There aren't many more unpleasant sounds than an instrument that's out of tune. Getting in tune and staying in tune is essential to sounding like a professional. If the guitar sounds good, it will be more enjoyable to practice. The more enjoyable it is to practice, the better the player will sound. There are three basic ways to tune an acoustic or electric guitar.
Tune Using a Piano
The notes on the open strings of the guitar from low to high are E A D G B E. All these notes correspond with white keys on a piano. The piano has seven white keys and five black keys. The black keys are in a pattern of two and three around the seven white keys.
To tune, complete the following steps for each string:
- Play the note on the piano and then play the corresponding string.
- Listen for differences in the pitch. Is the pitch higher (sharp) or lower (flat) than the piano?
- Tighten or loosen the strings using the tuning peg. Tightening the strings' tuning pegs will make the pitch higher, loosening the pegs will make the pitch lower.
Low E on the piano is the white key after the two black keys two octaves below middle C. Play this note on the piano and tune the low string of the guitar until it matches.
Low A String
Low A is the white key at the top of the three black key group two octaves below middle C.
Low D String
Low D is the white key between the two black key group one octave below middle C.
G is the first white key in between the three black key group below middle C.
B is the white key right before middle C.
E is the white key after the two black key group directly above middle C.
Tune to the Sixth String
Strings five through one can be tuned from the low E string. Even if the low E string is slightly off, the guitar will be in tune with itself using this method.
Fret the fifth fret of the low E string. That's an A note. Now pick the open fifth string and fretted six string in turn and adjust the fifth string until the two notes are in harmony. That's how to tune with this method.
Fret the fifth fret of the A string. That's a D note. Tune the fourth string to the fifth fret of the fifth string as in step one.
Fret the fifth fret of the D string. That's a G note. Tune the third string to the fifth fret of the fourth string as in step one.
Fret the fourth fret of the G string. That's a B. Tune the second string to the fourth fret of the third string as in step one.
Fret the fifth fret on the B string. That's an E note. Tune the high E string.
Use a Tuner
One of the greatest inventions in the last few decades for guitar players is the electric tuner. There are many available in either "old school" hardware hand-held versions, tuners that attach to the body of the guitar, or as mobile phone apps. There are free apps that do the job quite well, so there's no excuse for guitarists ever being out of tune again. Various tuners work differently, but in general, do the following:
- Turn on the tuner or start the app.
- Strum the open string while watching the display. The tuner will tell you whether the note is sharp or flat.
- Adjust accordingly by turning the tuning pegs, as described above.
- Continue the process on each string until the tuner indicates each note is in tune.
Getting and Staying in Tune
Finding a quite place to tune the guitar is the best practice as distractions make it harder to concentrate on the task at hand. Turn off any sound effects, such as flanger, chorus, distortion, or echo before tuning the guitar. Be patient and realize tuning the guitar is a fairly easy skill to master.