How to Tune a Guitar With a Piano

Everybody goes a little out of tune sometimes. Is it possible to tune your guitar using a piano? Is it preferable to use a keyboard? Stay tuned. 

Guitars are temperamental instruments. They go in and out of tune because the strings loosen and tighten according to the air and the temperature. 

There are many ways to tune a guitar. Using a guitar tuner or tuner app is the most common and comfortable. But in many circumstances, the most appropriate way to tune the guitar is with a piano or keyboard. 

This article provides a step-by-step guide to tuning your guitar with a piano and an explanation of when and why you should do so. 

When and why should I tune my guitar with a piano?

There are lots of things to consider when choosing which instrument to play. 

For ideas, you can check out What Instrument You Should Play on our blog.

Whatever you choose, you should know that a piano is far more complicated to tune than a guitar. 

tune guitar

On a guitar, you simply have to tighten and loosen the nobs on the end of the strings. You can use an app on your phone or a small tuning device – it takes minutes. 

The tuner shows you when the string is resonating at the correct pitch and when and how you need to adjust it. Without very much effort at all, the instrument will be singing sweetly in the standard tuning of A=440hz. 

A piano, on the other hand, often requires a professional who comes and takes apart the hardware of the instrument in order to individually tune the strings of all 88 keys. It can take up to two hours and usually isn’t cheap. 

The upside is that a piano goes out of tune less regularly – it only needs tuning once or twice a year.

For this reason, when a piano and guitar are playing together in a band or a rehearsal, the guitar needs to be tuned to the piano. This achieves relative tuning between the instruments, even if the piano is not perfectly in tune with the industry standard of A=440hz. 

What this means is that you’re better off having a piano and guitar be in tune with each other, rather than the guitar being closer to standard tuning but out of sync with the piano. 

Is it better to use a keyboard or a piano?

The benefit of a keyboard over a piano is that its keys never go out of tune. The sound is created electronically and is programmed to produce the same pitch every time. If you’re playing along with an acoustic piano, as mentioned previously, this won’t help you. But if you’re playing guitar on your own, and for whatever reason, a tuner is not available to you, a keyboard is your best bet. 

An additional benefit of tuning a guitar to a keyboard is that it helps to train your ears. When you use a tuner or an app, the machine tells you when the string is in tune. When you use a keyboard, you have to use your ears to determine if the string and the key are resonating with the same pitch. Over time, this practice sharpens your musical ear, and eventually, you may not need anything other than your ears to tune a guitar. 

How to tune a guitar with a piano: step-by-step.

  1. Sit by the piano with your guitar in hand. 
  2. Press your foot down on the sustain pedal of the piano. 
  3. Play the note E, which is below middle C. Let the note ring out.
  4. Play the bottom string of your guitar, which is also the note E. Do it quickly, before the piano note starts to fade and its resonance changes.
  5. If the guitar string sounds lower than the piano key, tighten the string by turning it anticlockwise. If the string sounds higher than the key, loosen the string by turning it clockwise. 
  6. Using your ear and intuition, when the two instruments sound like they’re resonating the same frequency, move on to the next string.
  7. Repeat this process with all the strings, ascending on the piano with the notes A, D, G, B, and E. If you need assistance, do this process with the help of an instructional video
  8. When you’ve reached the top string of the guitar, and it sounds in tune, play an E major chord on the guitar without using the piano. This is to ensure that the guitar is in tune with itself and sounds good resonating on its own. If it does, you’re good to go! 

Stay tuned. 

It’s important to know how to tune an instrument and how to hear when the tuning drifts. Once you develop this hearing, you ironically find that the most beautiful musical creations are born from imperfection. Sometimes the magic happens with a slightly wonky piano, or an old guitar that can’t quite be tuned perfectly. Let yourself be taken by surprise. 

And if you’re looking for something to help you stay in tune, Simply Piano is an app for that. 

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