Learn to tune your ukulele–by ear, with or without a tuner, or by sneaky trickery.
The four videos in this quick mini-course will teach you all these different ways to tune a ukulele.
We’ll start with the simplest (tuning your ukulele to an existing pitch), move on to tuning by ear (without an electronic tuner), then how to tune a ukulele WITH an electronic tuner, and, finally, my favorite: several ways to tune by sheer trickery.
There are many different ways to tune a ukulele.
You can tune your uke by ear using a tuning fork (remember those!). I don’t know of anyone who still tunes this way, but it’s nice to you could if you wanted.
You really should consider spending about ten bucks to buy a good electronic clip-on ukulele tuner. These are so good now, and make your life soooo much easier!
You can tune a ukulele using “relative pitch” which I show in Method 3 below.
And you can apply some devious ukulele tuning tricks to help you memorize the sounds of the notes, so you can get in tune anywhere, any time, and that’s the last video, Method 4.
Method 1: Tune Your Ukulele by Ear (Note Comparison)
YES — you can tune your ukulele by ear.
In fact, tuning by ear is the fastest method to get your uke in tune, plus you don’t need to spend money on an electronic tuner, or worry about dead batteries holding you hostage.
That said, the easiest way to tune your uke is probably with a good electronic tuner.
If you don’t have one, allow me!
In this video I simply play the notes for each ukulele string, so you can hear the proper pitch and match it — that’s tuning your uke by ear.
(Skip ahead if this is easy stuff for you!)
Another way to tune your ukulele by ear, is to tune the uke to itself! I call it “desert island tuning,” and you can view the video for it below (it's Method 3).
No matter which method you use to tune your uke, you'll need to know--
The names (and numbers) of the ukulele strings:
On any ukulele, the strings, from ceiling to floor are numbered: 4, 3, 2, 1.
For the little ukes, soprano, concert, and tenor (but not baritone), here are the names of the notes for the ukulele strings:
My simple mnemonic to remember the ukulele strings in order is: “Good Children Eat Apples.”
Method 1: Tune Your Ukulele By Ear
In this quick video, I just give you the comparison notes you need, so you can listen, and adjust your strings as need be.
(Remember to use the "full-screen" button if you want to zoom in on the action...)
A few thoughts on tuning your ukulele by ear:
If you think about it, no matter how you tune, you're tuning by ear. Basically, you're listening to a note (whether it comes from a piano, a tuning fork, a pitch pipe, or perhaps the video above), and then adjusting your strings to match that note.
Even if you some of the fancy online ukulele tuning sites, you still are using your own ears to compare notes and make adjustments.
Even if you use my desert island tuning technique, you're still comparing notes and relying on your ears.
THIS IS GOOD!
This is training your ears to know what "right" sounds like, and to detect when "wrong" rears its ugly head.
Every single time you pick up your ukulele, run your fingers across the strings and LISTEN.
Does it sound right? Or does it sound wrong?
It won't take long for you to start to quickly spot the difference and quickly make the adjustments you need. You might surprise yourself and start make corrections without any outside source for comparison--your ears will simply know!
Exception to the "tuning by ear" rule:
When you use an electronic tuner, in theory you don't need to listen because you get visual feedback from the screen, telling you when you've correctly tuned the string.
These electronic tuners are wonderful and very accurate, but -- they don't really know or care which note you're trying to tune to.
In other words, if you tune your C string to D, it doesn't care. It will report that you have completely accurately tuned that string to D.
YOU have to be the brains of the operation.
And in this case, that means, still using your ears to get the strings tuned "in the ballpark," before relying on the device for the final fine tuning.
An online source to tune your ukulele by ear:
You can always use my little video above to get the notes for the ukulele strings, but there are several online sites that have "tuners" -- really just a note playback service. You can read about my favorite online tuner here.
Who knew there was so much to think about, just getting a uke in tune!
Method 2: How to Tune Your Ukulele with an Electronic Tuner
One of the easiest ways to tune your ukulele is to buy a good electronic tuner--they're available for about $10, which is just an amazing price for the convenience and reliability.
In the video, I use another brand, but I’ve grown quite fond of this one (from Amazon), but just about any model will help you get your uke in tune and keep it in tune.
Unlike tuning your ukulele by ear, you don’t have to rely on your own ability to compare notes. Instead, you get visual feedback from the device that actually tells you when you’re right!
A few “secrets” about tuning your uke with an electronic tuner:
- Most electronic tuners have a switch for “mic” (or microphone) mode vs. “vib” (or vibrate) mode. In my experience, the vibrate is more effective. Plus you can tune in a noisy room without the extraneous sound giving you a false reading on the tuner screen.
- Most electronic tuners have a way to set the “standard.” Don’t worry about what it means, just makes sure it’s set to 440, and then don’t mess with it!
- The tuner is smart but dumb. It doesn’t know which note you’re aiming for, it only knows which note you’re close to as you adjust the string. In other words, if your E string is way too low, the screen might flash and change colors to alert you that you’re exactly on for the note D (one full step too low). It doesn’t know that you need an E, it just gets excited that you’re right on any note. You’ve got to use your own brain to know which note you’re actually aiming for!
- Don’t forget sharps and flats. These are the notes of the scale halfway between the main notes. So between C and D, for example, is C-sharp. (A sharp symbol is like a hashtag, and a flat is like a little lowercase letter b). — These can throw you off, if you think you’ve got a perfect C tuned up, but don’t notice the little sharp symbol. If you’ve tuned “perfectly” but it still sounds wrong, double-check that you haven’t tuned a half-step off without noticing!
Method 3: Relative Tuning for ukulele
Or, "Desert Island" tuning
This method of relative tuning for ukulele is almost magical.
One you understand and can hear the "right" differences between the strings, you'll be able to tell when they're "wrong."
This method is directly related to Method 1, Tuning by Ear.
The difference is that instead of matching the pitch of your strings to a piano or a pitch pipe, you're actually matching one of your own strings! That's why it's "dessert island" tuning -- you can do it absolutely anywhere.
Method 4: Sneaky Tricks to Tune Your Ukulele
Sometimes the weird way of doing something is a great way. The very weirdness can make the ideas stick in your brain a little differently.
Here are a few mnemonic tricks to help your get in tune. Primarily, we're using the sound of already-familiar songs and applying it to the uke.