How to Tune a Bass Guitar

Even if you have access to an electronic tuner, tuning a bass guitar by ear is a very important skill for a bassist to learn. This page should help you understand what you are listening for and how to do it.

Pitch and Frequency

Without getting into too many scientific details about sound and pitch, there are a few basic things to understand. How high or how low a pitch is depends on its frequency. Frequency is how frequently something (like a bass string) vibrates. The faster, or more frequently, something vibrates, the higher its pitch.

Diagram 1: Frequency is the number of cycles something vibrates within a certain amount of time (e.g. the note A above middle C = 440 vibrations per second).
Bass Tuning Wavelength

In Tune and Out-of-Tune

When you are tuning your bass strings, you are trying to match the frequency, or vibration pattern, of one note to another. If two notes are out-of-tune with one another, the vibration patterns clash. You should hear a wah-wah-wah sound from the two notes clashing.

For example, listen to these two out-of-tune bass notes...

Diagram 2: Two notes out-of-tune with one another.
Out of tune bass wavelength

When two notes are in tune, the vibration patterns match. This is what you're trying to acheive when you tune your bass strings.

Diagram 3: Two notes in tune with one another.
In tune bass wavelength

The next page will show you what tuning to a note sounds like and the process of doing it.