Looking to get your baritone uke tuned up?
Until you have some experience under your belt, this can be a little confusing and frustrating.
Don’t worry, though, because we’re here to help. And long-term, it only gets easier. You might even have everything you need to ensure perfect tuning by the time you reach the end of this guide!
So, let’s explore several common questions and then look at specific methods you can use to tune your instrument.
Why Tune Your Ukulele?
Tuning affects performance. That’s the main reason to keep your instrument tuned up.
Whether you’re playing certain notes or certain chords (note clusters), each note is supposed to come out sounding a certain way. And when it doesn’t, it can end up confusing you (in your practice sessions) and frustrate those around you too (especially if they’re playing with you).
If you’re practicing alone (without any kind of backing), an out of tune instrument isn’t much of a problem. If you want to play along to backing tracks, or your favorite song, however, you will need to be tuned up for it to sound good.
And that’s the essence of tuning. Not tuning will impact your ability to play with others. At the very least, what you’re playing probably won’t sound right – to you, to others, or both.
How Often Does The Ukulele Need To Be Tuned?
For better or for worse, it’s not a “set it and forget it” process. Your ukulele will go out of tune frequently, especially if it’s a low-quality instrument. Humidity can also be a factor, as ukuleles are made of wood, and woods shrink and expand based on moisture.
As you continually “train” your strings to maintain a certain tension, they will tend to retain their tuning more, but they won’t always be “on the nose.”
Generally, I recommend tuning your ukulele on a “per session” basis. What do I mean by that? I mean that your instrument should be tuned before a practice session, jam session, recording session, performance, or otherwise.
Long hours of playing can lead to your instrument going out of tune as well, so it can’t hurt to tune up mid-jam or mid-gig either.
But you don’t necessarily need to tune multiple times during a practice session, for example, especially if your uke doesn’t go out of tune, or it isn’t enough to bug you.
If you’ve just put new strings on your instrument, then know that there is a bit of a “break-in” period. Spend some time tuning up your strings, stretching them (manually), and then repeating the process until they retain pitch.
How Is A Baritone Ukulele Tuned?
Let’s go back to the basics. So, your ukulele should have four strings. And we can order these strings from thick to thin. When your instrument is held upright, the thickest string should be closer to your face, while the thinnest string would be closer to your stomach.
From thickest to thinnest, a baritone ukulele is tuned D – G – B – E.
If you’re able to identify middle C on the piano, finding these notes (and using them as reference pitches) is relatively easy.
The E is the first E above middle C. The B is just one note below middle C. And so, it follows that G is the first G below middle C, and D is also the first D below middle C (but next to the C an octave down).
If you don’t know your way around a piano, no problem, we will be looking at other ways of tuning up your instrument. The key is to know that you have four strings, and from thickest to thinnest, they should be tuned D – G – B – E.
How Does A Baritone Ukulele’s Tuning Differ From The Tuning Of Other Ukuleles?
Soprano and tenor ukuleles are common ukulele sizes, and both are tuned G – C – E – A, where the G is often a high G, unless the user has specifically opted for a low G.
In this case, the lowest note is C, which is middle C, and all other notes (assuming a high G), would be the first iterations appearing above the middle C (in the order of E, G, A).
So, a baritone ukulele gives you access to slightly lower notes. It’s a lot more like playing the guitar (although so is low G), though a baritone uke certainly does not have the lower bass range that a guitar has.
How To Tune Your Baritone Ukulele
There are multiple convenient ways to tune your baritone ukulele, most of which we can break down into three main categories, explained below.
Ultimately, you want to get to the point where you’re able to tune by ear (just in case you don’t have access to any tools), but it still can’t hurt to take advantage of at least one reference pitch while tuning up. We’ll look at what that means shortly.
For now, here’s what you need to know.
Tune Up Using An Electronic Tuner
Electronic tuners come in many shapes and sizes. Some are standalone handheld devices, some are clip-on devices (that clip onto your headstock), and some come in the form of compact stomp boxes (aka guitar pedals – handy if you have an acoustic-electric ukulele and frequently perform on stage).
Unless your ukulele is dreadfully out of tune, tuning up with a tuner is easy. When you turn the tuner on, there should be a display showing you whether you’re flat (left) or sharp (right) and your goal is to tighten or loosen your tuning peg until the display (usually a needle) lands square in the middle. Then, simply repeat for each string.
Of course, there are occasions when one string or multiple strings are already in tune, and your display will show you that too.
There are certain scenarios that can play out if your ukulele is in bad shape (this doesn’t mean it’s broken – there could be an issue with a string, the instrument hasn’t been tuned in a while, or it took an impact while it was in its case).
The first scenario is that a string will be quite flat. Let’s say, for instance, that when you play your D string, your tuner shows a “C” instead. This does not mean that your ukulele or tuner are broken. Unless your D string is extremely tight, it means the string is flat, and you’ll need to keep tightening until it reaches proper pitch. Keep an eye on the tuner as you’re playing and tightening the string.
Obviously, it can go the other way. We’ll say the E is coming out instead as an “F.” Unless the string is extremely loose, we can figure out from process of elimination that the string is a little sharp, and all you need to do is loosen it until it arrives at proper pitch.
Pro tip: I’ve gotten into the habit of tuning just below the target note and then scooping up to pitch. Why? Because this tends to offer more tuning stability. Tuning down and leaving the peg as is can sometimes lead to the string going out of tune again. You want to give it at least a slight turn (usually in a counterclockwise direction) to tighten / lock it in place.
Tune Up With A Reference Pitch
These days, reference pitches are available in abundance! Here are just a few examples:
- A piano, or other instruments (ideally, that are in tune)
- A pitch pipe
- An electronic tuner (sometimes comes with reference pitch tones built in)
- A smartphone app, like Ukulele Tuner Pocket – The Ukulele Tuner
- An online widget or app
- A YouTube video (see below)
So, even if you’re on the go, chances are you can find a reference pitch to tune to. All you need is an internet connection, and barring that, a tuner app on your device that works even if you don’t have a connection.
Tuning with an accurate reference pitch obviously allows for more accuracy. But since you will be relying on your ear, you will have likely had to train your ear to recognize different notes before using reference pitches well. It never hurts to practice though!
Tune Your Instrument To Itself (By Ear)
Some would consider this the least desirable option by far, and that’s understandable.
If you tune your instrument to itself, it will be in tune relative to itself, but may not be in tune with other instruments. And that can make jamming, gigging, and recording difficult.
That said, there are musicians like Eddie Van Halen that never insisted on being perfectly in tune. He often tuned his guitar to itself, even when recording, and asked his bass player, Michael Anthony, to tune to him (thus becoming the reference pitch).
Basically, there’s no right way or wrong way. Only what works and what doesn’t work in each situation. If your jam group or band has an agreement to tune to someone specifically, then that’s the way things will work. Otherwise, everyone will probably tune up using a tuner.
Baritone Ukulele Tuning, Final Thoughts
Tuning your baritone uke shouldn’t prove difficult. Practice makes permanent! The more important lesson it’s pointing to is how much ear training matters.
The better your ear is, the better you will be at tuning to a reference pitch, or even tuning your instrument to itself.
And that translates into all areas of playing, whether it’s chording, playing melodies, coming up with fills and lead lines, or otherwise. Training your ear will benefit you in a lot of ways long-term.
So, we encourage you to take that next step on your journey, and we wish you happy trails.