Ever wondered what to listen for when tuning by ear and how to do it correctly? Here are three methods to tune a bass – and only one involves a tuner!
Plus a COOL TRICK for when it’s too loud to tune by ear!
My favorite tuners, as promised:
- Great clip-on Strobe Tuner – https://amzn.to/42XoBKl
- Great clip-on Snark – https://amzn.to/42Z7Wp8
- TC Electronic Polytune Pedal – https://amzn.to/3IgMxzQ
- StroboStomp Pedal Tuner – https://amzn.to/42Z7Wp8
- Simple Pedal Tuner – https://amzn.to/3IlOniT
- Popular Boss Pedal Tuner – https://amzn.to/3BAsGrH
- Korg Plugin Tuner + Metronome – https://amzn.to/3M9V74r
- Simple Korg Plugin Tuner – https://amzn.to/3IlOyuz
How do you tune a bass? Three methods and one bonus method that’s really cool. Okay,
Method #1: somebody in the band has a legit note let’s say I got this digital piano here that’s definitely going to be in tune. This is a low A and I have that note. Typically a tuning note is A. First you want to hit the note… hit your string… too low. Do you hear that? Okay so what do you do? You hit the A…
I know I’m too low so I’m gonna go up while this note is ringing and what I’m looking for is for that wawaawa to become a little slower and at some point the wawawawa
it’s gonna settle in that’s when I’m in tune. You get this
If I overshoot, it’s the wawas are going to start again… [Music]
Hear that? wawawawawawa… They get faster and faster because now I’m already going to the next note, right. Now I’m too high. What do you do when you’re too high? You don’t want to just tune down and call it a day, you want to tune down below the pitch you’re aiming for and then back up
Why? It holds the tuning better. So now I’m gonna go down below where I need to go hit it again, and the wawas stop.
What I just showed you with the piano you can do with the bass as well, now my A supposedly is in tune. Now, I’m gonna tune my E string to that let’s say it’s somewhere south. Fifth fret so you got to be careful when you hit the open A, you wanna make sure that you don’t stop it from ringing – this is what happens in the beginning sometimes. You hit the A and then you hit this A and then you inadvertently stop the A from ringing. You need both of them to ring. You need to think that through if you put your finger there to hit the fifth fret on the E string to get the same note A, you’re gonna have a hard time because the goal is I want to hear them both at the same time so… too low… grip over… and make the wawa stop.
And now you do that with all the strings: fifth fret, open; fifth fret, open; fifth fret, open, okay? Hey, when you tune make sure you’re not doing this by accident, see how it changes the pitch?
You’re gonna have a hard time – and not in tune. You can also use the seventh fret, then you get the octave. But going up you get the same octave. Fifth open, fifth open, fifth open. If you go from top down: seventh open, you get an octave difference.
Method #2: use the harmonics. Harmonics are great for tuning because they ring for a long time. It’s ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing. What you want to hit is the seventh fret and the fifth fret now I got a D. Wait a minute, wait a minute. If I hit that note it’s a G, how come it’s a D? Well it’s because it’s a harmonic, right, so when you hit a harmonic in order to hit it you wanna find the soft part of the tip of your finger and hover it exactly over the fret. You’ll have a much easier time you go a little bit see I can get a note out of this whole area but I can only get a harmonic if I’m pretty precise.
And the frets don’t line up with harmonics either by the way. So they don’t line up and in some cases, just like now, the harmonic note bears no resemblance with the actual pitch there, right. Seventh fret is, however the same note, so I’m going seventh fret on the G string, harmonic. Fleshy part of my pinky takes care of that and then first finger, fleshy part of my pointer and I’m putting that on the fifth fret and I get that.
Now this happens to be in tune, I’m going to detune it Wawawaw starts, right? Wawawaawaawaaaawaaaaa right?That’s where you’re at. If you kept going it would start again. Okay and then you do that overall, the strings and you’re good.
Harmonics are not equally tempered like my frets are. They are equally tempered so this – because this is a fifth, the G string, right, it’s a fifth, D. Because of that D is a touch too high, but it’s so little that you’re actually fine.
Method #3: the tuner. I like those snark clip-ons you can turn them every which way so you can see them. They got one button and that is the button that switches them on and off, and in the back it you can if should you ever need 438 or some different tuning system, which is very rare in our world, and it doesn’t hurt your instrument they’re reliable and they work pretty well for basses
I got my little snark up here and I’m pointing it into one of my cameras. Now you’re on, okay. So, beautiful thing, hit the note too high turns yellow goes up, again don’t tune down to pitch, tune below and tune back up. Now you want to go slow, because once you’re shot over, you have to go back down again.
There are also tuners you can plug in. Also tuners on the computer. Sometimes when you look at a tuner you’ll hit the note and then it’ll bounce a little bit too high and then settle right in that’s normal, so ignore the first spike. Some tuners have a needle that bounces around in the middle and when it’s not right it’s like red or yellow whatever and then it gets green -that’s what you want. Some are strobe tuners so there are different bands that are turning and you want to make those turn as slowly as possible there like: fast, fast, fast, fast, slower, slower, slower, slower and that’s when you’re in tune. Peterson strobe tuners do that. They’re chromatic tuners that can pick up which pitch you are on and they can even pick up an Eb flat, as it isn’t in tune yes or no. See, these tuners are smart. I’m playing a bunch of notes and that tuner has got me covered.
Low String Tuning Issue
Now sometimes what’s going to happen is you’re going to put this on there and then you’re going to tune your – shall we say – E string or even worse B string, right. And the tuners sometimes don’t pick them up that well, but what happens is they pick up like an overtone, like for example, sometimes I hit my e and my tuner says B. I’m like hey, but you know what, what the tuner hears is the overtone and the B is the fifth of the E so it hears an overtone. What you can do though, if you’re confused if it’s the low B and really don’t like it, hit the octave as a harmonic. Why as a harmonic? Because then it keeps ringing and you can change while you can look at your display. If you however, do this… and then I can’t hear the note anymore.
And here’s the bonus method: it might be loud, you can’t hear yourself, there’s no tuner you can plug into and you need to, on the fly, get ready. So here’s what you can do. Rather than pluck pluck and hear there’s no sound. Put your hand here and feel the vibration. You can actually feel it, if it’s out. Put the bass in tune and then do this and go down oh I can feel it – it’s like a vibration and you’ve slowly turn it up, I feel the vibration get slower, zoom, zoom, zoom, at some point it’s stopped and I overshot it. I gotta go back down again. Don’t overshoot. Yeah, that feels pretty close let’s check the snark, there we go. Hey, thanks for tuning in and always tune up! We tune, because we care.