Greetings, fellow ukesters! Have you ever found yourself playing a ukulele that you know isn’t quite in tune, but didn’t have a clip-on tuner or a tuning app handy to fix that? Learn how to tune a ukulele by ear, and you’ll never have that problem again! When you know how to tune a ukulele by ear, you’ll probably never worry about misplacing your tuner ever again! Read on to find out how to learn this amazing skill.
Why should you learn how to tune a ukulele by ear?
There are two big reasons why you should learn how to tune a ukulele by ear. The first one is musicianship. Learning how to tune a ukulele by ear is a great way to learn pitch matching and improve your ear training skills. It helps you learn how to identify intervals, which is the first step in developing your musicality. Learning how to tune a ukulele by ear will help you become a better musician!
The second reason to learn how to tune a ukulele by ear is convenience. While many ukuleles come with built-in electronic tuners, there are many that don’t. And even if there is a built-in tuner, the battery that powers that tuner will eventually run out and need to be replaced.
Read more: Basic Ukulele Chprds Everyone Should Know
Of course, there are always tuning apps for your phone or tablet, but you can’t always keep a tuner around. There are times when you just gotta pick up a uke and play, and if you don’t have a tuner handy, you should know how to tune your ukulele by ear so you can just play on a whim.
What does it actually mean to tune a ukulele by ear?
Before we get started on the nitty gritty of how to tune your ukulele by ear, what we’re talking about here is basically how to tune your ukulele to itself. If you don’t have a tuner or a reference tone (more on that later), you can tune your ukulele so the strings are in tune with each other at the proper intervals. If you’re just playing by yourself at home, this means that your ukulele might not be tuned to the standard A440 that you would get if you used an electric or built-in tuner, but it will be in tune enough that whatever you play will sound good.
Once you get the hang of tuning your ukulele by ear, you can always use a clip on tuner or tuning app to “check your work” and see how close you came!
Ready to learn more? Let’s talk about how to tune your GCEA ukulele by ear!
Tools for tuning a ukulele by ear
When I was seven years old, I started taking violin lessons from a local teacher. This was way back before we had any kind of electronic tuners or clip-on tuners for instruments, so I had to learn how to use a pitch pipe and a tuning fork to tune my violin by ear. Luckily for him, my teacher was born with perfect pitch, so he could easily tune his violin by ear. For me, it took a little bit of practice before I got it down.
If you don’t have a tuning app or an electronic clip or built-in tuner for your ukulele, you can also use a pitch pipe or a tuning fork.
To use a tuning fork, strike the tines of the fork on your leg above the knee to get a good vibration going. Place the fork near the bridge of the uke and you’ll hear it emit a tone – that’s the same tone that your A string should sound like. Once you get your A string in tune, you’ll be able to tune the rest of your ukulele.
If you’re using a pitch pipe, blow into the part of the pipe that gives you the G note and tune your G string to that tone. From there, you can easily tune the rest of the strings by ear.
But if you’re going to tune your ukulele by ear and have neither of these things, read on to find out how to get your ukulele strings in tune with each other – even if they’re not exactly at the precise tuning you would otherwise do if you used an electronic tuner.
Read more: Ukulele Keys And How To Understand Them
Re-entrant or linear?
One thing to consider when learning how to tune a ukulele by ear is whether your instrument is a high G (re-entrant tuning) or low G (linear tuning). When a re-entrant ukulele is in tune, the second fret of the high G string will be the exact same note as the open A string. They will play in unison.
If your instrument has a low G string and is in linear tuning, then the second fret of that low G string will be an octave lower than the open A string. This is one of the reasons why learning how to tune a ukulele by ear is a great way to develop your musicianship because it will help you learn how to identify intervals like this!
How to tune a ukulele by ear
So now that we have all the basics down, let’s look at how we tune a ukulele by ear. We’re going to start by tuning the A string before we tune any of the other strings. If you don’t have a reference note or tone, and you don’t have a tuning fork or pitch pipe, just try to get the A string (first string, closest to the floor) as close as you can remember it. If you have perfect pitch, that makes it even easier!
Next, we’ll tune the G string (fourth string, closest to the ceiling) so that it matches in pitch to the A string. The way to do this is to press down at the second fret which is – you guessed it – an A natural.
Once the first and fourth strings are in tune, I like to tune the second string, the E string. To do this, I fret the E string at the third fret and compare it to the G (fourth) string. If you’re playing a re-entrant tuned ukulele with a high G string, those notes should be in unison. A linear tuned ukulele with a low G string will be an octave apart between those two notes.
Finally, you can tune the C (third) string by fretting the fourth fret of the C string and tuning it until it is in unison with the open E string.
And that’s all there is to it! If you have an electronic tuner handy or you can pull up a tuning app on your computer or phone, you can check and see if you need to make any minor adjustments.
The best advice for learning how to tune a ukulele by ear
The best advice I’ve ever given or received for learning how to tune your ukulele by ear is to take your time! No, really! Some mornings I’ll use the time I spend tuning my ukuleles like a meditation. I will pluck that first open string and let the sound resonate and close my eyes and listen closely until I can’t hear it anymore. Then I’ll do it each time I make an adjustment to the tuning peg until the string is in tune before moving on to the next string. You can also add a couple of slow deep breaths while you listen for the sound of the string to stop – tuning your ukulele mindfully like this is a wonderful way to help you slow down a little bit, create a little mindfulness in your day, and help you be more in tune with your ukulele. (Yes, I said that on purpose.)
Want more tips and tricks to make you a better musician? Take a few minutes and look at all the amazing courses and workshops available on the ULTP membership page! Whether you’re just starting out as a new ukulele player or you’ve got a few years of practice under your belt, you’re sure to find just the thing to help you level up your musicianship!