Learn to tune a guitar by ear

Tuning a Guitar by Ear: A Skill Every Player Should Have

I have had a number of students recently ask about the process of tuning the guitar by ear – without an electronic tuner. It is something that I have revisited occasionally and it always bears repeating. It is a very important topic for all of you (at least in my opinion).

Maybe you have never done this before.

Or, you simply need a refresher.

Possibly it could be you know someone that would benefit from this.

Either way, here ya go…

A short while back I talked about how to tune a guitar without a tuner.

I think it bears repeating here. Not just so you can learn how to tune without a tuner. But also how much it will help develop your ear to hear things in music you never heard before.

And that can start with knowing if you were in tune or not. That’s kind of important!

Electronic Tuners

I think we all use electronic tuners to get ourselves tuned up (that includes the clip on types). I use them all the time. Compared to the old school ways, they are fast and accurate. The last couple decades have seen an immense improvement to these little devices. Check some of these out:

Electronic Tuners

There are some great apps too, some free, some paid for. This is my favorite based on an old strobe tuner that looked like an old fashioned oscilloscope. It is very accurate and costs about $10. Well worth it in my book:

Peterson Strobe Tuner App

Before there Were Tuners…

It wasn’t always that easy though. Waaaaaayyyyyyy back when I started, electronic tuners were very hard to come by. So we had to rely on tuning our guitar by ear.

There were ways to go about getting the right pitch too: Often we would use the ‘A’ string: we would pluck it and compare it to an ‘A’ on a piano, a tuning fork, or (and I did this a lot) to a song on a record where we knew it was an ‘A’ they were playing.

In the bands I was in, we would simply tune to each other by plucking the A string (or a keyboard player playing an A note) and comparing how they sound. In fact, if you go back to older recordings in the 60’s and 70’s and try to play along with them, you might find that many of those songs were just a little bit off from standard tuning (which is the A note at 440hz). Things weren’t as precise back then.

But, what it did do is develop my ear. That’s why I still believe, in the 21st Century, you should make sure you do so too.

So how do we do that?

Tuning by Ear

Here is an easy way to practice tuning a guitar by ear:

  1. Using whatever electronic tuner or app you have, tune the guitar the way you normally would.
  2. Now, with your electronic tuner still on, turn the tuning peg for the A string down (or flat) a little bit so that it is purposefully out of tune. The more the better, but try not to reach the next note (G# or Ab – depending on how your tuner reads it).
  3. Next press down the ‘A’ note on the low E string (6th string). The ‘A’ note would be the 5th fret on that string.
  4. Pluck the ‘A’ note on the E string then the A string, making sure they both ring out together. Listen for a “wavy” sound that you should hear between the two notes. It should sound dissonant, or “off”. That “wavy” sound you hear is important for the next step…
  5. Then, while still holding that note down (and the strings are still ringing), reach over with your picking hand and turn the tuning peg up to get the A string back to it’s normal pitch. HOWEVER, and this is important, as you are tuning the string back up, LISTEN to how that “wavy” sound flattens out. It starts to slow down and eventually go away when you reach the actual A note. You can check by looking at your tuner.
  6. It might take you several times to do this to hear what I am talking about. It doesn’t matter, you will get there!

This is a very important skill to acquire. For example, you will quickly be able to hear how out of tune your chords sound if a string is also out of tune.

Another way to tune your guitar is to use harmonics. Here is a video I made a while ago that shows how to tune that way (it is an old video but still very relevant and helpful):

Good luck! Please do me a favor and let me know how it went for you using this method?

Rock On,

Tony G.


Here is Another One of the Major Struggles on Guitar

So I recently did a poll of what was the #1 struggle out there on guitar.

I found another one that was really quite prominent.

If you missed my post from last week, check out the #1 struggle on Guitar. You can read it here.

But there is another.

And man, is it a doozy for many.

Sometimes the mere mention of these words strike fear in the hearts of many.

Ok, buckle up.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

Barre Chords!

I’m actually typing this on Halloween and I think that if there could be a guitar oriented horror story it could be title something like:

The Attack of the Sinister Barre Chord!

Ok, maybe not that, but you get the idea.

It can really be a pain for so many. Maybe you are one of them?

But also, I’m guessing that many of you have conquered that immense villain.

And that should be an encouragement to the rest of you because there is hope on the other side.

The real tonic to that poisonous elixir is this: practice.

Nothing can be a substitute for that very act of practicing.

But what you all should be aware of is that the amount of time needed to overcome this struggle is different for everyone.

While some may get it within days or weeks, others might take months to get it.

The key is to not give up. If you give up, you sealed your fate and gave in to that monster.

I have taught many players and see all kinds of awesome achievements.

And, if you are one of those that gets discouraged that others seem to get it quicker than you, I have news for you:

Odds are real good that there will something else on guitar that will come easier to you that others are going to struggle mightily on.

I see it all the time.

One takes a million years to get it on barre chords but finds scales are a piece of cake while another can grasp a barre chord like its breathing but can’t play a scale without immense frustration.

The key is to hang in there!

Also, if you are trying all of this on your own, it makes it that much harder. 

Find a mentor, a teacher, a friend, that knows what you are going through and has the experience to help you through it.

I can’t say enough about that.

Plus, find some online videos from reputable people to show some other tips and tricks to overcome your struggles. While it isn’t the same as private instruction, it can help and often be a supplement to your private help.

I teach all the time and regularly will point to videos (some mine, some from others) that will help with whatever a student is struggling with.

Here is one video I made to help those of you a little ways into your barre chord journey. It’s a cool exercise called Zig Zag. Give it a go:

🎸 Here’s a Cool Guitar Finger Exercise for You!

Are you having trouble moving your fingers from chord to chord?

Or, perhaps having problems trying to play some kind of cool solo?

The Finger Crawl exercise is great for your left hand coordination.

However, if you really want your fingers to work the way you really want them to, try this exercise.

I call it Diagonals.

As you do the exercise, you will see why it is called that way. Your fingers move in a diagonal direction across the fretboard.

You don’t have to be a lead guitar player either. Every guitarist should do this kind of exercise.

I do need to tell you that if you have never done it before, it will be hard.

Press through it. I assure you that you will be able to play it well in a short amount of time.

As long as you practice it.

Even if you have a handful of minutes available, this could be a good one to keep the fingers in shape.

=> But, a word of caution, if you have never done this before: start slow! It might hurt a little if you overdo it.

Take your time building up to it. You will definitely do well in time.

“All good things come to those who are patient”

Hop on over to the blog to get a detailed description (w/TABS) and the video on how to do the two methods:

Here’s the Blog that describes it in detail: Diagonal Finger Exercise

Want the video? Here ya go:

Good luck!