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Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 11 years, 9 months ago



For the purposes of this site:


  • A course is a string or a number of parallel strings normally played on its own as one. For example, a six string guitar and a twelve string guitar each have six courses, while a neopolitan mandolin has four.
  • An instrument is coursed if it has at least one multi-string course. An instrument that has only single string courses is uncoursed.


For the rest of the world:


  • An instrument is coursed if it has at least one (multi-string) course. An instrument that has only single strings is uncoursed.
  • A course is a number of parallel strings played as one, or a single string on a coursed instrument.


What's the big deal?


Well, neither of the definitions of course above is really consistent. Our definition means that not all instruments with courses are coursed. The more normal definition means that strictly, the six-string guitar doesn't have six courses, because it doesn't have any courses at all.


Here, we can just say for example that an Appalachian dulcimer has three courses. That's easy enough surely. If we went by the traditional definition, we'd have to say something like an Appalachian dulcimer has three courses if it has any at all, and if not it has three strings and they're tuned the same way as the courses of a coursed dulcimer. Which would you prefer?


The more normal definition means that a single-string course is a course if and only if there's at least one multi-string course elsewhere on the instrument. Umm, and it even means that the last sentence isn't strictly well-formed, because in it we just spoke of a single-string course and by that phrase included things that by definition aren't courses at all. It's a logical quibble, and if you want to quibble with logic, ask a logician. Because as so often, the musicians have it subtly wrong. Fortunately, most of the time it's clear what is meant, and the quibbles don't matter.


We try to avoid using the word course where it might be confusing, either way. But sometimes it makes the discussion a lot simpler to define things our way, so then we take a deep breath and do. Hopefully, we always link to this waffle  page at the same time!


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