Anytime you're trying to learn a new instrument, especially a stringed one, you're going to run into a few challenges.
The biggest one being tuning, and how to ensure your instrument is always pitch perfect. When your ukulele is out of tune, learning how to play your favorite song is virtually impossible.
Even if you do manage to figure it out, it still won't sound right due to the off tuning. That's why it's vital you learn how to tune your ukulele the right way.
Stringed instruments such as the ukulele usually use tuning pegs for tuning. The tuning pegs can be found on the headstock of the instrument, with each one corresponding with one of the four ukulele strings.
To get the perfect pitch, all you have to do is tighten or loosen the string. It's basically like an elastic band that twangs every time you pluck it.
When using the tuning pegs, make sure you do so with caution. If the string becomes too loose, it will basically detach itself from the ukulele.
On the other hand, if you turn the string too tight, it can snap in half.
CGEA - Understanding How To Tune Your Ukulele
When it comes to tuning, the ukulele is a somewhat unusual instrument. While the tuning method used is the same as you would use to tune a guitar, the pitch of the strings is completely different.
Keep in mind there are four different types of ukuleles, with each one being tuned in a different way.
The soprano ukulele, which is the one most people start off with, uses gCEA for tuning.
So that you can easily remember what notes to use for tuning, remember this acronym, “good chefs eat a lot.”
When you are holding your ukulele in the playing position, the string closest to your eye is the G. Oddly enough, on the ukulele, the G is higher in pitch than the C.
Similar to guitars, some ukuleles are tuned so that the pitch of the strings gets higher as they go up.
When following the gCEA tuning, you will start higher and then drop down to the C. You will then go back up for the E and A.
The only way to fully understand what this sounds like, is to listen to a ukulele that has been correctly tuned. This is very important if you are a beginner.
Getting the tune right is vital to your overall success.
Always remember, the string closest to your eye is not the first string. When musicians say the first string, they are usually referring to the string at the bottom of the instrument.
The string at the top is actually the fourth string.
Four Ways To Tune Your Ukulele
There are four different ways you can tune your ukulele. Let’s dive in and discuss each one.
Tune By Ear
As you can imagine, tuning by ear is the most difficult one of them all. However, we do recommend you learn how to do it as it can prove to be a very useful skill.
Especially if you are the type of musician who pulls your instrument out at the spur of the moment. When you are out and about, tuning by ear is the quickest way to tune your instrument.
So what exactly is tuning by ear? Well it is exactly what it sounds like. When you tune by ear, you are matching the tune of your ukulele, with the tune of a ukulele that is in tune.
So that you can hear the right tune, consider watching a video on YouTube. There are plenty that can help you get your ukulele in perfect pitch. There are also free browser based turners you can use to tune your ukulele at any time.
No matter which way you choose, the idea is to match your strings with each pitch you hear. This is done by repeatedly plucking the string, and turning the tuning peg slowly until they sound exactly like what you hear.
When you are close to the pitch, the resonant frequencies will be very clear.
You will repeat this process for all four strings.
Tune By Piano
If you don’t have a tuner, consider using a keyboard or piano. This is one of the easier tuning methods to use.
The third string on your ukulele is the same pitch as middle C on the piano. And just in case you aren’t sure, the third string is the second closest string to your eye.
Middle C is right in the middle of the piano and is often marked on keyboards. If you have a hard time finding it, simply look it up online.
You will start by matching the third string to the pitch of middle C.
As a beginner you may find this a little challenging. However, after a little practice you should be able to catch on with no problem.
Once your ear has learned how to match the pitches perfectly, it will be easy going.
If you opt to continue using a piano to tune your ukulele, please note the fourth string must match the G sound above middle C, the third string needs to match middle C, the second string needs to match the E above middle C, and the first string needs to match the A above middle C.
Relative tuning means you will tune the ukulele to itself. Chances are this sounds a bit confusing. Especially if you have never done it before.
But rest assured, it is not as daunting as it sounds. Once you get the first string tuned, it will be smooth sailing from then on out.
This is because with relative tuning, you know the pitches that are relevant to one another. For example, when the E string is fretted at fret five, you should get the A note.
It should therefore have the same exact sound as the A string when played open.
To ensure your strings are always in tune, match any incorrectly tuned strings to the tone of a correctly tuned string when fretted.
If you are a beginner, you may find that relative tuning isn’t all that accurate or convenient. However, it is one of the best ways to tune your ukulele when you are in the middle of a performance and one of your strings falls out of tune.
Tune With a Tuner
Using a tuner is one of the easiest, and most accurate, ways to turn a ukulele. Especially if you are a beginner.
While using a tuner is pretty straightforward, the steps will vary depending on the type of tuner you are using.
There are, however, a few similarities that the majority of models tend to have in common.
Here are the steps for using a tuner to tune your ukulele:
Step #1 - Either place the tuner close to the soundhole on your ukulele, or clip the tuner on.
Step #2 - Some tuners have multiple modes. Make sure it is set to ukulele mode. It will usually say “ukulele” or just “U”. If you aren’t sure you are in the right mode, refer to the manual.
Step #3 - Pluck one of the strings, doesn’t matter which one, and turn the tuning pegs to tune it. The tuner should automatically pick up which note you are tuning to.
If the tuner does not automatically pick up the pitch, continue plucking the string until the tuner can figure out which string you are trying to tune.
Once it is detected, it will display on the tuner.
Step #4 - This is the wait and see step. You will need to continue plucking the string until the tuner indicates the tune is correct.
Some tuners will use a dial to indicate the string is in tune. Once in tune the dial will move to the center of the tuner.
Step #5 - Repeat steps 1-4 until all strings are perfectly tuned.
Most musicians will have a guitar tuner laying around somewhere. Guitar tuners are of course more common than ukulele tuners.
Can you tune your ukulele with a guitar tuner? Of course you can. But you must first understand the capabilities of the tuner.
Some tuners have the option to use different tuning methods, and to also tune different instruments.
If your guitar tuner does not have these options, it will be more difficult to use it to tune a ukulele.
When using a guitar tuner to tune a ukulele, tune either the G string, E string, or A string. All three of these strings will be on the guitar tuner.
Once you have tuned one of those strings, you can switch to relative tuning to figure out the rest. Doing so will ensure the ukulele is in tune with itself.
Understanding The Different Types of Tunings
Very few stringed instruments use just one tuning method. Just like guitars can be tuned in a variety of ways, so can a ukulele.
However, the standard method, which is gCEA, is very popular.
The soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles all use this tuning method. The different tonal qualities you hear from each ukulele has nothing to do with the way it's tuned.
It's based on the size of the instrument as well as the resonance.
The most common alternative tuning method includes a “low G”. All this means is the G will now be tuned to the G before middle C, versus after it.
This does not affect the way in which the instrument is played. The only change has to do with the depth and range of the strings.
When the low G is included the tuning will be written GCEA instead of gCEA. The small G let’s the musician know the G is a high pitch.
Tuning a Baritone Ukulele
The baritone ukulele is tuned completely different than the soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles. This is because with the baritone, the idea is to get a deeper sound.
So, just like the bottom four strings of a guitar, the baritone is tuned lower using DGBE.
Due to the way the baritone ukulele is tuned, many believe it should not even be in the ukulele family.
There are even some people who will tune the baritone in the same way they tune the soprano, concert, or tenor ukulele.
We don’t recommend you do this as that is not the purpose of the baritone. The baritone is the bass. It holds the rhythm.
It is therefore best that it be tuned in a similar style as the bass guitar.
Our Final Thoughts
Tuning a ukulele, no matter what type, can be somewhat difficult in the beginning. But once you catch on, things become a whole lot easier.
The key is to use the tuning method that works best for you. For example, if you are a seasoned musician who has the gift of perfect pitch, tuning by ear will work great for you.
If on the other hand you are completely new to the ukulele game, and you have no idea how to tune an instrument, it's probably best for you to use a tuner. The tuner will let you know when your instrument is in tune.
You can also use a piano or keyboard to tune your ukulele.
At the end of the day it all boils down to personal preference, and the tools that you have at your disposal.
Just remember to be patient as it will take a little time to catch on to the different tuning methods.