After watching Mircea’s tonebase lesson “On Tuning,” I was inspired to share a few of my own thoughts on the subject, specifically why I think learning to tune by ear is incredibly important.
The first obvious question you might ask is: “Why not just use a tuner?”
In fact, there is nothing wrong with using a tuner.
Since I don’t have perfect pitch, I usually use a tuner to tune one string and then I tune the others by ear.
In the past, I actually relied on a tuner completely and didn’t bother tuning by ear. However, in the last few years, I have found pleasure in spending several minutes tuning when I first pick up my guitar in the morning.
When you are tuning by ear, you need to listen “actively” and not “passively” which is a big difference.
In the beginning stages, this process is hard, you may take you 10–15 minutes (!) to tune your guitar while you could be practicing.
Is this a waste of time then?
Not at all — you are developing your ear and training it. Every day you tune without using the tuner, you are developing as a musician.
Many times, in the middle of a piece, the guitar starts to be out of tune and I need to:
- Hear that is out of tune
- Try to find which string is out of tune
- Tune it
All of this while playing.
Many times my beginner students start playing and they don’t even notice the guitar is out of tune.
This is normal and by no means indicates a lack of “musical talent.” Their ear is simply not developed.
When I was younger I had the same problem because I was using the tuner all the time. Taking the time to tune by ear is one of the best things you can do to develop it.
The Violin Tuning Strategy
To add to the many fantastic tips Mircea teaches in his lesson, I will share a common tactic violinists use while tuning their instrument.
It is often the case that you will have two strings which are out of tune but are so close that we have a hard figuring out if the string is too high or too low.
It’s almost there but not quite and you’re not sure which way you need to turn your tuning peg.
Surprisingly, the solution here is to make it even more out of tune by simply swinging the tuning pegs in a random direction.
When you do this, suddenly it becomes clear that it is too high or low because we just “untuned” it and now we clearly know which direction is right.
I was a bit shocked the first time I experienced a violinist doing this because it seemed like the he was un-tuning his violin on purpose.
However, that’s exactly what he was doing to make the tuning process easier.
Next time you are having difficulty telling which direction you need to turn your peg, give this violin strategy a try!
I will end this post by quoting Mircea’s answer to the interesting question: “What does being out of tune actually sound like?”
“If the two strings are not in tune with each other, you will hear a ‘wah-wah’ sound, or an interference between the pitches. As the two strings become more in tune, the speed of the ‘wah-wah’ gets slower, until finally disappearing: when this happens, the two strings are in tune with each other.”
I would like to end this post by emphasizing that you should not take tuning as a boring task or as a chore but as a way of meditating, active listening, training your ear.
The time you spend tuning and listening carefully is always a good investment.