You’ll often hear me banging on about the benefits of a clip-on tuner. I say all the time that you need one, particularly if you’re a beginner, but you should also not use it as well…
What on earth are you talking about?
As brilliant as digital tuners are (and they are, let’s face it – they get your ukulele sounding sweet) there’s also a pretty big negative that comes with using them. They make you lazy. They stop you from actually listening to the notes that you’re playing and as a result your ear doesn’t develop. Listening to music is incredibly important when you’re playing it. Recognising notes and intervals is a crucial skill that shouldn’t be bypassed. Tuning is a great opportunity to develop these skills.
How do I tune by ear?
The good news is that tuning a ukulele by ear is actually pretty simple. When it comes to tuning by ear, what you’re actually doing is tuning your ukulele so that it’s in tune with itself (assuming that you have no reference note to tune to). In most instances this is fine, as long as all the strings are in tune with each other then whatever you play will sound good.
Let’s get started…
- Starting with the A string (the bottom string), simply play the string without fretting it. Let it ring out so that you recognise the sound. Play it a few more times to familiarise yourself with it
- Next you’ll need to get the E string (2nd string) in tune with the A string. When you play the E string with your finger on fret 5 it should sound exactly the same as the open A (1st string). Play the A string open followed by the E string at fret 5. If your E string sounds too low, tighten it’s tuner a little and play both strings again. Keep adjusting the tuner until it matches the sound of the open A string.
- Now you have 2 strings in tune with each other it’s time to apply the same method to the C string (3rd string from the bottom). This time you’ll be tuning the C string (3rd) to the open E string (2nd). Put your finger on fret 4 of the C string and play the note followed by the open E string. Tweak the C string tuner until the notes match.
- Finally to tune up the G string (4th string) we’re actually going to tune it up to the A string (1st/bottom). To do this you’ll need to play the G string at fret 2 followed by the open A string. Again, adjust the tuner to match the note tightening it or loosening it depending on whether the note is lower or higher.
That’s it. I’d suggest that it’s a lot easier than it is writing up the process (which was actually pretty difficult). Not only is your ukulele now perfectly in tune with itself but you’ve also given your ear a bit of a workout at the same time.
Check your work
If you’re really new to the ukulele I’d suggest using your clip-on tuner to get the first string in tune then tuning the final 3 up by ear using the method above. Once you’re done you can check out how close you were using your clip-on tuner.
Alternatively, you could use the Ukulele Go online tuner which will play you the correct notes for you to simply adjust your ukulele strings to.
If this is all a bit much for you, tune up using your digital tuner for the time being until you become a little bit more confident.