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Tuning and Playing the Guitar

Tuning Your Guitar
It is very important to learn how to tune your guitar before you start to learn how to play it. Otherwise, nothing is going to sound right. This process is really simple once you know what you're doing. You will get used to hearing how a properly tuned guitar should sound, and you will know when it needs a little fine tuning.

The video below will go over:
How to play the strings so you can tune up.
The string names.
How to place your right hand.
Using the tuning keys.
How to use an electric tuner.

Two basic methods for tuning your guitar.
1. Using an electronic tuner.
Does not require any experience to use.

2. Tuning by ear: Using your listening skills to hear the string tones from another guitar , piano or pitch pipe, and then matching the tones to tune the strings on your guitar.


Using the tuning keys
Find the tuning key for your 6th string and slowly turn the key away from you (counter clockwise) while plucking the string lightly with your thumb. You should hear the pitch go higher as you turn. Pitch is how high or low a note sounds.

Now turn the key towards you (clockwise) and again turn it slowly while plucking the string gently. You should hear the pitch get lower.

tuning keys

Note: If the tuning keys on your guitar head stock have 3 keys on either side of the head as shown in the picture, the turning will be opposite for each side. Turning counter clockwise will raise the pitch on one side but turning clockwise raises the pitch for the other side. This has to do with the way the strings are installed on the guitar.

How to use an Electric Tuner

Electric tuners will display the note you are sounding on the guitar and all you need to do is tighten or loosen the tuning keys until the tuner displays that the string is now in tune. Of course each tuner has different displays but they all work on the same principles. Each string has a number and a name. You should memorize them.

6 - E (Lowest pitch. Fat string closest to you when holding the guitar).
5 - A
4 - D
3 - G
2 - B
1 - E (Highest pitch. Thinnest string).

Some more advanced models can perform rhythm patterns to practice with and have recording and playback ability with built in speakers.

Tuning by ear

It's a good idea to learn this method because it will help you develop your ear training and you won't have to always rely on using electronic tuners. However, if you have an electric tuner then you should use that for now and you can always come back to this later, as it does require a bit more skill. It will take some time to develop your ear training.

I have recorded the string pitch tones for you. Your job is to match the sound of each string to your string. This will require good listening skills. Some people have a natural ability for this, while others will struggle with matching the tones. You may not get a perfect tuning but you can get it close enough until you get better at determining pitch.

Listen to the note and decide if your string needs to be raised or lowered. Then turn the key in the proper direction.

Play and pause the recording as needed. You will hear the sound of all the strings one at a time. Starting with the low 'E' 6th string.

Getting Ready To Play

Now that your guitar is in tune , let's get ready to play using your fretting hand to play single notes on the guitar.

The video below will go over:
Placing your left hand thumb on the neck.
Placing your fingers on the fretboard.
Playing some single notes.
Using the pick.
Practice exercise.

Placing your fingers on the fretboard and pressing down on the strings is sometimes referred to as, "fretting".

left hand fingers
The fingers on your left fretting hand are numbered for instructional purposes.

Thumb = T
Index finger = 1st
Middle finger = 2nd
Ring finger = 3rd
Pinky = 4th

Picking and Strumming Hand
This is the right hand for a right handed guitarist and the left hand for the left handed player. You can play the strings using your thumb or a pick.

Picks can be thick or thin. I prefer a thin to medium. .60 - .80 mm is good.

Let's go over how we hold the pic and use our fingers to sound the strings.

holding pick

Hold the pick between your first finger and thumb by curling your first finger and clamping down with your thumb. Keep the pointed part toward the guitar strings and let it stick out just a little. If you let the pick stick out too far, it could get caught between the strings as you strum and you'll drop it.


Fretting Hand Thumb Position
Thumb position depends on the style of music that you are playing.
For most playing styles, a thumb position as shown in the photo will be okay. However, sometimes the thumb may hang over the top of the fretboard to play certain chords, riffs or style of music, such as the Blues.


Fretting Your First Notes
Each fret is spaced on the fingerboard in what we call half steps or a semitone. Each fret is one half step away from another. When you press on a fret it raises the pitch of the note by one half step as you go up the neck.
You don't press directly on the fret, but in between them. So if you're asked to place your first finger on the first fret, it would actually be just behind the bar or fret.

Go ahead and try placing your first finger on the first fret of the first string as shown in the photo. Now use your pick or thumb to sound the string by striking the string downward.

Keeping your first finger down on the first fret, try placing your second finger on the second fret of the first string and pick that note.

Keeping both your first and second fingers down, go ahead and try placing your third finger down on the third fret of the first string and pick that note.

Now place your fourth finger on the fourth fret of the first string while keeping all of your fingers down and pick that note.

This is called playing in the first position because your first finger is on the first fret and the other fingers are placed on the following three frets. You can do this with each string.

left hand


More methods for tuning the guitar by ear.
(You can come back to this later if wanted).

"The 5th fret method" is another method of tuning by ear but when you do not have a sound source to match the string tones to. Using this method assumes that your 6th string is already in tune or "relatively tuned" = (close enough).

Basic explanation
We are using each string starting from the 6th string with your finger placed on the 5th fret to tune the next string below it. The 5th fret note is the same note and pitch as the open string below it.

Starting from the top '6th' string at the 5th fret. Use your 1st finger to press the 5th fret on the 6th 'E' string. Now pick the string gently. Then while this note is still ringing, pick the next string '5th'.

This open 5th string should sound the same as the note you are playing on the 6th string 5th fret. They are both 'A' notes.

If they do not sound the same, you will need to turn the tuning peg clockwise or counterclockwise to match the pitch.

Using your left hand, find the tuning key for the 5th string and turn the peg slightly and slowly clockwise (toward you) to lower the pitch or counter clockwise (away from you) to raise it.

Reposition your left hand on the 6th string at the 5th fret and play both notes again. Continue adjusting the key until it matches the sound of the note played on 6th string at the 5th fret.

Now that the 6 and 5 strings are in tune, use the 5th string to tune the 4th string, and the 4th string to tune the 3rd string .

Note: Change frets at the 3rd string to tune the 2nd string
This is the one exception . You have to press the 3rd string at the 4th fret instead of the 5th, in order to get the pitch needed for the 2nd string. This is the only exception to the rule. All other strings are tuned from the 5th fret of the upper string.

Now finish tuning the 1st string by using the 2nd string at the 5th fret.

After doing this a few times you'll get the hang of it and it will become much easier.



Pick each open string from 6 to 1. Allow the pick or thumb to land on the string below it. Open string means picking a string with no fingers placed on any fret of that string.

Next, practice the one finger per fret rule. First fret, first string, up to the fourth fret first string. Pick each note one at a time and remember to keep your fingers down when going to the the next fret. Go up from the first string to the 6th string. Then slide to the second fret of the 6th string and play the 4 notes again and go down each string back to the first string. Continue until you reach the 5th fret and work your way back toward the first fret.

Remember we're not trying to make music with this exercise, were just trying to get your fingers used to being on the fretboard and strengthening them at the same time. Go as slow as you need to. Donít go faster than you are able to. You should be able to hear each note clearly.

Practice for as long as is comfortable for you. Your fingers will begin to feel sore, but this is necessary in order to thicken the skin on your finger tips and build up finger strength.

Lesson 2

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