How to Tune a Bass Guitar
Tuning is a very simple process, but a requirement for any rehearsal, show or recording that - believe it or not - can often be overlooked. Depending on your instrument, you may even need to tune between songs at a show.
One of the first things to know about tuning involves the relationship of the strings to one another. Each string is a perfect fourth up from the string below it. A perfect fourth is five chromatic notes (or half steps) up. This means that a note on the fifth fret will be the same note as the next open string if the bass is in tune. You can use this to tune your bass to itself by ear.
When the string is out of tune, you will hear waves in the pitch. The slower these waves, the more out of tune your string is. The faster the waves, the closer you are to the proper pitch. When the waves stop, you will only hear one pitch and that means that your string is in tune.
Since bass frequencies are low and can often be difficult to hear precisely, many people choose to tune to harmonics. The harmonic on the fifth fret will match the harmonic on the seventh fret of the string above it. These harmonics produce higher pitches, which make the sound waves easier to hear and thus easier to tune.
Of course, most musicians use electronic tuners. There are various models available, ranging from cheap and replaceable chromatic tuners to more advanced (and durable) pedal tuners. Pedal tuners are great for live shows and rehearsals, as you can silently tune your bass in front of an audience, even on a dark stage. Remember: no one wants to hear you tune through your amp at a gig! Investing in a tuner will save frustration and valuable practice time - as well as your audience's patience.
While tuners are mandatory for any hobbyist or working musician, this does not mean can forego learning to tune by ear. It's an invaluable skill that will help in numerous scenarios - such as a pedal battery dying during a set or having your singer bump into one of your tuning pegs in the middle of a song! It happens to the best of us. Have your gearand your ear prepared.