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How to tune a guitar

Video Lesson: How to Tune Your Guitar

Maddy Roop

May 30, 2018

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This video is part of Real School's Education Series, where we share quick tips from top Real School instructors to take your playing and musicianship to the next level! 

Does your guitar playing sound a little off? Like really out of tune off?

Don't worry I'm here to help! My name is Maddy from The Real School of Music and today I'm going to walk you through the basics on how to tune a guitar.

There are a few different ways to tune your guitar, and we're going to cover three:

  1. clip on tuners 
  2. pedal tuner
  3. tuning your guitar to itself (tuning a guitar to itself? What does that mean? It may sound super crazy but ever fear, we'll figure it out together. Just follow along!). 

First things first. Learn the open string names.

Before we get into the mechanics of tuning, you want make sure that you're tuning the strings to the correct note. Otherwise, you're not going get very far. So let's figure out an easy way to remember the string names. This is how you remember the notes:

Eddie Ate Dynamite? Good Bye Eddie. Don't be like Eddie! Or, from low to high: E-A-D-G-B-E. 

AdobeStock_101933729Clip Tuner

Clip tuners are super easy. Basically, just clip it on to the head stock of your guitar, making sure that it's facing you, and then simply turn it on to tune your guitar. Once it's clipped on, you're ready to tune up.

Like I said earlier, the first note here is E. Low E...Eddie. If your low E is registering a little sharp, what I like to do is bring it down a little bit before I go up. I think it's a more accurate tuning to approach tuning the string from a lower tone (go from a 'flat' note). With these clip tuners, you're just going to turn your tuning machine slowly and carefully until you get to the green. There's a red side, there's a yellow side, but you want be in the green (green is good, green means go!). Then, simply continue through all of your strings one-by-one. 

There are many different types of clip-on's, but I really like the ones that turn on and off automatically. It's off and then when you open it, it turns on automatically. There's no buttons it's super easy. You just open it and close it.

When to use clip on's

I recommend these if you're in your room practicing alone or if you're in a lesson. They do tend to pick up external room sound, so if you're out at a loud restaurant playing a gig somewhere, they're not the most ideal way to tune. In these environments, you'll want to use the next type of tuner... the pedal tuner. 

AdobeStock_140193997Pedal tuner

Pedal tuners are really cool, too. Especially if your gigging, you're going to turn your volume up on your guitar, but it's not going to make any sound because it's going directly into the pedal box. You can tune and it's not going to pick up the room sound. 

This one works the same way as the clip on. If you're in the red, you're not in the right spot, so you want to be in the green... or at least close enough for rock and roll! If you're gigging out a lot and you're annoying people with your tuning, invest in a good pedal tuner. Don't be one of those people who are like, 'Excuse me for one moment, everyone! Could you please be quiet? I'm trying to tune my guitar."

Don't be one of those people. If you are one of those people, then buy one the pedal.

Tuning a guitar to itself (otherwise known as using your ear or 'the right way')

The final method is tuning your guitar to itself. That means we tune all of these strings to the low E string. Make sure that the E is in tune by checking it against a traditional tuner  - the kind that registers the sound - or a keyboard instrument (or, you could just use the clip or pedal to make sure the E string is in tune, then use your ear to tune the rest of the strings). 

This approach is perfect if you're out camping somewhere where you just have an acoustic guitar and you're the only one playing and you don't have to tune to someone else. But the most important thing is that it helps with ear training. Your goal is to get to the point where you don't have to use clip on or pedal, you only use them for convenience. 

I recommend doing this as part of your regular practice routine, and then checking it with a tuner after. That way, you can improve your sense of pitch and develop a more natural sense of what it means to be in tune.

Why develop your ear through tuning?

Because it's absolutely critical for your long-term development! Depending upon the environment, the health and age of your strings, and your playing style, your guitar is always moving from a state of being in tune or out-of-tune. You have to have a strong sense of pitch to know when it's time to tune.

Similar to before, check to make sure that to this low E string is in tune. A guitar is tuned in perfect fourths, which is five half steps. We'll go to the fifth fret, which is the note A, the same as the next open note. Play the 5th fret A on the E string, then play the open A string. Tune the open A to the 5th fret A on the E string. 

The G and B are a major third apart, so instead of going to the fifth fret you're, gonna go to the fourth fret. Finally, when you get the B string and E string, go back up to the fifth fret.

So those are three ways to tune your guitar! Thanks for following along and stay tuned for more great instructional videos! 


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