Two Ways You Can Tune A Guitar By Ear

There are a few ways to tune a guitar which are the most common approaches. One is to use an electronic tuner which basically does all the work for you. You can simply pick each open guitar string while looking at the readout of the tuner so you can dial in how to tune your guitar to the correct pitch. However we will look at two other similar methods to tune a guitar by ear (not using a tuner).

Either of the following methods to tune guitar strings explained in the video can be used on an electric or an acoustic guitar. You will still need a reference source to determine the proper pitch to tune your guitar strings up to though.

The most common ways to determine this are by striking a string of another guitar, hitting the proper key on a musical keyboard, using a compact disc or MP3 with a song that you know is in the tuning you want to tune up to or by using a pitch pipe or other similar device.

One other thing that is useful to learn to tune guitar strings is that the most common pitch will be the A-440 which simply means that the A string on your guitar has a frequency 440 Hz.

Don’t be too concerned about the technical side of this, just remember that this is considered to be “Standard Tuning” on the guitar. The guitar strings in standard A-440 tuning are low E (the biggest string 6th), A, D, G, B and the high E (the smallest string 1st).

Once you have a reference to start with you are ready to use these techniques to tune your guitar.

Typically the reference should be used to match your low E or A string. For example, once you have tuned your low E string to the reference source, you can use a finger to push down on the guitar neck or “fret” the low E string (6th string) at the fifth fret. Hold this and pick the sixth string, the one you are fretting. As the string rings out, pick the next adjacent open (not fretted) string (5th string A) and turn the tuning keys on the guitar until they match the pitch of the sixth string. Following the same approach you should now be able to match the pitch of the open 4th string to the pitch of the 5th string fifth fret.

Next match the open third string to the 4th string fifth fret. Next match the open second string to the 3rd string FOURTH fret. This is the only time that you are not fretting on the fifth fret. Finally match the open 1st string (the high E) to the 2nd string fifth fret.

This technique to tune guitar strings is pretty easy to remember. The hard part is actually developing your ear to recognize when the string pitches are matched as you are tuning your guitar.

Using Harmonics to Tune Your Guitar

The video here will show you this process of how to tune a guitar by ear as well as an alternative method to this approach to tuning a guitar by using harmonics. If you are an electric guitar player then learning how to tune your guitar with harmonics is an absolute must. This will allow you to tune your guitar in any situation.

The reality is that you may find yourself at a jam session needing to tune up with the bass player who is tuned a half step down because the singer demands this (it happens). This is where knowing how to tune a guitar by ear using a reference source you have at the moment (the bass player’s strings) can come in really handy. Ultimately this helps if you are going to be a versatile musician. This can be invaluable in both amateur and professional situations alike.

8 thoughts on “Two Ways You Can Tune A Guitar By Ear

  1. I have an acoustic guitar that has a built in tuner but the battery seems to run down when I need it most! I like these harmonics you play and I have started using this method. I recommended this to a couple of friends because once you get the technique of harmonics learned it is something else you can use in your daily playing.

  2. This is good for when you don’t have an electronic guitar tuner too. This is the first thing a guitar student should actually learn in my opinion.

  3. ok this is helpful i can use this. i never have a battery for the little tuner i have 🙂 i still wish there was an easier way.

  4. Thank you for this, we have used this to help our newest band mate. I think your video is EXCELLENT especially nowadays when everyone relies solely on having a tuner handy. It's amazing how many guitar players CANNOT tune up by ear!!

  5. Using harmonics is interesting…. that in itself is something good to learn. I like to use a Snark tuner for bass and 6 string guitars.

  6. This should be one of the first things that anybody learns about playing the guitar. This really is a preventative maintenance kind of thing. After all, the strings are going to go out of tune often very quickly. Nothing is worse than having to try to learn how to play a song and your guitar is out of tune.

    What do you do? You definitely won't get it the way that it should be!

    Just learn how to tune your guitar, or better yet, have a tuner on hand. But as a backup, learn, learn, learn!

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