How To Tune Guitar by Ear?

Once you start playing the guitar, sooner or later, you need to realize that you must know how to tune the guitar by ear. Why so? Well, if you want to actually distinguish your music and want to make it sound great, instead of merely not good, tuning is imperative. You do not want to produce sour, frustrating sounds through the guitar, do you?

You may not be aware of the importance of frequent tuning of the guitar. It is often mistaken as requiring some little tuning once or two times in 7 days. However, you must realize that if you are constantly practicing or playing the instrument and your ear is growing, you will be able to differentiate between what is working and what is not.

You will soon get the hands on tuning your instrument a few times in a single practice session, or at least at a minimum of at the start of every practice session. 

In order to be able to tune the guitar with your ear, instead of using some electronic tuner or other methods, you have to understand the underlying foundations of the notes by listening very well to them. We have compiled a step-wise guide for you to follow the process and the right method of tuning the guitar using your ear.

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Preparation 1: Get Your Pegs Checked

In case you have never tuned your instrument before, you must take enough time to get yourself used to the tuning pegs that you have. It actually really depends on whether your pegs are of the electric style, and hence all lie on the same side, or does that come with three on both the sides, hence being the acoustic style.

It also relies on whether the instrument has strings strung the simple, standard manner. All these will cause the directionality of all the pegs individually to vary.

Preparation 2: Comprehend the functions of the strings of the guitar

The guitar comes with the 6 strings. You must notice how these 6 strings vary in thickness. The one string on the top is the thickest one. This is the low E string, sometimes also known as the sixth string.

Next comes the A, which is the second thickest. This is also the fifth string. You continue to the first string in the similar manner (the high E). The pitch in the order of low to high is E A D G B E, starting from the sixth and going up to the first string. You may have also heard of the reverse order whereby we begin with the low E and go up to the high E. 

Let’s Delve Into the Strings

It is important to know each of the strings and tuning each by ear will then be easy. 

Sixth String: Low E 

Try to listen to a possible sample with the ‘correct’ E note, at the given pitch that you are using as reference. You may do this by simply playing a good recording of a usual E note and play it through your speakers. After listening, try playing it in the guitar. When using the sound of the guitar, it is usually not so difficult to tune by ear. 

After playing this note, allow the sixth string to ring. If both the sounds are sounding exactly the same, it means you have nothing to worry about- your guitar’s 6th string is in tune. You will pick a little difference or clash in case your strings are not completely in tune. 

As you keep practicing and train your ear with the pitch, you will soon be able to hear the difference between too high or too low pitches in the sound produced by your guitar. This method is sort of experimentation.

You can start with slowly turning the tuning peg of the 6th string, slowly adjusting it in a single direction to notice if 2 notes can match. If you instead realize that the opposite is happening, try doing the same in the reverse direction and keep adjusting until your notes are in sync.

Fifth String: A

 Now that you have the 6th string in proper tune, you can forget about the reference note you were considering. Make this tuned note the basis of tuning the other strings. When you play the fifth fret on the 6th string, it must produce the same note as the open A string would. 

Hence, try to position your finger on this fifth fret and play both the A and the E string one after the other. If you can hear the A at a higher pitch, rotate the tuning peg to adjust it. Follow the opposite direction of rotation if the pitch sounds lower. Keep tuning until both the pitches sound the same. 

Fourth String: D

 The fifth string, A, that you have now tuned on the fifth fret, will be same as the open D string, which is what we have to tune next. Once again, try to play both the strings one after the other.

This can be simply executed by positioning your finger on the 5th fret of the A string, and ring the open note of D. If you can hear the D at a higher pitch, rotate the tuning peg to adjust it. Follow the opposite direction of rotation if the pitch sounds lower. Keep tuning until both the pitches sound the same. 

Third String: G

Though not expected, you might encounter problems related to timbre when you attempt to tune the third string, the G string to the fourth string, the D note. Why so?

It is due to the fact that both the acoustic and the electric guitars undergo a change in the type of string you are using- this can be in terms of material of the string, like switching between nylon and the steel strings. It can also be in terms of windings- single string or wound ones.

This in turn plays a big role in the timbre of the note, making it even difficult to compare the pitch of the notes. However, practice can get you to almost perfection and make you used to it. 

The G string is the third string which exists on the fifth fret of the fourth string. This G note is used to tune the third string’s open part. Once again, try to pay attention and monitor if the notes sound same.

If you can hear one note at a higher pitch, rotate the tuning peg to adjust it. Follow the opposite direction of rotation if the pitch sounds lower. Keep tuning until both the pitches sound the same. 

Second String: B

This is not very difficult anymore after you have completed the above steps of tuning the earlier strings. We are almost towards the end of the string family of the guitar. In the process of tuning the second string or the B string, you should attempt to position your finger on the fourth fret of the third string.

This will give rise to the B note. It is the same note as what you find in the open second string of your guitar. Or, if not, it will soon be this after you have successfully tuned up the second string. 

Once again, try to pay attention and monitor if the notes sound same. If you can hear one note at a higher pitch, rotate the tuning peg to adjust it. Follow the opposite direction of rotation if the pitch sounds lower. Keep tuning until both the pitches sound the same. It is not difficult anymore, is it?

The First String: High E

 Indeed, we have made it to the final and the last stage of the process of tuning of your guitar by ear. The High E is the first string. It  can be tuned in two main manners. 

First, the low E is now already available in the tuned version. You can easily tune the high E by allowing the low E to act as a reference to this. Nevertheless, you must bear the fact in mind that these two (the low and the high E) are precisely two octaves apart (NOT ONE). Hence, it is only likely that you will find a gap which will make the distinguishing between the two pitches slightly harder. 

Secondly, if you are a beginner at tuning, you should avoid the first option, and rather opt for this one. This is similar to what we have already been doing on the other strings. Simply position the finger on the fifth fret of the B or the second string, and play an E note. This note should precisely be in sync with the open first string of your guitar. 

Final Words

You are now well-aware of the extensive, yet simple steps you need to follow to tune your guitar by ear. Review it well, and get started!

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