In this guide, we’ll discuss the essential skill of tuning a guitar by ear and provide insights on guitar tuning techniques. Mastering this skill is crucial for musicians, as there might not always be a tuner readily available. This article is perfect for beginner guitarists looking to learn how to tune a guitar by ear without the need for a tuner.
We’ll delve into the step-by-step process of using your hearing to accurately tune your guitar and explore various methods for achieving this goal.
Why is guitar tuning so important?
Ensuring your guitar is in tune is essential for producing the correct sound. When your guitar is out of tune, it can lead to an unpleasant playing experience, which is particularly embarrassing during solo performances or when playing in a band. To achieve the proper pitch, it’s crucial to first tune the guitar in relation to itself and then with other instruments. In short, an out-of-tune guitar is virtually unplayable.
Tuning a guitar by ear is often neglected by beginners, but it’s vital to develop this skill early on in your guitar learning journey. Doing so will not only help you familiarize yourself with your instrument but also train your ear to recognize pitch. To create beautiful music, musicians need both talent and an impeccable ear for tuning.
Beginners guide on how to tune your guitar by ear
Before embarking on the journey of tuning your guitar by ear, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the instrument.
See how the tuning pegs are positioned
- On the electric guitar, they are all on one side of the headstock.
- If your guitar is acoustic, there will be three pegs on each side.
Understand the effects of turning the tuning pegs
Rotating the tuning pegs has a direct impact on the string tension and pitch.
- If you turn the peg clockwise, the string will tighten, and the pitch will increase.
- If you turn the peg counterclockwise, the string will loosen, and the pitch will decrease.
Identify the strings
- Strings go from the thickest to the thinnest.
- The thickest string is called the sixth string and is your low E string.
- Next is the A string, or fifth string.
- So until you get to the high E string, which is your first string.
- The pitch order is from the 6th string to the 1st string – EADGBE.
- We always start with the low E, that is, in reverse order, to the high E.
Now that you understand the string order and headstock functionality, it’s time to select a method for tuning your guitar by ear.
Tune your guitar using the “Fifth Fret” Technique
The “Fifth Fret” Technique is a standard method for tuning a guitar by ear and is relatively simple to learn. Essentially, you tune the guitar to itself by comparing the note of one string to the adjacent string.
For instance, when you press down the fifth fret on the low E string, it produces the A note, which is the same as the following string. The only exception is the G-B strings, which use the fourth fret.
Tune the Sixth String: Low E
Listen to a reference E-note from a recording or a pitch pipe. With practice, your ear will recognize the correct tones without assistance. Play the reference note and the sixth string of your guitar. If they sound the same, your string is in tune; if not, adjust accordingly.
Tune the Fifth String: A
After tuning the low E string, use it to tune the other strings. Place your finger on the fifth fret and play the low E and A strings individually. Adjust the A string’s tuning peg until the notes sound the same.
Tune the Fourth String: D
Pressing the fifth fret on the tuned A string produces the same note as the open D string. Play both strings and listen for similarities. If needed, adjust the D string’s tuning peg until the notes match.
Tune the Third String: G
Tuning the third string (G) can be slightly more challenging due to the change in string type on both electric and acoustic guitars. This transition affects the note’s tone. To tune the G string, press down the fifth fret of the fourth string (D) and play both strings simultaneously. Carefully adjust the tuning pegs until the two notes sound the same.
Tune the Second String: B
To tune the B string, place your finger on the fourth fret of the third string (G). Adjust the tuning peg on the second string (B) until the two notes sound identical.
Tune the First String: High E
For the last string, the tuning method is the same as the others. Place your finger on the fifth fret of the second string (B) and play both notes. If necessary, adjust the tuning peg until the two tones match.
Tune your guitar using Harmonics
The harmonics tuning method is similar to the “Fifth Fret” Technique, as the strings are tuned relative to each other.
Tuning with harmonics can be faster because you use one hand to adjust the tuning pegs while the other hand works the strings.
Start by tuning one string to an external source, such as a tuning fork, pitch pipe, another instrument, or a reference tone from a computer or smartphone. Then, follow these steps:
- Play the 5th fret harmonic on the sixth string (low E string), then play the 7th fret harmonic on the fifth string (A string) and listen for a difference between the two. Tune the fifth string until the sound matches the sixth.
- Repeat the same process for the fifth and fourth strings, and the fourth and third strings.
- To tune the second string (B string), play the harmonic on the seventh fret of the sixth string (low E string). This pitch is the same as that of the open B string. Tune until the two notes are even.
- To tune the first string (high E string), play the harmonic on the seventh fret of the fifth string (A string). Turn the tuning peg on the first string until you get a match between the two notes.
Tune your guitar using another instrument
This method is similar to the “Fifth Fret” Technique – play a note on the instrument that corresponds to a specific string on the guitar. Listen carefully and adjust the tuning peg until the tones are entirely equal. We have prepared a great guide on How to tune your guitar with a piano, make sure to check it out.
Tune your guitar using your favorite song
If you enjoy a song that includes all the chords, you can use it to tune your guitar.
Combine the key of this song with the “Fifth Fret” Technique for even easier and more efficient tuning.
Tune your guitar using a tuning Fork
A standard tuning fork typically vibrates at 440 hertz/second, resembling the A note.
To tune your guitar to this pitch, play the harmonic at the 7th fret of the 4th string (D string) and compare the pitch to the tuning fork. Adjust the tuning peg until they are even.
Tuning forks are also available for other note frequencies.
How to check that your guitar is in tune
It’s essential to check that you’ve tuned the guitar correctly by ear.
- Using a piano – An excellent way to train your ear. Compare each note on your guitar to the corresponding note on the piano.
- Using a tuner – The easiest method, which may tempt you to use it directly instead of tuning the guitar by ear. Resist the temptation and focus on training your hearing. Use the tuner only to verify your tuning. Different types of guitar tuners are available depending on your guitar and preferences.
As mentioned earlier, there are various ways to tune a guitar, and the choice is entirely yours. We advise experimenting and not relying solely on electronic tuners, allowing you to become familiar with your instrument and develop different skills to showcase your talent.
Why does my guitar go out of tune?
Several reasons can cause a guitar to lose its tuning. The most common include:
- Old or poor-quality guitar strings
- Misplaced strings
- The strings are too loose or too tight
- Your playing style
- Worn-out tuning peg
- Excessive humidity and high temperature