Guitar is one of the most interesting and exciting instruments to play. It is easy and hard at the same time.
There are endless possibilities of what you can do with your instrument, and most of all, it is fun to play.
Plus bonus point, you get to be a Rockstar if you choose to play the guitar. When you are a beginner just getting started on a guitar, all of these things may seem distant at first.
There is nothing to worry about, we all start somewhere, and the best place to start with is the beginning.
In this article, we will learn a lot of things about the guitar and, of course, the guitar strings order.
So, get ready to learn because there is a boatload of information you are going to get right now. Let’s start with the very basics.
How does plucking the guitar string makes the musical note?
Well, plucking the string does not create the note, actually. Let’s assume if you pluck the A string on the guitar, the string vibrates/oscillates 440 times per second, and that vibration creates that sound of the musical note A.
This theory is the same for all stringed instruments and all strings on the guitar. This is the physical theoretical explanation of guitar strings and how musical notes come from them.
Why do Guitars have Six Strings?
This would be a bit of a long answer, but I will explain in the simplest way I can. So, think of it like this, the guitar is a versatile instrument you can play rhythm and lead both on guitar.
The six strings on the guitar are there to help the instrument be more versatile, so you can play rhythm and lead easily on the guitar.
More strings means more notes which means the range of notes you can play increases.
The longer-range you have available on your instrument, the more you will be able to play higher or lower notes to add to your music.
One of the central instruments in western music is the piano, and you have a range of around 8 octaves on a classical grand piano.
This means you have the entire spectrum of notes used in modern music at your disposal.
This is not possible on a guitar because just imagine the size of a grand piano to the size of a guitar you would understand.
So, instead, the guitar has been crafted specifically in the mid-range of the note spectrum with a range of four octaves on the biggest guitar available, a 24 fret electric guitar.
The four-octave range of the guitar helps you play most modern music with ease and have the complete range of musical notes you need to adequately express your musicality available at your fingertips on the smallest instrument possible.
Now the fact that you have four octaves on a guitar is because of the way the instrument is tuned, and that finally brings us to our topic: guitar strings order. Let’s talk about it.
Guitar Strings Order & Names
Now that you have all the background and foreground information, you can possibly need to learn the basics of guitar. Let’s talk about the six strings of a guitar, the notes they are tuned to, and why they are tuned to those specific notes.
The six guitar strings names are E A D G B E in the order from top to bottom.
As you would see and touch the strings, you will be able to see that these strings are thicker at the top and become thinner as you go down.
The thickness of the string correlates to the pitch of the string. So, for now, let’s look at just the guitar strings order.
There are a few steps to the guitar strings order. The strings are numbered, and they are also tuned to different notes.
The numbering of the strings is done for the ease of playing and understanding how to play music. The tuning is done so you can actually play the music. So, let’s look at these two things separately.
Numbering Of The Strings On A Guitar
The strings on a guitar are numbered 1-6, as you would imagine but not in the way you would think. The numbering is done in reverse.
The thinnest string and the last string on the guitar, when you look at it from left to right, is called string number 1. The counting then begins in reverse, with the thickest or the topmost string being the number 6.
Okay, so why go against the general way of counting to make the numbering upside down? This has got to do with the history of the guitar and how it came to existence over the years through various instruments that came before it.
Hold on to your horses, this is going to get really nerdy now.
Why are the strings counted from bottom to up or right to left instead of top to bottom or left to right?
First, a statutory disclaimer, this is just the way strings are counted, and it has been so for ages.
The exact reason why this is done is unknown, but there is speculation regarding why this was done. The following answer, in my opinion, is possibly the most likely explanation.
Historically the predecessor of guitars was an instrument called a lute.
These instruments had sets of strings in the lower register to make the notes louder, but the top string (chantarelle) was always single.
This was because as the highest string, it was called the singing string that was used to play the melodies.
So, it is assumed that historically as the top string that was used to play the main melodies, it was counted as the first string, and the remaining strings were then counted upwards from there.
That is what you need to know about the numbering of the strings, solely done for the purpose of helping guitarists communicate with each other and share information regarding what to play and on which string.
Now, let’s talk about the actual notes the strings are tuned to when you play.
Tuning Of The Strings On A Guitar
The 6 strings on a guitar are tuned to E A D G B E when you read it from top to bottom.
We will learn more about why the strings are tuned to these specific notes in a minute but first, let’s learn about the different guitar strings orders.
Guitar strings are not always read from top to bottom, so you need to know all the different variations of guitar string orders to be able to masterfully play the guitar and also to improve your knowledge about the instrument.
Guitar Strings Order & Names From Top to Bottom
The guitar strings order & names from top to bottom is E A D G B E. If you put it next to the corresponding string numbers, it would look like this.
|String Number||Note the string is tuned to when you read the tuning top to bottom|
Reading the tuning from top to bottom is how you would usually read guitar tunings when you are playing the guitar.
Guitar Strings Order From Bottom To Top
The guitar strings order from bottom to top would be E B G D A E. This form of reading is in line with the guitar string numbering which is also done on a bottom-up basis. If you put it next to the corresponding string numbers, it would look like this.
|String Number||Note the string is tuned to when you read the tuning bottom to top|
This is the way to read your guitar tuning if you want to do it in line with the string numbering. The way you follow it does not make much of a difference, you can follow whichever system you find to be more comfortable.
Guitar Strings Order Left Handed
For the sake of clarification it has to be mentioned that if you are a left-handed guitarist, playing a left-handed guitar, there will be no difference in the guitar string order. It will still be E A D G B E from top to bottom, and E B G D A E from bottom to top.
The clarification has to be mentioned because left-handed guitars are not always available on hand.
If you are trying to play left-handed guitar on a regular right-hand guitar, all the strings will be upside down.
The thinnest string will be closest to you contrary to the thickest string. You would have to learn how to play the chords upside down and it is generally going to be harder.
How do you know which guitar is a right-hand guitar vs which guitar is a left-handed guitar?
Well, you can easily make this distinction by placing the guitar vertically and looking at it. If the thickest string is on your left, it is a right-handed guitar. If the thickest string is on your right, it is a left handed guitar.
Guitar Strings Order for Electric Guitars
Guitar strings order for electric guitars is not different from that of an acoustic guitar or even a classical guitar. The order of the strings is the same E A D G B E from top to bottom and E B G D A E from bottom to top.
You can easily tune/play an electric guitar if you know how to play acoustic or classical guitar.
It is the same if you know acoustic/classical guitar, you will be able to play some electric guitar as well.
Guitar Strings Order For Tuning
The strings on a guitar are tuned to particular notes namely E A D G B E when it comes to standard tuning.
The interesting thing here is that the guitar string order for tuning is actually supposed to be from the bottom up meaning, you should follow the guitar strings numbering and tune from 1-6 when you are tuning the guitar.
This means that the guitar strings order for tuning is supposed to be E B G D A E.
This is just a common practice of musicians which has no particular benefits over one another. Then why is the convention followed?
Well, there is no definitive answer but in my opinion or just my practical experience, I have noticed that it works best when you tune from the bottom-up because otherwise when you tune top-down, you have more of a possibility of detuning the last string when you are turning the tuning pegs with your hand.
So, it may be that the convention came into practice because of practical reasons and the problems faced by guitarists in the past when they were tuning or playing their instruments.
Now, that we have tackled that question, let’s ask one of the most important and interesting questions that there is about guitars, their tunings, and the notes they are tuned to for playing.
Guitar Strings Notes Tuning
When you are tuning your guitar using either an electric clip-on tuner or even an app on your phone. The notes that correspond to each string are:
|String Number||Musical Note|
This way of tuning your guitar to E A D G B E is called the standard guitar tuning. This method of tuning the guitar is followed everywhere around the world, and all knowledge of learning guitar and the shapes of the chords (open and barred), scales, all correspond to the standard tuning of the guitar.
There are many other ways you can tune your guitar as well, but they are not widely used.
Different styles of music require musicians to change the tuning of their guitar for added effect or ease of playing but they are isolated exceptions and not general practice.
So, this brings the question, why is E A D G B E used as the standard tuning? We will go into the detailed answer below. But in short, this is because historically the predecessors of the guitars were tuned this way for the ease of playing.
It was not E A D G B E for them but through time slowly as the instrument evolved as did the tunings and finally with the modern guitar as we know it, we got the standardized E A D G B E tuning as well.
The point of the tuning system of any instrument is to make it easier for the players to play the instrument.
If an instrument can be made easier to play especially the basics it will be available and open and inviting to a lot of people and they will try to learn the instrument and in turn, the instrument will be more popular.
That’s the basic historical logic behind the standardized E A D G B E tuning.
Let’s look at it now from the perspective of music theory.
Why Are Guitar Strings Tuned To E A D G B E?
If you remember, earlier in the article, I told you why a guitar has six strings, it is because the guitar is a rhythm instrument, and you can play both chords and melodies on the guitar, and the six strings help you do that.
Well, it turns out you can easily play chords and melodies on guitar because of the way the instrument is tuned as well.
Let’s get into some complicated stuff now.
There are 12 notes in music. A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# and the cycle repeats on the next octave. Each string of the guitar is tuned four notes away from each other for the first four strings. Let’s look at it ourselves.
The 6th String is tuned to the note E
The 5th String is tuned to the note A
If you count, (F, F#, G, G#, A) is four notes away from the E.
The 4th String is tuned to the note D
If you count is again, (A#, B, C, C#, D) four notes away from A.
The 3rd String is tuned to the note G
Which is again (D#, E, F, F#, G) four notes away from D.
The first four strings of the guitars are tuned to E A D G. This is also the tuning used for an electric bass guitar.
So, it is all fine up till now. The practice of tuning used for the first four strings is called the perfect fourth tuning.
Let’s learn about perfect fourth tuning and intervals first, before we go to the next two remaining strings of the guitar.
What are intervals?
The distance between these two notes is called an interval, for example, the distance between the notes E and A as we saw in the example above is four so, the two notes have an interval of four notes in between them.
Musical intervals have specific names, an interval of four notes is called a perfect fourth interval. But, Why perfect fourth?
What is the perfect fourth interval?
A perfect fourth interval is not major or minor. What does that mean?
To put it simply, major means happy and minor means sad in the very basic sense. A perfect fourth interval does not have any of these emotions very clearly defined when you play it. Hence it is called a perfect fourth.
There is another explanation for this and it has to do with mathematics.
So, far we have established that when two notes are four notes away from each other they don’t sound happy or sad by default unless you provide context. The mathematical explanation comes in because musical intervals have something to do with ratios.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that when you pluck a guitar string it vibrates/oscillates 440 times in one second to create the sound of note A. This is because guitar strings or any stringed instrument are tuned to notes which are basically frequencies. So, when you calculate the ratio of these frequencies, the ratio between two notes that have an interval of four notes comes to 4:3 which is a really simple and whole integer ratio.
It is because of the simplicity of the ratio and the math, the interval is called a perfect fourth because the numbers in the ratio are easy to understand and small integer ratios.
Now that you understand perfect fourths let’s talk about the last two strings of the guitar.
The 2nd String of a guitar is tuned to the note B
Which is, if you count, (G#, A, A#, B) three notes away from the last string’s note B.
The 2nd string breaks the perfect fourth tuning method that we were following so far. We will understand why it was done, but for now, let’s understand the interval of 3 notes between the last string and this string.
The interval of three notes is called a major third, because without any context also it sounds bright and happy.
The 1st String of is tuned to the note E
This is again a return to the perfect fourth intervals as the note E is (C, C#, D, D#, E) four notes away from the previous note B.
So, now let’s tackle the question,
Why is the 2nd string tuned to a major third interval instead of the perfect fourth interval?
The answer is very simple, for the ease of playing. That is it, there are no complicated answers for this one. It is simply done for the ease of playing chords and open-string chords and melodies and overall playability of the guitar.
If you look historically guitar and the instruments that came before that were not meant to be lead instruments, yes, composers in the past used to write solo pieces for the guitar and they were popular as well, but by nature, the guitar is an accompanying instrument. It is meant to play chords and rhythm while you sing (historically speaking).
If you are an electric guitar shredder you can play on perfect fourth tunings or even other tunings or whatever, but when it comes to something being the standard for an instrument, they had to make it so, it was easy and accessible to play everything, chords and melodies both on the guitar.
Thus, the 2nd string was tuned to a major third interval to help you play the guitar and all styles of music. It is this method of tuning that makes guitar such a versatile instrument where you can shred your heart out and also accompany someone if they are singing.
This is something that you have to always keep in mind, an instrument is only good if you can play it. There are limitations to the human body and creating an instrument that causes excessive discomfort will just make it unpopular because no one will want to play it. So, that is the reason the 2nd string is not tuned to a perfect fourth as the rest of the guitar.
How To Remember Guitar Strings Order – Guitar String Names?
If you have read the article this far, I think and hope that the tuning system of E A D G B E has been ingrained in your brain. But, if you are a beginner and you are struggling to remember the guitar string names there is a fun little mnemonic to help you remember the tuning, it goes.
This mnemonic spells the guitar strings order reading from top to bottom. There are many other mnemonics you can find on the internet about guitar string orders from bottom to top and many different variations of Eddie Ate Dynamite.
You can check it out if you want, but in my opinion, this one does well, it is easy to remember and fun also so, I recommend this mnemonic to beginners.
The guitar is an amazing instrument with a rich history and centuries of development to bring us the instrument that you and I know as the guitar today. I highly encourage people to watch the video I linked at the top of the article about the history of the guitar. To find a more detailed understanding of the guitar as an instrument.
The number of strings, string order, and tuning has all come to where it is today after hundreds of years of innovation. However, the beauty of the instrument is such that even though you have set standards, you can still do whatever your heart pleases and create your own standard tunings as you want.
A great song that uses non-standard guitar tuning would be Watch Over You by the band Alter Bridge, I will be linking the song below.
So, let all this information seep into your minds and let Myles Kennedy serenade us as we finish this article. Thank you for reading so far; please share your views in the comments below.
Anindya is a Self-taught Musician and a Home Studio Owner who likes sharing his two cents on Guitars, Gears, and Music. You can find his Music on Spotify, YouTube and Facebook.