So, you have been down to the local shop and returned home with your first Ukulele. Brand new, it looks great, and it hasn’t cost the earth to buy. You are going to want to start learning to play the ukulele as soon as you can. But, before you can do that, you need to learn something. How to tune a Ukulele.
Nylon or Similar
The strings will likely be Nylon or a similar material. That means they are not going to hurt a new player’s fingers so much. But it also means that they are sometimes harder to keep in tune. Although, Nylon strings will last longer, so it’s “swings and roundabouts,” really.
I am going to look at how you set about tuning the Ukulele. We will learn about standard tuning and also some other interesting options. I will look at the tunings for each of the four main types of Ukulele, plus two lesser-known instruments.
Finally, I will discuss the value of electronic tuners, pitch pipes, and apps for tuning. Or maybe just using a piano or a keyboard. Okay, let’s get started.
The Standard Tuning
As with many stringed instruments, there can be a standard tuning, and then you can have some alternative options.
The standard tuning for Soprano, Concert, and Tenor Ukuleles is G, C, E, and A. The G is the lowest string, and the A the top string. The C is middle C on the piano, and the E, G, and A are the notes above middle C.
You will come across people who tune up differently for various reasons. One option you might see is A, D, F#, and B. Likewise, you may come across G, C, D, and G.
Tuning a Baritone Ukulele
The standard tuning for a Baritone Ukulele is D, G, B, and E. However, if you prefer, you can use the standard tuning of the other Ukuleles, which is G, C, E, and A.
How Do You Go About Tuning Your Ukulele?
You have several tuning options for the ukulele. If you have a piano or keyboard, that is a great way of tuning up. As we have already said, the tuning for three of the four types of Ukulele is G, C, E, and A.
You will sometimes see this written as G4, C4, E4, and A4. The four is just the number of octaves up from the lowest note on the piano or keyboard.
C4 is also known on the piano as Middle C. So, start with the second string from the top and tune that to Middle C. Three full notes up is ‘E’ for the third, and up again to ‘A’ for the fourth string. Finally, tune the first string or bottom string to the ‘G’ above the Middle C.
There is also a procedure that is known as re-entrant stringing, which may seem a bit strange. In it, the bottom string is tuned to a pitch that is higher than that of the second and third strings. But this is what helps to create that special sound of the Ukulele, so bear with it.
That is the most common ukulele tuning you will see for Soprano, Concert, and Tenor models. If you play a Baritone Ukulele, then the procedure is the same, but as we said earlier, the notes are different.
The tuning for the Baritone is more conventional in its procedure. The strings are tuned in order as you see them from bottom string to top. These are usually written down as D3, G3, B3, and E4. As before, from low to high.
If you are tuning with a piano or keyboard, then the ‘D3’, the bottom string, is found below the ‘Middle C.’ The easiest way to find it is to drop a complete octave.
Starting on Middle C, count eight white notes down to C3 and then come up with one note to D3. The rest of the notes are tuned up from there.
Tune a Ukulele With a Tuner
Of course, not everyone has a piano or a keyboard. If you haven’t, then you still have to tune your Uke. The next best thing, or some would argue the best thing in the first place, is a digital tuner. I have included an example at the end of this article. I should mention that there are plenty of other brands available at a range of prices.
Some Tuners are not going to be suitable
With a Ukelele, it isn’t just a case of buying any old tuner. Some tuners are calibrated to tune guitars only. This makes them unsuitable for tuning any other notes than E, A, D, G, or B. Not particularly useful for a Ukulele, which needs other strings than what the guitar tuner offers.
A Chromatic Tuner is what you need to tune any Ukulele. What is Chromatic? There is no mystery to it. A Chromatic tuner will let you tune any note, including sharps and flats if you need to.
So, buying a tuner is a good idea, and if you don’t have a piano or keyboard, it’s almost a necessity. But make sure it is a Chromatic Tuner.
“Fire up the DeLorean”
I did say “almost” a necessity. I say that because there is another option, but you need to go back in time for this one. That probably isn’t quite true; this accessory is still made today but in a slightly different form to days past.
The Pitch Pipe
Another option for how to tune a ukulele, which to this day, some still prefer despite all the digital options. We used to refer to it as “tuning by ear.” That is because instead of reading from a screen with a digital tuner, you have to listen to the note and tune accordingly.
I have heard musicians say condescendingly, “oh, how 60s is that – tuning by ear?” Well, clever clogs, isn’t that what you do when tuning with a piano, use your ear? Never mind, just ignore them. If you have a good ear, then a pitch pipe is a good option.
A little bit more sophisticated now
Well, they are but only just. You still have to blow them… oh, the effort! In our younger days, we used them for guitars. But they could go off the pitch a bit after too much use. Now they don’t, hence why I say they are a little more sophisticated.
Strike a Balance
I would make one point for the sake of a balanced argument. You can tune a Ukulele using a guitar tuner if you want, and you have a few weeks to spare. It will involve tuning your ‘C’ string to a ‘B’ and then gradually turning the tuning peg up until you get to a ‘C.’
Once you have the ‘C,’ you can start to try and find the other notes. If you are new to it all, good luck. Far easier to get the right tuner in the first place.
I have enclosed a Chromatic pitch pipe at the end for those that might like to give it a try. You can play a tune on it if you like because it is similar to a harmonica in some ways. You can’t do that with a digital tuner.
One Final Option
In today’s world, it was always unlikely there wouldn’t be an app for tuning a Ukulele, and there are. Some are easy to use and reasonably accurate. Some like to have everything available on their phone. That is ok. But in my opinion, if you haven’t got a piano, then a digital tuner is best.
Six not Four
While I have spoken about four types of Ukulele, there are actually six different ones. Although, two are quite rare, which is why I concentrated on just the popular four. I have listed them below with their standard tunings.
- Pocket Ukulele or “Sopranissimo” – C5, F4, A4, and D5.
- Soprano – G4, C4, E4, and A4.
- Concert (or Super Soprano) – G4, C4, E4, and A4.
- Tenor – G4, C4, E4, and A4.
- Baritone – D3, G3, B3, and E4.
- Bass Ukulele – E1, A1, D2, and G2.
Some musicians like to experiment with different tunings. There can be some advantages to these alternate tunings. And those differences apply not only to the sound of the instrument but the shapes of chords. This can make some things easier to play. Here are some other tunings for some of the types of Ukulele.
- Pocket Ukulele or “Sopranissimo” – D5, G4, B4, and E5.
- Soprano – A4, D4, F#4, and B4.
- Concert (or Super Soprano) – A4, D4, F#4, and B4.
- Tenor – G3, C4, E4, and A4.
As we can see, there are a few efficient options for tuning your Ukulele. If you have a piano or keyboard, that is a great way to tune. It also gives you some practice developing your ‘ear.’
But for practicality, a Digital tuner might be the best option. It is small and easy to carry around and doesn’t cost that much. Certainly, if you take your instrument outside your home, it will be a must-have. Here are some useful accessories plus the two tuners we mentioned.
- Korg PC1 PITCHCLIP Low-Profile Clip-On Tuner.
- Tombo P-13E Pitch Pipe (Chromatic).
- Dulphee Ukulele Strap Hawaiian Style.
- Ukulele Capo, with 2 Felt Picks.
Need a Nice Ukulele or Uke Accessories?
We have you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Tenor Ukuleles, the Best Baritone Ukuleles, the Best Bass Ukulele, the Best Concert Ukuleles For Beginners, the Best Ukuleles for Beginners, the Best Ukuleles for Kids, and the Best Electric Ukuleles you can buy in 2023.
Also, take a look at our comprehensive reviews of the Best Luna Ukulele, the Best Lanikai Ukuleles, the Best Ukulele Tuners, the Best Ukulele Capos, the Best Ukulele Case, and the Best Ukulele Straps currently on the market.
How to Tune a Ukulele – Final Thoughts
In closing, let me just remind you of a point made at the beginning. The strings are likely to be Nylon or similar. Furthermore, they are likely to need tuning more often and won’t hold that tune very long with use. Therefore, a tuner you have readily available is usually a good idea. Whichever style of Ukulele you are going to play, have a great time with it.
Until next time, let your music play.