Getting your bass in tune for the first time can be tricky, especially if you’re trying to do it by ear. While it is important to develop your pitch recognition skills, it’s not the first thing you want to tackle as a bassist!
Purchase a clip-on tuner for your bass, a tuning pedal, or another tool that will listen to the pitches of the strings for you and tell you whether to raise/lower them. This will save you so much time and headache and get you playing fast!
Seriously, get a tuner. Trying to play an out of tune instrument (especially if you don’t know it’s out of tune) will make everything you do sound horrid, and you’ll probably give up before you even start.
There are some apps and sites out there that you use your device’s microphone. Make sure whatever you install uses the microphone. If it just plays notes for you, it’ll take forever to try and tune with it (we’ll work on that a little later).
Standard Tuning for a four string bass guitar is (thickest string to thinnest string): E-A-D-G. You can remember this with a saying like Eat And Drink Gold where the first letter of each word corresponds to the string note.
Using a Tuner
To raise the pitch of a note, tighten the string. To lower it, loosen the string.
Most tuners will show you the note that the string is closest to. So if you’re playing the E string and it shows as G, you need to loosen the string until E shows up, then fine tune to make sure that it’s perfectly tuned to an E note.
Knowing the musical alphabet will help you get in tune. Here’s a quick look:
For example, if you’re tuning the A string and a B note is showing up, you need to loosen the string and lower the pitch.
For example, if you’re tuning the G string and an F note is showing up, you need to tighten the string and raise the pitch.
Using The 5th Fret Method (Relative Tuning)
The fifth fret method tunes your bass relative to the E string note. So, if your E string is not perfectly in tune, you will not get into standard tuning! However, tuning the strings relative to each other will allow you to play across the fretboard and sound alright by yourself.
- Fret the E string at the fifth fret. Play the open A string and this note in unison, tweaking the A string’s tuning until the pitches match.
- Fret the A string at the fifth fret. Play the open D string and this note in unison, tweaking the D string’s tuning until the pitches match.
- Fret the D string at the fifth fret. Play the open G string and this note in unison, tweaking the G string’s tuning until the pitches match.
- You’re in (relative) tune!
Just remember: if you’re playing with someone else in standard tuning, you will sound out of tune because you are not in standard tuning. Your bass is only tuned relative to whatever note the E string is.
Listening for Pulses
Make sure to play the strings together to help hear when they’re in tune. If you listen closely, there will be “beats” or “pulses” when the strings are out of tune. This wavering sound will allow you to tune by ear.
The pulses are produced by the misaligned frequencies of the out of tune notes. The quicker the pulses, the more out of tune the notes are. As the notes get closer to the same pitch, the pulses will slow down until they disappear. That means the notes are in tune with each other.