Ukulele Tuning: Step by Step Guide

So you’ve just got your first Ukulele.

No matter where you stand, at some point you will be faced with the same question I was: just how do I tune a Ukulele?

It's just four strings, how hard can it be?! Wrong. Ukulele tuning is a bit more complicated than you may have thought.

One of the worst moments I faced as a player was when I wanted to showcase a song I had been learning for members of my family, only to find the Ukulele was completely out of tune.

I had no idea how to stop the notes sounding like cats screaming. Luckily, if you’re reading this tutorial, I can tell you the simple steps to avoid the embarrassment I had!

Different Tuning Methods

Just to confuse the average player even more, there are different methods in which you can tune your ukulele! Oh the choices!

There is the standard tuning method that a lot of players find easier to master using the keys G, C, E and A. This method is also referred to as ‘C tuning’.

There are several other methods in which you can tune your Ukulele, depending on the make of Ukulele you own:

The Baritone tuning method using the keys D, G, Band E. As you probably guessed, it is used most commonly on the baritone Ukulele, but sometimes can be used on a tenor. This can provide a deeper sound on the instrument.

The English tuning method uses the keys A, D, F# and B and is primarily used when tuning a soprano Ukulele as it produces a ‘sweeter’ sound.

The Canadian tuning method is exactly the same as the English method, using the same keys. However this method requires you to lower the A key by an entire octave. This method can be used when tuning a concert and tenor Ukulele.

Should I try tuning my Ukulele by ear?

The more advanced players find tuning by ear the most simple and effective method. I personally find this method rather difficult as it requires excellent hearing and recognition of whether a note is right or not.

Whenever I have tuned by ear, I have gotten at least one string off slightly. Therefore for newer players (or those that are rubbish like me), a Chromatic tuner is one of the simpler ways in which to tune a Ukulele. Simply clip the little machine on your instrument, pluck a string and the monitor will tell you what note you are playing. Fiddle around until you get the correct response.

Ok, here's how you tune a Ukulele in 9 easy steps....​

Ukulele Tuning in 9 Easy Steps​

1. Learn the strings

The first step in learning how to tune a Ukulele is getting to know the general layout of the instrument i.e. which strings are which.​ Here's the four strings in C-tuning.

2. Tuning Pegs

Each string is connected to a tuning peg at the top of the fretboard, these little things you are going to twiddle and get really annoyed with to tune your instrument.​ Here's how they correspond to the four strings in C-tuning.

3. References, References!!

Decide what reference point you will be using in order to tune your ukulele. This can be using a piano, an electric tuner, a tuning fork, a pipe tuner or by using several videos on youtube. I found using youtube an invaluable tool as the videos gave the correct key and the presenters were extremely helpful. Here's a good video:

4. Which Ukulele?

A baritone, concert? Which Ukulele you are playing may affect which keys are needed for your reference point. For instance, a baritone ukulele needs reference keys D, G, B and E instead of G, C, E and A as used in the standard tuning. Know what you are using, it could get awkward otherwise!

5. Pia, Pia, Piano!

Using a piano is one of my preferred methods purely because I own an electric piano and therefore it's easy for me to get the correct key in a matter of moments. This method requires you to press the key on the piano you need to tune on the Ukulele.

6. Twiddle Away

The best way I found as a beginner was to just play and twiddle around with the tuning peg. This can be a frustrating method for those just starting out, but practise makes it a lot easier.

7. Finding the keys

The following image should help to clarify where each key needed is on the piano. If you need the E string tuned, press the E key on the piano, keep pressing and turning the peg until when you strum the E string, it sounds exactly like the piano sound.

8. PItch pipe and tuning fork

These two methods are used in the exact same ways the piano method, requiring a bit of practice and a bit of patience in order to get used to how much you need to turn the tuning pegs to get the required sound. You can buy a pitch pipe for the price of a cup of coffee.

9. Electric Tuner

This method I have already mentioned is extremely easy to do and requires almost no effort. Alternatively you can find a free Ukulele tuner online such as this one

Summary

As I have said before, I personally find the piano and electric tuner methods the easiest to tune my Ukulele. I do have some mad friends who find tuning by ear simple and can do so in a matter of minutes.

The best thing to do is play around with a few methods and find one that suits your needs best. Once again, having a finely tuned instrument is important if you ever want to play a song and have another person recognise what it is!I

Hope you have enjoyed this tutorial, which method do you use??

Main photo by Kevin McCarthy / CC By 2.0

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.

Leave a Comment