Tuning Tip: how to change your pitch away from 440hz

Lesson #359 • Apr 30, 2021

Video lesson

Editor’s notes

Hey there friends! Quick lesson here on the topic of tuning: specifically, showing you how to tune your guitar away from “pitch standard” of A4 = 440hz. This is something you’ll occasionally need to do if you want to play along with certain popular songs - such as “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” by Tom Petty (which uses ~453hz instead of 440hz). Another example is “Don’t Look Back in Anger” which uses ~451hz instead of 440hz.

In my video, I’ll walk through the process of changing the setting in your tuning app (so things aren’t based on 440hz). Specifically I am using the app “Tunable” which I’ve used happily for years, and recommend. Every tuning app will have this setting in a different place – if they have it at all (a good tuner absolutely should let you do this). Certain tuners, such as clip-on tuners or built-in tuners may be “fixed” at pitch standard A4 = 440hz, which means you’ll need to find another way to make this happen.

Why does this happen?

As per my understanding, this happens because songs can either be sped up in post-production (which raises the pitch), or perhaps all the instruments were simply “out of tune” (relative to 440hz) when things were recorded. For example, if my low E-string is slightly sharp (or flat) by an arbitrary amount – and then I tune all strings relative to that low E-string… then I’ll technically be “in tune” with myself, but won’t be in “pitch standard” (where A4 = 440hz).

“Pitch Standard” vs “Standard Tuning”

I really want to make sure this is clear! As I say in the video, “pitch standard” (A4 = 440hz) is entirely separate from the concept of “Standard Tuning” (e.g. where your guitar strings are E-A-D-G-B-E, from thickest to thinnest).

  • You can change just ONE of these – e.g., tune at 453hz instead of 440hz, but stay in standard tuning (where you’re tuning your strings to E-A-D-G-B-E).
  • Alternatively, you could tune to Drop D tuning (D-A-D-G-B-E) or “tune down 1/2 step” (Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb) and STAY in “pitch standard”. 99% of the time, this is what’s happening when you leave standard tuning (you’re leaving the 440hz setting as-is)
  • Of course, you could change the hertz (e.g. to 451hz) AND leave standard tuning – but this is probably incredibly rare.

In close…. 99.9% of the time, any guitar you pick up will be in “pitch standard” where A4 = 440hz. This is the default tuning that most tuners use (e.g., it’s what makes an “E” an E, an “A” an A, etc).

My lesson for Mary Jane’s Last Dance

Get the PDF here if you’re interested. Here’s my video lesson. Note my video lesson is recored with my guitar in “pitch standard” (440hz), just for practicality’s sake.

Here’s Tom Petty’s album version, which is recorded at ~453hz:

More in this topic

Listen to people smarter than me talk about this! For example, here’s a video from Adam Neely and another from Rick Beato. Admittedly, these covers the topic of 432hz, which dominates this discussion as to the “why use the standard of 440hz?” question.

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Hey there! My name is David Potsiadlo, and I'm the creator of the 400+ weekly lessons here at Song Notes, going back to 2013. Here’s my guitar story »

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