Are you new to the guitar? If so, you’ve probably already run into a problem that can easily stop a new player in their tracks; tuning! Tuning is one of the most important skills for a musician to have, especially stringed instruments. String instruments are played by plucking or giving energy into a string to produce a sound. The pitch (high or low) quality of a note is usually altered by pressing fingers down on the string so as to increase the tension and raise the pitch.
The tension between the top nut and the bridge is what keeps the guitar’s open strings in tune once they are tightened to the right place. But finding that right place can be tricky. For the new guitar player, check out these six tips for tuning your instrument.
1. Access a Tuning App
The first thing to do is get a hold of a guitar tuner. These days, there are tons of amazing free guitar tuning apps that also include things like metronomes for keeping time, and short lessons for ideas on what to practice. Once you have your tuner, you’re ready to start getting your instrument in tune and ready to learn your favorite songs! But first, let’s talk about the actual strings on a guitar.
2. Understand The Strings on The Guitar
Each string on a guitar is tuned to a particular pitch or note. From low to high, the string names are as follows: E, A, D, G, B, and E again. You will notice that the bottom and top string both share the same note, but one is much thinner and will end up being two octaves higher than the low E string. For those that don’t know, an octave refers to the repetition of a pitch in a higher register. This occurs every eight notes in a musical scale.
3. Play and Tune Each One Individually
Now that we know what the string names are, it’s time to start tuning! Start by plucking the low E string close to your tuner (or phone if you are using an app). There will usually be a visual indicator telling you whether you are on the correct note or if you are a little high or a little low. This is often indicated by a green center and red arrows on either side of the green center. To the left means too low, and to the right means too high. Keep in mind that each tuner may have slightly different haptic responses to a note being played.
4. Check Your Tuning by Playing a Chord
Once your guitar is roughly in tune, it’s time to check how close we got to being correct. Test this by playing any chord you know and listen for any funky notes or clashing sounds. If it sounds consonant, you’re in the clear! If you notice any clashing notes, you may need to go back and check your strings once again.
5. Watch Out for The G and B String
In general, the G and B string can tend to slip out of tune the most and be the hardest to get in tune. There are a few reasons for this, but one of the big ones is that these two thirds are a musical third apart from one another while the rest of the strings are a fourth apart.
The terms ‘third’ and ‘fourth’ refer to the intervallic relationship between two notes. If two notes are a third apart, that means they are three notes from one another. A fourth would be the same thing, but four notes apart.
As with anything in life and especially in music, practice makes perfect! The more you make an effort to tune your own instrument, the better you will get at doing it and the better you’ll at recognizing when the guitar is out of tune in subtle ways. The more you tune, the more sensitive your ear becomes resulting in faster tuning and more accuracy in your playing. Don’t be discouraged if you have trouble the first few times, tuning is a difficult skill to cultivate!
For beginners, tuning each string using a tuner is the best way to go. Once a musician becomes a little more advanced, it’s best to tune your instrument by ear in addition to using a tuner to double check your work.
Tuning by ear is a skill that takes even longer to cultivate, and will become naturally easier as you practice using a tuner to find the correct spot for each of your strings. Playing an instrument is one of the most rewarding things you can do, but you need to be able to tune to sink all the way in and start learning songs you love, or even writing your own!