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Lesson #4: Tuning the Guitar

by Tyler de Witt posted on 1999-10-17
Topic: For Beginners Subtopic: General
Level: Beginner Number of Readers: 73550

Tuning the Guitar

Tuning your guitar is something that you should do as soon as you pick it up. Even if the guitar isn't severely out of tune, it's good practice to tune it anyway.

There's a number of different ways of going about this. If you have an electronic tuner, your ear won't be involved. If you have a piano, harmonica or a pitch pipe and have an idea of where some of the notes are, you can tune your guitar by matching the pitch of each string to the pitch of the other instrument. Or, you can tune your guitar strings in relation to one of the strings on your guitar. I'll describe the first two briefly, then give you a method of how to tune in relation to one of the strings on the guitar. I choose to emphasize this last method because you need no tools, all you need is your guitar and your ear.

Tuning your guitar with an electronic tuner is pretty straight forward. Set the dial or the button on the electronic tuner to the string that you wish to tune. Then hold the guitar close to the tuner(or if you have an electric guitar, plug it in), and sound the string you are tuning. There should be a light or some kind of indication that tells you whether the pitch is too high or too low. Then you can turn the tuning peg associated with that string until the tuner says that you are close or exactly on pitch. After that, you just continue this process with the rest of the string.

If you are using a piano or some other instrument, you're going to have to know the note names of the strings of the guitar. Here they are:

(string 1 is the thinnest string, nearest to the ground)
string 1	E
string 2	B
string 3 	G
string 4	D
string 5	A
string 6	E

There's a little mnemonic I use to remember these.

E very
B ad
G irl
D eserves
A n
E gg

Don't ask.

Anyway, getting back to tuning. If you can sound these notes on a separate instrument, and you have a good ear, you can match the two pitches by turning the pegs associated with each string. Remember, if in doubt, don't reef on the pegs and tune to high, because you'll break the strings! There's only one problem with this method of using a different instrument: if the instrument is out of tune, you're guitar will be out of tune also.

The third and most reliable way of tuning your guitar is by tuning each string to the one below it. You might wonder how you can do this, but once you find out, you'll see that it's actually pretty simple.

First, we'll have to assume that string number 6 is in tune. There's no way of knowing if the string is in perfect tune if we can't compare it to something else, but you'll find out in the end that this doesn't really matter, unless you're playing with other guitarists.

Anyway, put your finger on the 6th string, fifth fret like this:


Sound this note. Can you guess what note it is? This is the note that the open 5th string should sound like. That's right, those two strings should sound exactly the same. So if you have a good ear, you can keep sounding the 6th string while your finger is still pressing on the fifth fret, and then you can match the pitch of the open 5th string by turning the peg associated with that string. Remember, the tighter the string, the higher the pitch.

Once these are matched, you can move on to tuning the fourth string. To do this, press down on the 5th fret of the _5th_ string, and then sound that string and the open 4th string. Again, turn the peg associated with the 4th string until the two pitches match.

You can do the same thing with the 4th and 3rd strings, placing you finger on the 5th fret of the 4th string.

When you get to the 3rd and second strings, things change. You have to put your finger on the _4th_ fret of the 3rd string and then match the pitch with the open 2nd string. This is the only time that you'll use the 4th fret.

To tune the 2nd and the 1st strings, use the 5th fret of the 2nd string. Sound it and then match the pitch of the 1st string to it.

When you're done this, you're guitar should be in tune. But I bet you it's not. Don't be worried, it's not your fault. I don't think anyone's done this perfectly the first time. You're going to have to keep practicing this, especially if you don't have a good ear. Don't worry though, you will get better.

If, however, you're getting very frustrated, and your guitar always sounds awful while you're playing because it's out of tune, see if you can find someone who will tune it for you. If it comes down to it, go to a music store and explain your problem to them and ask them if one of them would tune it for you. They'll probably end up trying to sell you an electronic one, but hey, it's worth a shot.

Mark my words, you will improve. You can develop an ear, and you can get better at tuning.

Things to remember from this lesson:

1. There are a number of ways to tune your instrument, including using an electronic tuner, another instrument, or tuning in relation to the bottom string.
2. The string names from highest to lowest are:

E very
B ad
G irl
D eserves
A n
E gg

3. You raise or lower the pitch by turning the pegs associated with each string. The tighter the string, the higher the pitch.
4. Go over the steps for tuning your guitar in relation to the bottom string. Remember that when tuning the 3rd and 2nd strings, you use the 4th fret of the 3rd string. For all the other ones, you'll use the 5th fret.
5. Tune your guitar every time you pick it up, you'll get better at it.

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