Guitar is a beautiful and versatile instrument that’s a blast to play and a staple in modern music. Though it’s one of the most approachable string instruments, the guitar can still be very challenging to learn. Before you start struggling through chord progressions, it’s essential to take the time to make sure your guitar is tuned properly. With a tuner, it’s a cinch to find the right pitch and move on to practice. But if, like most, you don’t own a tuner or piano and don’t have perfect pitch, don’t worry. You can tune your guitar well without any outside help, and be on your way to rock n’ roll fame or acoustic virtuosity.
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What You’ll Need
The key ingredient here is, of course, a guitar. If you don’t have one, consider borrowing one from a friend. Practice is essential, so you’ll need a guitar if you want to learn to play. Once you have your guitar, familiarize yourself with the following:
Most standard acoustic guitars have six strings. They run from the top of the neck, or headstock, to the bridge. In the center of the guitar’s body is the soundhole– that’s where you strum.
At the headstock, each string is attached to a tuning key. By turning these keys, you can
tighten or loosen the string, which in turn changes the pitch. Tighter strings produce higher-pitched notes, looser strings lower-pitched notes.
These are the metal ridges that run across the neck of your guitar. By pressing the strings to the fret-board at different frets, you can effectively change the length of the string. This causes the guitar to produce different notes. While the frets are the ridges themselves, the fret number refers to the area between a fret and the one before it. For instance, the term second fret’ refers to the area of fret-board between the first and second metal ridges.
How to Get Started
In order to tune your guitar, you’ll first need to choose which style of tuning you’re aiming for. There are dozens of different tunings for a standard acoustic guitar. Some are used for classical music, while some lend themselves to jazz, or flamenco. For the purposes of this article, we’ll discuss standard tuning, which most guitarists learn on.
What is standard tuning?
In standard tuning, both your highest and lowest strings are an E note. There are two octaves between them. The strings, from highest to lowest, play the notes E-A-D-G-B-E. Generally, you should begin tuning from the lowest string– that is, your low E. Guitar strings are numbered from highest to lowest, so this is your sixth string. Because it’s the thickest, it will be easier to tune and give you a better pitch with which to tune the rest of your strings.
Where do I start?
Start with your sixth string, or the lowest E. First off, you’ll need to find the fifth fret. Remember, that refers to the space between the fourth and fifth metal ridge along the neck of your guitar. Press the string down to the neck at the fifth fret, and strum it. Congratulations! That’s an A on your low E string.
How do I tune the rest of my strings?
Good question. You’ve learned how to play an A on your E string. Now recall that your fifth string the next one over- is the A string. So all you have to do is match the sound of your fifth string to the A you played on your sixth. Again, hold down your sixth string at the fifth fret for an A on your E string. Hum the note to make sure you know what it sounds like. Then strum the fifth string- make sure it’s open’, meaning you aren’t touching the string anywhere other than when you strum it. Use the tuning knob for the A string to adjust the string’s tension until the note matches the A note from the E string.
Next, repeat the exact same process, just on the next set of strings. Hold down the A string at the fifth fret- this will give you a D note. Then match your D string- the fourth string- to the sound of that note. You can use this method for every string except the B string. Make sure you use the proper technique to tune the B string- if you tune it wrong, then the E string will be wrong, too.
Tuning the B String
The B string can be tuned by holding down its neighbor, the G string, at the fourth fret. Make sure to note this difference! Playing the G string at the fifth fret will give you the wrong note for your B string, and, subsequently, your E string.
Does it Really Work?
You’re probably wondering, what if my sixth string was tuned wrong in the first place? Won’t that mess up all the others? Technically, yes. However, as long as each string on your guitar is tuned at the right interval from the next, it will sound fine. If you have a good ear, it might even be perfect. If you don’t, you won’t notice the difference unless you bring it out around other instruments.
Tips and Tricks
- Train your Ear: Even if you don’t know off the top of your head what a low E should sound like, you can train your ear by listening to the notes. As often as possible, play the notes of your guitar strings on a piano, from a tuner, or even on a phone or computer. The more you hear these notes, the more you’ll recognize them as you tune. It’s also very valuable to hum as you tune. Humming gives you a sense of the vibration in your throat each note produces, so you’ll have muscle memory as well as an auditory recall to rely on.
- Ask A Friend: A good sense of pitch is more common than you might think. If you don’t have a tuner, consult as many friends as you can while you tune. If everyone tells you you’re sharp, you probably are.
- Use a Favorite Song: Learn the chords and the words of a favorite song. That way, if you play and sing it normally and it sounds off, you’ll know your guitar is tuned wrong.
Learning guitar is a challenge, but turning it right doesn’t have to be. While the only surefire way to tune your instrument perfectly is to use a tuner, it’s completely possible to make your guitar sound decent without one. Best of all, you’ll learn a lot about chords, notes, and strings in the process. Now get tuning and happy strumming!