In this post, I’m going to show you how to tune a guitar.
In fact, these are the same techniques I’ve been using for my entire musical career.
Each method of tuning a guitar has its use, depending on the situation.
To make things easy, I’ll tackle tuning your guitar in three sections:
- Theory and tips
- Tuning a guitar with a tuner
- Tuning a guitar by ear
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Let’s kick things off with some background on how to tune a guitar.
I talked about the musical alphabet in a previous lesson, but here’s a quick recap:
- The musical alphabet has the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, and G
- The strings on a guitar are, from thickest to thinnest, E-A-D-G-B-E
- The letters by themselves are called naturals.
In addition to naturals, there are also flats and sharps.
If there is a “b” symbol next to a natural, that means that the note is flat.
Alternatively, if a “#” symbol appears next to a natural, that means the note is sharp.
When using a clip-on tuner or a tuner with a microphone, there are a few ways to tell if your strings are sharp or flat.
Most tuners have lights that will indicate whether your string is sharp or flat.
If the light is going off on the right, that means your string is sharp.
When the left side lights up, that means your string is flat.
How to Tune Tip #1
Make sure you’re tuning the right string.
I know that sounds silly, but people frequently turn the wrong tuning key.
To help prevent that, make sure to follow the string you want to tune all the way to its respective tuning key.
Always make sure to double-check that you’re tuning the same string that you’re turning the tuning key for.
How to Tune Tip #2
Don’t be afraid to use common sense.
If the string feels too tight or it sounds too high, it probably is.
If that happens, don’t be afraid to loosen the string by tuning down. From there, you can start over.
I always encourage folks to play around with the tuning keys. Don’t be afraid to turn them — make sure you know how much the pitch changes when you turn the tuning key.
How to Tune a Guitar with an Electronic Tuner
There are hundreds of different electronic tuners you can buy. We’re talking clip-on, handheld, smartphone, and so many more types of tuners.
Regardless of what king you choose, you can get a decent quality tuner for around $15-25.
When you get an electric tuner, make sure to calibrate it.
- Turn the tuner on.
- If it displays a series of numbers, make sure it says A 440 Hz.
- When there are different numbers, consult the instructions to change the frequency.
- If there are no numbers displayed, your tuner is most likely permanently set on A 440 Hz.
If you don’t calibrate your tuner, you will sound slightly off from everyone else who is in tune.
Here’s how to tune your guitar with an electronic tuner.
- Make sure that each string is at the approximate note name. For example, you want the low E string to show as an “E” on the tuner.
- Once the string is displaying the right note name, begin to fine-tune until the needle on your tuner in the middle or the tuner turns green.
- Once you tune all of your strings, go back and check that each string is still in tune. Learning how to tune a guitar requires double-checking.
How to Tune Tip #3
Tune up to a note instead of down from a note.
When you tune up to a note, it helps the string stay in tune longer.
How to Tune a Guitar by Ear
Learning how to tune a guitar by ear can help develop your ear and allow you to tune when you don’t have an electronic tuner.
As long as one of your strings is in tune, you can use a method of tuning by ear that has been used by thousands, if not millions, of guitarists.
Tuning a Guitar from the 5th Fret
To tune your guitar using the 5th fret, you need your low E string to be in tune. You can use another guitar, a piano, or an electronic pitch.
- Fret the 5th fret of the E string and play that note. That note is an A.
- While that note is ringing, pluck the open A string.
- These two notes should sound exactly the same.
- Adjust the open A string until it matches the pitch of the note played on the lowe E string.
Continue doing this for strings D and G.
NOTE: Fret the 4th fret of the G string to get a B note — play that pitch against the open B string.
Now that your guitar is in tune, you’re ready to play!
If you’re not sure what to play yet, make sure to check out The Ultimate Guide to Learning Guitar.
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