How To Tune A Guitar With Your Ears?

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Learning how to tune your guitar should be one of the first things you learn as a player. All the work on chords, scales, etc., won’t do you half a bit of good if your guitar’s out of tune.

Ideally, you’ll want to use an electronic guitar tuner even after you’ve learned how to tune your guitar by ear, as it’s simply the most accurate way. That being said, there will be times when you’ll need to know how to do this with what are called relative pitch methods. Maybe someone at a party will pull an ancient, out-of-tune acoustic from the attic and you can save the day, or maybe you’ll be camping somewhere without a tuner. Whatever the case, you can’t call yourself a guitar player unless you can do this by ear.

I’m setting you up for easy success here, though, because it’s really not all that difficult. The following video shows how to tune your guitar with my favorite technique, the natural harmonic method:

Make sure these harmonic-pairs all sound the same.


Basic Tips:

  • When working across the fretboard from low to high, tune the thinner string to match the thicker one.
  • Vibrations! When the harmonics are ringing, you’ll feel the disturbance in the air when you’re close, but not quite. It goes away when you’re on the mark.
  • Yes, I realize that asking you to tune the B string by playing a 4th-fret harmonic on the G is evil. How To Tune A Guitar With Your Ears? I have trouble hitting it half the time, but it works. If you’d prefer not to mess with it, do this instead in just this one case: still on the G string, head up to the 12th fret, play a harmonic there, and then fret the B string, 8th fret. Make sure they match. Be sure to use the 5th-7th fret technique for all the rest.
  • Leave the low E alone. It’s your foundation for the other five strings. The goal is to get the guitar in tune with itself, not necessarily with the “correct” tuning, though if you start with an in-tune E, all the better.
  • Tune up to the correct note, not down. This keeps the string wound around the tuning peg correctly and prevents unnecessary slippage.
  • Some people find plucking the string with their thumb rather then a pick while tuning to be more accurate. Your mileage may vary.

How To Tune A Guitar With Your Ears?

Tuning up with these relative pitch methods requires each step to be as accurate as possible, because the strings you tune last will be affected by the ones you tuned first. Because you do not have the advantage of an independent guitar tuner, the tuning of every string builds on the string before it. This means accuracy is key, and this method is as accurate as it gets without a tuner.

Still, there are other ways to go about this…

How To Tune Your Guitar: Fifth-Fretting It

Many players are taught the fifth-fret method when they first learn. To be honest I almost didn’t include it on this page because I don’t think it’s as reliable or as accurate as the harmonic method. That being said, it can be easier to do, especially for a beginner. Still, I’d encourage you to learn how to tune your guitar with harmonics as soon as possible.

As with the harmonic method, just leave the low E alone and go from there. Play through this tab to see how it’s done:


Each pair-group should match up as you play. If not, tune the thinner string to match the thicker string. Also, please note that you really are supposed to hold the 4th fret on the G string; that is nota typo, and is due to the way the guitar is tuned. Maybe we should call this the fifth-fret-except-on-the-G-string method.

Caution: There are a few things that can affect accuracy in tuning, but for our purposes here I’d like to point out just one: the tendency of a fretted note to change pitch slightly. To hear what I mean, fret and play a note on one of the thicker strings, listen carefully, and then press down harder with your fretting hand until the pitch goes up. In regular play, this isn’t a problem, as the note will go back to normal pitch, but when you tune a guitar based on these slightly-too-sharp tones -and even if you’re very careful this can happen- by the time you’re through things will be quite off.

That being said, you should be able to get fairly close with this method, and if it works for you, I say great, at least you’re in tune!

Now play some cool tunes and revel in the sweet, sweet sounds.