One of the first things you need to learn when taking ukulele lessons is how to tune a ukulele. Ukulele tuning is a must if you want it to sound good, and is pretty standard once you get the hang of it. After all, the songs you want to play won’t sound right if your ukulele is not properly in tune. So how is a ukulele tuned? Is there a specific ukulele tuner? We’re glad you asked.
In this article, we’ll provide a step-by-step guide on tuning a ukulele for beginners, whether you are looking to learn how to tune a ukulele without a tuner, by ear, or with a tuner or ukulele tuning app. Tuning your instrument may seem tricky at first, but it’ll become second nature once you get the hang of it.
This guide will teach you how to tune a ukulele to standard tuning and how to tune tenor, soprano, and bass ukuleles. Because there are so many ways to learn to tune your ukulele, we suggest trying out all of the options to determine which method you gravitate toward most. As long as your ukulele is in tune, there is no right or wrong way to go about it.
If you’re looking for something specific, you can jump around throughout the guide here:
How to Tune a Ukulele
If you know nothing about tuning a stringed instrument, check out this video on how to tune a guitar from world-famous guitarist and songwriter James Taylor. This video covers a lot of details about tuning in general, and you can apply the same principles to tuning a ukulele.
But before jumping into our guide on how to tune a ukulele, let’s first discuss some dos and don’ts:
- Do get acquainted with the names of the strings and the way they should sound.
- Do tune your ukulele every time you play it.
- Don’t worry if you have to tune your ukulele after playing each song–this is normal as the strings stretch.
- Do remember; turning the pegs clockwise will loosen the strings, while turning them counter-clockwise will tighten them.
- Don’t store your ukulele in places where the temperature or humidity drastically fluctuates.
- Do gently stretch your ukulele strings to warm them up.
- Don’t forget to change your strings when they begin to sound “dead.”
- Do gently wipe down your strings each time after playing.
Standard Ukulele Tuning
So how is a ukulele tuned? The ukulele is typically tuned to the notes G, C, E, and A. This has been the “standard” since the advent of the internet. Before the internet, you could find people who tune their ukulele to A, D, F#, B, or even fiddle tunings like A, D, A, D or G, C, D, G.
How to Tune a Ukulele With a Piano
If you’re wondering how to tune your ukulele, turn to your piano for help. Today, most of the books and videos you will find use G4, C4, E4, A4 as the standard ukulele tuning. The fours behind the letters represent the octave that you will find on the piano.
So if you happen to have a keyboard or a piano, C4 is known as middle C. If you tune your ukulele to match middle C, then the E above middle C, and the A above middle C, and then tune the first string to the G above middle C, you will be in what is known as standard ukulele tuning.
Here’s a good illustration of how to tune a ukulele with a piano from The Uke website.
How to Tune a Ukulele With a Tuner
So what do you do if you don’t have a piano? Well, you will need to get yourself a chromatic tuner. I use a Korg chromatic tuner, and I love it! I have tried a lot of other tuners, but the Korg is my favorite.
You can purchase several brands of tuners for a reasonable price at places like Musician’s Friend and Sweetwater. You will find that there are different types of tuners, such as a clip-on ukulele tuner, and not all tuners are chromatic. Which leads us to our next topic, what exactly does chromatic mean?
If a tuner is chromatic, it enables you to tune to all of the notes. Guitar tuners are not chromatic. They’re calibrated to only pick up the notes that are used on the guitar in standard tuning. This means they can tune E, A, D, G, B, and E (guitars have six strings), but it’s hard to tune to C or F# or Bb, or any of the remaining notes that aren’t covered by a regular guitar tuner.
For this reason, I advise all of my students to buy chromatic tuners instead of standard guitar tuners or ukulele tuners.
If you get a used or vintage ukulele, you probably won’t have a tuner. Instead, you might get some really old books or brochures and something called a pitch pipe. A pitch pipe is a neat mini harmonica that plays one note at a time when you blow into it. In some cases, you may have a pitch pipe that wasn’t designed for your instrument, so you need to know how to tune one string to the pitch pipe and the other strings to the first string.
Learning how to tune a ukulele by ear can be a bit of a challenge, but I’m going to walk you through it.
First, you need a reference note. Typically your reference note is middle C. When you blow on the pitch pipe or play the note on the piano, you hear middle C. Then, you must twist the tuner on your ukulele until it matches. If you twist counterclockwise on the first two strings, you will tighten the string and make it go up in pitch. So if you start on B, and twist counter-clockwise, you will be somewhere between B and C. If you keep twisting, you will finally get to C. But don’t twist too far, or you will overshoot C and end up on C# or somewhere between C and C#.
Likewise, if you twist clockwise, you will go down in pitch. So if you are on B again, and twist clockwise, you will end up on Bb, or somewhere between B and Bb.
So when you match middle C on your pitch pipe to middle C on your ukulele, you’re ready to start tuning your ukulele to the notes on the fretboard on the C string. Now think about it for a minute: You have your ukulele tuned to middle C, and now you need to get an E sound, so you can try to tune the next string to that E. If you count up from C, you will eventually get to E. The first fret is C#, the second fret up from there is D. Then the third fret is D#, and then finally the fourth fret is the E you’re looking for.
If you hold down the fourth fret, you will hear an E that you can tune the next string to. Now, remember, when you get to tuning that E string, you’re on the opposite side of the neck, so twist in the opposite direction than you did before. Twisting clockwise will tighten the string and make it go up in pitch. Twisting counter-clockwise makes the string loosen or go down in pitch.
Now that you have your E, count up until you find the G (which is before the A string) and tune it. The first fret on the E string will be F, the second fret F#, and the third will be the G.
Once you get the G string tuned (which seems like you’re going forward and backward on the ukulele, but that’s OK), count up to the A note. The first fret is G# and the second fret is A. Now you can tune to that pitch, and you’ll be all in tune.
A final note on tuning: It’s only natural for your ukulele to go out of tune. Once you think you get your instrument in tune, your strings will probably have stretched a bit. Sometimes, depending on your strings, the humidity, the types of tuners you have, and the type of wood your ukulele is made of, your ukulele will not be in tune immediately after you tune it. So you have to go back through the whole process two or three times to fine-tune your ukulele. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to play!
Now you might have one of several types of ukuleles. They’re not all the same. Here is a chart that covers the various types of ukuleles and the notes of their standard tuning.
You can create a few fun alternate tunings by tuning each string up or down two steps. I find that if you try tuning more than two steps, you will break strings. So if standard tuning is G, C, E, A, then try tuning the G to a G# or an A, and make chords out of the open tuning. What goes with G#? The E chord would work. So you could tune your C down to a B, leave the E alone, and keep the A or tune it to a G# as well. You could try Open C tuning and tune your top A down to a G. Or try C7 tuning, and tune the A to a Bb.
There are so many different types of tunings that you can try. If you find an alternate tuning you like, let us know in the comments section below! Here’s a refresher on basic ukulele chords.
If you don’t have a piano, pitch pipe, or tuner on hand, don’t sweat it. Simply download a ukulele tuning app on your smartphone or tablet. These digital tuners use your device’s microphone to listen to your ukulele’s sound and help you find and match the pitch.
Looking for some of the best ukulele tuner apps? You’re in luck. There are many good ukulele tuning apps for free out there. Here are a few I recommend checking out:
Free Chromatic Tuner
You can download Free Chromatic Tuner from the iTunes app store. This free app works for both standard tuning and alternate tuning.
Tuner lite turns your smartphone into a chromatic tuner and pitch pipe.
Fine Chromatic Tuner
Fine Chromatic Tuner uses the built-in mic on your phone to help you get your uke in tune. Essentially, it’s a ukulele tuner with a microphone within your smartphone.
Chord! allows you to find multiple tunings for a variety of different stringed instruments, as well as chords, scales, and other useful information. There’s a free and paid version, and the app works for both iPhone and Android.
Try Online Ukulele Lessons Today!
After reading our guide and experimenting with your instrument, you should now know how to tune a ukulele with a tuner‒–and without one. Ukulele tuning may seem difficult at first, but find the method that works best for you and keep practicing! Try practicing with these 10 easy ukulele songs. But if you truly want to take your ukulele skills up a notch, consider signing up for in-person or online ukulele lessons. With the guidance of a private ukulele teacher, you will master playing this instrument before you know it.
Have you learned any cool tricks that help you tune your ukulele? Share them with us in the comments below!