Whether you’re a complete beginner or a world-class pro, in case you play the ukulele there’s one skill you should know no matter your skill level. That is, of course, tuning a ukulele. Knowing how to tune your ukulele not only allows you to get familiar with the instrument but, most importantly, guarantees that your ukulele also sounds good every time you play.
If you’ve tried playing an out-of-tune ukulele—or any other stringed instrument for that matter—you’ll know how painful and unpleasant it can sound like. As you progress and learn to play, you’ll also know when the instrument is in tune just by listening to how the strings sound. Before that though, a tuner or some other point of reference can be helpful in checking whether or not your ukulele is in tune.
To get you started with your ukulele playing, we’ll show you how to tune your ukulele as well as some different methods to do so. We’ll also introduce some alternate tunings, in addition to the most common ukulele tuning, the standard G-C-E-A tuning.
Check out the video above for a walkthrough on how to tune your ukulele. You can read more about ukulele tunings below.
What are the strings of a ukulele?
Before we look at the standard ukulele tuning, we’ll have to get familiar with the strings of a ukulele and their names. Luckily there are only four of them, so they’re easy to remember. The strings of a ukulele are, from left to right: G-C-E-A. The strings can also be referred to with a number from 1 to 4. In this case, the G string is referred to as the 4th string, C string as the 3rd string and so forth.
Standard ukulele tuning
Let’s look at the standard ukulele tuning. Before proceeding further, it’s good to note that there are different types of ukuleles and ukulele sizes. Here are the most common ukulele tunings for different ukulele sizes:
- Soprano ukulele: G-C-E-A
- Concert ukulele: G-C-E-A
- Tenor ukulele: G-C-E-A
- Baritone ukulele: D-G-B-E
- Bass ukulele: E-A-D-G
The tuning you’ll be using depends on the type of ukulele you have. However, soprano ukuleles are the most common ones, so we’ll be focusing on the standard ukulele tuning for a soprano ukulele.
What is a reentrant tuning?
One useful concept to learn is reentrant (or re-entrant) tuning. For example the standard tuning for soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles is a reentrant tuning. So how does a reentrant tuning differ from the standard tunings used with a guitar or bass, for instance? With a non-reentrant tuning the strings are ordered from the lowest pitch to the highest. Consider for example the standard guitar tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E).
However, in a reentrant tuning the strings don’t follow this linear pattern. If the ukulele used linear tuning, the 4th string would be lowest in pitch, and the other strings would get progressively higher. Instead, in the standard ukulele tuning the 4th string is actually higher than the 3rd string. This exception that breaks the linear tuning is known as a re-entry. Other stringed instruments that use a re-entrant tuning include the banjo and cuatro, a Venezuelan guitar-like instrument.
The reentrant tuning—also known as the high G tuning—is the most common one, making it also the most popular ukulele tuning. Because a re-entrant tuning does not go from lowest to highest in a linear manner, the reentrant tuning of a ukulele might seem odd to many who are familiar with other instruments, such as the guitar and bass.
How to tune a ukulele
Now you know how the different types of ukuleles differ from each other and the ukulele is a bit different from other common stringed instruments because of its re-entrant tuning. Next we’ll look at how to get your ukulele in tune.
One way to tune your ukulele is with an electronic tuner. There are different kinds of electronic tuner devices and you can buy one from a music store or an online retailer. These devices work simply by listening to the pitch of your ukulele and telling whether the string is flat (too low) or sharp (too high). Many electronic tuner devices have a clip-on mechanism that can be used to attach the tuner to the headstock of your ukulele, for instance.
Sounds handy, but there’s a catch. These devices can cost you a good penny, at least in case you want good quality. Opting for a cheap electronic ukulele tuning device may not be a good option either. Cheaper tuning devices for the ukulele—or other stringed instruments for that matter—may not be entirely reliable and consistent while a higher quality tuning device can cost a fortune.
Luckily for those who don’t want to spend money in order to get their ukulele in tune, there are free alternatives for an expensive ukulele tuning device. Some ukulele tuners fit right in your pocket as you can download them right to your mobile device, such as a smartphone. For example the GuitarTuna tuner app can be downloaded on your iOS or Android device for free. In addition to the standard GCEA tuning for most ukuleles, GuitarTuna also includes a wide selection of alternate uke tunings as well as tuning options for other instruments.
Tuning with a piano
You can also use some other instrument as a reference point to get the right note. A good option is a piano. To use a piano to tune your ukulele, simply pluck one of the ukulele strings and then play the corresponding note on a piano.
Here’s how to tune a ukulele to the standard ukulele tuning by using a piano as your reference instrument. Start by tuning the G string. Play the G note on a piano and adjust the tuning peg until it matches the pitch of the piano key. Remember to tune up towards the desired pitch, rather than down from a higher pitch. Keep doing this until both your ukulele and piano sound the same.
Then repeat the process for each string by playing a corresponding key on a piano. You can use some other instrument as well, such as a guitar to get the right tune. However, unlike with a ukulele tuner app or a tuner device, you’ll rely on your own musical ear when using some other instrument for tuning.
Alternate ukulele tunings
In addition to the standard GCEA re-entrant tuning, there are a number of other alternate tunings for the ukulele. Here are a few common ones also included in the GuitarTuna app.
Low G tuning
One non-reentrant (or linear) uke tuning is the low G tuning. Although the low G tuning is also in GCEA, the fourth string is tuned an octave lower. Note that it’s recommended to get a specialized thicker G string when tuning to the low G tuning.
D tuning (A-D-F#-B)
This alternate tuning used to be perhaps the most common one to tune your uke to. However, today it’s one of the more common alternate uke tunings. How the D tuning differs from the standard uke tuning is that it has been tuned up a whole step. If you tune the fourth string down you’ll get the so-called ‘Canadian tuning’.
Slack key (G-C-E-G)
The slack key tuning is a Hawaiian-style uke tuning that differs only slightly from the standard uke tuning. To get your uke tuned in the slack key tuning just drop the A string to G. And there you have it. Your ukulele is now in the slack key tuning and you’re ready to play with the Hawaiian slack key style of ukulele.
Tune your ukulele with GuitarTuna
To ensure that your ukulele is always sounding as it should, make sure to check the tuning always before playing. Once you get the hang of tuning your ukulele it’ll become a quick routine and something you’ll do every time when you pick up a ukulele to play.
The easiest way to get your ukulele in tune is with GuitarTuna. Check out the free app and all of the alternate ukulele tunings as well as tunings for other instruments. With the free GuitarTuna app you’ll get your ukulele in tune in no time, so get it now for free in the Apple App Store and Google Play.