Every single time you pick up your instrument, the very first thing you should do is check your tuning, and if you’re out tune, tune it!
Playing out of tune (especially as a beginner) can be extremely frustrating. You could be doing something perfectly with correct technique, and it can sound like a mistake. Knowing how to get in tune and stay in tune is an essential beginner skill.
This guide will walk you step-by-step through tuning your guitar, bass, or ukulele so you can start playing like a pro!
Now before you panic, getting in tune is actually very simple, and once you master the basics it shouldn’t take you more than about 30-60 seconds each time.
So what does “tuning” your instrument even mean? Tuning is the process we go through to adjust the pitch of each string to a predetermined pitch. We do this by turning a string’s corresponding tuning peg on the head of the guitar.
Turning the tuning peg away from your body will tighten the string and raise its pitch. Turning it towards your body will loosen the string and lower its pitch.
Pro tip: ALWAYS make sure you’re turning the correct key for the string you’re trying to change. If you’re turning the wrong key, you won’t notice the pitch shift and if you don’t realize your mistake before it’s too late, you could even break a string! Not fun.
So what are the “predetermined pitches” I mentioned earlier? Well, they can technically be whatever you want but today we’re going to focus on standard tuning for each instrument. Let’s start with guitar.
Standard tuning for guitar starts with the lowest 6th string (the thickest string) and goes to your highest 1st string (the thinnest string) and the notes are: E, A, D, G, B, E.
A great phrase you can use to easily remember this is “Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie.”
When tuning a standard 4-string bass guitar it’s even easier! The notes of a 4-string bass are the same as the bottom 4 notes of the guitar: E, A, D, G.
When tuning a standard 4-string soprano ukulele the notes are: G, C, E, A.
Although all these instruments are tuned to different notes, the process of tuning them remains the same!
When tuning your instrument, it’s common practice to start with your lowest string and work up to your highest string.
When you’re first learning how to get your instrument in tune, it’s crucial that you have a reliable way to find the correct pitches for the strings. So how do we know what note our string is and when it’s in tune? For this we need a handy device called a pitch tuner.
Pitch tuners come in many different sizes, shapes, and price ranges but they all essentially do the same thing: “listen” to the note you’re playing and tell you the pitch!
You’ll be able to easily see if your guitar is flat, sharp, or in tune. I’ve even included some tuner recommendations for you below.
How to Tune Your Guitar
The process for tuning your guitar can feel overwhelming at first, but with enough practice you’ll be in tune in no time!
The first step is to play the string you’re trying to tune with your pick. Let’s say it’s your 6th string (the low E string). Pick steadily every couple seconds, and don’t stop!
Keeping your eyes glued to your tuner, begin to turn the tuner away from you if the note is reading too low or towards you if the note is reading too high. Keep going until the note reads perfectly in tune to the note the string is supposed to be (E in this example).
It’s that easy!
A couple of things to remember when tuning:
- Never turn the tuning pegs too quickly or too much! Doing so can easily pop a string.
- Never randomly turn the tuning pegs without looking at your tuner! Doing so can easily pop a string.
- Always make sure you’re turning the correct tuning peg for the string you’re trying to tune. Trace the string all the way up to the headstock if you’re unsure.
These simple principles apply to guitar, bass, and uke, and if you follow them you’ll be in tune and shredding away in no time!
The number one best tuner I’ve found for beginners is actually a simple mobile app called Guitar Tuna. This app makes it incredibly easy and intuitive to get started tuning your instrument.
For the Snark, you actually clip the tuner onto your headstock, push the button to turn it on then tune away. For the Korg and/or Guitar Tuna, you simply set the tuner on your lap or near enough to your guitar that it can “hear” you and tune away!
As you can see, tuning isn’t as hard as it seems. However, it is absolutely essential to master this skill as it affects every aspect of your practice routine.
So use these tips, get in tune, and happy practicing!
We can also help your tuning during guitar lessons with Bold Music.