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How to Tune a Guitar by Ear

So you’re ready to hit the woodshed with your new guitar, but you don’t have a tuner. No worries, because today we’re going to learn how to tune a guitar by ear!

Finding a Reference Pitch

The first thing you need to do when tuning by ear is find a reference pitch, because the other strings are only in tune in relation to this starting point.

For example, if your reference pitch is two whole steps below concert pitch, your guitar will be in tune in relation to itself, but not necessarily to other recordings or friends at jam sessions. But that’s OK, because you can also use these techniques to tune to a recording or with a friend’s instrument as well.

If you cannot hear the pitch internally, then choose a song in the key of the string that you want to start with (“E” is a good starting point). Alternately, ask a friend to play his or her 6th string “E” and match that pitch before moving on.

Using Fretted Notes

Once you’ve got a starting pitch, you’re ready to use fretted notes to tune the remaining strings. Here’s how it works:

Fret the 6th string at the 5th fret. Tune the open 5th string “A” so that it matches this pitch. Repeat this process with the 5th and 4th strings, matching the open 4th and 3rd strings to those pitches, respectively.

When you’re ready to fret the 3rd string “G,” do so at the 4th fret. This string is the only exception to the rule. Match the open 2nd string “B” to this pitch. To finish, repeat the original pattern, fretting the 2nd string at the 5th fret, and matching the open 1st string to this pitch.

Tips for Getting Strings in Tune

Make sure to always begin below the target pitch when tuning each string. For example, if you turn the tuning peg too far, making the string go sharp, you’ll want to loosen the string below the target pitch before trying in a second time.

As an analogy, think of the process as like tying your shoelaces. If you want them to stay tied, you always make sure to pull the laces tight rather than loosening them.

Check Your Work

The last bit of the process is to make sure that your guitar strings are, in fact, in tune in relation to one another. You can check this by playing a few simple chords. If you’d like to learn some easy beginner guitar chords, please check out this blog that will get you started.

With that, you’ll know how to tune a guitar regardless of whether or not you have a tuner. You can always trust your ear!

ArtistWorks offers guitar instruction in several genres from world-renowned instructors. Explore all of our guitar offerings here.

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