Tuning Up…

I was thinking…

How does one “tune up” by “tuning down”? Well, as you have probably guessed, that it was this blog is about.

I figured something out last Sunday after playing in the worship band, and later that day the Lord taught me through an interesting illustration: guitar tuning.

It’s not my purpose hear to teach you about the guitar, but for those of you who don’t play, a little background (or backgrounder, as they say in the Philippines) will be helpful…

A normal guitar has 6 strings. The strings have to be in tune with each other for the guitar to sound good. And of course, in a band, the guitar has to be in tune with the other instruments, too! (There’s a whole lesson there about teamwork and cooperation… enough for some other blog.)

Usually you start with the lowest string, #6, which is an E. You tune that string so it’s really playing E. If it’s too low, it’s said to be flat. If it’s too high, it’s sharp. How do you know it’s playing the correct E tone? You match it by playing that E on the piano or by using a guitar tuner which tells you: Sharp, Flat or “Just right” (it’s a musical three bears kind of thing).

Once you are sure that low E string is playing the correct pitch, you tune the other strings, using that low E as your reference point. So, for example, the next string, #5, is supposed to play A, exactly one major 4th above that low E. Whoa… “What’s a major 4th?!” you ask. Well, don’t worry, we won’t get into lots of music theory here, but if you hum “Here Comes the Bride,” the interval between here and comes is a major 4th. “Comes” is a major 4th higher than “here.”

So anyway, the main point here is that you tune string #5 using #6 as a reference point. Then you tune #4 based on #5, and so on.

For a couple weeks now, I’ve run into a problem. Before church I will tune my guitar in just the way I described above, using the low E on the piano to get me started. Then my guitar would be perfectly in tune with itself, each string perfectly tuned to the one below it. But then when we started to play as a band, and the piano played an A flat chord for example, I would play A flat and….

…I was out of tune with the piano! It sounded awful. So I would have to shift from playing chords to playing lead and I would basically wind up playing in a different key in order to match the piano.

During breaks between the songs, I would check my guitar… each string was still perfectly in tune. After church I would check my guitar against the piano’s low E… again, a perfect match. What gives?!

It didn’t make sense.

Last Sunday I stayed after church a littler longer and I figured it out. I checked again and yes, I was in tune to the low E of the piano. But if I played an A flat chord on the piano, it matched a G chord on my guitar! So I tried the A string on the piano (the one that’s supposed to match the #5 A string on my guitar) and… it did not match my A string. NONE of the other notes matched my guitar strings.

What was going on? Well, that low E on the piano was out of tune! That note on the piano was out of tune with the rest of the piano. So when I used that bad note as a reference point, everything else on my guitar was wrong and out of tune.

MAJOR POINT HERE… start with the wrong reference point and everything will be wrong.

During worship, it wasn’t that big a deal on the piano, having one note a little flat. But when I played chords on my guitar and 5 out of the six strings were flat, that was unacceptable. It didn’t matter that my guitar was in tune with itself. Because I was in a band, I had to match the piano and the rest of the instruments.

Before I get more into the life lesson to be learned here, I’ll explain how I solved the issue. Until we get the church’s piano tuned, I had to come up with another solution. So I tuned from the top down. I started with the high E string, the #1 string on my guitar. I tuned that to the high E on the piano. Then I tuned my guitar, matching the pitch of the strings, going from each string to the next lower one. Top down. Correct reference point.

Now when I played, I matched the piano with 5 out of 6 strings and the chords sounds better… I was in the same key as the piano. Whew!

So not only is the reference point all-important, but in this case (and in life), I think it is important to work from the top down. That is, our reference point should be God. His mind, his wisdom, his values. We need to “tune” our lives from the top down, starting from the high E string of his Word.

Peter Tan-Chi, the head elder of the church we attend whenever we’re in Manila often makes an important point, using this syllogism:
Right thinking produces right behavior
Right behavior produces right feelings

Too often, we try to start with what feels good. Or we try to start with changing our behavior without first changing out thinking. Neither of these plans will really work. You change your thinking about what is right. Then you will do it because you believe it is right. When you are living right, you will feel good about it. Reference point is all-important.

But what I learned from the guitar tuning situation is that not only must we start from the reference point (“right thinking”), but it must be the right reference point. When we try to order (tune) our lives based on what we think is right… our opinions, our desires, our lusts, our plans, our comfort, our prosperity, our fears, our position on what is right or wrong, our lives will be out of tune. Everything will be wrong, because we’re starting with the wrong reference point. But when we start with God and his mind, as revealed in his Word, we will be properly in tune.

So, we must use the proper reference point (God and his Word), and order our lives from the top down.
So I pray that I continually apply this lesson to my own life, ordering it top-down based on the reference point of God’s Word. I trust you will do the same.

But we ask you to pray for us as we translation God’s Word into Palawano, so the Palawanos may have that reference point in their hands, so they can attune their lives to that.


About billdavisthoughts

From San Diego, CA. I've been a missionary and Bible translator in the Philippines for over 30 years and have travelled as a language learning consultant to 15 countries. I play piano and guitar. I write, read voraciously and love to work on word puzzles. Married for 35 years, we have two daughters and two grandchildren.
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