Ukulele Beginners - what do I need to tune my uke?

6 Feb 2011

Ukulele Beginners - what do I need to tune my uke?

You may have seen my recent review of the Snark ukulele tuner.  I thought it was probably about time to create a beginners post that discusses in more detail the options you have for tuning your ukulele.

The uke has four strings, in most cases tuned to G, C, E and A, so to tune the uke you need at the very least, a reference pitch for one of those strings, or ideally all of them.

1. Use a reference pitch.

This requires you to tune the ukulele by ear against a single, or set of known notes that match the GCEA tuning.  This could be from the notes on a piano or another instrument you know is in tune.  Pick out the notes, then tune your uke so the plucked string matches.

A traditional way of doing this is by purchasing a tuning fork or a set of pitch pipes.  But hang on, if I only have one tuning fork, how can I tune the other strings?  This is a handy tip for a beginner to know that comes in handy if you are tuning during a gig or without a tuner.

To do this, use a G tuning fork, and tune the G string to correct pitch by ear.   If you then hold the G string at the 5th fret and pluck you will hear a C note.  Use this as the reference pitch for the next string, the C string.  Then pluck the C string at the 4th fret and you will hear an E.  Use this as a reference pitch for the next string, the E string.  Similarly, pluck the E string at the 5th fret, and this will give you an A reference to tune the A string.

Be aware that for an absolute beginner, tuning by ear in this way can be quite difficult to master.  I would however urge all beginners to try to do this as much as possible as learning the notes by ear is excellent practice and will help you in playing and understanding how the strings sound, and when they sound bad!

2. Tuning devices

There are a range of tuning devices on the market.  If you have an electric uke, you can use pretty much any tuner that is designed for guitar by connecting the uke to the tuner with a guitar cable.  Some of those tuners have microphones built in so no cable is required.

In more recent years though, the clip on tuner has really boomed.  These were developed some years ago, and as I recall, Intellitouch were one of the first to market.  They were however quite expensive, so the good news is that the prices have come right down and there is a whole range of them out there for only a few pounds.

Clip on tuners (usually) work by attaching to the headstock with a sprung clip, and the device senses the vibration in the instrument when a string is plucked.  The note played is displayed in either LED lights (usually red for out of tune and green for in tune) or Letters, or even better, an LCD display showing a virtual needle.

They are quick and easy to use, light, and can be left clipped to the headstock whilst you are playing.  As I say, there are plenty out there, but I personally use a Cherub,  a Kala, and more recently a Snark which is without a doubt my favourite one.

I would recommend all beginners to purchase a clip on tuner in order that you can get tuned quickly when required, but as I say, would urge you to put some practice in to tuning by ear - a valuable skill to learn.

Good luck


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