuning. Let's take a western lute from the early Renaissance, which has 6 strings (not exactly, that's a simplification, we'll get to that later in this post).
If the instrument was tuned in pure fourths, we would get this: G C F Bb Eb Ab. We notice, again, that the first and last string are very close in absolute value: only one semitone apart (+ 2 octaves). So here's an idea: let's remove one semitone from one of the fourth intervals, let's say the one between the two middle strings (effectively making it an interval of 4 semitones, a major third). Now we get this: G C F A D G. This is pretty good: the first and last string are exactly two octaves appart, and we get two nice groups of strings where the second (A D G) is a transposition of the first (G C F) one octave and one tone higher.
This is notably good when we get into polyphony, and thus attempt to play chords
(several notes played simultaneously) on the lute. Now, since there are 6 strings, and there only 4 avalaible fingers (the thumb is rarely used to stop strings), some trick had to be found (at least if we wanted to take advantage of all 6 strings simultaneously). This is where the "barre" technique comes in. In this, instead of using just the tip of the finger to stop one string, we use the length of the finger to stop several strings at once along the same fret. With this technique, we can play on more than 6 strings with only 4 fingers (and in practice, this technique is used on instruments with 4 strings or less anyway, as in many case it is more convenient).
So if we take our lute, we can do this:
The grey shapes represent fingers doing a barre. On the right of the picture are the resulting stopped notes; we can see we get A, C# and E, the notes of an A major chord. With only two fingers, not bad (as you can maybe picture, this would be notably more difficult if the lute was tuned in pure fourths)! This chord shape can also be transposed horizontally: if we do the same thing starting from the 3rd fret instead of the 2nd, we could get an A# major chord. On the other hand, because the intervals between strings are mixed, it cannot be transposed vertically: the hand shape to play a major chord starting on the C string is different and has to be learned separatedly (this is one of the few disadvantages of mixed tunings over pure tunings: in the latter, transposition of chord shapes is possible both horizontally and vertically; likewise for melodic scales).
[Guitarists tend to have a love-hate relationship with barres: on one hand, they are very convenient and useful; on the other hand, they are more difficult and demanding for the fingers; this is probably one of the reasons why power-chords (a kind of simplified chord that only use three strings, and no barre) are so popular in rock and metal (the other reason being that because power chords are bare 5th chord, lacking a 3rd, they support high levels of distortion much better)]
This tuning is the basis not only of western lute tunings, but also of viol tunings (a family of bowed instruments that ressemble violins, but have 6 strings and frets).
And from this, we get to the guitar.
Seeing how the lute tuning was so interesting, it made sense to transpose it to the guitar. However, Renaissance guitars were smaller instruments than what we know today, and had only 4 strings (again, I'm simplifying). So since the lute's tuning was 4th-4th-M3rd-4th-4th, it seemed logical to transpose it to the guitar as 4th-M3rd-4th, resulting in the tuning D G B E. This proved a succesful and interesting tuning too, and various 4-string instruments have adopted it, such as the tenor ukulele, the Bulgarian tambura, the Greek 4-string bouzouki.
On the guitar itself, extra bass strings were later added (one in the Baroque period, and another one in the beginning of the Romantic period), but without modifying the tuning of the original four strings, leading to the modern E A D G B E, 4th-4th-4th-M3rd-4th. Thus the chord shapes on the guitar are not the same than on the lute, but the barre technique works just as well. A similar tuning is used on the Mexican guitarron, but one fifth lower, to A D G C E A.
Those are the most common mixed tunings, but of course there are many others: some instruments are tuned with the two first bass string to the same note at the same pitch, so as to make the bass stronger (examples include the alto and prima balaikas, some alternative tunings on the Brazilian-Portuguese cavaquinho, the Malagasy kabosy), some 4-string instruments have the two treble strings tuned like the two bass strings, one octave appart, resulting in tunings like G D G D, 5th-4th-5th, (examples include the Chinese yueqin, liuqin and ruan); most tunings seem to mainly use fourths, fifths and major thirds, but other intervals are occasionally used too.
We can't cover all the possible tunings, but we can still have a look at some rather specific ones.More tuning
Let's get back to our Renaissance four strings guitar. The open notes are D G B E. Those happen to be the notes of a chord: G major 6th (or, depending on the context, E minor 7th). However, when we add the extra bass string A, this doesn't work anymore; while A D G B E can theorically be a chord, it's a rather complex chord that doesn't sound well in most contexts. Then we might wonder: what if we tuned our modern 6 strings guitar so that the open string played a recognizable chord? This is the idea behind open tunings
, a tuning where the notes of the open strings are constitutive of a chord (this is not too different from what some instruments with only open strings have, series of strings set to play a specific chord). The advantage of this is that we can then easily transpose the chord higher by doing one-finger barres on the neck.
There are many ways to accomplish this; a very common guitar open tuning is the open G (since it plays a G major chord), also called "Spanish tuning" or "Chicago tuning": D G D G B D; this is done by simply lowering the bass E, A and treble E strings by one tone. But there are many, many other alternatives, on the guitar as well as on other instruments. An example is the 7 strings Russian guitar, tuned D G B D G B D (so also open G). We'll see another time that for some particular playing techniques, open tunings can be really useful.
Now let's have another look at this lute chord diagram:
We've said that's an A major chord, but let's have a look at the actual notes being played, compared to an "ideal" A major chord with the same bass pitch:
[If you can't read staff notation, just picture this as a chart: the vertical axis represents note heigth, with the trebles at the top; the horizontal axis represents time (when relevent, here it's not); dots represent individual notes; the symbol on the left indicates which range we're in.]
We can see that compared to the "ideal" chord, the chord played on the lute is rather spread out. In a rather bass register, this is a desirable feature. Because of the way sound work, the physical distance (in hertz) between notes gets shorter as we get into bass sounds (this too, is a logarithmic scale). Thus, while the interval between A and C# is always a major third (provided they're in the same octave), the physical distance between them varies according to the range: between A4 and C#5, there is (in equal temperament, with the reference pitch being A4 = 440 hertz) a distance of ~114.37 hertz. But between A2 and C#3 (two octave below), the distance is now only of ~28.59 hertz. For this reason, small intervals in bass frequencies will tend to sound indistinct and muddy, and so bigger intervals are priviledged.
However, the same is, to some degree, true in reverse in the treble registers: in this case smaller intervals sound better than bigger ones. Thus, for small instruments that play in high register, specific tunings that give a thinner playing range and more compact chords are desirable. While this can be done by simply using smaller intervals between strings, there is another possibility.
Let's take a tenor ukulele: it is tuned like the four treble strings of a guitar, but one fourth higher, so we get G3 C4 E4 A4; this spans just over one octave (14 semitones, to be precise). How could we narrow the tuning of this instrument without having to learn new chord shapes along with the new tuning?
Here is the solution that was found: tune the G string one octave higher than expected. So now we get G4 C4 E4 A4, which only spans a 6th (9 semitones), and is also the tuning of the standard ukulele. This is called a reentrant tuning, because instead of a linear heigth progression, we get strings that are unexpectedly lower than the previous string (or higher than the next string). A consequence is of course that the G string of the ukulele is thinner than its C string.
This can be done in a different fashion: for instance, the Venezuelan cuatro is tuned as A3 D4 F#4 B3, this is just two semitones above the tenor ukulele (so one fifth above the four treble strings on a guitar), except this time it's the B string which is one octave lower
than expected. Again, the tuning spans only one 6th.
But because we have altered the tuning this way, chords that can be played on the tenor ukulele can be played on the standard ukulele and on the Venezuelan cuatro just as well, but they will have a pretty different voicing, giving each of these instrument a distinct feel.
Because they tend to move away the bassest or treblest string closer to the center of the neck, reentrant tunings also help in achieving a more united sound between upstroke and downstroke of the hand or pick during playing (that is, since there are two possible ways to pluck all the strings of the instrument, one going from bass to treble, the other from treble to bass).
The only problem with reentrant tuning is that the playing of melodic lines becomes somewhat unpractical, an indeed most of the instruments with reentrant tunings are used primarily or exclusively to play chords.
This kind of tuning seems to be most common in Latin America, where small plucked instruments with mostly rythmic purposes are ubiquitous in all local music traditions.String options
Because having a bajillion tuning options was apparently not enough, instrument makers and musicians still had to invent more ways to modify the strings of an instrument.
We've seen that some instruments had the two first bass strings tuned to the same note and pitch, so as to give a louder bass sound. At some point, maybe in the middle ages or before, someone had the idea to apply this to all
the strings of an instrument, creating the concept of course
. A course is a group of strings (usually two, sometimes three, with the extreme case of the Chilean guitarron which goes up to five
strings per course) which are tuned, stopped and played as if they were one string. When I was calling my saying that the Renaissance lute has 6 strings and the Renaissance guitar has 4 a simplification, this was because these instruments actually have courses: the early Renaissance lute has 11 strings in 6 courses, and the Renaissance guitar has 7 strings in 4 courses (on both these instruments, the treblemost course consists of only one string).
Courses are normally tuned in unisson (same note, same pitch) or to the octave, with the special case of Chinese violins like the erhu which have a single course of two strings tuned to the fifth, which are still stopped and played as a single string.
Courses give the instrument more volume, but because coursed strings are rarely tuned to a perfect unisson, the slight interval between two strings of the same course produce harmonic interferences which broaden and enhance the complexity of the timbre of the resulting sound.
Other instruments with courses include the piano, the harpsichord (sometimes), the twelve-string guitar, the mandolin, the cittern, the Mexican bajo sexto and bajor quinto, the Turkish saz and cumbus, the Greek baglamas and bouzouki, the Irish bouzouki, the Arabic oud, the Porto-Rican cuatro, the Andean charango, the Spanish bandurria, the Corsican cetera, the Tibetan dranyen, the Balkanic kobsa, the Albanian sargija, and many others (this is very common really).
Another idea was to add drone
strings. In music, a drone is note sustained continuously for the duration of a piece. The most famous example is the bagpipes, which along a main melodic pipe (the chanter) has a series of drone pipe, each of them playing only one note, and playing it continuously, giving their characteristic sound to the bagpipes.
In string instruments, the only instrument with strings that act as true drones is the hurdy-gurdy, which has up to four strings that each play a constant single notes, alongside melodic strings.
In most string instruments however, drone strings are strings which are only played open (and thus always play the same note) alongside stopped strings. For instance, in lutes with more than 6 courses, the additional bass courses are usually drone strings; in Baroque lutes, you get up to 13 courses (for a total 24 strings, the two treblemost courses only have one string each). Of these, the 7 bass courses are only played open, and are tuned diatonically. Such an instrument requires some specific design to accomodate the extra bass strings:
The extra length of neck and additional heads allow the bass strings to remain at playable tension and thickness; since these strings are only played open, the modified length is of no concern viz the position of the frets.
Drone strings are most commonly found in Indian instruments (such as the sitar and sarod), on zithers equiped with a fingerboard, which often have drone strings alongside (the mountain dulcimer is an exception, as it has only melody strings), and on variations of the western lute (such as the archlute, theorbo and angelique).
A last, subtler idea is to add sympathetic strings
, strings that are not played at all, but resonate alongside the other strings when the notes corresponding to their open value are played on the instruments (they also react to notes of which they are a natural harmonic, to a lesser degree). This deepens the sound and gives the instrument a natural reverberation. Dedicated sympathetic strings are found on some piano (the so called "aliquot strings), on various Western folk instruments (such as Skandinavian instruments like the hardanger fidle and the nyckelharpa), on a number of Baroque instruments that have fallen out of favor (viola d'amore, baryton), and, most prominently, on Indian instruments (often in great number: a sitar can have 13 sympathetic string, and a sarangi can go up to 37).
I suspect, though I haven't been able to confirm that, on Indian instruments, the sympathetic strings are tuned slightly off on purpose, so as to enhance the complex harmonic interractions, chorus and phase shift effects resulting from the simultaneous playing of sounds close but not quite identical in pitch (and this is why Indian instruments are so difficult to tune properly). This I think can best be heard on the bazantar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crSi9IxPfYA
The bazantar is a double bass modified to be able to hold a large number of sympathetic strings, tuned more like an Indian instrument. The effect on the sound is clearly different from how a standard double bass sounds.
But of course, as you may suspect, any
string of an instrument can double as a sympathetic string (and sympathetic strings can also double as drone strings, as is the case on a baryton), the instrument doesn't need to have dedicated series of sympathetic strings for this to work. This is another reason why instruments with extended range (like the 13-course Baroque lute, the 10-string classical guitar, or the 6-string bass guitar) are often created: the additional strings give more possibilities of resonance and thus enhance the global sound even when they are not used. On some instruments, even the length of string that goes beyond the bridge is used this way; while on guitars and lutes this length is usually very short and is thus of no consequence, on a violin, the length of string that goes beyond the bridge to the saddle (the part of the instrument were the strings are bound) is exactly of 1/7th of the total length of the string (not of the vibrating
length, mind you), allowing a number of resonances that deepen and enhance the sound of the instrument.
Aaaaand we're done for this time. Next post we'll see other options we have to make our instruments even cooler (hopefully it won't be as long as this time).