For beginners, tuning the guitar is a challenge. There is a lot to learn and implement to properly tune a guitar.
In this lesson, on how to tune your guitar, I have simplified the tuning process for beginner guitar players and broken it down into a simple step-by-step lesson.
Notes In Western Music - Understand This
Before one can tune a guitar, one must have a brief understanding of musical notes used in western music.
Western music typically uses 12 notes – C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, plus five flats and equivalent sharps in between, which are: C sharp/D flat (they’re the same note, just named differently depending on what key signature is being used), D sharp/E flat, F sharp/G flat, G sharp/A flat and A sharp/B flat.
Just for info and also to make it easy to remember, let us relate how these notes are laid on a piano.
Natural notes, i.e. C, D, E, F, G, A, B, are represented by white keys on a piano. The Sharp/Flats i.e. C#, D#, F#, G#, A#, are represented by black keys on a piano.
These 12 notes keep on repeating, forming octaves. If you look at a piano, there are 88 keys, but only 12 notes. So these 12 notes keep on repeating, and in total there are 7 Octaves on a piano. If you move to the left from middle-C on a piano, the pitch of the notes decreases. If you move to the right of middle-C on a piano, the pitch of the notes increases.
Now that you know the notes in western music, let's understand how these notes are related to tuning a guitar.
Guitar Tuning Notes In Standard Tuning
In a 6-String Guitar, each string is tuned to a specific note that is picked from the 12 notes of western music.
To tune a guitar to standard tuning, we are concerned only with notes E, A, D, G, B.
If you notice, there are a total of 6 strings, yet we are concerned with just 5 notes. Why is that? Well, I will answer that in just a bit. Before that, let us understand how notes are related to guitar strings.
- 6th String is tuned to the note E (i.e. is the thickest string on the 6-string guitar)
- 5th String is tuned to the note A
- 4th String is tuned to the note D
- 3rd String is tuned to the note G
- 2nd String is tuned to the note B
- 1st String is Tuned to the note E (i.e. is the thinnest string on the 6-string guitar)
Why there are two E strings?
If you look carefully, the 6th string and the 1st strings. Both are tuned to note E.
Why is that?
This is because the note E on the 6th string is two octaves lower than the note E on the 1st string. To get a better understanding, look at the piano keys image below.
The note E on the 6th string is the same as the E note on the second octave of a piano. This note is represented as E2 (E-represents the note, 2-represents the octave)
The note E on the 1st string is the same as the note E on the fourth octave of a piano. This note is represented as E4.
So E4 is two octaves higher than E2, or you can also say E2 is two octaves lower than E4.
So if you add octaves next to the notes, the standard guitar tuning becomes
- E2 - 6th String
- A3 - 5th String
- D3 - 4th String
- G3 - 3rd String
- B3 - 2nd String
- E4 - 1st String
How To Tune The Guitar
Now you understand the notes, let us understand the different methods to tune the guitar.
Tuning Using Electronic Tuners
As a beginner, it is easiest to tune your guitar using an electronic tuner. There are several types of electronic tuners like inbuilt tuners, clip-on tuners, pedal tuners, microphone tuners, and tuning apps on your smartphone. Whichever you use, the tuning process remains the same. If you do not have an electronic tuner, I suggest you download any guitar tuning app on your smartphone. The app I use is Tuner-gStrings.
Tuning your guitar is a three-step process
Step 1 - Determine the current pitch of the guitar strings
Step 2 - If a string is lower in pitch than the desired note, raise the pitch using the tuning peg. If a string is higher in pitch than the desired note, lower the pitch using the tuning peg.
Step 3 - Tune all the strings and recheck.
To properly tune a guitar - The First step is to tune the 6th String. The 6th string gets tuned to the note E2. To tune your guitar to the note E2, first determine what note the 6th string of your guitar is currently tuned to. If the 6th string is in tune with a note that is lower in pitch than E2, raise the pitch by tightening the tuning peg. If the 6th string is in tune to a note higher in pitch than E2, lower the pitch by loosening the tuning peg.
E.g. If the 6th string of your guitar is tuned to the note D2. This means it is lower in pitch. So you tighten the tuning peg and raise the pitch until it becomes the note E2.
I suggest you watch the video to get a better hold of the complete process.
Once you have tuned the 6th strings, move on and tune the 5th string. 5th string needs to be tuned to the note A3. The process remains the same. Determine the pitch and take action accordingly.
Similarly, you tune the rest of the strings until they have the desired pitch/note. Once done, make sure to recheck and fine-tune again.
Tuning Without A Tuner / Tuning By Ear
You can also tune your guitar by ear and without the use of any electronic tuner. This is a relatively advanced way of tuning, as this requires you to have trained ears. If you are a complete beginner, I suggest you do not try this method as of now and come back to it later.
Tuning by ear can be done in different ways like relative pitch, tuning using 4ths, and tuning by harmonics. The most common method is to tune your guitar by relative pitch reference.
In relative pitch reference, you will tune your guitar by referring it to some other instrument that is already in tune. So to tune the 6th string of the guitar, you can play the E note on the second octave on the piano and match the pitch by ear on your guitar. Similarly, to tune the 2nd string, you can play the note B on the third octave of piano and match the pitch of your guitar 2nd string by ear.
Again, this is an advanced concept and not recommended for complete beginners.
The Proper Tuning Technique
To properly tune your guitar, always start with the 6th string first. Once you have tuned the 6th strings, tune the 5th string. After that the 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st.
Once you have tuned all 6 strings, it is time to fine-tune. As the strings tend to get a little out of tune during the tuning process, fine-tuning is a must. To fine-tune, go all over again with the tuning process, starting with the 6th string again. In fine-tuning, you make small adjustments only.
How To Tell If Your Guitar Is In Tune
Once you have tuned the guitar, if you play any chords or leads, they will sound good and in harmony. The open strings notes will match with the desired pitch on a tuner.
Best Free Guitar Tuning Apps For Android and iOS
Are Mobile Tuning Apps Any Good?
A lot of beginners are sceptical about using mobile tuning apps as professionals generally use a pedal tuner or a clip-on tuner. So the question arises are mobile tuning apps any good?
Yes, mobile tuning apps are accurate and good. The only condition is that you sit in a quiet environment with low background noise. The reason why professionals use a pedal tuner or clip-on tuner is that they are most of the time tuning their guitar on a stage or in a studio, where it is important to get in tune fast and the amount of background noise is not something they can control.
Word Of Caution - Don't Break Strings
When beginners tune their guitar, it often leads to broken strings. Broken strings generally happen because you tuned any particular string to a way higher pitch than the desired pitch of that string. For example, if you tune the guitar 1st string to the note G4, chances are it will break. So to tune a guitar without breaking strings, make sure you are aware at all times of the note that your string is tuned to. Do not tune any string to a relatively higher pitch than the desired pitch.
Alternate Guitar Tuning
Till now, we covered the standard guitar tuning, several other tunings can be used on a guitar. These are called alternate tuning. Some common alternate tunings are Drop D, Drop C, Open D, Open D, Open G, Double Drop D, etc. These are all advanced tuning concepts and will be covered in a different lesson.
Now you know how to tune your guitar. So do not wait and get in tune. I suggest you also go through the PDF Workbook for this lesson and test your tuning knowledge.
In the next lesson, you will learn a Numbering System For Learning Guitar.
Beginner Guitar Lessons
- Lesson 1 — Parts Of Acoustic Guitar and Electric Guitar
- Lesson 2 — How To Hold The Guitar and Guitar Pick
- Lesson 3 — How To Tune The Guitar
- Lesson 4 — How To Read Guitar Tabs and Chord Diagram
- Lesson 5 — Easy Guitar Chords For Beginners
- Lesson 6 — D Major And G Major Chords
- Lesson 7 — A Major, B Major and E Major Chords
- Lesson 8 — E Minor & D Minor Chords
- Lesson 9 — Guitar Strumming Basics For Beginners
- Lesson 10 — How To Play F Major Chord On Guitar
- Lesson 11 — Music Theory Basics For Beginner Guitarist
- Lesson 12 — How To Play Barre Chords On Guitar
- Lesson 13 — How To Palm Mute A Guitar
- Lesson 14 — How To Learn Scales On Guitar For Beginners
- Lesson 15 – Learn Chord Formulas And Chord Inversions
- Lesson 16 – How To Know Chords In A Major Scale And Chord Progression
- Lesson 17 – Parts Of A Song And Song Structure
- Bonus Lesson – How To Write Your First Song On Acoustic Guitar