How to Tune Your Guitar and Why It’s Important
Whether you’ve just started learning guitar online or your rockstar uncle is trying to teach you the art of the shred, you simply must be able to tune your guitar.
Playing a guitar that’s in tune ensures that your musical ear is developing correctly. While it all might sound the same to you during your first few lessons, your brain will begin to recognize notes and chords as your skills improve. If your guitar is out of tune, you’ll be slower to develop your musical ear.
Our quick guide will teach you how to tune a guitar step-by-step. But first, we’ll explore some background information you’ll need for a successful tuning session.
Things to Know Before Tuning
Before you pick up your tuner and start cranking wildly on your tuning keys, you’ll need a few tips for success. You’ll be tempted to jump right in and start questioning your tuner, but practice and patience are critical to both guitar tuning and guitar playing.
Guitar Notes and Tricks to Remember Them
The most important thing to know when getting ready to tune a guitar is what notes you should be tuning your strings to. Luckily, electric and acoustic guitars use the same standard tuning and there are easy tricks to remembering this.
When tuning a guitar, you’ll want to tune to E-A-D-G-B-E using the following guide:
- 6 – E (Thickest String)
- 5 – A
- 4 – D
- 3 – G
- 2 – B
- 1 – E (Thinnest String)
Once you remember to start from the thickest string and work your way to the thinnest string, you can use these handy phrases to remember the order of the notes:
- Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie
- Every Amateur Does Get Better Eventually
- Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears
- Every Apple Does Go Bad Eventually
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Even if your D string is reading as a B the first time you pluck it, resist the urge to make big, dramatic cranks on your tuning keys.
Remember that you’re stretching a piece of steel (or nylon) across a three- to four-foot, thin wood puzzle held together with glue. When you’re tuning, take it slow! Over-tightening your strings when you’re trying to tune each string up by multiple steps can damage your guitar’s neck and potentially snap your strings.
It’s Going to Take Time to Learn to Tune by Ear
If you’re new to guitar-playing, you likely don’t know how to tune by ear, and you won’t for a while.
Most people who come to guitar with zero or limited music knowledge take years to develop an accurate ear. Since tuning is an exact science, you don’t want to rely on a half-baked skill: Use a tuner.
If your ego is telling you, “I don’t need a tuner,” and you consistently play an out-of-tune guitar, you’re only solidifying your untrained ear with more incorrect sounds. Especially when you’re first learning, don’t rely on your ear.
If You’re Tuning More than You’re Playing, It’s Time for New Strings
If your guitar needs to be tuned before or during daily practice, your strings need to be replaced.
Metal and nylon strings require precise tension to be able to emit sound, and constant re-tightening of strings makes them lose both their tension and their stamina over time.
The wide variety of brands, prices, and quality levels makes it hard to generalize a perfect timeline for string replacement. But, if you’re tuning more than you’re playing, it’s probably time to replace them.
Pro Tip: You can’t just replace one string. You have to replace the entire set, or else you’ll end up with one string that has a brighter sound than the rest, which will distort both picking and strumming.
How to Tune a Guitar Step-by-Step
Armed with some helpful background information, you’re ready to tune your guitar!
1. Grab Your Tuner and Check the Batteries
Grab your tuner, turn it on, and check the batteries.
A helpful tool to use to check your tuner is a digital keyboard (which is always in tune) or a piano app on your phone. Even if you have an analog piano at home, those can also go out of tune, so stick to a digital test.
Play a key on the keyboard, and if the tuner identifies it correctly, your tuner is in good working order with plenty of juice. If your tuner is slow to recognize the note or identify it correctly, it’s time to replace the batteries.
2. Start from the Lowest String and Move to the Highest String
Start with the lowest (thickest) string on your guitar first, likely an E string. Due to the first string’s thickness, cranks on the tuning keys will produce slower results, so remember to be patient and make gradual adjustments.
You don’t have to reach perfect for every string on your first go-around; you just want to get close. Once your strings are acclimated to their new tension level, it’ll be easier to hone in on the perfect note during the next step.
3. Do a Once-Over of All Strings
Head back to your E-string. It should be pretty close to being in tune, but pluck it again and slowly adjust your tuning key until it’s reading precisely on your tuner.
Do this for all of the strings, ensuring that they’re all reading as precisely as possible on your tuner. Your two highest strings (likely the B and E strings) are going to seem a little temperamental when you’re first learning to tune. They tend to come out of tune the quickest.
While the thickness of the first E string sometimes requires larger cranks of the tuning keys, you’ll find that the opposite is true for the thinner, higher strings. Sometimes the lightest turn of the keys will take a string in or out of key, so be patient and gentle as you refine all of your strings.
4. Strum a Few Chords
Once you’re done tuning, strum a few chords or play a very familiar riff to test the sound. Do a few scales, and listen for any apparent inconsistencies or dissonant sounds.
While it’ll take time to develop a precise musical ear, you can likely already tell when something just doesn’t sound right. But, if you’re just not sure, play a youtube video of the chord you’re strumming to compare the sounds.
Usually, tuning will go off without a hitch!
5. Practice, Practice, Practice!
Tuning may seem like a big to-do when you first start playing guitar, but once you know how to tune a guitar step-by-step, you should practice enough that you could tune your guitar in your sleep.
Practice will speed up the tuning process as your skills improve, and it will help refine your musical ear. After a few practice sessions, you’ll be tuning like a pro!
Guitar Tuning: A Must-Have Skill for New Guitarists
Even veteran guitar players have to tune their axes. It’s a vital skill, and though it may seem like a chore at the beginning, tuning your own instrument will improve your musical ear and attune you to the needs of your instrument.
Once you’re comfortable with the tuning process and you know what an in-tune guitar is supposed to sound and feel like, you’ll be more able to diagnose issues with your instrument more quickly. Guitar tuning doesn’t just whip your sound into shape, but it also helps you keep a close eye on your instrument.
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