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How to Tune Your Bass Pt. 3: Using Electronic Tuners | StudyBass

October 12, 2019


StudyBassers! While it’s very important for you to learn how to tune by ear, most of the time you’re probably going to be using an electronic tuner to tune your bass. In this video I will explain how electronic tuners work, how to use them, and common problems you might run into when you do use them. There are several different ways that electronic tuners can detect pitch. Some tuners have a microphone that listens for the pitch. So remember, tuners can only detect one note at a time. So, these work okay when you’re in a very quiet environment with no other instruments or music in the background. And, these might come in little boxes or even an app for your phone or tablet. Some tuners you plug your bass into directly or through an output on your bass amp. And, that eliminates the noise problem from using a microphone and it’s usually more accurate. Another type of tuner clips onto your instrument usually on the headstock. And, it detects vibrations through your instrument. Where you clip it on your instrument can make a difference in terms of accuracy. So, you might try moving around if it’s not working very well. You’ll see some tuners that are simply labeled ‘bass tuner’ or ‘guitar tuner’ and then others that are labeled ‘chromatic’. So the ones that are marked ‘bass tuner’ tune only to the common standard tuning notes of the bass: E, A, D, & G. A chromatic tuner tunes to any note of the musical alphabet and that’s what i would recommend for you to get because you never know what else you might want to tune to. So, it’s much more versatile versus a just a bass tuner. OK well, let’s look at how to use your tuner… Most electronic tuner displays work about the same way they tell you what note your closest to in the musical alphabet, and how above it or below it you are. When the picture is higher than the note, we describe it as being ‘sharp’; and when it’s below the note, we describe it as being flat. So maybe you’ve heard somebody say that, “The singer was singing flat all night.” So that just means that they sang a little bit under where the pitch should have been. How sharp or flat a note is is measured in ‘cents’. So, just like there are a hundred cents on a dollar, there are a hundred cents in a note. So, if a note is fifty cents off, it’s halfway between two notes. So most tuners won’t tell you what octave you’re tuning to. So that could be trouble because if you tune to the next octave up, you might break your string. So what I recommend that you do if you’re just starting out is loosen your string quite a bit so that way you know that you’re well below the target pitch. So how often should you tune? Well in the beginning I recommend that you tune every time you sit down to play. And, that’s because you need to learn to hear these notes in tune. So your musical development really depends on hearing things in-tune. So as you gain experience you’ll know when you’re out of tune and and you’ll know when to tune up. Now what causes your bass to go out of tune? Well that’s usually something simple like the keys getting bumped usually inside of your bass case. But, it can be things also like the weather changing. So, when it was very humid and then the next day is very dry your bass kind of shifts all around. Now let’s go through the process of tuning up with a tuner. Remember the standard tuning for the 4-string bass, going from the low-fat string to the high skinny string, is E AD G. We want this low string to be the note E. So now what I recommend is first start out with the string very loose. Loosen the string until you know it’s well below the target pitch. Now slowly start turning the tuning key and what you’ll see is that we’re slowly cycling through the musical alphabet so there’s A-flat now A then B-flat is next so we need to get to E. We have B and C and then C-sharp or D-flat Then D…D-sharp or E flat. So it’s the next note we need E. We’re almost there we’re just flat we’re just underneath E. There we go we have green on one display and then we have a green light and two arrows on the other display. Now if you were to pass it up, you’d see the other side of E. You’d be sharp. You have to loosen the string again. Now you’ll tune the other strings the exact same way so you need to the next string the note A. So if you’re underneath see A-flat maybe. Slowly tune up till you get to the center of A. The next one should be D and then your top string should be G. Here are a few problems that you might run into with your tuner. So, if it’s not detecting the pitch or maybe the needle is jumping around a lot, there’s a couple of reasons that might happen. One thing to remember is that tuners can only pick up one pitch at a time. So if you have multiple strings ringing just even accidentally the tuner might get confused and not know which one you’re trying to tune. Make sure you check that your volume is turned all the way up so that the tuner can hear the note. Your tuner might not work very well if the battery is low. Sometimes your tuner will say that you’re in-tune, but you can hear that something is still off. So that can happen for a few different reasons On some tuners it can be easy to miss the sharp or flat indicator light. So here it might look like D, but it’s really D sharp. A common mistake I’ve seen students make with their tuners is they accidentally change the tuning standard to something other than 440. What is the tuning standard? Well the tuning standards just somebody specified that the note A has to equal 440 Hertz, and then that means all the other notes will fall in relationship to that 440 standard. So if you’ve accidentally changed it make sure you change it back to 440 otherwise all of your notes will be out-of-tune. Some tuners have something called a key setting. For the bass, this needs to be set to ‘C’. What the key setting does is it shifts the notes, or transposes the notes, up or down from C. You don’t need to worry about the key setting for bass, just make sure that it’s set to C. Lastly, if your open strings are in-tune, but the rest of the notes on your fretboard are off, then that means you need to adjust the ‘intonation’ on your bass. You can find bass setup information in the gear section on StudyBass. Now that you know how to tune your bass, we can finally start learning how to play it. So in the next part of the StudyBass curriculum we’re going to talk about basic bass playing technique.

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5 Comments

  • Reply Alejandro Loynaz Dominguez January 25, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Excellent !! Thank you

  • Reply debuysio March 11, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    Nice vids Andrew.
    I,am a studybasser for a couple of years now.
    From Europe, so you now…….

  • Reply marilyn wilson January 20, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    Teaching method is thorough and the teacher often anticipates my next question!  Thank you. So glad that I found you.

  • Reply chuck chieffo March 22, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    I am very impressed with the lessons ! Andrew is an excellent teacher& instructor. Thanks, Andrew . Chuck

  • Reply MrNathan791 April 16, 2019 at 12:29 am

    I just started back on my bass after so many years. I came here because I started out with Andrew's site about 10 yrs. ago. Although I've been trying to play since I was in my late teens I really want to make this work this go round. I'm so much older now and I hope that I can still pick things up.

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