The Sweet Spot

A very famous parable in Buddha’s teaching involves a stringed instrument called a veena. There are many variations of the story but the basic idea centers around the tautness of the strings. If they are too loose, the sound and playability will not be good. If they are too tight, the strings might snap or, at the very least, the sound and playability will be poor. This is one of the analogies Buddha employed to illustrate the middle path free from extremes—neither too loose nor too tight.

Every time I tune my guitars, I reflect on the middle path. The intersection between too tight and too loose is the sweet spot of richest harmonic resonance. Of course, I can accomplish tunings beyond the standard EADGBE but each string has to occupy a precise frequency in relation to the others. If you expand the analogy to the modern tempered scale of a piano, it gets even crazier.

In the most commonly used “well” tempered scale, there is a compromise between purity and tonality. Simply put, rather than equal tuning, there is a precise de-tuning where the ear hears a harmony of dissonance. Every note is equally out of tune with every other note. As Beethoven is thought to have said, “Dissonance can be quite beautiful if orchestrated correctly.” 

To make things more interesting, the sound board of grand piano is “crowned” or bowed slightly. This coaxes more richness and volume from the strings. The amount of flex is very precise to create a sweet spot for optimal tone expression. Every stringed instrument on the planet does this dance to find the best balance of tension for emitting the sweetest sound into the world.

This is also our responsibility. Every moment offers us an opportunity to express the most beautiful music of our heart’s longing. It is not about avoiding tension. It is finding just the right amount, so love can sing in all our thoughts and actions. Somewhere between uptight and apathetic is the sweet spot. It abides without creation in the settled mind.

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