Tune Up! A Beginners Guide to Tenor Ukulele Tuning

Man playing tenor ukulele

Have a tenor ukulele that you want to tune? Or perhaps you’re wondering what other tuning options there are for your tenor uke. Whichever one applies to you, you’re in the right place.

In this article, we’re going to show you the basics of tenor ukulele tuning. We include the most popular types of ukulele tunings as well as tips on tuning your ukulele.

How is a Tenor Ukulele Tuned?

The standard tuning for most tenor ukes is GCEA. This tuning is the ‘de facto’ tuning system, a bit like EADGBE is to the guitar and is used in the majority of ukulele songs.

Soprano and concert ukuleles are also tuned to GCEA, but the baritone ukulele uses an entirely different tuning system (DGBE) and even its own set of baritone chords for ukulele.

It’s not quite so simple, though, as you can use two variations of GCEA, known as ‘High G’ and ‘Low G’. 

Let’s take a look at each one.

High G Tuning (Reentrant Tuning)

Let’s start with the most common, High-G or Reentrant Tuning.

The notes are: G4, C4, E4, A4

High-G Reentrant Ukulele Tuning
High-G Reentrant Ukulele Tuning

Notice how the G note on the fourth string is actually higher than the C and E strings (yes, the open G note of the 4th string is a higher pitch than both the 3rd and 2nd string, weird right!).

This is why this tuning is called ‘high G’ because the G is higher than it normally would be in that position.

This is also why this tuning is sometimes called ‘C tuning’ because when the uke is tuned this way, the C is actually the lowest note.

Why do this? Better melodic range, basically. It sounds pretty quirky too and in many ways, it’s what gives the ukulele it’s authentic sound.

How to Tune Your Ukulele to High G

If you have an electronic tuner, you can just tune your ukulele one string at a time.

If you prefer something a bit more hands-on – and let’s be honest, most ukulele players know how to do this – you can try ‘relative tuning’, where you tune the ukulele to itself (in other words, you tune each ukulele string to one other).

In case you want to give that a try, here’s how you do it:

  • Start with the lowest C string and make sure it’s in tune with the middle C (on a piano or using an electronic ukulele tuner)
  • Match the E string with the C string held at the 4th fret
  • Match the G string with the E string held at the 3rd fret
High-G Reentrant Relative Tuning for Ukulele
High-G Reentrant Relative Tuning for Ukulele

Low G Tuning (Linear Tuning)

Low G Tuning is the same, but with the G an octave lower.

So the notes are G3, C4, E4, A4

Low-G Linear Ukulele Tuning
Low-G Linear Ukulele Tuning

The result? A tighter melodic range, but the lack of reentrant tuning does omit some of that traditional ukulele sound.

Using relative tuning, it’s much simpler:

  • Start with the G string
  • Match the C string with the G string held at the 5th fret
  • Match the E string with the C string held at the 4th fret
  • Match the A string with the E string held at the 5th fret

 

Low-G Relative Tuning for Ukulele
Low-G Relative Tuning for Ukulele

What is the Difference Between High-G and Low-G?

The difference is the tuning of the G string. With High G tuning, the G string is tuned an octave higher, whereas with Low G tuning it’s tuned an octave lower (3).

There’s a difference in sound or ‘melodic range’. Low G tuning is a more conventional instrument sound, whereas the High G is a quirkier, traditional ukulele sound.

Which to choose? It depends on what tone you’re going after and what sounds best to your ear. If you want the authentic uke vibe, definitely go for the High-G.

Alternative Tunings

D tuning was all the rage in the ’20s and ’30s and you’ll find much of the ‘old-time’ uke sheet music was in this D Tuning.

But beware, there are also two variants.

D Tuning (High-A) – aka ‘Canadian Tuning’

The notes are A4, D4, F#4, B4, which incidentally is (two frets) higher than standard tuning.

Canadian D tuning High-A
Canadian D Tuning High-A

The reason why it’s called ‘Canadian Tuning’ is that the school system in Canada used ukulele’s extensively in musical education.

D Tuning (Low-A) – aka ‘English Tuning’

There is also a Low-A variation, known as English Tuning, which is the same as above but with a dropped A.

So we have A3, D4, F#4, B4.

English D tuning Low-A
English D Tuning Low-A

6 and 8 String Tenor Uke Tuning

How about the lesser-known 6-string or even 8-string ukulele? Yes, rare as they are, they do exist!

A 6-string tenor ukulele is tuned similarly to the standard GCEA tuning (high G or low G, it doesn’t matter), but the C and A strings are doubled (the doubled C string is tuned an octave higher or lower and played together as one string).

An 8-string tenor is tuned a little differently, still to GCEA, but every string is doubled rather than just the C and A. The G string has both a high and low version (so best of both worlds!).

Summary

One of the best things you can when learning any instrument, but especially the ukulele, is to change up how you tune to keep things interesting.

As we’ve seen, each type of ukulele has its own set of ‘preferred’ tunings, but it’s up to you to decide which you like the best.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to tenor ukulele tuning and managed to find one that is agreeable to your ear!

Good luck!