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How to Tune Your Bass

Before we can get going with learning how to play the bass, we need to learn how to tune it. You can't learn properly on an out-of-tune bass.

In our last lesson we covered the musical alphabet and how notes are named. Knowing how the notes are named is important for you to understand how to tune your bass.

In the three parts of this lesson I will be quite thorough and explain:

  • What it means to be in-tune.
  • Some basics about sound.
  • The sound of tuning and what to listen for.
  • How to tune your bass by ear.
  • How to tune with your bass with an electronic tuner.

I highly recommend watching the videos. Hearing the explanations is a big help.

What Does In-Tune Mean?

You can't sound good on the bass if you're not in-tune. That means your strings must be in-tune with each other, and you must be in-tune with any other musicians or music you're playing with.

But, what does “in-tune” really mean?

In-tune just means your instrument's notes accurately match specific pitches.

Pitch is a continuum, and notes are specific points along it. Being out-of-tune means your notes fall somewhere in-between the notes.

How Do You Tune Your Bass Strings?

You tune your bass by adjusting the tension of the strings so their pitches match specific notes.

You adjust the tension of each string using its tuning key on the headstock.

The looser the string, the lower the pitch.

The tighter the string, the higher the pitch.

The Basics of Sound and Pitch

To really understand what is happening when you tune and what you're listening for, you need a very basic understanding of sound and pitch. I won't get too complicated with this. But, understanding this will serve you in many future musical situations.

Vibrations and Sound Waves

When you hear a sound, you are hearing a vibration transmitted through the air.

An instrument, or voice, vibrates the air which then travels into your ears which translate it into sound in our brains.

We call these vibrations through the air sound waves.

Cycles and Frequencies

Just like ocean waves, these sound waves have a cycle from top to bottom.

We measure sound waves in terms of Frequency. Just think of frequency as how frequently something repeats.

Frequency is counted in Hertz (Hz) and measures how many cycles complete every second.

For example, 100Hz would equal 100 cycles per second.

Notes and Their Frequencies

Musical notes vibrate, or ring, at specific frequencies. The faster the frequency the higher the pitch. The slower the frequency, the lower the pitch.

Maybe you've heard that the note A = 440Hz. That means when you hear this note A, it is vibrating 440 times per second.

So, to play in-tune requires that the notes of your bass match the correct frequencies for each note.

Hearing In-Tune and Out-of-Tune Notes

In the video you can hear examples of in- and out-of-tune pitches and the sound of tuning a string to match a note.

Beating

When two pitches are almost in-tune, the notes clash and create a pulsating sound called beating. As the pitches get closer and closer, the beating sound slows down. When they're in-tune, the beating will be nearly imperceptible or really long.

Ready to Learn How Bass Players Tune?

Now that you have a basic understanding of what it means to be in-tune and and an idea of what to listen for, let's look at the first of two ways bassists tune their basses: tuning by ear.

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