Listen Up: Using an Electronic Guitar Tuner

So, you’ve splashed out all your money on the meanest guitar, bought the best “teach yourself to play” DVD or bookmarked your online course, and you’re ready to rock – almost. Beginning guitarists need to learn to tune a guitar. Any decent tuition method will show you how to tune, but getting it right is not always easy. It seems that using an electronic guitar tuner makes sense – but player beware. Using a tuner has both advantages and disadvantages.

Digital tuners have been around since the 1950s and many guitarists would not be without one. More than a few beginning guitarists have been frustrated in their efforts by not being able to tune their instrument. It would seem logical then to purchase a tuner when you buy your first guitar. But, wait!

If you always use a tuner, how are you going to develop your musical ear? What happens if one day you don’t have a tuner? Learning to listen keenly and tune your instrument by ear is part of becoming a competent musician. Few people are born with perfect pitch, but everyone can improve their tuning skills. Being able to hear discrepancies in pitch will make you a valuable asset when playing with others too. Sometimes you may need to tweak a single string on the fly, and you won’t have time to get out your trusty electronic tuner. Learning to tune by ear is as important as working on those chords and fancy fingerings.

You may or may not like classical music, but it is quite impressive to hear a symphony orchestra tuning up with not a digital tuner in sight. These musicians know how to tune in to the oboe (usually to a concert B flat). Here is a little secret. Often, but not always, the oboe player will have checked that his instrument is bang on that A440 by using a digital tuner before the performance. Take note, however, that this is a check. You can be sure that every member of that orchestra knows how to tune by ear. As a guitarist, you need to develop that same skill.

So, how do you do you develop this skill without having your guitar out of tune half the time? The trick is not to rely on the digital tuner. Always try tuning by ear first. Even if you have to take that first E from the tuner, tune the rest of the strings by ear. When you think you have it right, use your electronic tuner to check. This way you are developing your musical ear, but you also have a back up. If you can’t afford an electronic tuner, there are online tuners you can use. As your skills develop you can probably get by with an inexpensive tuning fork for times when you are out and about.

So, should you use an electronic guitar tuner? By all means, yes. They are an asset to any guitar player. The trick is not to let that asset become a crutch. Tune in to yourself as you develop your skills. Happy playing – and tuning.

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