It occurred to me recently that I’ve never written up the process detailing how to tune a ukulele and it’s something that a lot of newcomers really struggle with, particularly if they’re totally new to a musical instrument, so here goes…
The good news is that there’s more than one way to skin a cat (do people still say that?) and there’s a few different method you can use to get your ukulele in tune, I’ll start with the simplest first.
1. The Easiest Way – Use A Clip-On Tuner
If you’re new to ukulele I would 100% recommend buying a clip-on tuner. This little device which costs anywhere from £6 to around £20 clips on to the end of your ukulele, this isn’t just so you won’t lose it although that is a pretty handy feature. They generally work by vibrations and don’t have a microphone so once you clip it on, leave it there and it will always be around when you need it. Do make sure when you’re buying one that it works for ukulele, not all of them do. I personally use a Fender FT-004 which has settings for ukulele, guitar, violin and an overall chromatic setting.
How you do it
To get tuned up with a clip-on tuner I’d recommend starting with the 1st string (the one closest to the floor when you’re holding your uke like you do when you play it). Play the string without fretting any notes and look at the tuner and watch what happens. For standard tuning the note you’re seeking is A. The clip-on tuner will show the A note and provide some kind of visual aid to show whether the note is flat (too low) or sharp (too high). It usually takes the form of a needle, or sometimes a series of bars.
If your tuner shows the note A but the needle is to the left, you need to twist the tuning peg so that it tightens the string. If it shows the note A but the needle is to the right then turn the tuning peg so that it loosens the string. Watch the tuner as you do this and adjust accordingly. Once you get the needle/marker in the middle (and sometimes a green light), you’re done – move up to the next string.
You then need to repeat this process for all the strings. Starting at the bottom string and working up the final notes should be A, E, C and G.
Give your uke a strum when you’re done and give yourself a pat on the back!
2. Almost Just As Easy – Use A Smartphone App
Even if you’ve got a clip on tuner I’d highly recommend grabbing an app for your smartphone (assuming you have one). You never know when someone will hand you a uke and ask you to bust out a tune, funnily enough people are never that impressed when you tell them you can’t as you don’t have your tuner with you. The one I use is simply called Ukulele Chromatic Tuner and it cost 79p. I believe there are free ones available also.
The difference between a smartphone tuner app and the clip-on tuner is that the smartphone app uses your phone’s microphone and not vibrations. This means its a good idea to get your phone as close to you ukulele as you can. Aside from this the tuning process is exactly the same as above.
3. For Those That Fancy A Challenge – How To Tune A Ukulele To Itself
It’s possible to tune a ukulele without any form of tuner and without any sound reference. If you lose as many tuners as I do this is a bit of a necessity to learn. The slight downside to this is that your ukulele is only going to be in tune with itself and if you’re trying to play over a record or with someone else you may not quite be in tune with them. Essentially what you’re doing is tuning the strings so that they’re all in sync with each other. I’ve written the process to doing this up over here.
This is now my most used method to tuning my ukulele as it doesn’t rely on anything other than your ears. It’s great for developing your listening and note recognition. Sometimes I will tune up the A string using a tuner and do the rest by ear, that way you’re getting the best of both worlds. Your ukulele will be in tune and you’re improving your ear at the same time.
There you go, 3 methods showing you how to tune a ukulele. You’ve got no excuses any more!