How to Use a Tuning Fork to Tune a Guitar
A tuning fork, in today’s day and age, can seem like an old-timey, unsophisticated tool.
But they have distinct benefits over more modern methods of tuning a guitar.
A fork is a great addition to any guitar case. And it can help in ear-training and sensitivity.
But first, you have to know how to tune your guitar using your tuning fork…
What is a Tuning Fork?
A tuning fork is a simple, two-pronged metal instrument. It produces a specific musical pitch when struck against a surface.
The most commonly used frequency is 440 Hz, which corresponds to the note A above middle C in music.
On the guitar, we can get this pitch by playing a harmonic at the seventh fret of the 4th (D) string.
Parts of a tuning fork
A tuning fork has two main parts. First, a handle. this may also have a ball on the end.
Next, it has two prongs. When the prongs are struck, they vibrate and create a pure tone with a specific frequency (pitch).
Other, non-musical uses
Tuning forks are also used in various scientific and medical applications.
In scientific experiments, they can be used to demonstrate concepts related to sound waves, resonance, and frequency.
In medicine, tuning forks are used as diagnostic tools, particularly in ear examinations and hearing tests.
The vibrations produced by a tuning fork can be used to test a person’s ability to hear different frequencies and detect hearing impairments.
How to Make it Sound
To create the sound from a tuning fork, we need to set the prongs to vibrating.
- First, hold the fork by the handle.
- Next, strike the prongs against any hard surface. (Knee, table, chair, shoe, etc.)
- Once vibrating, we can place the end of the handle against the guitar top to amplify the sound.
- We can also place the end of the handle against our head behind the ear, or anywhere on the skull. Alternatively, we can place an index finger over the end of the handle. Then put the fingertip in an ear.
Instructions for Using a Tuning Fork to Tune a Guitar
With a little practice, we can quickly tune a guitar using a tuning fork. Here’s how.
- Step One: Activate the fork with your right hand (see above)
- Step Two: Play a harmonic on the seventh fret of the 4th (D) string. The louder the better.
- Step Three: Amplify the pitch from the fork by placing the end of the handle on the guitar, in an ear, or on the skull.
- Step Four: With the left hand, adjust the pitch of the 4th string to match that of the tuning fork.
- Step Five: When the fourth string is in tune, tune the other strings in reference to this string. Use the octave method, the 55545 routine, or any other tuning method.
With time, this can become a natural and effortless routine.
Relax your jaw to hear better
If you like, you can release any tension in your jaw as you perform the steps above. This seems to allow for easier hearing of the fine shades of vibrations while tuning.
You can also release the muscles around your eyes. This can aid the release of jaw tension and help with quicker tuning.
There are benefits to using a fork.
If you are not so great at tuning by ear, you can first tune by ear using the fork as reference. Then afterward, check your work with an electronic tuner or app. This can provide useful feedback.
Next, tuning forks are battery-free.
There may one day be a situation where we don’t have a phone or tuner handy. If we have a tuning fork in the guitar case, the day is saved.
This can be especially useful if we tend to get distracted by notifications, messages, and other apps while tuning with a phone.
Third, starting guitar practice off with an analog exercise can help us clear our minds. We’ll be more focused and present, and better prepared for effective practice.
Alternatives to a Tuning Fork
As mentioned above, we do have other options to tune a guitar.
Tune by ear
The most common method of tuning is perhaps that of tuning by ear. Here, we get the strings in tune with each other.
The guitar sounds in tune, regardless of whether the guitar is in tune with A440 Hz (the universally agreed upon definition of “in tune”).
This way, we can practice or play and sound fine, even if we would not be in tune with, say, a piano.
Electronic tuners and apps
The next most common method is the electronic tuner or app.
We can use a stand-alone gizmo, or an app on a phone, tablet, or computer. Options abound, and one is generally like the next in quality and ease of use.
With an app, we can use visual feedback to know that the guitar is in tune. This can be useful, but we deprive ourselves the ear-training and focus opportunities.
Another option is the pitch pipe. This small device is not as popular as it once was. But it’s also analog and can be a valuable aid to get in tune.
A pitch pipe is like a small harmonica. We can blow in one of six holes and hear a given pitch. Each hole correlates to a guitar string.
We blow the note and tune the string.
Tuning Forks are Inexpensive – Try One Out
Most musical tuning forks are quite inexpensive. Expect to play around $10, give or take.
At this price, it can be fun to experiment and learn to use it. The benefits to our ears alone make it worth the time.
And the more able we are to get in tune, the better we sound. The better we sound, the more enthusiastic and motivated we’ll stay to practice and play.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.
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