Tuning by Harmonics
Ive seen people tuning by matching the 5th fret with the next
string down, and thats all good and dandy, but its not too accurate.
Harmonics can get it so the notes are perfectly in tune with one
another. A harmonic is weaker overtone or undertone of a musical
note that is responsible for the character or texture of the
note. Basically, that means its the Pure notes.
Now, youve probably noticed that
E|—5————— are the same note, and they are.
Simply tuning so that the 5 matches the open note doesnt quite
cut it if you want to sound good. Now, harmonics exist on the 5th,
7th, 12th, 17th, 19th and 24th frets (some basses only go up to
22, but dont worry about that).
Getting a harmonic to ring is a bit challenging at first, but
after you do it a few times, it becomes very easy. Simply place
your finger over the 5th fret itself, not the space between the
frets. Dont press all the way down, simply lay your finger over
it. Strike the sting and make sure that when you feel the string
vibrate on finger thats laying over the fret to apply just enough
pressure so that the string doesnt actually move like a regular
pluck, rather that its subtly vibrating. This will create a
ringing sound and thats the harmonic. Remove the finger over
the fret, and allow to ring.
Here is a chart what of notes are achieved on what fret of each
17, 19 and 24 are not included in the chart, as they are the same,
only an octave higher.
G string— 5=G 7=D 12=G
D string— 5=D 7=A 12=D
A string— 5=A 7=E 12=A
E string— 5=E 7=B 12=E
Notice the 5th harmonic and 7th harmonic of the string below
it are the same note. By playing both (example) E5 harmonic and
A7 harmonic, you can tune the string accordingly till they match
in frequencies. Should the string be out of tune, youll hear
a really cool wavering sound that is really fun to play around
withbut I digress. Should the frequencies not match, youll
hear the wavering sound. To tune it to the right note, tune up
or down until the wave sound becomes a flat ring. The wavering
should get slower and slower as you get closer to matching the notes.
Now that we can tune to EADG, lets tune out to other notes. Suppose
you want to play a song, but its in a drop D tuning. All you do is
tune the E down to a D. Simply match the 12th fret harmonic on the
E string to a strike on the D string. Tune the E down until the wavering
sound becomes a solid ring. Your E string now plays a D on the open
This can be achieved for pretty much every note. Should you wish
to tune your entire bass down half a step, D minor, G minor, C,
F minorwell, thats quite a bit more difficult. Play around
with it, you should figure it out.