Tuning a guitar is a fine art. It’s one of those things that you have to learn because you don’t want play on an out-of-tune instrument. But is it really that fun?
The most frustrating thing about tuning guitars for beginners is that you often can’t hear if your guitar is out of tune yet. Your ears, as well as your fingers, need training.
I remember playing guitar for a few months and auditioning for an open mic at school. To my knowledge, to my ears, my guitar sounded really good. But after I was done, the only thing my teacher could say was: “Your guitar is out of tune.” He took it from my hands and tuned it within seconds, just by ear. I was blown away that he was able to do that.
Years later, I am now able to do this myself. But this didn’t happen overnight.
I hope this lesson will be of help to you. So how to tune an acoustic guitar for beginners?
How To Tune An Acoustic Guitar For Beginners?
We’ll cover the following four points in this lesson:
- Names of the open strings
- Fifth fret – Open strings relationship
- Guitar tuner
After those four topics, you should be well on your way to tune your guitar yourself.
What does “tuning a guitar” mean? We’re making a guitar sound good, but that’s a subjective term. What does “tuning” mean objectively?
Every sound we hear has a frequency. A whistling bird, a crying kid, a loud truck, etc… We usually refer to these frequencies as “pitch”.
I won’t get into the math behind these frequencies. That’s not the point of this lesson. I just want you to know that when we’re tuning a guitar, we’re trying to set up the guitar in such a way that every note aligns with the right frequency in relation with each other.
When a guitar is “out of tune”, the frequencies do not correspond with each other.
Names of the open strings
We set up our guitar by tuning the open strings. By fine-tuning the open strings, all the other notes should be in tune as well. If this isn’t the case, your strings might be too old, or the neck of your guitar might be a little bent.
The names of the open strings are E, B, G, D, A, and E. This is what they look like:
An easy way to remember the names of the strings is by making a mnemonic.
Every Boy Gets Dinner At Eight.
These are the strings that we will tune. The next step could be to take a guitar tuner. But I want to show you how to do it without a tuner first.
Fifth fret – Open strings relationship
I talked about this phenomenon in another lesson: How To Memorize Notes On a Guitar.
If you take an open string, descend one string and go up five frets, you’ll find the same note.
The intention is to get these two notes perfectly in pitch with each other. You do this by turning the corresponding tuners on the headstock. They need to sound exactly the same in pitch. When we succeed in doing this, the two strings will be in tune with each other.
This is what the A should sound like:
We now do the same with the D string. We descend one string and go up five frets.
Again, we’ll try to get these two notes as close to each other in pitch as possible. This is what a D sounds like:
If you’ve successfully done this, we now have three strings in tune with each other. Let’s move on to the next string.
Same concept. We descend one string and go up five frets.
This is what G sounds like:
We’ve now tuned four strings. The B string is next.
B is a bit different. We still descend one string, but this time we’ll go up four frets instead of five frets.
This is what B sounds like:
We’ve now tuned five strings. One more to go!
With E, it’s back to normal. We descend one string and go up five frets.
This is what E sounds like:
We’ve now tuned all our strings. Congratulations!
A guitar tuner is a device that measures the music you play and gives you advice whether to tune your string higher or lower to get it to the appropriate frequency.
Guitar tuners come in all sorts, shapes, and sizes. You have tuners with input jacks, tuners with sensors and tuners with built-in microphones. Some of them run on batteries whilst others need to be plugged in. There are many variations, but in the end, they all come down to the same. You let the guitar tuner do the “listening” for you.
This doesn’t require a lot of effort and can be very useful in situations where your guitar needs to be
tuned on the spot. During live shows, when you don’t have a lot of time, this can be a lifesaver. Nobody wants to hear the guitarist tune his guitar in between songs. Especially if he’s not good at it.
Another reason why guitar tuners are really useful is that they have something called “perfect pitch”. All music, in general, is tuned to a standard set of frequencies. It’s possible for a guitar to be in tune with itself, but to be out of tune with this standard set of frequencies. In this case, the guitar would sound good on its own, but it would not sound good played together with a piano, or with music on the radio.
A guitar tuner will come in handy to be in tune with the rest of the world.
Luckily it’s 2019, and guitar tuners can be found all over the internet for free. If you’re just beginning out, I recommend downloading a simple guitar app on your phone. GuitarTuna, for instance, is a great, free app that I’ve been using for years. It’s got a precise tuner and features like a metronome, chord diagrams, and games that will help you improve your hearing and musical skills.
Tuners vs. Ears
As useful as guitar tuners are, don’t rely on them too much. It’s very important for guitarists to train your musical hearing.
If you’re alone and have time to tune by ear, try to do that first. Identify which string is out of tune. Don’t turn any of the tuners yet. Just try to identify which string is out of tune by playing the fifth frets and open strings. Then slowly try to get the concerning string back in tune.
If afterward, you feel like your strings are still out of tune, then use a tuner.
Hopefully, you’ll now be able to practice on a well-tuned guitar. Keep in mind that tuning by ear can take a long time to develop. It’s normal that you can’t do it as fast and precise as somebody who’s done it for years.
I hope this lesson was of use to you. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.