Some instruments require tuning. Some don’t.
The concert ukulele is one of those instruments that requires regular tuning. As such, tuning is a great skill to learn, and it’s an important steppingstone onto developing a better ear (i.e., ear training).
In this guide, we’ll answer common questions, and show you step-by-step how to get your concert ukulele in tune.
How Is A Concert Ukulele Tuned?
A concert ukulele is tuned G – C – E – A.
Your ukulele should have four strings, each with a different thickness.
Unless your ukulele is set up with low G, your G string will be the thinnest (and highest), and the one closest to your face if you were holding your instrument as if to perform.
And then, things basically go in order. C is thickest, E is second, A is third. The A string is the one closest to your stomach when holding your uke as if to play.
In terms of notes, the C string is the same as middle C on the piano. And each note following is in the same octave but above the middle C – in order: E, G, A.
We’ll talk more about how this applies to tuning your instrument a little later but using a piano as a guide is often helpful in identifying notes and even tuning your uke.
So, get comfortable and familiar with your strings. Learn each of them by name (G, C, E, A). That will help you in the tuning process as well.
How Does Concert Ukulele Tuning Differ From Other Ukulele Types?
Most ukuleles are tuned the same as concert ukuleles. Soprano and tenor ukuleles are also tuned G – C – E – A.
Even with a “low G,” the tuning is the same – it’s just that the G is an octave lower in this case.
Meanwhile, baritone ukuleles are tuned D – G – B – E. This gives a baritone uke a slightly extended range in the lower register.
How Do I Tune My Concert Ukulele?
Broadly speaking there are three common methods for tuning one’s instrument. And it’s not unusual for experienced players to use a combination of these methods.
For instance, someone using a reference pitch may tune the rest of the instrument to itself after getting one string in tune.
If this doesn’t make sense now, don’t worry. It will make more sense as you learn the various methods and get into the habit of tuning your own instrument.
Tune Your Concert Ukulele To Itself
If you’re not too concerned about being in tune with other instruments, then tuning your instrument to itself is an option. Your tuning may not end up perfect, so jamming or playing to backing tracks might be out of the question (you’re not going to sound in tune with those), but if you’re practicing alone or having others tune to you, then there’s no issue with this.
To tune your instrument to itself, place your index finger at the fifth fret of the fourth string (G string). Compare that note to the open C string. Adjust the C string until it matches the fourth string, fifth fret. Note that the C on the G string will be an octave higher, so don’t over-torque your C string!
Then, we need to repeat the process for each string.
Place your index finger on the fourth fret of the third string (the C string). Compare that note to the open E string and adjust until it’s the same as the string above it.
Finally, place your index finger on the fifth fret of the second string (the E string). Compare that note to the open A string and adjust until it’s the same as the string above it.
You can see how the process works in this video (it’s worth noting that it’s a variation on the above process):
Tuning an instrument to itself generally isn’t exact unless you happen to have perfect pitch or have trained your ear. For that reason, it often isn’t considered a “desirable” or precise way to tune your instrument.
What’s fascinating is that some professional musicians, like Eddie Van Halen, were known to tune their instrument to itself (and asking their bandmates to adjust accordingly).
So, it’s not “wrong.” But if you want to play in tune with backing tracks, a recording, or other jammers, you do need to agree on how you’re going to tune up. Otherwise, it won’t sound good.
Tune Your Concert Ukulele Using A Reference Pitch
There are many types of references pitches, and they are available in greater abundance than ever.
Here are a few examples:
- A pitch pipe
- An electronic tuner (sometimes they have reference pitch tones built in)
- Another instrument, like a piano (there’s a video below showing how you can tune your ukulele to a piano)
- A smartphone app
- A YouTube video
The idea is to find a tone or instrument that’s already in tune. For example, if you were to tune to a piano, you would find middle C, and tune your C string to it. And then you would do the same for each string.
Some ear training is helpful. You need to be able to hear how different notes sound to be able to tune using a reference pitch.
This video shows how you can tune your uke to a piano:
Some players don’t even need to hear G, C, E, or A to be able to tune their instrument. They just need one note (any note), and can tune their entire instrument without additional reference, because they can hear the pitch accurately.
Anyway, here’s a basic breakdown of how to tune to a reference pitch:
- Get your reference pitch (from whatever source you’re using) – it’s easiest to start with C
- Tune your C string until it sounds in tune with the reference pitch
- Repeat for each string – get a reference pitch for E, then tune your second string to it, get a reference pitch for A and tune your first string to it, get a reference pitch for G and tune your fourth string to it
As I mentioned earlier, though, some players will simply get one reference pitch (like C), and then tune the rest of their strings using the above method (tune the uke to itself).
Tune Your Concert Ukulele Using An Electronic Tuner
Tuning your ukulele using a tuner is probably the easiest method of all, and it’s quite reliable besides. Tuners can take a few different forms, including:
- A handheld tuner
- A clip-on tuner
- A stomp box (guitar pedal) tuner
- A smartphone tuner app, like Tunefor Ukulele tuner & chords
All these devices can work, though it should be noted that a stomp box isn’t practical unless your ukulele has electronics built in.
To tune your instrument using your tuner, you’ll want to turn the tuner on. Then play any open string and watch the needle. The needle will appear left of center if the note is flat, and right of center if it’s sharp. The idea is to get the needle as close to the center as possible, and we can do that using the tuning pegs.
Note that you will need to keep playing the note to get an accurate reading from the tuner.
When using a tuner, tune one string at a time. You can start anywhere. You can even do them in order G – C – E – A.
This video shows how to tune using a clip-on tuner (and the process is near identical using other tuner devices):
Remember how I said it’s a good idea to memorize how your instrument is tuned earlier?
Well, this is especially important as applied to using a tuner.
Let’s say, for instance, that when you play your G note, your tuner tells you that it’s a G#. Does this mean your tuner is broken? Something wrong with your ukulele?
Chances are there’s nothing wrong. It’s just that your G is quite sharp to the point where it’s closer to a G# (half step above) than it is to a G.
So, keep loosening the string until your display shows “G,” and again, keep tuning until the needle moves to the center.
What if you play your E string, and your display shows “D#?” Complete disaster, right? Not so fast!
What this probably means is that your E string is a little flat, and right now it’s a little closer to D# than it is to an E. All you need to do is tighten the string until the display shows “E” and keep tuning until the needle is in the center.
At times, your strings might even be a full step out! So, don’t panic. Examine the string. See if it feels a little loose or a little tight. Chances are it just needs to be adjusted to be in tune.
Bonus: Get Someone Else To Tune Your Ukulele
For younger students, beginners with friends who are more experienced, or those who frequent instrument stores, there might be the opportunity to get your instrument tuned up by an instructor, friend, or employee of the store.
This is not a long-term solution. As a teacher, I always tuned up my beginner student’s ukuleles, but once they learned how to do it, I would expect them to do it themselves. It’s an important part of the learning process!
If you’re frustrated or confused, yes, it might be a good idea to get a little help. But long-term, make it your goal to figure out how to tune your own instrument. By the time you hit jam sessions, open mics, and other gigs, it will be expected that you can do it yourself!
How To Tune Your Concert Ukulele, Final Thoughts
Now you know how to tune your concert ukulele!
Be sure to tune up before jam sessions, gigs, recording sessions, and even practice sessions. Regular tuning builds good habits, and good habits make for better music.