How to Tune a Guitar for the Beginning Player
If you’re going to learn to play the guitar you’re going to have to learn how to tune your guitar as well, and from the very beginning. To do that you need to first try to understand guitar tuning and how it differs from other instruments. It’s not like a piano which requires a rather complex procedure to tune and needs a professional to come in about once a year to manage it. Nor is it like a wind instrument which is incredibly simple to tune by slightly pushing something in or pulling something out. The guitar falls between those two extremes and poses something of a challenge to the beginner who is more interested in playing some chords and sounding groovy than figuring out how to tune the strings.
Why Do You Need To Tune Your Guitar
If you pick up a trumpet and play it alone being out of tune won’t really matter all that much. That's because you don’t tune each valve but the whole instrument; so even if you’re out of tune all of the notes will be in tune relative to each other and melodies will play correctly. It’s only when you play it in an ensemble with other instruments that it needs to be in tune so that it can blend with the other instruments. A guitar on the other hand is different because it has to tune each string separately. This means that even if you’re playing alone, different strings being out of tune will make them out of tune relative to each other, rendering your performance of Mary Had A Little Lamb unrecognizable, or at least painful to hear. So, you’ve gotta tune it!
How Often Do You Need to Tune Your Guitar
Every time you play it. Why so much? Thinking again of a trumpet, it's tuned by moving a brass cylinder back and forth. That sort of setting doesn’t move very easily and can often be left alone for days on end. A guitar on the other hand requires regular tuning because of the sensitivity of the strings. The slightest changes in air, temperature, and humidity affect them. The slightest bumps on the guitar can also upset their delicate positioning. Even if a guitar were kept in a vacuum the temperamental nature of the strings would see them settle or drift in some way and again require tuning. So, you’ve gotta tune it!
How Long Does it Take to Tune a Guitar
A seasoned player can do it in less than 30 seconds. A newbie however will take considerably longer but don't worry, you'll get quicker in no time. Also understand that there are many ways to tune a guitar depending on the type of guitar playing and the nature of the music. As a beginner however you don’t need to worry about any of that. You will be using standard tuning as discussed in this article.
First of all, make sure you know the names of each of the 6 strings (E A D G B E). To avoid confusion we’ll refer to each as a numbered string, the 6th string being the low E and the 1st string being the high E. You begin by finding a reference pitch for E, that is a true pitch to begin with and base everything on. This could be any other instrument or a pitching device (tuning fork, pitch pipe, electronic tuner on an iPhone, etc.) that can give you an accurate pitch. You can still tune your guitar without such a pitch guide but only if you’re playing alone. So you start with your 6th string, the low E, matching the pitch you’ve found for E (or imagined if you are playing alone and have no pitch source). Listen to the pitch for E , and then strum the 6th string, and then match your 6th string to the pitch. For most people it’s easier to start with your string a bit lower than the pitch you’re trying to match, and then adjust it upwards until it matches. Take it slowly and get a feel for the sound of matching pitches.
Working Through the Rest
Now with the 6th string properly tuned, you can tune the rest of your strings based on that one string. You can also tune each string to a pitch device, such as a piano, simply matching each note as you play it. Learning to do it from just one pitch however is an important skill to have and you’d might as well learn it from the start. So now move on to the 5th string, which is an A. Play an A on your 6th string (5th fret) and then play the 5th string open, and match the open 5th string to the A you’re playing on the 6th string. Now you understand the procedure and can work through the remaining strings in the same way. To tune the 4th string, play a D on your 5th string (5th fret) and match the pitch. To tune the 3rd string play a G on your 4th string (5t fret) and match the pitch. To tune the 2nd string play a B on your third string (4th fret) and match the pitches. To tune the 1st string play a E on your 2nd string (5th fret) and match the pitches. And now, you should be in tune. If you doubt that you really are, that’s only natural, and you may in fact not be if you are unsure about matching pitches. With time and practice you’ll get more accustomed to the procedure and readily recognize if you are out of tune. In the meantime you can always recheck and verify your pitches through an available pitching source. If you continue to struggle to match pitches in tune, practice a single note at a time to get a better feel for it. Practice away from the guitar as well, humming to various pitches you hear.
Now you’re in tune. Pactice hard but have fun too!