If you’re a parent with a budding guitarist at home, you might be inclined to pick up a guitar and learn to play. While the journey to learning the guitar can be challenging, you’ll get to discover a fun new skill and bond with your child in the process, making for a truly rewarding experience.
As a novice guitarist, one of the biggest hindrances to your musical journey is an out-of-tune guitar. Simply put, you’ll know your guitar is not in tune because it won’t sound right when you play it. Not even the great Eric Clapton can make a guitar that has lost its tune sound good.
If you’re asking yourself, “How do you tune a guitar?” you have come to the right place. You can teach yourself how to get your guitar back in tune with a few simple steps, and once you have mastered the art of guitar tuning, you can then teach it to your child.
Keep reading to learn how to tune a guitar for beginners.
Table of Contents
Memorizing the Strings of a Guitar
The first step to tuning a guitar is to memorize all the strings. Whether the guitar has electric strings or acoustic strings, it will have the same number and order of strings. They start from the thickest to the thinnest.
Here are the guitar strings in order, from top to bottom:
6th string – E (low)
5th string – A
4th string – D
3rd string – G
2nd string – B
1st string – E (high)
To remember the name of the guitar strings, you and your child can make up your own mnemonic based on the order described above. Making up the silliest mnemonics makes them more fun and memorable. There are several popular ones that you can use right off the bat, including:
Eat All Day, Get Big Easy
Eat Apples Daily, Grow Big Ears
Every Apple Does Good Being Eaten
Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie
Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears
How Guitar Tuner Pegs Work
Now that you have memorized the strings, it’s time to understand how the tuner pegs (also called machine heads) work. Luckily, this is easy, as each string is attached to a specific tuner peg.
When you hold the guitar in the right position, the pegs on the top facing upwards are connected to the 4th, 5th, and 6th strings. To increase the pitch, twist these pegs clockwise and tighten the strings. The pegs on the bottom facing down are connected to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings. To increase the pitch, twist these pegs counterclockwise and tighten them.
It is easier to tune a guitar by loosening all the strings to a lower pitch and then bringing them into tune by tightening them. However, you can also tune the guitar by reducing the pitch of overly tightened strings by turning the pegs in the opposite direction, counterclockwise for top pegs and clockwise for bottom pegs.
[Read: Change Guitar Strings at Home]
How to Tune a Guitar Using an Electric Tuner
When tuning a guitar that’s out of tune, it’s recommended to use an electric tuner. These devices allow for speed and accuracy and will help you a lot, especially at the start of your guitar journey.
When you pluck a string, a tuner will sense its vibration or audio signal and tell you what strand it thinks it is. It will have a needle that moves left or right, letting you know whether the pitch is too low or too high. Keep in mind that each tuner reads differently, but essentially, you’ll want to get the turner’s needle in the middle for a perfect pitch.
Some tuners have LED lights that indicate whether the pitch is perfect or not. Typically, there will be a green one in the middle with two red ones on either side. When the green lights up, that string is in tune. There are three types of electric tuners:
Plug-in and Pedal Tuner: These types of tuners plug directly into your guitar’s audio jack and also pick up on the string’s audio frequency. They cost more than the other options but are highly accurate. Keep in mind; if your guitar doesn’t have an audio jack, you can’t use this type of tuner.
Clip-on Tuner: A clip-on tuner is vibration-based and goes on the headstock (the part of the guitar with the machine heads). A huge benefit of this tuner is that it eliminates background noise and can work with any guitar, whether acoustic, electric, or bass. However, a clip-on tuner is fragile.
Microphone-based Tuner: If the clip-on tuner is getting in the way, using a microphone-based tuner is an excellent alternative. It “listens” to the string’s audio frequency when you pluck it to determine its pitch. You can also use it on any guitar. However, you need to make sure that there’s no background noise and the microphone is close enough to the guitar to listen in.
Don’t let the different types of tuners confuse you. No matter what tuner you get, the goal should be the same: get the needle to the middle.
[Read: Different Types of Guitar]
Follow the below steps to tune your guitar using a tuner:
- Turn on the tuner.
- By default, most tuners will automatically detect the string you’re plucking. But you can also set the string on the tuner so the device knows exactly what it’s hearing.
- This example assumes you’ll start with the 6th string (low E string), so pluck it. Don’t do it just once. Pluck it several times for the tuner to get an accurate reading.
- Look at the tuner to determine whether the string is in tune or not. If it lands in the middle, go back to Step 3 but move on to the next string. If it is not in the middle, follow the next step.
- Adjust the tuner peg based on which direction will get to the middle. Remember, counterclockwise tightens the string and makes the pitch higher, and clockwise loosens the string and makes the pitch lower.
- Pluck the string again and check the tuner to see if that did the trick.
- If the needle still isn’t in the middle, repeat Steps 3–6 until you get it in tune.
- Move on to the other strings and start the process from Step 3.
Online Guitar Tuners
Online websites and apps that use a microphone to assist with guitar tuning or provide reference notes to tune a guitar by ear are the easiest options for beginners to tune their guitars online. There are several apps and websites that provide these online guitar tuners for free.
How to Tune a Guitar Online Using a Microphone
Online guitar tuners that use the microphone on your device to listen usually need permission to access it. Once you allow access and the online microphone tuner starts listening, follow the steps mentioned above. Similar to a microphone-based electric tuner, with every string the goal is to bring the needle on the dial to the center to tune it. Make sure your instrument is close to the device, and if you are using your phone, just place it on your lap and start plucking, listening, and tuning, as described.
How to Use Online Reference Notes to Tune a Guitar by Ear
There are numerous websites and apps that provide standard guitar string notes. Most of these notes are provided for A-440hz tuning, the most widely accepted tuning standard by most musicians today, and the standardized pitch set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). A standard pitch is used to make sure all the different instruments in a music band, orchestra, or any musical ensemble are tuned to the same frequency.
To tune a guitar using online reference notes, play the audio for the note and simultaneously pluck the corresponding string while listening to it. Listen to the note carefully and keep plucking the string while adjusting the tuning pegs until the sound matches the reference note.
How to tune a guitar by ear
Don’t have a tuner on hand? Is your smartphone or tablet’s battery dead? How do you tune a guitar without any of these? Well, don’t panic because you come with built-in tuners: your ears. Now you can tune your guitar anytime, anywhere.
Follow the steps below to learn how to tune a guitar by ear (it’s easier than you think):
- E string (low): Pluck the 6th string (the thickest one) and adjust it until it sounds right. Hum it out if you have to, so you get a reasonable estimate, and don’t worry about making it sound perfect.
- A string: To get the reference note for the A string, place your finger on the fifth fret of the 6th string and play it. This is what you want the A string to sound like. Play the reference note and the A string one by one and listen. Then, adjust the tuner peg of the A string accordingly until the two notes sound the same. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t remove your finger from the 5th fret as you’re listening.
- D string: Repeat the previous steps but replace the reference note with the 5th fret of the A string and tune the D string instead.
- G string: Use the same concept as noted above. Now the 5th fret of the D string is the reference note, and you’ll be tuning the G string.
- B string. This is where it gets a bit different. Place your finger on the fourth fret of the D string and play it. You’ll want your B string to sound like this reference note. Pluck the reference note and the B string one by one. Then, listen and tune accordingly.
- E string (high): Now, we come to the final string. Place your finger on the 5th fret of the B string. Follow the same steps as the other strings to make sure the high E sounds like the reference note.
A key thing to remember when tuning your guitar this way is the part where you switch to the fourth fret of the D string while tuning the B string. Other than that, the rest of the strings use the 5th fret of string above it. That is why this pattern is called the 5-5-5-4-5 and is the most beginner-friendly way of tuning a guitar.
Over to your child
With this guide, whether you’re using a tuner, an app, or playing it by ear, you’ll learn how to tune a guitar like a pro. If you notice that your kid is struggling with tuning their instrument, you can easily teach them what you’ve learned. But if you want your child to learn how to play the guitar and other instruments, consider enrolling them in BYJU’S FutureSchool music lessons.