Starting Off On The Right Foot

Are you looking into guitar lessons?

Whether you're about to start virtual lessons, online courses, or in person classes, I've got two steps that you can take before you begin your very first lesson that will save you valuable lesson time, and a whole bunch of headache.

A quick side note, please consider checking out this YouTube video I've uploaded that address some of the contents of this article in more detail

1. Tuning Your Guitar

Virtual guitar lessons are a really fantastic way to learn to play guitar, but they come with one major setback; 

If a brand new student comes to their first lesson with a guitar that's wildly out of tune and they don't know how to tune it themselves, I can pretty much guarantee that we will spend our entire first lesson trying to tune the instrument together over Skype or Zoom, and there are far more valuable ways to spend our lesson time together.  Additionally, while many in person lessons and online courses will cover how to tune, it will save you lesson time and set you up for a better learning experience if you're able to tune your guitar on your own before you sit down for your first lesson.

Q. When Should You Tune Your Guitar?

A. All the time.  Guitars go out of tune constantly, and there are many reasons why.  Most guitars are made out of wood, which absorbs water.  This means that changes in humidity can affect the wood, putting your guitar out of tune.  Also, guitar strings are made of metal or sometimes nylon, neither of which like to be pulled tightly, and brand new strings tend to resist to the tension differently over time and can even rust or collect dust particles causing the instrument to go out of tune.  All of this means that your guitar sitting alone by itself is going out of tune slowly as we speak.  During a 45 minute performance, I might tune my guitar a minimum of three or four times.

Q. What Do I Need To Tune My Guitar?

A. There is an endless amount of products designed to help you to tune your guitar that range in price from absolutely free, to completely unaffordable.  

For Free:

The best free product for tuning your guitar is an app called Guitar Tuna.  This app is really user friendly and can be downloaded to your phone.  It works by using the microphone in your phone to listen while you play one string at a time.  It will listen to the note, and tell you by using an easy to understand display if that string is in tune. 

Check out this video by the folks at Guitar Tuna to learn how to use the app in more detail:

Click Here to download Guitar Tuna in the Apple Store

Click Here to download Guitar Tuna in the Google Play Store

Electronic Tuners:

There is an entire marketplace of electronic tuners that you can check out, and if you'd like to learn more about what's out there you can check out this article (written by me) that goes into depth about the different tuners at different price points.

If you don't really care about all the gory details and all you want is a decent tuner that won't break the bank that you can use on an acoustic or electric guitar and that won't be trash next week, my advice is to check out these products here:

All of these products have a similar user interface to the Guitar Tuna application, however the advantage of the above products over the app is a higher degree of accuracy due to the fact that these clip on tuners read the vibrations of your guitar rather than relying on a cell phone microphone, which can be interfered with by noisy surroundings.

Q. How Do I Actually Tune My Guitar?

A.  When you tune your guitar, you are making sure that the strings on your guitar are actually producing the pitch that they are supposed to produce.  If they are, all your chords and music will sound the way that they are supposed to.  If they aren't, even if you're playing perfectly everything will sound bad.  The open (open means no frets pushed down) strings are supposed to produce these pitches:

Open Strings
It is important to understand that these pitches exist on a spectrum, similar to the way that colours do.  That spectrum is called the "Chromatic Scale".  The chromatic scale consists of these notes:

A  (A# or Bb) B C (C# or Db) D (D# or Eb) E F (F# or Gb) G (G# or Ab) A

If you're trying to tune your low E (your thickest string) and you are using some sort of electronic tuner whether its a phone app or an actual physical tuner, you want that tuner to show you an "E" on the display, and then you need to get the needle or meter to read in the dead centre.  However, if your guitar is way out of tune, it may be reading a "D" or some other note.  In this case, refer to the above notes of the chromatic scale.  In our hypothetical example where our tuner is reading a "D" when we want it to read "E", you can see that "D" is two positions to the left of "E" on the chromatic scale.  In order to make your tuner read an "E" on the display, you need to tune the string way up from where it currently is (close to "D"), go past "D#" (also called Eb) and then you will be at "E".  Once the display is reading the correct pitch (in this case "E"), make sure the needle or meter is in the dead centre.

This process needs to be repeated for all 6 strings until they are all reading the pitch that they are supposed to, and they are all in the dead centre of that pitch.  

2. How To Read Guitar Tab

Another thing that you should come into your first lesson already aware of is how to read guitar tabs.  Guitar tab is a very simple form of notation that is specific to the guitar.  This means that if you show guitar tabs to a pianist or a saxophone player, they will have no idea how to read it.  

While guitar tab is really great for quickly showing students how to play certain chords or songs on the guitar, it is by no means a replacement for understanding how to read musical notation.  This is because guitar tabs cannot communicate some of the finer details that musical notation is able to, including how loud or soft to play something, or even how long to hold a certain note or chord.  Due to the fact that guitar tabs cannot communicate this kind of information, guitar tabs can only show you how to play a song that you are familiar with.  If you've never heard the song before, guitar tabs can give you some idea of how to play it, but you will need to actually listen to the song to get it right.  

What Guitar Tabs Look Like

Here is an excerpt of a song written out using guitar tabs:
Guitar tabYou can see that there are six horizontal lines.  Each horizontal line represents one of your guitar strings.  

The bottom line represents your thickest string (your low E) and the top line represents your thinnest string (your high E).  If this looks a bit backwards to you, you are not alone.  The idea behind it is that when you look down at your guitar, the first string you see is your low E, like this:
Guitar Tabs

How To Read The Numbers

The numbers simply tell you what fret to hold down.  The particular line that they are written on indicates what string to hold the fret down.  The only other important consideration is that when the numbers are written one after the other, as in the example above, they are intended to be played in succession, or one after another.  If the numbers are written in a vertical line on top of each other as in the example below, they are meant to be played simultaneously, as a chord.
Guitar Chords
Now that you're up to speed on these two pre requisites, you're ready to start your lessons!  Thanks for checking out what I have to say on this subject, and as always thank you for making me a super small part of your journey with the guitar, it's something that I do not take for granted!  

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to reach out to me any time :)

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