Just like any other musical instrument, it is important to know how tuning a ukulele properly will effect your playing. Not only will you sound ‘off’ if it’s not tuned, it may discourage you from playing.
The fact of the matter is, and for various reasons, stringed instruments go out of tune from time to time, so it is advisable to check the tuning before playing.
Once you become comfortable with tuning your ukulele, you will discover that it is not that difficult to re-tune the ukulele as needed. This exercise is very quick and won’t take long to do at all once you know what you’re doing!
To make it even easier, tools like electronic tuners have become affordable for everyone. But we’ll come back to those later in the article!
The article begins with a discussion with the string tuning, reentrant tuning, the difference between low G and high g and relative tuning. Next, is a step-by-step guide on how to tune the ukulele using the applicable tuning method. We’ll also give you some resources to tune your ukulele electronically.
Starting at the top (thickest) to the bottom (thinnest) the strings of the ukulele are typically tuned to the G C E and A notes and is called C-tuning. This is the standard tuning arrangement for the soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles. The strings are numbered 4 3 2 1 respectively, so in standard C-tuning the open 4th string corresponds to a G note.
Another common tuning arrangement typically used on the soprano and concert ukuleles is D-tuning where the strings are tuned to the A D F# and B notes. This is one step higher than C-tuning. Some people prefer D-tuning since it brings out a sweeter tone.
Lastly, the baritone ukulele is usually tuned in a D G B E arrangement from low to high, similar to the guitar.
In reentrant tuning, the strings are not tuned from lowest to highest pitch as expected. In other words, the 4th G-string has a higher pitch than the 3rd C string which is counter intuitive. Some musicians prefer to have the strings ordered lowest to the highest pitch, in which case they would not be using reentrant tuning.
This also explains the difference between high g and low G tuning. If the 4th G string is tuned higher than the 3rd C string, then the 4th G string is referred to as a high g. If the 4th G string is tuned lower that the 3rd C string then it is known as a low G. Notice the upper and lower case nomenclature. Check out the video below so you can hear the difference between high g and low G tuning.
Also, note there is a slight difference in the strings made specifically for high g opposed to low G tuning. UkuleleHunt has a good article explaining the two.
Ways to Tune a Ukulele
There are three main ways you can methods to tune your Ukulele, Electronic Tuner, Tune by Note, and Relative Tuning.
Electronic tuners are small units that pick up sound waves and display the note on a digital display, they either attach onto the headstock of your guitar or can be set on a nearby table. We prefer this Snark Tuner, it’s small and accurate!
Tune By Note
There are a number of very good resources online that will play a sound clip that you can tune your Ukulele by. This will also help develop your ear to pick out individual notes. We recommend this one by UkuleleTabs
Probably one of the best ways to tune the ukulele is called relative adjustment. This requires no special electronic tuner and may be the right choice if you plan on playing the ukulele by yourself. In this procedure, the ukulele is tuned to a particular sting.
Most of the time you’ll use the A string and the remaining strings are all tuned to this string. This type of tuning may not be applicable when playing with other people since your ukulele may not be in tune with the other instruments.
Standard Ukulele Tuning Procedure
Assuming you’ll be using Relative tuning, this is a step-by-step procedure for tuning the ukulele for either the high g or low G arrangement. The assumption made is that all the strings are tuned to the 1st string (Open A string in C-Tuning).
1. Hold the 5th fret of the 2nd E string which is the A note. Play this note and the open 1st A together. Using the tuning peg on the headstock, adjust the pitch of the E string until it matches the pitch of the open A string.
2. Hold the 4th fret of the 3rd C string which is the E note. Play this note and the open 2nd E together. Adjust the pitch of the C string until it matches the pitch of the open E string.
3. If the 4th string is a high g then
Hold the 2nd fret of the 4th G string which is the A note. Play this note and the open 1st A together. Using the tuner, adjust the pitch of the G string until it matches the pitch of the open A string.
If the 4th string is a low G then:
Hold the 5th fret of the 4th G string which is the C note. Play this note and the open 3rd C together. Using the tuner, adjust the pitch of the G string until it matches the pitch of the open C string.<br><br>
What Tuning Is Right for Me?
High g and low G tuning is simply a matter of preference, what sounds better to your ear? Most beginners start with the high g tuning since this is ideal for strumming.
High g tuning is also preferred for the more treble oriented traditional Hawaiian rhythm and sound. It also keeps the spectrum note tighter and usually doubles two notes (no octave) of a chord. A ukulele that is tuned with the high g is said to have a light and airy sound. Many musicians who are after the traditional Ukulele sound prefer the high g
Guitarists typically prefer the low G tuning since it is similar to the tuning of a guitar. The low G tuning does increase the lower range by three notes, or five half steps giving more notes to work with which may be ideal for soloists. Some claim the low G tuning gives the ukulele a more rounded and even sound.
Either way, learning how to tune the ukulele may take some time at first, but don’t let that discourage you. Once the ukulele is in tuned, it should not take long to retune the ukulele from time to time. Having your ukulele in tune will bring years of musical enjoyment and encourage you to play more often.