If you own a ukulele then you will need to learn how to tune it properly. A ukulele that is out of tune will never sound good, which is why this is a vital skill to learn.
Here we are looking at how you can master ukulele tuning. Tuning is a very difficult process for beginners so we’ve provided as much information as possible in this guide to master the tuning process.
We’re going to cover standard ukulele tuning as well as tuning different ukuleles such as tenor and bass instruments. You’ll also learn to tune the ukulele by ear as well as using an assortment of tuners and apps.
Table of Contents
Standard Ukulele Tuning
The typical tuning of the notes on a ukulele goes A, E, C and G. This has always been considered the standard amongst uke players. There are people who will tune their instrument to a different pitch but this is the normal way to tune your uke.
Tuning With a Piano
If you want to tune your ukulele with a piano then you see the standard tuning being reflected as G4, C4, E4 and A4. The number fours that sit behind the letters represent the octave that you will need to find for each note on the piano.
You’ll probably own a keyboard or piano if you are going to be tuning your ukulele in this way. It’s a great way to tune your instrument, as long as your piano is in tune as well. You will also need to have some knowledge of the piano too.
C4 is also known as the middle C on the piano so you can start out by tuning your C string to match this. Then move on to the E above the middle C, the G and the A strings. This will result in your ukulele strings having standard tuning.
Tuning with a Tuner
So what happens if you don’t have a piano to tune your ukulele with? In this instance you will need to invest in a chromatic tuner. There are several brands out there for ukulele players to get which many different types available. Just be careful that you are buying a chromatic tuner and not something else.
You want to tune a ukulele with a chromatic tuner because this will help you tune all of the ukulele strings. A ukulele tuner is different to a guitar tuner because the latter are not chromatic. A non-chromatic tuner is calibrated to only tune the notes used in a guitar’s standard tuning. So the best thing to buy is a chromatic tuner and not a guitar tuner for your uke.
Tuning by Ear
Advanced ukulele players will eventually be able tune their strings by ear. If you are choosing to get a used or vintage uke then these generally don’t come with a tuner. Instead you may receive some old books and something which is called a pitch pipe. It looks a bit like a little harmonica that plays a different note each time you blow it. In some cases the pitch pipe won’t have been designed for your particular instrument. If this happens you will need to tune one string to the pitch pipe, then tune the other strings to the first one.
This is a really complicated process but we’re going to talk you through it step by step so you can learn to tune by ear using a pitch pipe. First of all you will want to find a reference note. This is usually just the middle C. When you blow your pitch pipe or you play the note on a piano you will hear the middle C. Twist your tuning peg on the uke until it matches this note.
Tuning the ukulele is a bit more difficult than a guitar. If you start on the B tuning peg twist it anti-clockwise. This will tighten the string and make it go up in pitch. Eventually you will be somewhere between the B and C notes. Keep twisting this until you get to C. Be careful not to twist too far otherwise you’ll go past the middle C and end up making it sharp.
If you twist the tuning peg clockwise you will take it down in pitch. So if you take the B and are twisting it the wrong way, you’ll end up making the B flat and not with a middle C at all.
Once you’ve got your middle C using the pitch pipe you will be able to start tuning the rest of the strings. The way you do this is by counting up the fretboard. Think about it for a minute. You’ve tuned your first string to middle C. To get that E string sounding right you can tune the next string up from C. Count it out and eventually you’ll be able to get the E string in tune. To do this you can place your finger on the first fret to get a C sharp. The next fret up is the D and the third will be the D sharp. Finally using the fourth fret on the C string will give you the E note you need to tune your E string.
Once you’ve got your E string sound right and tuned properly you will use this to tune your next string. Because you’re tuning the E string you’ll be on the opposite side of the ukes neck so you will need to turn your tuning peg in the opposite direction than you did the C. Twisting it round clockwise tightens the string up, which in turn makes the pitch go up too. The opposite happens when going anti-clockwise, loosening the strings and making the pitch go down.
Now that you have the E you will be able to count up to find the G string which is just before the A. Using your E string, the first fret is F, the second fret is F sharp and the third if the G note you’re looking for.
The G string should now be tuned correctly. It may seem like a lot of backwards and forwards but that’s completely normally. Next is to count up to the A note. The first fret on the G string is a G sharp. The second fret will give you an A. Now that you’ve been able to tune to pitch like this your ukulele should be fully in tune.
Here’s a last note on tuning by ear, using a piano or a tuner. Even when you think you’ve got your ukulele tuning perfected your strings will probably find that the strings have stretched. Many factors can affect the way your ukulele tuning works out. Things like your string type, humidity, the type of tuner you use and the wood the instrument is made out of will all mean your uke probably won’t be in tune right after you’ve tuned it. It’s more than likely you will have to go through the entire process a couple of times to fine tune your ukulele.
There are alternate ways to tune your ukulele. You can tune a ukulele differently by tuning each string either up or down two steps. Trying to tune more than two steps will cause your strings to break. If you are working with the standard G, C, E, A tuning then you may want to try going to a G sharp or an A. An E chord will work well with a G sharp tuning.
Another tuning you may want to try is taking your C string down to a B note. You can then leave the E string as it is then either keep the A as it is or tune it to a G sharp. There is also an open C tuning where you take the top A down to a low G. The C7 tuning means you tune your A string to a B flat.
There are plenty of different tunings you can try out. It’s all about playing around and finding the sound you want.
There are some really good tuning apps specifically made for ukulele available on iPhone and Android. Here are a few you may want to take a look at.
- Free Chromatic Tuner – This is a free app that will work with both standard and alternate tuning on the ukulele. The app is available for free download on the app store.
- Tune Lite – Tuner Lite takes your phone and turns it into both a chromatic tuner and a pitch pipe all rolled into one handy app.
- Fine Chromatic Tuner – This app makes use of the built-in mic that your phone has to help you tune your ukelele properly.
- Chord! – The Chord! app is available on iPhone and Android phones. There is also the option to have a free or paid version of the tuner. It is a great app that lets you find many tunings for a lot of different stringed instruments. It also has chords and scales as well as useful information on how to tune a ukulele.
Now you have all the information you need to tune your ukulele, as well as several different options as well. Tuning your uke may seem like a difficult task when you first start. One you find the right method to tune your ukulele that suits your needs it will get a lot better. Remember to keep practicing and try out alternate tunings when you’re feeling more confident.