How to Tune Your Ukulele

You’ve no doubt spent lot of time pouring over our advice on choosing the right ukulele and, now you’ve got one of these delightful little fellas in your hands, your chords aren’t quite sounding as they should. But, how do you know if your uke is in tune? And how can you tune up your ukulele with the help of a tuner? In this very blog, you will find the answers to these questions and more so you can get the very best out of your new pal.

Standard Ukulele Tuning

Most people will have a soprano or concert model ukulele with a standard G – C – E – A tuning, with the ‘G’ referring to the first string (or the top string as you look down when holding the uke in a normal playing position) and ‘A’ referring to the 4th string (the thickest and bottom string as you look down). If you happen to have a different ukulele model or you’re interested in some alternative tunings, then scroll down to the last paragraph.

Using a Tuner

When you’ve just started playing and can’t quite hear if a string is slightly out of tune, it’s totally understandable that you’ll need a chromatic tuning device to help you out. Clip-On-Tuners are probably the most practical tuner out there for acoustic ukuleles since they can very literally be clipped onto the head of the uke. Some tuners turn on automatically, while some will need to be switched on, but all tuners for acoustic instruments work using a built-in microphone or in response to particular vibrations. It’s worth noting that on both soprano and concert ukuleles, the first string (the ‘G’) does sound higher than the second and thirds strings (this is called ‘re-entrant’ tuning). For guitarists, this can feel a little counter-intuitive since they’ll expect this string to be the lowest in pitch.

Tuning Your Ukulele

To tune up your ukulele, the correct note needs to be found and then this needs to be ‘finely tuned’. This is done by turning the machine heads (the tuning pegs fitted to the head that tighten or loosen the strings) and while you do this, make sure not to turn the peg in the wrong direction. Ukulele strings should never be too tight or too slack so if you find this happening, you need to turn the peg in the opposite direction.

Finding the Right Note

Start with playing the first string (the ‘G’). The tuner you’re using will automatically display the note that it detects. If ‘G’ is indicated perfectly, then you’re all good! If you’re seeing the notes a little lower, so F or F#/Gb, then the pitch needs to come up. This is done by carefully tightening the string until your tuner indicates ‘G’. If your tuner is indicating the higher ‘A’ note, as you play the first string, then it needs loosening until the tuner indicates ‘G’. Below, we’ve included an image showing all the notes that sit a little above or a little below the note of each string. This is a short guide to knowing if you need to tighten or loosen a string to get it correctly tuned.

How to Tune Your Ukulele

Explanation: In the image above, all 12 notes used in Western music have been placed in a row. While any normal musical instrument, including a ukulele, has much more than 12 notes, this is because the notes are repeated in a higher register or octave. This is best explained when you imagine a bass guitar playing a very low note and a normal guitar playing exactly the same note, but it sounds much higher. This is because a bass guitar plays notes in a much lower octave than a normal guitar.

Fine Tuning

All going well, you should have the right note showing on your tuner and the string shouldn’t feel too loose or too tight. It’s now time to fine tune the string. As you play the string, you’ve probably already noticed a little line like the hand of a clock moving left and right across the screen of your tuner. When this arrow settles, it should sit dead centre. However, if the arrow is a little to the left, then the note needs to be a touch higher so you need to very gently tighten the string. If the arrow is a little to the right, then the string is too tight and needs loosening gently. As soon as the arrow is slap-band in the middle, you have a perfectly tuned string and can move onto tuning the next string by following the same steps.

How to Check the Tuning of Your Ukulele

After you’ve finished tuning the 4th string, you can check your tuning by playing a chord. If it doesn’t quite sound as nice as it should, then it’s a good idea to check each string once more, using your tuner. You’ll quickly get the hang of tuning up and checking your tuning and soon realise that it’s really not that difficult. It’s also worth noting that whenever you put a new string or a new set of strings on your ukulele, they’ll need a bit of extra time and effort to tune up since, over time, they need to stretch a little. By carefully and slightly stretching new strings yourself, this can help to speed up tuning. Also, you’ll notice that if it’s really cold or really warm, this also effects the tuning of your ukulele and that the strings can fall out of tune faster than normal.

Alternative Tunings

A number of different tunings are used for different ukulele models. The most popular tunings used are listed in the table included below. While it’s probably best to stick to the standard tuning of the model you have, if you want to experiment with different ukulele tunings, this is totally possible. However, there are two exceptions to this rule: the alternative tunings of sopranino and tenor models. A good tip for guitarists trying out the ukulele for the first time is that they’ll understand the tuning of guitarleles and tenor ukuleles better when they place a cap at the fifth fret. Bassists will have it a little easier since the bass-ukulele is tuned in the same way as a standard 4-string bass.

Ukulele Tunings* Standard Tuning Alternative Tuning
Sopranino/piccolo D5 G4 B4 E5 ** G4 C4 E4 A4 ***
Soprano G4 C4 E4 A4 A4 D4 F♯4 B4 *****
Concert G4 C4 E4 A4 G3 C4 E4 A4 ****
Tenor G3 C4 E4 A4 G4 C4 E4 A4 ***
Guitarlele A2 D3 G3 C3 E4 A4
Baritone D3 G3 B3 E4
Bass E2 A2 D3 G3

* The numbers indicate the octave of the note. For example, ‘G4’ is the same note as ‘G3, but one octave higher.
** Just like with the soprano and concert models, the first string of a sopranino/piccolo model is higher than the second and third strings.
*** To try this tuning, you’ll need to put a set of soprano or concert model strings on your ukuele.
**** To try this tuning, you’ll need to put a set of tenor strings on your ukulele (also referred to as ‘low G’).
***** In certain countries, and especially in older books, you’re likely to come across the ADF#B tuning. This tuning offers a brighter, more classic Hawaiian sound and can be applied to standard GCEA strings or, in case you prefer a looser feel, a special pack of ADF#B strings.

Set Up

If you feel like your ukulele is not quite in shape, doesn’t sound as it should or doesn’t play as comfortably as it should, you might want to take it to a local specialist who can give you some advice or set up your ukuele for you.

See Also…

» Clip-On Chromatic Tuners
» Ukulele Strings
» All Ukuleles & Accessories

» How do I Choose the Right Ukulele?
» How to Hold Each Size of Ukulele
» Ukulele for Guitarists: The 4 Most Important Chords
» Ukulele Strings that Are Right for You
» 5 tips to improve your tone on the ukulele

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