Playing in tune is an essential part of learning any stringed instrument.

I have students who come in all the time and haven’t tuned once during the week. There are all kinds of electronic tuners available, so there is NO EXCUSE for playing out of tune! Why is it necessary to play in tune and what difference does it make?

It helps to develop your ear.

You can get used to an out of tune instrument as easily as you can an in tune instrument. Not everyone is blessed with the ability to hear the difference. You definitely don’t want to think the instrument sounds good when in reality it’s out of tune.

Playing in tune with others is essential.

Nothing is quite as annoying as playing with someone who is out of tune and doesn’t know it. This is more common than you would think. Using an electronic device to tune is a good way to get used to hearing what an in tune instrument should sound like.

Good tuners are very easy to find.

Back in the day, like all electronic equipment, electronic tuners were expensive, cumbersome and hard to use. My first tuner had two knobs on top, one to select the note and one to select the octave. It was also quite big and cost a couple hundred dollars. The new ones can be the size of a credit card or smaller, some clip on to the instrument, and they know what note you’re playing. A couple of the tuners I recommend are: Martin Tuner: a free app from the Martin Guitar Company, it features several different guitar tunings, an ear trainer, and a small slide presentation on how to change strings. The Snark clip on tuner attaches to the peghead and senses the vibrations to tell you what note you’re playing. There is no built in microphone which means it won’t pick up outside noises. There are too many more to mention, but it’s difficult to make a bad choice. The price and ease of use should be your guide.

What the different tuning modes mean.

There are guitar tuners, bass tuners, ukulele tuners, bluegrass tuners, chromatic tuners and the list goes on. If you think you’ll be playing and tuning with other instruments, the best choice is a chromatic tuner. Chromatic means that the tuner has all of the notes on it, so you can tune any instrument as long as you know what notes to tune to.

Pitch Pipes, Harmonicas, Pianos and Relative Tuning.

Pitch pipes are usually round or in a holder, you blow into them and then try to tune to that note. The biggest problem is they sound like a harmonica, not a string vibrating which makes it very difficult to tune to if you’re not used to that. Harmonicas, same problem.

Tuning to a piano you need to find the correct note and then try to match the sound.

Relative tuning means you tune the instrument to itself. If you’re not tuning to a fixed pitch or concert pitch, your instrument will be in tune but not to other instruments.


I play and teach guitar, banjo and ukulele.


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