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How to Tune a Classical Guitar

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A Short Guide to Tuning a Classical Guitar - London Guitar Studio

In this guide we will explain the standard methods for tuning 6 string classical guitars by ear and by using a digital tuner.

The Basics

Each of the six strings of your guitar are a different thickness with string 6 being the thickest and string 1 the thinnest. This thickness or diameter dictates the note that the open string will play. By open we mean that the string is not held down at any point on a fret. When you are holding the guitar as if to play it string one is the lowest and string 6 is the highest on the instrument. With a standard set-up the notes the open strings will play are as follows:

  • String 6: Low E
  • String 5: A
  • String 4: D
  • String 3: G
  • String 2: B
  • String 1: High E

If you have difficulty in remembering the notes then recite the following mnemonic:

"Every Adult Dog Growls, Barks, Eats"

In tuning your guitar you are attempting to adjust each string to the correct pitch (frequency of sound). The pitch is determined by the tension of the string which is created between the two points at which it is attached to the instrument and the length of the vibrating portion of the string. The tension is adjusted by turning the tuning pegs on the head. The higher the tension, the higher the pitch. The length of the vibrating portion of the string is adjusted by using the fingers (usually of the left hand) to hold down the string until it is in contact with a fret.

Before tuning your guitar by ear it is essential to understand the phenomenon of "beats". These are not beats as in rhythm, but rather what happens when two notes that are only slightly different from each other are played at the same time. A beat is a fluctuation in volume which has a wobbling sound. If two notes played together are exactly the same it is hard to tell that it isn't just one note but notes that vary in pitch played together will produce a beat. The larger the discrepancy between the two notes the faster the beat. As one string is tuned to the other the beat will slow and eventually disappear and then the string is in tune. It is a good idea to play a few notes to teach your ear to pick up this phenomenon.

Tuning by Ear

To correctly tune your instrument you must begin with a reference pitch. This should be a note which is universally agreed upon and the ideal choice is "A440". You will need a tuning fork with this pitch and be careful because not all tuning forks are A440! This is the pitch that should be sounded by a correctly tuned High E string (string 1) when depressed at the fifth fret and also by the open A string (string 5). To begin tuning simply strike your tuning fork on a hard surface, place the extremity (not the fork) against the body of the guitar which will resonate the sound. Play string 5 open and adjust the tuning peg until the sound of the string is the same as the sound of the tuning fork. You have now correctly tuned string 5. You will then tune each of the other strings by using the previous one as the reference. Clearly any errors in tuning string 5 will be amplified as you progress through the strings and that is the issue with this method of tuning but you can move on to more complex but accurate methods once you are more experienced. Here's a quick tutorial from eHow.com on how to use the tuning fork:

You tune the other strings as follows:

  • Press string 6 at the fifth fret. Play this string and the open A (string 5) and adjust string 6 until there are no beats between the two notes. In other words until they sound identical and as if you were playing one note. Alternatively if you are not comfortable with detecting the beats just play one string after the other adjusting string 6 until it sounds identical to the open string 5.
  • Press string 5 at the fifth fret. Play the open string 4 and string 5 whilst adjusting string 4 until there are no beats between the two notes
  • Press string 4 at the fifth fret. Play the open string 3 and string 4 whilst adjusting string 3 until there are no beats between the two notes.
  • Press string 3 at the fourth fret (note the change to the fourth fret here). Play the open string 2 and string 3 while adjusting string 2 until there are no beats between the two notes.
  • Press string 2 at the fifth fret. Play the open string 1 and string 2 while adjusting string 1 until there are no beats between the two notes.

This might all sound a little complicated but you will soon get the hang of it. The following video by Dummies.com should help:

Using a Digital Tuner

You may prefer to use a digital tuner to tune your instrument as this will mean you are not relying on your own senses to achieve the desired result. Digital tuners are inexpensive devices which are easy to use. We have a great selection of digital tuners here at London Guitar Studio which you can see by clicking here.

Each tuner will be slightly different but they all function in the same way. To tune your guitar simply switch on the device and then position it correctly according to the supplied instructions. Check the device to ensure that you are tuning to A440 and then play each string in turn. When you play each string the display on the tuner should indicate the correct note for that string i.e. E,A,D,G,B or E. There will be a scale on the display with a needle. Adjust your string with the tuning peg until the needle is in the centre of the scale. When the string is correctly tuned either the display will turn green or a green light will illuminate. Repeat the process for each string. If you are in any doubt as to how to use your tuner then consult the instructions or watch the following video from GuitarLessons.com:

We hope that you now feel confident to correctly tune your guitar. Practice makes perfect but if you need further guidance then do come along to London Guitar Studio where our friendly team are on hand to help you. Happy playing!

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London Guitar Studio - Wed Jul 24 03:48:35 BST 2019 [web3]