How To Tune Your Guitar
Welcome to lesson six of the Beginner Guitar Quick-Start Series. In this lesson we’re going to learn all about how to tune the guitar. This is going to be a pretty long lesson. We’re going to break this lesson into three main parts: tuning theory and tips, tuning the guitar with an electronic tuner, and tuning the guitar by ear.
Let’s go over some things you’ll need to know in order to tune the guitar. You’ve already learned the names of the open strings of the guitar, E A D G B E. Now you need to learn the natural musical alphabet. This is simple, but important. The natural musical alphabet is just the first seven letters of the regular alphabet, A B C D E F and G.
The next topic we need to go over is the concept of a note being sharp or flat. If you see a natural note with a little sign that looks like a lower case “b” next to it that little sign is a flat sign. In the context of tuning, when we say a note is flat, that means that the note too low and needs to come up. A sharp sign looks like a tic-tac-toe sign. As far as tuning goes, when we talk about a note being sharp, that means that the note is a little bit too high and it needs to come down.
An electronic tuner has a couple of ways of telling you if a note is sharp or flat. Those two ways, generally, are lights or needles. If the lights on your electronic tuner are off to the left, that means your note is a little flat and it needs to come up. If they are off to the right that’s telling you that your note is little bit sharp and it needs to come down. You could also have a needle that basically does the same thing. If the needle is off to the left your note is a little bit flat. If it’s off to the right, the note is a bit sharp and it needs to come down. Learning how to tune the guitar can be tricky at first. Like anything else on the guitar it takes practice to get good at, but if you do practice it you will get better.
There are a ton of options for tuners nowadays. Clip on tuners, pedal tuners, mobile applications, and handheld tuners are just some of your options. You can get a good clip on or handheld tuner starting at about twenty bucks. One thing I want to mention to you before we get in to actually tuning the guitar is that if you have a calibration setting on your tuner, you want to make sure it’s set to A440. If it’s a little bit off, you’re going to sound out of tune from everybody else that you are playing with. Just make sure that it is set to A 440.
We’re going to break down using an electronic tuner into a two step process. The first step is to get each string to it’s proper note name. So, if you’re tuning this low E string you have to get it to an E note first. The second step is to fine tune that E to where it’s right on the money.
Tuning the guitar by ear can be pretty intimidating if you don’t have a musical background, but I’m going to give you some tips that are going to allow you to tune the guitar anywhere, even if you don’t have an electronic tuner available. If one of your strings on your guitar is close to being in tune, you can tune the guitar to itself. So, let’s just say your low E string was close to being in tune. I’m going to teach you something called the fifth fret method that you can use to tune the rest of the guitar to that low E string.
Go to the fifth fret of the low E string. That note is an A note. If you remember, the open fifth string should be an A note too. So, that note on the fifth fret should should the exact same as the open fifth string. The idea is to match this open A string to the sound of the fifth fret of the low E string. This takes practice.
Now we need to tune the D string. Go to the fifth fret of the A string. That note is a D note. The fifth fret of the A string, this D note, should be the same as the open D string. Try to match those two notes by adjusting the tuning key for the D string.
Let’s move on to tuning the G string. Play the fifth fret of the D string. That’s a G note, so it should be the same as this open G string. Listen to both notes and try to determine if the open G string needs to come up or down. Adjust the tuning key for the G string until it matches the fifth fret of the D string.
Tuning the B string is where the fifth fret method kind of falls apart a little bit. To tune the B string we have to go to the fourth fret, not the fifth fret, of the G string because that note is a B note. So we need to match that note on the fourth fret of the G to the open B string. Again this takes practice, but the more you do it the better your ear will get at telling what needs to come up or down.
Now we need to tune the high E string, and to do that our fifth fret method gets back on track. Go to the fifth fret of the B string. That note is an E, so those two notes should sound the same.
Once you get the guitar in tune by ear, you should go through and do the whole thing again to fine tune it and make sure everything is where it should be. Tuning the guitar by ear can be difficult at first, but cut yourself some slack. It takes practice just like anything else on the guitar. Practice it on a regular basis and you’ll get better at it.
In the next lesson we are going to start learning how to strum the guitar. If you have any questions on tuning you can leave them here.