Classical Guitar Lesson # 4: Tuning the Guitar

When you turn the tuning peg (See Guitar Lesson #1: The Guitar Parts) clockwise, the pitch of the string attached to it will become lower. On the other hand, when you turn the tuning peg counter-clockwise, the pitch of the string attached to it will become higher. This applies when you are holding the guitar in the playing position.

The standard tuning of a guitar is E or Mi, A or La, D or Re, G or So/Sol, B or Ti/Si, E or Mi (from lowest sounding string to the highest).

To be able to tune the guitar in this way, you can follow any of the following methods:

1. Using an electronic tuner 

Tuning the guitar with the use of an electronic tuner is the quickest and easiest way of doing it. It lets you tune the guitar in less than a minute. All you have to do is follow the instructions on how to use the electronic tuner you have and then you are ready to go. Usually you have to clip the tuner on the head (where the tuning pegs are located) of the guitar and then you need to pluck each string. It is important to pluck the string one at a time and then see if the tuner tells you to lower the pitch of the string or if you need to make it higher or if it is already in tune. It is also important to check if the tuner is set to 440Hz because this is the standard sound frequency for tuning musical instruments. A very good guitar tuner available in amazon.com is the Tanbi Music MT560GB metronome-tuner. (Watch here for a demonstration of its usage).  It is fast, reliable, and very easy to use.

2. Using the piano

If you have a piano (even a digital one) or keyboard with you, you can tune your guitar by basing the right pitch of each guitar string from it. The image below shows where you can find the keys on the piano that corresponds exactly to pitch of each guitar string:

The Piano Keyboard

From left to right: low-pitched string to high-pitched string/6th string to 1st string

3. Using a tuner app or a website that offers an online guitar tuner

There are a lot of guitar tuner apps available for smartphones. Most of them are for free. All you have to do is search for the one you think is best and install it. There are also websites that offer an online guitar tuner. All you have to do is go to their website to find the online guitar tuner. These tuner apps and online tuners operate just like how you tune with the piano. They give or sound the pitch for each guitar string for you to base from. After hearing the pitch online or from these apps, you can adjust the guitar strings accordingly.

On the other hand, some guitar tuner apps offer an automatic tuning mode just like how an electronic tuner functions. It utilizes the vibrations it gets or detects from your guitar. Some people place their smartphones on top of their guitar to maximize the detection of vibrations while they are tuning. Others place their smartphones on the table or somewhere else near them so the app could detect the sound vibrations of the string they are plucking. Then, the tuner app will show if the string is in right tune or not. However, the downside for this is that some of these guitar tuner apps and online tuners are not accurate. Sometimes it’s because of some errors in the app, but most of the time it’s because it cannot detect the sound vibrations well due to the fact that the person tuning his or her guitar is in a place where there are other sounds that can be detected. For instance, you decided to tune your guitar using your tuner app, but there are other musicians with you who are playing their instruments. In this case the tuner app’s detection will not be quite accurate because it also detects the sounds of the other musical instruments around you.

4. Using a pitch pipe

A pitch pipe is available in most music stores. There are various kinds of these: You can find chromatic pitch pipes, as well as pitch pipes that produce pitches that correspond to a particular instrument like the guitar or the violin. Using a pitch pipe in tuning the guitar is similar to the way the tuning is done with the piano, tuner app, and online tuner. The pitch pipes will produce the right pitch for a particular note; you can base from its sound to tune your guitar. However, this is not a very accurate method of tuning. Pitch pipes should be checked first prior to buying them from music stores. Some have errors in the accuracy of the sound they produce. The pitch pipe may be chacked by comparing their sounds to the corresponding sounds produced by a properly tuned piano.

5. Using a tuning/pitch fork

Tuning the guitar using the tuning fork is an accurate way of tuning, but it can be difficult for beginners. Most tuning forks bring out the note “A” or “La” (440Hz) that is equal to the note produced when the first string or the highest-pitched string of the guitar is depressed at the fifth fret. Tuning forks that vibrate the other musical pitches are also available.

In using a tuning fork, it is essential to know relative tuning. Relative tuning is tuning your musical instrument such as the guitar in accordance or in reference to its other strings. This is commonly known as “tuning to itself.” With this method, you need to obtain the pitch from the tuning fork (relative tuning can also be done by getting a pitch from the other tuning sources mentioned above). You can produce a pitch from a tuning fork by striking it against a hard object, perhaps a table, or you can strike it against your knee (this is the most common way) and then place or rest its base against a wooden table or a wooden object like the guitar to amplify the ringing sound of the tuning fork. When you are using a tuning fork that produces the note “A” or “La” (440Hz), you can follow these steps in doing relative tuning to your guitar:

  • Upon hearing the sound from the tuning fork, pluck the open 5th string and check if it matches the sound coming from the tuning fork. Although the “A” or “La” sound from the tuning fork may be 2 octaves higher than the sound of the guitar’s open 5th string, it is perfectly fine as long as you can match both sounds in unison – the tuning fork produces a high “A” sound so the guitar’s 5th open string should produce a lower “A” sound. From here, you can now tune the other strings.
  • Press the 6th string at the 5th fret. Tune or adjust the 6th string that is depressed at 5th fret until it sounds the same as the 5th open string.
  • Press the 5th string at the 5th fret. Tune or adjust the 4th open string until it sounds the same as the depressed 5th string at the 5th fret.
  • Press the 4th string at the 5th fret. Tune or adjust the 3rd open string until it sounds the same as the depressed 4th string at the 5th fret.
  • Press the 3rd open string at the 4th fret. Tune or adjust the 2nd open string until it sounds the same as the depressed 3rd string at the 5th fret.
  • Lastly, press the 2nd string at the 5th fret. Tune or adjust the 1st string until it sounds the same as the depressed 2nd string at the 5th fret.

 

Use this illustration to guide you:

Tuning Postions

Source: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-i3iwhBIRogI/UZnmGFsJFnI/AAAAAAAAAMQ/zsNmRCu5MPM/s1600/5th+fret.png

 

You can do relative tuning in many ways aside from the one discussed above. For instance, you can do relative tuning through harmonics, but that may be difficult for beginners. The core principle is to get a pitch from a reliable source. Then by using this pitch as reference, tune all the other strings accordingly. The secret of mastering this method is to know what strings depressed at what fret sounds the same as the other open strings and/or strings that are depressed at a particular fret.

The guitar is a sensitive instrument; it will come out of tune from time to time. That is why it is important to know how to tune the guitar: So that you will be able to play it well and maximize the beauty of its sound.