Guitar lessons for beginnersHow To Tune Your Guitar – Ear Training

How To Tune Your Guitar – Ear Training
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Playing an out-of-tune guitar is no fun for anybody.  The player or the listener.  Making sure you know how to tune properly, and by ear, will help be sure you’re always on top of your game.  Here’s some easy tuning tips.

First off, yes you can use a tuner.  However, I’ve generally found that tuners aren’t as accurate as your ear will be after a little practice.  So use your tuner to get in the ballpark.  But then fine tune your instrument by ear to make sure it’s correct.

Let’s go through one of the most basic ways of tuning.  Then I’ll show you a couple other ways to get the job done as well.

Tune the guitar starting with the top string rather than the bottom.  It seems to stay more stable that way.  You’ll need to get that first E from a source of some sort… a tuner, a piano, another guitar, etc.  Once you’ve got that, then you can tune the rest of the guitar to itself.

A note on what you’re actually listening for.  You might think that you’re going to listen to whether your string is higher or lower in pitch than your reference note.  That’s actually the hard way of doing it.  You see, it takes practice to be able to hear smaller and smaller differences between the notes.  As a beginning guitarist, you’ll get to a point where you can’t tell the difference between the two notes like someone with more experienced ears can.  You’ll get there.  It just takes a bit of listening experience.  

So, what should you actually listen for?  The waver.  If two notes are almost the same, but not quite, there will be a waver in the sound.  Some bumpiness.  

To hear what I’m talking about, try this.  Play the note at the 5th fret of your 2nd string.  While it’s still ringing, play your open first string.  These notes are both E.  If they’re not quite in tune with each other, you should hear those wavers happening.  Almost like a subtle “wah wah wah” sound.  If you don’t hear it, try detuning the 2nd string just a tiny bit and it should happen.

That waver is what you’re trying to get rid of when you tune the guitar.  As the notes get closer together, you’ll hear the waver slow down, then smooth out altogether.  That’s how you know the notes are in tune.

Now to the system.  As I mentioned, get your top string E note from a source (ie. tuner).  To tune the 2nd string you’ll compare the 5th fret of the 2nd string to the open top string.  Those are both E and should sound the same.  If you hear a waver, adjust the 2nd string until it goes away.  Listen for the speed of the waver.  It should slow down and then smooth out.  If it’s getting faster you’ve probably overshot the target note and need to come back at it.

We’ll use this 5th fret technique all the way through.  With one exception on this next string.  Play the 4th fret on the 3rd string and compare that to the open 2nd string.  Those are both B and should sound the same.  

The rest of the system works similarly using these notes:
4th string – 5th fret – compare to open 3rd string
5th string – 5th fret – compare to open 4th string
6th string – 5th fret – compare to open 5th string

At this point your guitar should be in tune.  Unless you’ve made a little bit of an error along the way.  Which is very common.  To check your work, play the low E string against the high E string.  They’re two octaves apart, but should sound the same.  Again, listen for that waver.

If they’re not the same, then adjust the bottom to sound in tune with the top.  Then reverse the previous process, working up from the bottom string.  Along the way you’ll discover where your mistake was.

Another way to tune is by using natural harmonics.  Try this.  Go to the 12th fret of any string.  Place your finger right above the fret (not behind it like normal).  Just touch the string without pressing it down.  Not the pluck the string and you should get a nice bell-like tone.  That’s called a natural harmonic.

Play a harmonic on the 5th fret of your 6th string.  Now play one on the 7th fret of the 5th string.  Those yield the same note and should be in tune.  If not, listen for that waver and adjust them.  That 5th fret/7th fret technique works on all the strings except the 2nd and 3rd because they’re tuned to a different interval.

This harmonic technique can often be more accurate than the previous way I showed you.  I use both to make sure I’m solidly in tune.  

Playing a well-tuned guitar is more fun because it sounds and feels better.  Plus your ear training will come together much faster if you’re not listening to wrong notes.  So tune up and jam!

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