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Guitar Lesson One

Tuning up

The most difficult task that a beginning guitarist faces is tuning the instrument. As it takes time to develop a sense of pitch, I recommend that you use an electronic tuner at first. If you don't have one, go get one. It is impossible to learn to play on an out of tune guitar. You can pick up an electronic tuner for as little as $19.95, and it will pay for itself before the end of this first lesson. Make sure that the sales person shows you how to use it, and pay attention to what they tell you. If the instructions don't make sense to you, DO NOT leave the store until you understand EXACTLY how to use the tuner. If the sales person acts like they have something better to do than educate you on how to tune the guitar, leave a complaint with the management and go buy a tuner somewhere else. Playing in tune is THAT important!


Begin by tuning your guitar using your electronic tuner. Check for accuracy by comparing the pitch of each string to tuning.mid.

As you work on this lesson, try tuning to the MIDI file by ear and then double checking for accuracy with your electronic tuner.

This lesson is divided into four parts:


Notes are named after the first seven letters in the alphabet. In order, they are:

A - B - C - D - E - F - G

Between any two notes, except B - C and E - F, we also have a sharp and/or flat note.

These are the symbols that are used to denote sharp and flat:

= sharp
= flat

If we list the notes, again, and include the sharps and flats, we get:

A - A#/Bb - B - C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A

One important thing to notice is that X#/Xb is one note that has two names (The term used to describe this is ENHARMONIC). For example, A# is the exact same note as Bb. Sometimes, one name will be used, and sometimes the other name will be used. We will cover this in much greater detail in a later lesson. For now, it's only important that you know the names of the notes.

Another thing to notice is that after G#/Ab We arrive at A again. This second A vibrates exactly twice as fast as the first A, and therefore, the ear tends to hear it as another version of the same note. The second A is called the OCTAVE of the first A. If we continue after the second A, we get A#/Bb an OCTAVE higher than the first, B an OCTAVE higher, C an OCTAVE higher etc., etc., until we get to A again. This A is two OCTAVES higher than the first A. If we keep going, the whole pattern just repeats over and over until we can't get any higher on the instrument. (If you didn't run out of notes, you could keep right on going until the notes were so high that only a dog could hear them!) The same is true if you travel in the opposite direction. The pattern repeats until you run out of notes, or the neighbors call the cops (whichever comes first).

Here's something to help you remember the sharps and flats. If you sharpen a pencil, you raise a point on it. Therefore, if you play A and then play the next higher note, you would call the second note A#. If you flatten a pop can, you mash it down. Likewise, if you play B and then play the next lower note, you would call the second note Bb. Remember that A# and Bb are the exact same note or ENHARMONIC.

This may be a bit confusing but, you'el get used to it.

All you have to remember is A through G of the alphabet and a #/b note in between every two notes except B - C and E - F (there's no such note as B# or Cb, likewise, E# or Fb. There is an exception to this but, that's way down the road!).

Now, the strings of the guitar are tuned E A D G B E from the lowest sounding to the highest sounding.

What I have for you, is an exercise that uses the A-string to practice playing and naming the notes. Don't worry about the standard music notation right now. Just follow the TAB until you get the idea. Once you get the idea of the exercise, don't use the TAB either. You have to know this stuff by heart.

The idea of this exercise is to start on the OPEN (if you just play the string without putting any finger down on it, its called OPEN) A-string and play each note, in order, up and down the string, while naming the note out loud to yourself. Don't worry about which left-hand fingers to use. Just use whatever seems comfortable. We'el start worrying about which fingers to use later.

It looks like this:



I only took the exercise up to the 12th fret but, you could keep going as high up the neck as possible before heading back down to the OPEN string. (Up and down directions on guitar ALWAYS refer to the pitch of the notes. If you go up the neck, you go from playing lower sounding notes to higher sounding notes. If you go down the neck, you go from playing higher sounding notes to lower sounding notes.)

Once you can go up and down the A-string and name the notes (Don't worry about trying to remember exactly where each note is. That will come later. Just get the pattern of how the notes are named so that you know it by heart.), do the same thing on the other strings.

If you start on the D-string (or any other string), the pattern is still the same. You're just starting in a different spot:

D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G# - A - A# - B - C - C# - D

I left out the flats because I'm tired of typing them, but they're still there, just like before.


This lesson is divided into four parts:

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