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I am attempting to learn guitar, and I keep coming across this notation in various apps that I've downloaded.

I know that E2 A2 D3 G3 B3 E4 are something to do with tuning, but I'm not exactly sure what.

Can anyone explain what they actually mean and how they might relate to each other and other similar notation?

Also when is it appropriate to use this notation?

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The letters (E,A,D etc) refer to the note. The standard tuning for the guitar is E,A,D,G,B,E (Last E is two octaves higher than the lowest one).

Now, the numbers after each letter refer to the specific octave (Scientific pitch notation) of the note. As you know, there is more than one note named E. How to tell which one is which? With numbers! The number indicates the note's octave.

Here you can see the different C's:

enter image description here

So, E2 (lowest of your guitar) would be a third above C2 in the image above. A2 would a sixth above the C2 etc.

Generally, if you simply say you tune your guitar to E,A,D,G,B,E (without the numbers), it's the same thing. People with still understand you. But if you want to tell someone the exact octave of a note, you can use the aforementioned numbers. So, being thorough, the exact standard tuning of the guitar is the one you mentioned, which is: E2 A2 D3 G3 B3 E4.

Αs it has been mentioned in the comments, the guitar music is written one octave above than it's played. So, you wouldn't see guitar music in the bass clef.

  • The only thing missing here is why the guitar sixth string E is E2. That's covered in Andy's reply below... Relative to the piano octave range. – HörmannHH Nov 22 '18 at 6:39
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They're just the "standard" numbers of those notes on a full sized 88 key piano: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_key_frequencies

Interesting note: they run from C to C, not A to A. In other words the numbers start at C, not A. So they run as A0, B0, C1, D1... A1, B1, C2... etc. The octave number increases on the C, not the A. A slightly confusing convention!

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    Didn't know that! So what names are used for the Bosendorfer with that extra lower octave kept in its box, only to be opened by people who know what they're up to..? – Tim May 29 '15 at 9:08
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    Done a check, and it would appear they're called A-, B-, C- etc. – Tim May 29 '15 at 9:23
  • That's an interesting point, the big 97(?) key piano! I suppose they're so rare very few people have to worry about them. Organs (using the pedalboard) play down in that range though I believe... – Andy May 29 '15 at 11:30
  • This should be the accepted answer. – HörmannHH Nov 22 '18 at 6:41

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