To Thread - Forum Home

The Mudcat Café TM
29 messages

guitar tuners:good for beginners?

14 Dec 02 - 07:53 AM (#847269)
Subject: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: greg stephens

I am just getting involved in teaching guitar to asylum seekers, including some absolute beginners. I started off thinking, the first thing is youve got to learn to tune the thing. That's just the basic musicianship. But then I find it's slowing some people up, even putting them off.
   And let's face it, you dont need a good ear for that sort of thing to play the guitar. Same as a piano. Plenty of people with lousy ears who play piano to their own and others satisfacton, who couldnt tune onein a month of Sundays. Obviously you need a good ear to play fiddle or trombone, but why should I deprive someone of potential pleasure by insisting they can tune the guitar without a tuner? What should I do? Anybody got any experience/opinions?

14 Dec 02 - 09:00 AM (#847284)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Mooh


I come from the school of thought which teaches that an electronic tuner helps the student reject bad pitch by conditioning the ear over time to hear the differences between actual and perceived pitch. Rather than becoming a crutch, the tuner quickly and easily provides a means by which the student can tune accurately at home and at their lessons. There's no sense in tuning a guitar to a piano which might itself be out of tune. Tuning a guitar to itself is wonderful until one discovers that between lessons it has been driven sharp or flat. We used to solve this by using a tuning fork (I still use one when I'm travelling) but lately these seem to be falling into disuse.

At the beginning of each lesson I have every student tune with a tuner. Minor tweaking throughout the lesson will be done by ear unless there is a problem with intonation, machine heads, or some other mitigating factor. Simply dropping to drop D would be a job for the ear for example. I try to set an example by retuning by ear, having students compare pitch, and so on.

When I started playing, I tuned badly with a pitch pipe, but within a few months I could tune quickly and accurately by ear. Observing my tuner equiped students I would say they catch on just as quick.

Certainly for beginners with little or no prior music discipline a tuner will get them over that first most daunting hurdle. A well tuned guitar is much more likely to be well played.

Beware that depending on a guitar's intonation, some minor compromises may be necessary between the pitch of open and fretted strings, particularly on cheap and poorly maintained instruments. Otherwise tuning the open strings for open position playing is usually sufficient.

Hope this helps.

Peace, Mooh.

14 Dec 02 - 09:37 AM (#847296)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: GUEST,daylia

I think that learning how to tune their instrument by ear is important for anyone serious about developing their own musicianship.

I don't think anyone is truly 'tone-deaf' - after all, we can all hear tones! The only difference between people with 'lousy ears' and people with 'good' ones is that the people with 'good' ones have spent lots of time and energy training and using them, in my opinion. Either in this life or in a past one, not to offend anyone's religious sensibilities. (Actually, it was trying to understand why some folk are born with 'good ears', or 'perfect pitch' that convinced me to accept reincarnation as at least a possibility!)

But back to learning guitar - I'd 'test the waters' by introducing tuning by ear at the first lesson to ALL students. But I certainly wouldn't put a student off by insisting they learn to tune it by ear if they didn't WANT to learn how. It's not an easy thing to learn for a novice, and if people are not highly motivated to work on it it can really be frustrating. I believe that loving and enjoying music - and music lessons - is the first priority. So I'd let them use the tuner, and sneak in ear-training in other 'fun' ways during the lesson. Like you said, at least on guitar people can get away with not having a well-trained ear.

14 Dec 02 - 12:16 PM (#847356)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: TIA

Ears need training just like fingers. The tuner definitely helps.

14 Dec 02 - 12:57 PM (#847369)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Mark Clark

I'd go with the electronic tuner. Yes, serious musicians should be able to tune quickly and accurately without a tuner but beginning students may never need to acquire that skill. I don't use an electronic tuner myself but that's only because I learned to tune before they were generally available.

When our youngest daughter was learning basoon, her teacher had her use an electronic tuner while practicing as an aid to ear training and muscle control. It must have worked, she was an All-State basoonist three years running in high school and went immediately to first chair in the university symphony. (Not to brag or anything. <g>)

      - Mark

14 Dec 02 - 01:30 PM (#847385)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: GUEST,ParaHandy

Go with the electonic tuner. They are less than $20 US (if you are not in the USA then sorry). Also, recently there was released a cheap electronic tuner / metronome combination for not that much money.

I would say that the metronome is a must have to learn any instrument.

On the topic of ear training, there are some good pieces of shareware that you can download to help that. In my opinion, aye, teach people to train their ears and tune by ear, but start with an instrument that is in tune!

14 Dec 02 - 01:56 PM (#847397)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Les from Hull

On the radio in the UK today Country Joe MacDonald was explaining about that distinctive 60s sound that he and his band developed. And he put it down to having a crap Farfisa organ and no tuning aids!

I do like to have a tuner for my stringed instruments as when I tune them I'm sure that they're in concert pitch. I can't complain that people aren't in tune with my squeezebox and harmonicas (which I can't tune) if I'm not prepared to be 'in concert'. Playing with others is great fun, and quite instructive, but it rather depends on everyone being in tune with each other. Tuners really help here, as everyone can tune independently and get to the same place.

14 Dec 02 - 02:10 PM (#847406)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Ed.

Why should I deprive someone of potential pleasure by insisting they can tune the guitar without a tuner?

I think that you answered your own question, Greg

14 Dec 02 - 06:23 PM (#847490)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: greg stephens

Well, impressively unanimous advice, thank you all. I was drifting that way myself. Tuners it shall be.

14 Dec 02 - 07:24 PM (#847515)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Nancy King

Back when I was a beginner (not that I've progressed all that far in the intervening years), we didn't have electronic tuners, so I had to learn to tune the guitar either to a tone, or just to my best guess, if a tuning fork or pitch pipe or other instrument was not available.

I learned to tune my guitar using harmonics, which I find much easier to hear. I tuned the guitar to itself using whatever tone or guess was available. It's pretty easy to learn and to do. Now I use a tuner because it is MUCH quicker and more accurate, but I ALWAYS check the harmonics just to verify and tweak as necessary. Lately I have found that the reading for the low E on my electronic tuner (otherwise fine) is inaccurate. For the guitar to be in tune with itself -- or anyone else, for that matter -- the tuner needs to read a tick or two flat. I could get a new tuner, I suppose, but why bother? I know how to compensate for it.

I'm not a guitar teacher (and thank the Lord I'm not, sir!), but if I were I would try to get students to learn how to tune a guitar to itself at some point in the course of their lessons. If they're resistant, fine, it can wait. But they need to learn it eventually. Ever heard of a dead battery?

My 2 cents' worth.

Cheers, Nancy

14 Dec 02 - 07:26 PM (#847517)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: GUEST,Richard Bridge

I see a bit of snobbery here about musicians "ought to be able to tune". I've seen lots of pro's use tuners, and most of them were shit hot musicians

14 Dec 02 - 09:24 PM (#847556)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Dave Wynn

I use a tuner now and have for many years. I can't help thinking though that learning to tune from a pitch fork (Pitch Fork??.....sorry...Tuning Fork) helped me understand a little of the characteristics of the guitar and the first five frets notes. Hindsight tells me that it was sometimes a pain in the backside and I wouldn't go back to manual tuning methods but in loud sessions I can still detect my guitar isn't quite in and by placing my ear against the body I can still easily correct small movements in the tuning.

Having learned to tune with a tuning fork I am glad I did and can't imagine what it would be like to only ever have used an electronic tuner.

Having read the above it probably isn't any help but perhaps a brief lesson on how to do it manually and then let them use the electronic gizmo like most people do.


14 Dec 02 - 09:42 PM (#847570)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Tweed

Mandatory Tuners!

14 Dec 02 - 11:35 PM (#847602)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Naemanson

Well, I use a tuner (named it Charlie) and I wouldn't dare go without. But then I've never considered myself serious about anything, including music.

Any time you REQUIRE someone to do something you remove some of the enjoyment. One important thing about playing an istrument is to be able to get some kind of music out of it as soon as possible. Face it, most of us play for our own enjoyment and if we can achieve that enjoyment with less effort (tuner vs the ear discipline) then we are that much better off. Plus, as people have said up above, many professionals use them.

15 Dec 02 - 12:54 AM (#847629)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: open mike

I have used a sabine tuner for years..
there is a jack to plug directly in to the guitar
if it has a pick-up this works quite well.
I recently acquired an Intellitouch tuner which
clamps on to the instrument with a padded attaching
spring loaded handle...handy and easy to read
light up has a hingd that adjusts to
any angle-i suspect this might be the weak point of the
unit as it may twist and turn too much some time....
i have friends who have had good luck with this type...
i see they are avaialbe for 30-50 dollars--2 diff. units..
it is not embarraswsing to resort to a device to
get in tune as much as it is embarrassing to
play out of tune!!

15 Dec 02 - 03:08 AM (#847648)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Terry K

At my class the teacher tunes everyone's guitar to his own as we arrive, as did my previous teacher. Yes I would like to be able to quickly tune it myself without a tuner, but it's hard enough just playing the bloody thing!

I use an electronic to get it right, but occasionally check it by relative tuning. My teacher admitted he used to be a tuning snob, rejecting electronic tuners, until he recently decided to try one and now wonders why on earth he didn't get one sooner.

cheers, Terry

15 Dec 02 - 03:28 AM (#847653)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Bert

My Radio Shack tuner broke, so one night I turned up to a sing with a tuning fork. Everyone wanted to know where to put the batteries.

Now I have a Korg which is very accurate.

15 Dec 02 - 04:03 AM (#847669)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: greg stephens

Please dont think I'm snobbish about tuners. I'm a professional guitarist, have been for years, and always use a tuner (except when the batterry's flat, or I cant find the tuner). I just want to know what people think is the best route to becoming a guitar-player for a beginner.
   Incidentally, I'm no great fan of harmonics. They are undoubtedly the quickest and most accurate way of getting a guitar approximately in tune, but the inexorable rules of mathematics mean you wont ever get it quite right with harmonics. I always use them myself when not using a tuner, but only with the knowledge that the last step has to be done after it is in tune with harmonics.

15 Dec 02 - 04:13 AM (#847672)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Cluin

A few plusses for the electronic tuner:

---If everybody in the band uses one, you're all in tune with each other. Although I've found that different brands might consider A-440 to be slightly different. To be right on, say in a recording studio situation, have everybody use the same one.

---The ones that allow you to plug in (or even the stick-on Sabine ones) let you tune up even in a noisy room, bar or jam session/practice hall where people can't seem to give you 30 seconds of relative silence to tune by ear. Saves time and aggravation to have everything tuned up ahead of time too, so's you can just launch in and drown out your neighbour.

---They will assure that your guitar is tuned to exactly the same pitch everytime so you can depend on being able to sing that killer song in D capoed 3rd fret (F) each time and not suffer the embarrassment on stage of a cracking or bottoming out voice or having to start again, after a few tentative bars, in a better key.

---They assure that your guitar will be tuned to concert pitch which is supposedly the tension your guitar is designed for. Maybe not that important a point, but it's best not to have it tuned too high and risk structural damage over time.

Yep, I like the electronic tuners. Best invention since twist-off tops IMO.

15 Dec 02 - 06:42 AM (#847696)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Bee-dubya-ell

I never used an electronic tuner until I started playing hammer dulcimer. Tuning that many strings by ear just seemed a little daunting. Now I use one religiously for all of my instruments.

I do believe that if new players are going to use an electronic tuner they should be aware that just tuning the open strings to the proper notes will not usually put a guitar in perfect tune. It does no good to have open E and B strings that are in perfect tune if the third fret G and D notes are sharp. Sometimes you have to strike a compromise, particularly on that nasty B string.


15 Dec 02 - 08:24 AM (#847714)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Naemanson

Electronic vs ear vs tuning forks - A story

At the last chanty sing in Portland, Maine, Kendall tuned his guitar with his tuning fork and Jeri tuned her fiddle with an electronic tuner. Then they spent the rest of the evening in good natured bickering over which one was flat or sharp. Finally Jeri tuned to Kendall's guitar and they were both happy.

Secon tuning story - Some friend had a band several years ago that included a hammered dulcimer. They let the dulcimer tune and then they tuned to him. They chose the course of tuning fewer strings.

Use what you like, you'll still have to match the majority.

15 Dec 02 - 09:13 AM (#847730)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: McGrath of Harlow

Most people who play pianos couldn't begin to tune them. Of course guitars and suchlike are a whole lot easier to tune, which is as well, since they go out of tune a bit more. Obviously you have to be able to put it in tune, but fore most purposes electronic is best since it's easiest and most consistent.

Tuning by ear is important also though, for those times when the batteries gone flat, or the tuner can't be found, as Greg says - but also for when you want to play with some instrument that isn't in concert pitch and can't be tuned.

The idea that people should have to learn tuning as a penitential rite before they can play is rubbish (though it's not uncommon) - making your fingers contort themseleves into impossible shapes, and toughening up the fingertips by playing with them even when painful, is quite enough suffering to endure on the road to learning.

15 Dec 02 - 12:46 PM (#847816)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Lee

I can tune by ear, but I find it faster using a tuner. Plus, it gives me one less thing to worry about when I get to a gig.

15 Dec 02 - 01:11 PM (#847826)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: GUEST,daylia

Just wanted to add that while guitar players can - and do - 'get away with not having a well-trained ear' (because it's a fretted instrument) they sure can't get away with it if they want to SING as they play!

Also, using an electronic tuner IS an "ear-training exercise" , as one must learn to compare and adjust the pitch of the strings to the tuner. That in itself is quite a hurdle for some beginners.


15 Dec 02 - 03:46 PM (#847888)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Banjo-Flower

I'd like to see anyone "fine tune" by ear after working 40+years in noisy steel mills (intellitouch tuner for me everytime)


15 Dec 02 - 03:57 PM (#847897)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: Tweed

I hear ya Gerry (sort of anyhow). My ears are deadened from jackhammers and diesels. I don't even bother trying to tune without my tuner these days. They're good for set ups if your bridge is adjustable. Also I use it to set the angle of the biscuit/cone assembly of the resonator. Greatest invention since the Herco flatpick!


15 Dec 02 - 04:21 PM (#847911)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?


16 Dec 02 - 11:43 AM (#848197)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: KingBrilliant

Definitely using a tuner does train the ears at the same time. I used to have to thrust my guitar at some likely looking soul & beg them to tune it for me - now I can do it myself even without the tuner. Tis a miracle!


16 Dec 02 - 12:46 PM (#848243)
Subject: RE: guitar tuners:good for beginners?
From: McGrath of Harlow

And of course you can use them to check in what key your vocal cords feels like singing a song in tonight, before you start playing. Like, in the car.