Tuning Your Guitar
Before you play your guitar you'll have to get it in tune. Most beginners are a little confused by this process when they start, but it becomes second nature pretty fast, and it's essential to sounding good on the guitar.
The best way to tune your guitar is to use a “chromatic tuner,” which is an electronic device that listens to the pitch of each string, tells you what note it is, and then advises you with a visual display whether you need to tune the string higher or lower to get it in perfect tune.
If you aren't using a chromatic tuner you'll need a “reference pitch” from another source. This could come from another guitar or a piano, in which case an E would be a good pitch to tune to since you can tune your bottom and top strings right off. Or it could come from a “tuning fork,” which is a piece of metal shaped like a wishbone — you strike the double end against your hand to make it vibrate, and then touch the single end against the body of your guitar or against your ear to hear the note.
If you use a tuning fork, the note it produces will probably be an A (also marked 440 on the fork, which is the number of “cycles per second” of that note), so you would use it to tune your fifth string, and then tune the rest of your guitar around that string.
Assuming you've got your sixth string in tune, let's move on to learning how to tune the rest of the strings. If you play the fifth fret of your sixth (E) string, the resulting note will be an A, which is the pitch your fifth string is supposed to be. If you play the fifth fret of your fifth (A) string, the resulting note will be D, which is the pitch your fourth string is supposed to be. The only time this pattern changes is when you tune the second (B) string to the third (G) string — in that case you play the fourth fret of the G string to hear the B you need to tune the second string. Give it a try!
How often should I tune my guitar?
You should tune your guitar every single time you pick it up. Guitars (particularly cheaper ones) tend to go out of tune quickly. Make sure it's in tune when you begin to play it, and check the tuning frequently while you're practicing, as the act of playing the guitar can cause it to go out of tune.
Here are some steps to tune your guitar:
Make sure your sixth string is in tune.
Play the sixth string, fifth fret (A), then tune your open fifth string (A) until they sound the same.
Play the fifth string, fifth fret (D), then tune your open fourth string (D) until they sound the same.
Play the fourth string, fifth fret (G), then tune your open third string (G) until they sound the same.
Play the third string, fourth fret (B), then tune your open second string (B) until they sound the same.
Play the second string, fifth fret (E), then tune your open first string (E) until they sound the same. Then double-check your first string against your sixth string — they should be the same.
Practice tuning your guitar in conjunction with Track 1 of this book's CD, which plays each of the guitar's six strings in tune.