Tuning your ukulele is an essential skill that every player must have. There is nothing worse than strumming a nice C major chord and it being out of tune!
When you are first starting out with the instrument be sure that you tune it every time that you pick it up.
New ukes will fall out of tune more easily as the strings stretch and you will find yourself tuning it less and less as the days go by.
Below I will outline four different ways to tune a ukulele but first we need to figure out what pitch each string is tuned to.
Soprano, Concert, and Tenor ukuleles are all tuned exactly the same – G C E A (From the string closest to you to the string closest to the floor).
Sometimes we will have a low G string (especially on Tenor) as opposed to a high G string, but although the octave is different it is still a G.
You want to make sure that you memorize these note names so that you know which pitches to tune each string to.
We can visualize the location of each note on both the Ukulele as well as a piano:
Tuning with an Electronic Tuner
The easiest and most effective way to tune a ukulele is with an electronic tuner. These can be either standalone units or applications on a computer or smartphone.
You play the note, a microphone listens, analyzes the pitch, and shows you graphically whether the note is higher (sharp) or lower (flat) than the pitch the string should be. Let’s go through the process of tuning with an electronic tuner step by step:
1. Play your G string open and let it ring.
2. In the graphic you’ll see that the needle is to the left meaning the note is a little bit flat.
3. Turn the tuner on the G string counter-clockwise (keep in mind to only turn a little bit at a time!)
4. Play the open G string again
5. Looks like went sharp so turn the tuning peg clockwise
6. Play the G string open
7. We have one string in tune!
Repeat this step for all four strings. Don’t worry if it takes you a bit; this will get easier the more you practice, as with any skill!
For the E and A strings the tuners will turn the opposite direction to make corrections. (Clockwise to bring the pitch up, counter-clockwise to bring the pitch down)
Somehow people tuned for hundreds of years before we all had smartphones in their pockets and there are still plenty of times where you will be without a fancy electronic device and still need an in tune uke.
The next easiest way to do this is what is called cross-tuning or tuning the uke to itself using fretted notes. Instead of an electronic tuner we will be using our ear to tell us whether the notes are sharp or flat.
At first this will take some trial and error until you get used to hearing the differentiation of pitches.
If possible it is great to have a starting pitch from another instrument or an electronic tone to tune our first (G) string but if we do not have that we can at least get the ukulele in tune with itself.
Tuning the C String
Once the G string is in tune we will fret the fifth fret of the G string which will produce a C. This is the same tuning as our next string (if you are playing High G it will be one octave lower than the note you are fretting)
Now play the open C string and listen to hear if they are the same pitch. If they are close you will hear a slight warbling sound, these are the sound waves not quite lining up with each other and it will disappear as you get the instrument closer in tune. The slower those little beats are, the closer the correct note you are!
Decide whether the note is sharp or flat (it’s okay to guess!) and turn the tuning peg to compensate. Now check the note again to see if they now match.
Tuning the E String
Moving on to now tune the E string we will fret the 4th fret of our C string which will be the same pitch as the E. Repeat the steps above to tune the E String.
Tuning the A String
Lastly we must tune the A string. This note can be found either on the 2nd fret of your G string of the 5th fret of your E String.
It should be noted that this is not the most accurate way to tune the instrument. Fretted instruments are not perfectly in tune due to the way the frets are laid out so you may find that the uke still sounds a little out after using the cross-tuning approach. This is where the next method comes in handy.
Tuning by Ear (intervals)
This final method is what t I prefer to use to tune the ukulele, which is entirely by ear. This time we will be tuning the open strings by listening for the intervals (or the distance) between each individual string.
This takes time to learn but will provide you with an in tune instrument without the aid of an electronic tuner. First we must look at what the relationship is between each of the strings:
- G -> C – Perfect Fourth
- C -> E – Major Third
- E -> A Perfect Fourth.
How to Hear Intervals
As there are only two different intervals to learn this isn’t so bad, but how do we remember what they sound like? A perfect fourth is the opening of ‘Here Comes the Bride”. Hit your open G string and start singing the song on that pitch, sing the next note and match your C string to that pitch.
Eventually you won’t have to sing the notes as you will be able to internalize the intervals but it helps greatly when you are starting. The east way to remember Major third interval is the beginning of ‘When the Saints go Marching In’.
With just these two intervals we can have our uke in no time. Once your ukulele is in tune You can help yourself remember these pitches even more by singing with the open strings : G C E A as you pluck them individually.
With practice you will be able to tune using this method by simply plucking the open strings one after another and making adjustments.
Do the Tuning Machine Make a Difference?
Many ukuleles, especially soprano, come standard with what are called friction tuning pegs while most of us are used to guitar style or geared tuners. With a geared tuner each turn we make goes through a gear only spinning the post a certain ratio around.
So for every full turn we make the actual post may only spin 1/16th of the way around. This makes tuning much easier and more precise.
Friction tuners are the same as you’d see on a violin which provide a 1:1 ratio which means for every turn the post turns one full turn as well! You may only have to move a friction tuner a very small amount to make a big change in the pitch.
Well fitted friction pegs can be great (And as what I use on all of my instruments as they are very lightweight) but cheaper ones can tend to slip on you and not hold tune.
This can be very frustrating for beginner players so I highly recommend geared tuners on your first instrument especially if you are new to the string instrument world.
How Do I Tune a Brand New Ukulele?
So you just received your first ukulele and really want to play it but there’s a problem:
it’s out of tune. If you bought your uke at a store it has likely already been tuned and all you will have to do are the steps mentioned about but if you bought online or had it shipped it is likely very far out of tune.
This is where things can get tough! Half the battle is getting simply one string in tune.
Generally the strings will be loose and thus very flat. Use an electronic tuner fo this.
Most tuners will show you the note that you are playing along with a number next to it.
That number denotes the octave of the note being played (relative to the piano) On ukulele all of our open string are in the same octave so when we tune the G string up we want our tuner to say ‘G4’.
You may find that it is a much lower pitch and take many turns on the pegs to bring it to the correct pitch.
This is normal; repeat this with each of the strings and you’ll have an in tune uke in no time!
Are there Alternate Tunings?
While we now tune our ukuleles to an open C6 chord this was not always the case. In the earlier days of the instrument D tuning was just as popular (if not more so on soprano ukulele)
This means that while the intervals remain the same the pitch of each note is raised by a whole step.
D tuning would give us the notes A D F# B. You will still find this tuning used frequently amongst players (I keep one uke in D tuning at all times instead of using a capo).
If you frequently play off of old sheet music or method books you will see a host of other tunings used.
While we are almost always tuning to an open 6th chord the starting pitch can change. Also popular are Eb (Bb Eb G C) and F (C F A D). F tuning is very often used on smaller instruments (sopranino and sopranissimo) our to their shorter scale length.
How do I tune a Ukulele with More than Four Strings?
6 and 8 String ukuleles will get tuned to the same pitches as our standard uke but have what are called ‘Dual Course’ strings. All that this means is that there are two of each pitch instead of one. Double the work and double the fun!
How Do I Tune a Baritone Ukulele?
The baritone ukulele is tuned D G B E. This tuning is the same as the top four strings of a guitar or what we call ‘Chicago tuning’ on banjo.
The good thing about this is that although the notes are difference the relationship between them, intervals, is still the same.
With that said as long as you know what notes your strings should be tuning to on the given instrument all of the methods up above will work exactly the same.
What Tuning App Should I Use?
You can find the most current Apps here.
What is Standard Ukulele Tuning?
G C E A