If you’re just starting out on guitar, there are a whole wealth of different aspects of the instrument that you’ll need to familiarize yourself with. Once you learn all about getting the guitar stringed up, you’ll need to be able to tune it. Otherwise, you’ll never sound good when you play. An out of tune guitar is truly ear piercing in many respects, and it’s imperative that you sound as good as possible even from the start. Otherwise, you’ll be much more likely to give up. Starting off on the right foot is immensely important, so you need to learn how to handle tuning right away.
Tools of The Trade
First of all, you might want to invest in a small electric tuner. There are several different forms. The most consistent variety clips onto the headstock and picks up the pitch of the string by vibration. The devices usually have a small LED display indicating whether each string is in tune or not. This is most helpful for learning the standard E, A, D, G, B, E tuning, although some tuners also accommodate lower or alternate tunings as well.
There are a wealth of affordable options as far as tuners go, but you can also save yourself some money by merely using a tuning track that you play along with, adjusting each string until it matches the right pitch. This is actually very good for training your ear to know when each string is in tune by the pitch alone, a skill which will serve you well later on. There are many versions of these sort of tuning tracks uploaded to Youtube.
Using The Right Approach
Even once you’re all squared away, the strings will eventually slip out of tune with time. As you play, the tension naturally weakens. It’s best to just accept this, or else you’ll become overly aggravated. Certain guitars will stay in tune better than others, especially higher end models with the likes of locking tuners, but as a beginner, you likely won’t have those luxuries until later on. Even so, there are a few different tricks you can use to help keep your strings in tune for longer.
First of all, make sure you stretch the strings once you get them on the guitar. You can do this by pulling up on them in a few different places, such as right over the top of the neck, bottom of the neck, and the body. (Make sure not to be too rough.) Pulling upwards two or three times should be all you need. It’s also worth noting that you can by strings that are actually pre-stretched, a feature that will always be indicated on the packaging.
It’s also best to tune from the outside in. In standard tunings, your bottom and top strings are going to be the same note, two octaves apart, so match those two first. Then work your way inward, tuning the A and B strings, then finally the D and G strings. Learning your octaves will lead to an easy way to make sure these all match one another properly, but that will be detailed more below.
Finally, it’s best if you tune up into the right pitch since the tension will be its strongest. If you get the right pitch by moving your tuner downwards, it’s going to slip out of tune much more easily.
Once you’ve had enough experience tuning with the assistance of a tuner or a tuning track, your ear will develop to the point that you can get your guitar in tune without any help. This is going to be quite easy for people with perfect pitch. Everyone else may not be able to tell when the pitch of the first string is exactly dead on E, but you’ll be able to get close and then match everything else accordingly.
Once you have your bottom E string at the appropriate pitch, you can easily match the higher E. From there, you can easily find the right pitch for the A string by playing your E at the 5th fret. Once those match, you can use the 2nd fret on A to tune the B string. (They will be an octave apart.) Finally, you can go back to the E string and use the 3rd fret to find the right pitch for G, once more an octave apart. Once you’re all good, you can match the open G string to the 5th fret on D, and your whole guitar should then be in tune.
There are many other tricks of course, but this basic approach will teach you how different strings correspond to each other within the various octaves on the instrument. You can adjust very easily, and tuning will happen very quickly once your ear is used to all of this. You should then be ready to dive into alternate tunings, but that’s a whole other topic altogether!