Tuning Your Guitar Using "Beats"

Discussion in 'Guitar Lessons, Tutorials & Tips' started by ambuj, Mar 17, 2005.

  1. ambuj

    ambuj Pro Tabber

    Ok guys, I discovered this cool method to fine tune your acoustic guitar accurately in the absence of tuners and such. Your guitar may not be in the standard E tuning, but it surely will be tuned once you are done.

    Ok, first a little something about beats. No, I'm not talking about drum beats... these are the beats that you'll find in any XII standard physics text book. By definition, it is the alternate waxing and waning of intensity of sound when two waves of nearly equal amplitudes and frequencies traveling in opposite directions in a medium interfere. The frequency of beats (i.e. no. of beats per second) is equal to the difference in the frequencies of the interfering waves. Make any sense? Wait, it will soon....

    Now, to employ this method to tune you guitar, you must have a good ear, and you should be very sensitive to the vibrations made by your guitar.

    First, tune your guitar by any conventional method using your ear, with help of a keyboard, or a software like guitar pro 4(which I use). Though you would get a fairly good tuning, it is near impossible to get the exact perfect tuning. This is where beats come in.

    You must be knowing that the frequency of an open string matches with the frequency of the string above it when a certain fret is pressed.
    The fifth fret of the 2nd string has the same frequency as that of the open 1st string.
    The fourth fret of the 3rd string has the same frequency as that of the open 2nd string.
    The fifth fret of the 4th string has the same frequency as that of the open 3rd string.
    The fifth fret of the 5th string has the same frequency as that of the open 4th string.
    The fifth fret of the 6th string has the same frequency as that of the open 5th string.

    Press the fifth fret of your 6th string and strike the 6th and the 5th strings together. If there is a slight difference in their frequencies, you should be able to make out the alternate waxing and waning of sound, i.e. the intensity of sound would reach a peak, then it would go down to a minimum alternately. It’s a bit difficult to explain, it is something like as if someone was changing the volume of your guitar continuously between a maximum and a minimum. These are called beats. If you do get beats, it means that your guitar is imperfectly tuned, but only slightly.
    Detecting beats could be troublesome. You should be in an absolutely quite room. Also hold your guitar close to yourself, so that you can feel the alternating vibrations.

    Now comes the difficult part. How do we know whether the 5th string is at a lower frequency than the correct one or at a higher frequency? It can be done by two methods. The first is trial and error. First, tighten your 5th string a little. If the number of beats per second increases, it means you should loosen it. If the number of beats decreases, it means you should tighten it further till you hear no more beats. Remember to tighten/loosen your string only slightly.
    The second method is that if you have an excellent ear, you would be able to make out the difference yourself, and then tightening or loosening the string as required. Saves a lot of trouble.

    Now repeat this procedure with the rest of the strings, and you have a perfectly tuned guitar!
    However, it is a bit difficult to detect beats in the thin strings (the 1st and 2nd strings). It is relatively much easier in the fat strings.

    This method takes some practice. However, it is quite a good method to achieve perfect tuning for you acoustic.
  2. nadish

    nadish Active Member

    Ya I always use this method to tune my guitar... Ne ways its gud that u've shared this method with others also...
  3. koops

    koops New Member

    Careful though...

    I am currently researching our perception of consonance and dissonance which is related to your suggestion that we should use 'beats' to achieve perfect tuning.

    The tuning system you are suggesting is known as 'just' temperament, which will result in ideal perfect intervals (4th's and 5th's). However, while it may sound perfect when strumming an E chord, you'll find that every other chord doesn't, and that scales will sound terrible!

    As western harmony has evolved our ears have become conditioned to accept 'Equal' temperament. Today, this is the ideal temperament. The chromatic scale generated by equal tempered tuning consists of equally spaced intervals to allow for various musical devices (e.g. transposition, modulation).

    So, be warey of using the elimination of beating when tuning. The best method is to use octave based tuning, using whatever key your song is in as the octave-tuned pitch, and remember that there needs to be slight beating (a few cents lower than 'just') to get good, musically balanced tuning.

    Koops :cool:
  4. ananth222

    ananth222 Beginner

    Good observation koops, but I must disagree on equal temperament being "good and musically balanced". even many great musicians consider equal temperament to be the bane of western music. just temperament is the good and musically balanced tuning.
    However, the guitar cannot be tuned in just temperament. It can only be tuned in equal temperament. heres a link for equal temperament tuning:
  5. koops

    koops New Member

    Yeah, I can see why people do think that. In my opinion though, equal tempered tuning is an important musical evolution on a theoretical and practical level.

    I suppose at the end of the day it comes down to the composer's or performer's preference. There is nothing to stop the composer creating a piece for which each chord is tuned individually, so all chords would indeed sound pure in form.

    Thanks for the link, Koops. :cool:
  6. DrSaurabh

    DrSaurabh Wh@+s Up D0C

    interestin reading ananth.....dint get half of it tho :p:
    ve been using beats too
  7. koops

    koops New Member

    And another thing...

    If you are in the process of tuning, you'd do best to tune at the same level you will be performing at because our perception of pitch changes according to volume. This is evident when comparing direct sound from a source within a large reverberant room to the delayed reflections.
  8. Rey1970

    Rey1970 New Member

    Isn't this process called the RELATIVE TUNING METHOD, this is what musicians used long before we ever thought about music !!!!! ;) this is what i use then check it against my tuner or keyboard, I was taught this way at first its a good ear training!!!!

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