photo by kinetic
Not sure how to tune your ukulele up? In this lesson, we’re going to learn all about ukulele tuning, including:
You always want to make sure your ukulele is tuned up before you start playing. If you don’t, it’s going to sound really bad for your listeners.
Different ukuleles will hold their tuning better than others, so it’s always a good idea to check it every time you play. There is nothing worse than playing an out of tune ukulele. Fortunately, it’s not terribly difficult to tune your uke up.
This is the most common ukulele tuning. Soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles are tuned in standard tuning, sometimes referred to as “C tuning.”
In the picture above, you see the notes of each string. The top string or fourth string of the ukulele is tuned to a G. The third string is tuned to a C. The second string is tuned to an E. The bottom, or first string, is tuned to an A.
This most common way of tuning a ukulele is seen on the musical staff:
Or on the piano keys:
Some people also use the opening line of the song My Dog Has Fleas to remember how to tune a ukulele since that line is identical to how a ukulele is tuned.
Standard Tuning: Reentrant vs. Linear
It’s worth noting that the G string is commonly tuned to the G note above the C and E strings (reentrant/high 4th tuning). If you’re used to playing guitar, the pitch of the strings on the ukulele don’t always go from lowest to highest. This tuning gives you the most even tone because the strings are kept in a smaller range, which makes it a very popular tuning for the smaller soprano uke.
However, some people tune the G down an octave (linear/low 4th tuning). Not only do you get a broader range, but some might consider the sound to be a bit more open and makes more dissonant sounding chords ring clearer.
Here is a picture of linear ukulele tuning demonstrated on the piano keys:
Here are some other ukulele tunings used by different ukulele players.
Baritone Ukulele Tuning (D, G, B, E) — This tuning is used on baritone ukuleles and sometimes even on tenor ukuleles. This ukulele tuning is equivalent to the tuning of the last four strings on a guitar. Sometimes this tuning is referred to “G tuning.”
Slack-key Tuning (G, C, E, G) — If you just strum the strings as open strings, you are strumming a C major chord, which makes this a very open tuning. The top G string can be tuned either in reentrant or linear tuning, meaning you can either tune it to the G above middle C or down the octave.
English Tuning (A, D, F#, B) — Also considered as a “D tuning,” this tuning has the same amount of intervals (the amount of notes between each string) as standard ukulele tuning but every string is tuned up a whole step. This tuning is popular for soprano ukes. Some find this tuning to be a bit sweeter in tone.
Canadian Tuning (low A, D, F#, B) — Canadian tuning is nearly identical to English tuning except you tune the A down an octave. This tuning is popular for concert and tenor ukes.
There are two ways you can tune your ukulele: by ear or by using a chromatic tuner. I recommend using a chromatic tuner. Although some people have an extraordinary sense of pitch, a chromatic tuner will always give you the most accurate tuning no matter what.
How to Tune by Ear
If you wish to tune by ear, you can use our online ukulele tuner as a reference. Simply play the note you want to tune from our ukulele tuner and then pluck that string on your ukulele.
As both sounds are ringing, if the note is out of tune, you should hear a wavy or warbly noise between the two sounds. Your goal is to turn the tuning pegs on your ukulele till that wavy or warbly sound between the two strings disappears. When this happens, you’re in tune, or pretty close to being in tune.
How to Use a Chromatic Tuner
The best thing to do is to buy a chromatic tuner for less than $20 like the one in the picture. A chromatic tuner is a device that automatically detects the pitch of your strings and gives you a reading so you can adjust your tuning to the right spot.
What are your favorite tunings? Do you have any tips or information you’d like to add for tuning a ukulele? Confused? Post your question or comment below.