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Music

How to Tune a Ukulele: 5 Ways to Tune a Ukulele

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 1, 2020 • 3 min read

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Jake Shimabukuro Teaches ʻUkulele

Although ukuleles come in different sizes and different registers, ukulele tuning is standard throughout this family of instruments. Whether you're using a soprano ukulele, a concert ukulele, a tenor ukulele, a baritone ukulele, or the rare bass ukulele, you'll want to know how to tune your instrument.

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What Is Standard Tuning for a Ukulele?

In the past, many ukulele players tuned their instruments to A-D-F-B, which produces a D6 chord when strummed. In the present era, however, a G-C-E-A tuning (which produces a C6 chord) is the universal standard. This translates to the following on a concert ukulele:

  • The fourth string: Tune this bottom string to G4. Typically, this string is called the G string. Some players call this string "low G," but it is actually the second-highest pitch of all the strings.
  • The third string: Tune the next string up is to C4. Sometimes called the C string, the third string has the lowest pitch of the strings.
  • The second string: Tune this string to E4. Also known as the E string, it has the second-lowest pitch of the strings.
  • The first string: Tune this top string to A4. Called the A string, it has the highest pitch of the strings.

Strumming these open strings will produce a C6 chord with a G as the lowest note. These notes all fall into the same octave. The lowest note, C4, is the same as Middle C on a piano keyboard. The highest note, A4, is the A above Middle C.

Note that these are pitches on a concert ukulele. However, standard tuning is the same on soprano and tenor ukuleles. The only difference is that the notes fall in different octaves. Meanwhile, baritone ukuleles are tuned D3-G3-B3-E4.

3 Ways to Tune a Ukulele With a Tuner

There is a wide variety of instrument tuners available for today’s ukulele players. The three most common types of electronic tuners are:

  1. Pedal tuners: This type of tuner receives an audio signal via a quarter-inch audio cable, then passes that signal (unchanged) out through another quarter-inch cable. Pedal tuners only work with ukuleles that contain an electronic pickup. Most pedal tuners are designed to be used as guitar tuners, but they can also handle the pitches produced by a ukulele.
  2. Clip-on tuners: Clip-on tuners attach to a ukulele headstock and measure vibrations in the actual wood of the instrument. You can use clip-on tuners with any type of ukulele, whether or not it has a pickup.
  3. Smartphone tuning apps: Though it isn’t ideal, it is possible to tune your ukulele with your smartphone. Your phone relies on its external microphone to pick up the sound of your instrument, and other ambient sounds can interfere with its reading. Still, a tuner app on your phone is quite handy as a backup. There are hundreds of tuning apps to choose from, so pick the one that suits your personal taste.
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2 Ways to Tune a Ukulele Without a Tuner

You can still get your ukulele perfectly tuned without the use of an electronic ukulele tuner. There are two main ways to do this:

  1. Reference notes from an external source. In this common ukulele tuning method, you’ll use another instrument (such as a piano), a tuning fork or pitch pipe, or a digital sound file as your guide to achieving the right pitch for each string. Simply play a note in unison with the ukulele string you’re tuning, then turn the tuning peg until the pitch matches your reference.
  2. Use other ukulele strings as a reference. You can also tune by ear using your own strings as reference notes for one another. For instance, you can tune your open E string to match the pitch of the C string at the fourth fret. You can tune the open A string (1st string) to match the pitch of the G string (2nd string) at the second fret.

Note that a new ukulele with a brand new set of strings may frequently slip out of tune. If you tune up your new instrument, and within minutes your ukulele chords sound dissonant, it doesn't mean your instrument is broken. It just means you may have to keep re-tuning the strings over the next several hours or days. Over time, the strings will "settle" and begin to consistently hold their pitches.

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Want to Pack Some Hawaiian Punch Into Your ‘Uke Skills?

Grab a MasterClass All-Access Pass, stretch out those fingers, and get your strum on with a little help from the Jimi Hendrix of ‘ukulele, Jake Shimabukuro. With some pointers from this Billboard chart topper, you’ll be an expert on chords, tremolo, vibrato, and more in no time.

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