So, you just got your hands on your first ukulele and chances are, unless you’ve ever tuned another stringed instrument before, you’re feeling pretty lost!
The awesome thing about the internet is that you’re just a click away from a wealth of information.
The not so awesome thing about the internet is that, well, now you have to sort through all of that information, deciphering between a bunch of different websites and piecing together what tidbits of knowledge work for you and what doesn’t.
Here, we’ve put together the most commonly asked questions about how to tune a ukulele so that you can stop digging for answers and finally start strumming your beautiful new (tuned) uke!
Ukulele Tuning Basics
The first thing to know about tuning ukuleles is that not all ukuleles are tuned the same way. If you have a soprano, concert or tenor ukulele, you’ll be using the same tuning method called GCEA tuning. However, if your ukulele is a baritone, you’ll be using another style of tuning called DGBE tuning.
To get started tuning any kind of ukulele though, the first thing you’re going to need to do is familiarize yourself with your uke. Hold your ukulele in front of you, either up at your chest or down lower if it helps you to see the strings better for tuning. Make sure the neck is pointing to your left.
Now, there are four parts of your ukulele that you need to know about to help you follow the tuning instructions in this guide:
- First, is the headstock. This is the the top of your ukuleles neck, the part that is pointing left when you hold it in front of you.
- Second is the neck itself. This is where the strings run down and where the frets are placed to help you keep track of notes when you’re playing ukulele chords.
- Next are the strings. Looking down from top to bottom is how you’ll read your strings when you’re tuning them. For example, if you have a baritone ukulele, your top string is D, the second string is G, the third string is B and the fourth and bottom string is E.
- Last, you should note your tuning pegs. These are the metal windy things that you’ll use to adjust your strings during tuning. The string that is attached to each peg is the one that that peg is in control of. To lower the pitch of the string attached to each individual peg, you’ll loosen the peg and to make the pitch of that string higher you’ll need to tighten that tuning peg. Your top two tuning pegs tighten when you turn them away from you and they loosen when you turn them towards you. For your bottom two tuning pegs, the opposite is true – to tighten these ones you’ll want to turn them towards you and to loosen them you’ll turn them away from you. This might sound confusing but if you play around with them a little, you won’t even have to think about it! You’ll just feel the difference as you wind the pegs, feeling the string getting tighter or looser as you go.
About Tuning a Soprano, Concert or Tenor Ukulele
So, as mentioned before, to tune your soprano, concert or tenor ukulele you’re going to use the tuning of GCEA which is the standard tuning of ukuleles otherwise known as C6 reentrant tuning.
Whoooa! What is “reentrant tuning”?
You know how if you drag your fingers across a piano from one end to the other it either goes from super low-pitch to super high-pitch or the other way around, depending on the direction?
Reentrant tuning just means that your instrument isn’t going to follow a progression in the pitch. One string might be higher pitched than the one above it and then the one after it might be lower pitched.
So, reentrant tuning means that instead of the pitch of your strings ascending or descending in proper order from the highest pitch to the lowest pitch like the white keys do on a piano, they’re kind of going back and forth which makes for a rich and complex sound when you strum your uke.
Now, there’s more than one way to tune your ukulele to GCEA tuning, whether you do it with an online tuner, by ear or using a tuning device, and which method you use is simply a matter of preference. Still, some methods are universally easier than others. For most people, the easiest way to tune a ukulele is with a digital tuner.
About Tuning a Baritone Ukulele
If you own a baritone ukulele then you probably just skipped over that first part which is smart since baritone ukuleles are tuned differently than soprano, concert and tenor ukes.
But what is the difference, really? For one thing, baritone ukuleles are the biggest ukes out there.
They’re also different from all other ukuleles in that they’re tuned to have a deeper sound than the others. To achieve this lower sound, instead of following GCEA tuning which is a method of reentrant tuning (where the pitch of the strings doesn’t ascend or descend in order), baritone ukuleles are tuned to DGBE tuning.
If you play the guitar then you’ll recognize that this is the tuning of the bottom four strings on an electric or acoustic guitar so you can just use a regular ol’ clip on guitar tuner to set up a baritone uke. Sometimes these types of tuners are also called digital tuners, but digital tuners and clip-on tuners are two different names for the same thing.
If you find that you want to try GCEA tuning with your baritone, go for it! Generally, though most ukuleleists are looking to tune their baritone to the standard baritone tuning of DGBE.
How to Tune a Soprano, Concert or Tenor Ukulele with a Digital Tuner
If you have a baritone ukulele, skip on down past this section but if you own a soprano, concert or tenor ukulele then this is the spot to learn about tuning your uke with a digital tuner.
The most common way to tune a stringed instrument is with a clip-on tuner. Sometimes these are called digital tuners, but honestly, apart from brand and design differences, these are essentially the same – a clip on tuner with a digital face that indicates when you’ve reached the right pitch for each string.
To use a digital tuner you will need to:
- Clip the tuner onto the end of your ukulele, right up at the tip-top of the neck, above the top tuning pegs and out of the way of the strings. This part of the ukulele is called the “headstock” that we learned about in the introduction.
- Turn the tuner on with either the on/off switch or on/off button. If you’re not sure how to turn on your particular tuner refer to the manual that came with it.
- If you are using a dedicated ukulele tuner it may already be set to the proper tuning mode of C. If not, refer to the manual of your tuner to find out how to switch the tuner to tuning in C.
- Now, hold your ukulele in front of you with the strings faced out and the neck pointed to your left, like you’re all ready to play.
- Take note of your tuning pegs. Run your finger from each peg down the string connected to it to familiarize yourself with which peg controls which string. The top two are connected to your G and C strings and the bottom two are connected to your E and A strings.
- Gently strum or pluck the G string just once. This is the top string, the one that is closest to you. When you do this you’re sending vibrations up to the tuner, allowing it to read where you’re at pitch-wise and whether you need to tune that string up for a higher pitch or down for a lower pitch.
- Most digital tuners will tell you which note your string is playing at. If it’s not the one that you want it to be then you will know that that string needs to be tuned. So if you’re tuning your G string then you want the tuner to read “G”.
- Continue to pluck your string and adjust accordingly until you reach G on the tuner. The tighter your string gets, the higher the pitch is getting. Likewise, the looser your string gets, the lower the pitch. Remember, to tighten this string you’ll turn the peg away from your body and to loosen this string you’ll turn the peg towards you.
- Now that you’ve tuned your G string, you’re on to the one right below it, your C string. Follow the same steps you just did, but instead just tune to C. Again, to tighten this particular string you’ll turn the peg away from you and to loosen it you’ll want to turn the peg towards you.
- Halfway there! Third string down is the E string. The only difference here is that to tighten this string you’re going to turn the peg towards you this time and to loosen this string you’ll turn the peg away from you.
- Now you’re on your last string, the bottom string which is your A string. As you tune this string you’ll notice that it’s going to have a higher pitch than the string you just tuned. That’s the reentrant tuning we learned about. As with your E string, you’re going to turn the peg towards you to tighten and away from you to loosen.
How to Tune a Baritone Ukulele with a Digital Tuner
- Clip the guitar tuner to the headstock of your ukulele. This is going to be the very top of the neck, between the pegs and away from the strings.
- Turn on the tuner. Usually this is with a small button or switch.
- Hold your ukulele with the neck to your left, wherever is most comfortable. Most ukuleleists play with the uke up towards their chest but for tuning you can set it lower to make seeing the tuner easier.
- Take a minute to note which strings are connected to which pegs. Your top two pegs will be connected to your D and G strings while your bottom two pegs are connected to the B and E strings. Knowing which peg controls which string will make tuning your ukulele easier.
- Start with the top string. This is your D string. Give it a quick pluck and see what your tuner picks up.
- For most tuners, you’ll get a green light to let you know that your string is at the correct pitch and a red light if the pitch is not correct, with an indication that the pitch is either too high or too low. Something to keep in mind though is that clip-on tuners don’t necessarily know what note you’re trying to tune to, they can only read what note your string is hitting. Let’s say you’re tuning your D string but it’s playing a perfect C. Your tuner is going to turn green and show you a C. Congratulations, you played a C! But that’s not what you want. You need to adjust your string until the tuner is registering a D.
- To adjust your string to get closer to the right pitch, turn the attached peg. As you tighten it the pitch with get higher and as you loosen it the pitch will get lower.
- Continue plucking and adjusting your string until the tuner indicates that you’ve reached a true D.
- Once you have your D string in tune it’s time to tune your G string which is the next string down. Tuning this string will be the same process as above except now you want to get to G.
- For your B string, the third string down, same steps but now you’re tuning to B and the peg is going to be on the bottom.
- Finally, you’ve reached your E string, the last and bottom string on your baritone ukulele. Tune this one just as you’ve tuned the others until your clip-on tuner reads “E”.
Congrats! Your baritone is tuned and you’re ready to start playing!
How to Tune a Soprano, Concert, Tenor or Baritone Ukulele with a Tuning App
Another easy way to tune your uke on the go is to use a tuning app. To find one, use your phone’s app store to search for ukulele tuning apps. Read the reviews and choose one that others find accurate and simple to navigate. Some will be free and some you’ll have to pay for.
Tuning apps work best in a quiet room since they utilize your phone’s built-in microphone to measure the sound of your ukulele strings.
Each app is going to vary of course, but for the most part, once you’ve chosen and downloaded a ukulele specific tuning app, you’ll follow these steps:
- Open the app by tapping the app’s icon on your phone.
- Set your phone down nearby to where you’re playing, preferably on a flat, even surface.
- If the app gives you the option, choose which standard of tuning you’ll be using. Remember, if you own a soprano, concert or tenor ukulele you’ll be tuning to GCEA with the top string tuned to G, the next one tuned to C, the third one tuned to E and the last one tuned to A.
- If you have a baritone ukulele, you’ll choose DGBE tuning with the top string tuned to D, the next string tuned to G, the third string tuned to B and the last string tuned to E. So, even if your particular app doesn’t give you the option to choose which tuning standard to use, you can just go through each string and tune it depending on which type of ukulele you’re using.
- Hold your ukulele with the neck pointing to your left and pluck the top string. If you have a baritone ukulele this is your D string. If you have any other kind of ukulele this is your G string.
- See what your app is reading the string as.
- Adjust your string using the connected peg. To give your string a higher pitch you must tighten it. To give your string a lower pitch you must loosen it.
- Pluck the string again and see what pitch the app is reading your string at.
- Continue plucking and adjusting until your top string is reading as the pitch you want it to.
- Follow this same process for each string, working your way to the bottom, last string.
- Give your uke a final strum to make sure things sound pretty!
How to Tune a Soprano, Concert, Tenor or Baritone Ukulele Online
If you have your computer pulled out, an easy way to tune your ukulele is with an online ukulele tuner. An even easier way to do this is to search for a tuner that accommodates your specific ukulele.
So if you want to tune your baritone uke search for “online baritone ukulele tuner” or if you’re tuning a standard ukulele (soprano, concert or tenor) then search for that and you’ll find a bunch of results.
Try to find a tuner that when you press the tuning button, the sound continues until you turn it off. That way as you’re tuning your strings you don’t have to stop and turn the tuner back on.
Most online tuners will have you tune by ear. To do this you will begin by clicking on the tuner of the first string on the online tuner. This allows you to hear what the string will sound like once it’s in tune. For simplicity’s sake you should start with your top string and work your way down.
- Start by holding your ukulele in front of you with the neck to your left.
- Note where each string is located by running your finger from each peg to the string attached to it. If you are tuning a baritone ukulele then from top to bottom, the strings are D, G, B and E. If you’re tuning any other kind of ukulele then, from top to bottom, your strings are G, C, E and A.
- After listening to the tone of the top string’s correct tuning on the online tuner, pluck your own top string. If it sounds lower than the online tuner’s version then you should tune up to a higher pitch. Turn the peg that’s attached to your top string away from you to tighten to a higher pitch and turn it towards you to loosen it to a lower pitch.
- Continue to pluck the top string along with the online tuner and adjust with the tuning peg until you can hear that the pitches are now in sync. You’ll know that your string is in tune when it sounds just like the one being played on the computer.
- Follow the same process with your second string.
- When you move to your third and fourth strings you’ll do the same thing, you’ll just turn those tuning pegs away from you to loosen the string (lower the pitch) and towards you to tighten it (make the pitch higher).
How to Tune a Soprano, Concert or Tenor Ukulele by Ear or to Itself
Tuning your ukulele by ear is a bit more complicated than just using a designated tuning device and this method isn’t ideal if you’re playing along with other musicians, since you’ll want to be in tune with them as well.
Still, if nothing else, it’s just kind of cool to be able to say, “Yeah, I can tune my uke by ear!”
The easiest way to tune a ukulele by ear (also known as tuning it to itself) is to use relative tuning. That means you’re assuming that one of the strings is in tune.
If your ukulele has been tuned before and has just been sitting in its case for a while then chances are pretty good that your A string is near the pitch that it should be. To tune the rest of your soprano, concert or tenor ukulele to this string you should:
- Hold your ukulele with the strings facing out and the neck pointed to your left.
- Look down and note that from top to bottom, your strings are G, C, E and A.
- Place a finger on the E string. If you’re looking down at your uke this is the string above the bottom string.
- Now, take note of the frets along the neck. Counting from the top of the neck down, slide the E string finger just above the fifth fret.
- Holding your finger down play the E string and then play the string below it (the A string). Do they sound the same? If they don’t you’ll need to tune your E string to sound like the A string.
- Keep your finger held down above the fifth fret on the E string and adjust it using the tuning peg. If the string sounded higher than your A string then you should loosen it by turning the peg away from you. If the E string sounded like it was lower than the A string then you should tighten it by turning the peg towards you.
- Pluck the E string again, keeping your finger held down above that fifth fret and then pluck the A string.
- Compare the sound once again. Do you still need to do some adjusting? Continue to adjust the tuning peg until your E string sounds the same with your finger pressed down above the fifth fret as the A string sounds when you play it open. Once they match, your E string is in tune.
- Next you’ll tune the C string. The C string is the second string from the top. Place a finger on it and slide it down to just above the fourth fret this time. Remember, you’re going to count from the top of the neck down.
- Press your finger down once it’s just above the fourth fret and pluck the C string.
- Now, pluck the E string (the one you just tuned!)
- Do they match? If they don’t, adjust your C string, still holding it down above the fourth fret, until it matches the pitch of the open E string.
- Last, you’ll tune your G string, the top string of your ukulele by placing your finger on it and sliding it just to above the second fret.
- Press your finger down above the second fret on the G string and give it a strum.
- Strum your open C string, the one below that you just tuned. If the G strings pitch doesn’t match the pitch of the open C string then it’s time to tune just like you did with the last two strings!
How to Tune a Soprano, Concert or Tenor Ukulele with a Piano
Using an electric keyboard or a tuned classical piano, you can tune your soprano, tenor or concert ukulele to the middle C key. Here’s how:
- Find the middle C key on your piano or keyboard. If you’re not sure where this is located look for a diagram online.
- Now, find the G, E and A keys that are nearest to the middle C key. Again, if you’re not sure where these are located you can pull up diagrams online.
- Hold your ukulele in front of you with the neck pointed to your left and pluck the top string, the G string. We’ll tune in order from top string down.
- Now, tap the G key that you located earlier. Your G string should match the pitch of the G key on the piano. If it doesn’t, tune it by adjusting the tuning peg connected to your G string. To make the pitch of this string higher, turn the peg away from you. To make the pitch lower, turn the peg towards you.
- Pluck the string again and check it against the pitch of the G key on your piano. Continue to adjust the string until the G string and G key match.
- Now, pluck the next string. This is your C string.
- Tap the C key that you located earlier on the piano.
- Follow the same process that you did before but this time, just make sure that your C string and C key match.
- The third string down is your E string. Pluck this string and the E key on your piano and compare the difference.
- Tune the E string the same way that you tuned your other two strings, but instead turn the string towards you to tighten it (make the pitch higher) and turn the peg away from you to loosen the string (lower the pitch).
- Last is your A string. Using the A key on your piano you’ll follow the same process as before, turning your peg towards you to make the pitch higher and away from you to make the pitch lower.
How to Tune a Baritone Ukulele with a Guitar
If you have an in-tune guitar nearby then you can use the bottom four strings to tune your baritone uke. Here’s how:
- Hold your ukulele with the neck pointing towards your left and take note of the strings. From top to bottom you have D, G, B and E.
- Now, take note of your guitar strings by grabbing the guitar and also holding it with the neck pointing to your left (you can put the uke down!).
- Your guitar has six strings, and from top to bottom they are Low E, A, D, G, B and high E. You will tune your ukulele to the last four strings, skipping the top E and A completely.
- Pluck the top string of your ukulele.
- Now, pluck the D string of your guitar. If you count from the top down, this will be the third string.
- If the D string on your uke and the D string on your guitar don’t match then you need to adjust your ukulele D string.
- Use the peg that is attached to the D string to match the pitch to the guitar string. Loosen the string to lower the pitch and tighten the string to make the pitch higher.
- Pluck the strings again and compare the sound. Continue to pluck, compare and adjust until you can hear that your ukulele’s D string is the same pitch as your guitar’s D string.
- Now you’ll tune your ukuleles G string using the same method above, but instead you’ll compare it to your guitar’s G string.
- Continue on down to the B and finally, the E string on your uke, tuning each string to it’s guitar string equivalent.
Banjo Ukulele Tuning
Banjo ukuleles, or a “Banjolele” is a unique hybrid between a ukulele and a banjo. Traditionally, these are tuned to the same GCEA tuning of concert, tenor and soprano ukuleles and any method of tuning that can be applied to these ukuleles can also be used on your banjolele.
Bass Ukulele Tuning
Introduced the the music world in 2009, bass ukuleles are another hybrid instrument of, you guessed it, a bass and a ukulele.
These instruments are not acoustic, however, and require an electric amp. Bass ukulele strings are also tuned the same way that bass guitars are tuned.
So, armed with this information you can use the Digital Tuner tuning method explained above, but instead of using a designated ukulele tuner you’ll look for a digital bass tuner and instead of tuning to standard uke tuning you’ll tune to, from top to bottom E3-A3-D4-G4.
6 String Ukulele Tuning
6-stringed ukuleles are also known as a guitalele, a combination of a ukulele and a guitar. If you hold the instrument in front of you with the neck pointed to your left, note that from top to bottom the strings are A, D, G, C, E and A. To tune a 6-stringed ukulele you will need a clip-on tuner. A clip-on guitar tuner will work great!
- Clip the tuner on to the headstock of your ukulele which is the very top of the neck of your uke.
- Turn the tuner on and make sure that it’s on the chromatic setting.
- Note that when you hold your ukulele with the neck pointing to your left, you will have three tuning pegs on top, which control your first three strings. You also have three pegs on the bottom of your headstock which control the bottom three strings.
- Begin by plucking the top string of your ukulele. This is an A string and that means you want your tuner to read at an A. If it doesn’t then you’ll need to use the tuning peg that’s attached to your top string to adjust it. To make the pitch higher you will tighten the string. To make the pitch lower, you will loosen the string.
- Pluck the top string again. Adjust the tuning peg accordingly.
- Continue this process until you reach A on your tuner.
- Move to the next string. Repeat the steps that you used to tune your A string, but this time make sure your tuner reads D. Once it does, your second string is tuned.
- Continue on down to the G string and so on, tuning each string to its proper pitch.
8 String Ukulele Tuning
8-string ukuleles might seem like they’d be complicated to tune, but apart from plucking the tightly spaced strings, they’re really not. The standard tuning for them is GgCcEEAA which means that if you hold your ukulele with the next pointing to your left, from top to bottom your strings will be:
- High G
- Low G
- High C
- Low C
- E again (this is called unison tuning)
- A again (unison tuning here as well)
If you’re wondering the difference in tuning a high G versus a low G – there isn’t one! The difference is in the strings. Once your strings are on, you will simply tune both strings to G, period. Same goes for tuning the high C and the low C strings.
Now, to tune your 8-string guitar you’re best to use a clip-on tuner, clipped onto the headstock of your ukulele which is the very end of the neck, between the top two tuning pegs. Next, you will:
- Turn your clip-on tuner on.
- Pluck the top string which is your high G string.
- Check your tuner. If it’s reading out at G then your string is in tune! If it’s not, then you will need to adjust it using the attached tuning peg.
- To make the string’s pitch higher then you’ll need to tighten the peg. To make the string’s pitch lower then you’ll need to loosen the peg.
- Pluck the top, high G string again and see what your tuner is reading now.
- Continue to do pluck and adjust until your tuner reads “G”.
- Next you’ll tune your low G string, being careful not to pluck any other strings as you tune so that the tuner is only reading the string you are trying to tune.
- Continue to tune each individual string as described, tuning to the specific note. You C strings should read “C” on the tuner, your E strings should read “E” and your A strings should read “A”.
Once all eight of your strings are properly tuned, you ukulele will have a beautiful and lush sound when you strum.
When it comes to learning how to play a new instrument, one of the first things you should learn how to do is to properly tune it. Hopefully you’ve found a method or two in this guide that works for you so you can strum on with confidence and enjoy your brand new uke!