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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.

 

Guitar Maintenance for Guitar Players: What We Need to Know

How many car owners do we have out there? Raise your hand…

Even if you don’t, maybe you use someone’s. Regardless, you are most likely aware that you need to have regular maintenance on it in order for it to operate well.

You should be doing stuff like oil changes and tire rotations periodically to keep everything in optimal shape.

Then there will be times for larger, routine things like brakes and tires that need to be replaced.

It’s just part of everyday life in owning a car.

And if you miss doing these things, or at least put them off, worse problems can happen on your vehicle which are more costly.

Ever been there…?

Did you know that your guitar needs regular maintenance too?

Changing strings regularly should always be done. Of course it will depend on how often you play but strings do deteriorate over time causing them to not sound great and eventually break. Check out my blog article for more:

How Often Do I Change My Strings?

I think most players get that part (and if you didn’t, might want to consider changing those strings. Check out my blog article and video on how to do it yourself: How to Change Guitar Strings Myself ).

However, there are other things to be aware of regarding normal guitar maintenance:

Truss Rod

The neck on all guitars has what’s called a truss rod inside it. Here is the wikipedia definition:

“The truss rod is part of a guitar or other fretted, stringed-instruments that stabilizes the lengthwise forward curvature (also called relief), of the neck. Usually it is a steelbar or rod that runs inside the neck, beneath the fingerboard. Some are non-adjustable, but most modern truss rods have a nut at one or both ends that adjusts its tension.

Most guitar necks are not straight but actually have a slight concave bow. Those bows have a specific radius that they are set to.

Here is a neat article that describes this well:

Guitar Bitz Truss Rod Adjustment

But, what often happens is, from time to time, that bow will change. Most necks are made of wood which can change slightly depending on ambient conditions. The most common factors are related to the environment like humidity and temperature changes. 

Typically seasonal changes like summer to fall and winter to spring will affect your guitar neck.

One other factor to neck changes is changing your tuning. If you like to use alternate tunings or keep your guitar tuned low on a regular basis, the change in tension in those strings will affect your guitar neck.

These are normal occurrences. You can take it in to any guitar shop where they can adjust it for you. Or you can do it yourself. 

If this interests you, check out some of these videos that show you how to adjust truss rods (there are different places to make the adjustments, depending on the type of guitar you have, but the method is always the same):

Stratocasters

Acoustic Guitars

HOWEVER, heed the warnings: Be aware if you want to do it yourself! If you aren’t sure, have a pro do it for you. You could damage your guitar if you don’t know what you are doing!So, if you haven’t had this done in a while, you might wanna consider it. Some signs: fret buzz and dead notes are often the two main symptoms. It doesn’t always point to truss rod adjustment, but it’s probably the most frequent cause. Again, have a pro look at it to make sure.

String Height

You might not have to do this regularly. But, string height can be very important regarding how well you can play. I see many people come in to my studio with strings that are really high off the neck. It can really make it hard to play the guitar: particularly when you want to play barre chords or when you are soloing.

There are a number of ways to adjust the string height on electric guitars but they are all done at the saddle on the bridge. Here is an example on how to do it on a stratocaster (I do like this guy from Elixir, he’s kinda dry but is very informative):

string height

This is a procedure that would always be done if other changes have been made to the guitar (like truss rod adjustment).

Outside of that, you probably won’t have to make this change on it’s own.

For acoustic guitars this is a little more tricky. Oftentimes a tech would either file the saddle down or shim it up. Again, unless you are knowledgable with this kind of stuff and are confident in your abilities, have someone who knows what they are doing do this kind of procedure on your acoustic.

Nut Adjustment

Sometimes the height of the grooves in the nut of your guitar needs to be adjusted.  If you have lots of fret buzz or dead notes on the lower frets, or it is really hard to play on those lower frets (it feels too high off the neck) this might be a reason. This procedure requires a little more work (at least in my opinion). A pro would be able to diagnose it and take care of it (catching a theme here?). Here is the same Elixir guy to give you an idea:

Guitar Nut Adjustment

Acoustic guitars would have similar adjustments that a tech would make.

Intonation

For me, often times the nut is fine. Truss Rod Adjustment and string height might have to be adjusted from time to time. This is another maintenance item that I do myself (sometimes I’ll do the truss rod – depending on my guitar, and I’ll adjust string height).

In this case the string length needs to be changed a little bit. Here is how you know it needs to be changed:

tune your guitar like normal. Then, press down on the 12th fret of the same string and check your tuning again. They should match. However, when you press it down and the note is flat or sharp, you might need to change the string length.

On electric guitars, we simply move the saddle laterally in small amounts to get the 12th fret and open string tuning settings to match. (Here is one video example: Intonation Adjustment).

On acoustics, this is a little more tricky and you would definitely need a tech to make this adjustment for you (unless you are a confident and knowledgable “do it yourselfer”). It would most likely require some work on the saddle or the nut that they would know how to do. (If you are interested, I like this video of a guy showing how this all works, it’s a little raw but informative: acoustic intonation adjustment).

Bottom line, be aware of changes that happen to your guitar over time. Most times they require some routine, simple maintenance. Don’t miss this! If you stay of top of your guitar maintenance, you will have so much more fun jamming!

How to Tune a Guitar - Without a Tuner

How to Tune a Guitar – Without a Tuner

Technology today has provided us with all sorts of tools to tune our guitars. You have apps, clip-ons, pedals, etc.

It’s amazing to think that not that long ago it was only tuning forks and our ears!

In fact, when I started guitar back in the stone ages, all I had was my ears.

And although now, like most everyone else, I almost exclusively use some device to tune my guitars, I also recognize that by learning to tune by ear made me a better player by hearing how the notes on the guitar sound while practicing and learning/playing my favorite songs.

I think that by using technology most of us have lost, or never learned, the art of actually hearing what we play.

So what I highly recommend for all of you, no matter what level you are at, is to have the skill available to tune by ear.

Because you never know what will happen: the power goes out, the batteries die, the device simply stops working, etc. And you know that it will happen at some of the most inopportune times. For me, right before, or during, a gig is where Murphy typically likes to enforce his law. 🙂

This skill isn’t meant to replace the methods you currently use to tune your guitar. It is simply a great skill to develop and make you a more complete player.

And most importantly, to have more fun playing songs!

Tuning by ear really isn’t that hard. There are just a few simple things to listen for.

I made this video to better explain it. If you want to skip the silliness of the intro, go to :40 into the video.

And as always, I’m here to help too! Reach out to me for any questions.

I hope this helps make you more successful in your playing!

Rock On,

Tony G.

PS: I just filmed me playing Rush’s Closer to the Heart on vacation here at the pool I am at in Texas. It has a little water ambience to it. Enjoy!

Closer to the Heart

I just made my TOP 10 Favorite Alex Lifeson Riffs Video taken from his huge catalog of Rush songs. It was a lot of fun to make! Let me know what you think:

Best Rush Songs on Guitar

PPS: Here is a another CRAZY guitar solo I played using an exotic scale called the Byzantine (or, Double Harmonic Major) scale. I think it sounds pretty cool:

Byzantine Scale in E

PPPS: Oh and hey, can you do me a favor? I’m starting a mission to grow my You Tube Subscribers to more than 22 (Ha!). No, seriously, if you can quickly hop over there and “Subscribe”, it would be so very awesome!

I promise that the videos (most of them at least) will be entertaining and/or informative!

Here is the path to arrive there:

6 String Corner

Px4…S:

Want to know the 4 Techniques to help you play your favorite songs? Get the eGuide here: Chronic Chord Condition