Fact: Your soprano ukulele will require frequent tuning.
That really goes for any kind of ukulele you have, mind you. So, learning to tune your instrument is foundational to all other activities.
Whether you’re just starting to figure out how to tune your uke or looking for different processes and methods you can use, you’re in the right place at the right time.
So, let’s get these basics covered. Here’s how to tune a soprano ukulele!
How Are Soprano Ukuleles Tuned?
Soprano ukuleles are tuned G – C – E – A (some notate it gCEA as the G is the highest note – this is normal on the uke, but unusual on other instruments like the guitar). This tuning is identical to concert and tenor instruments.
Even if your ukulele has a low G, the tuning remains the same. It’s just that the G would be in a lower octave. Most soprano players don’t use low G, as it’s usually more practical with a concert or tenor uke.
The Open Strings Relative To The Piano
When I say “open string” I mean any note that’s not fretted. The string names aren’t just names – they relate to musical notes!
Technically speaking, these notes are G4 – C4 – E4 – A4.
Relative to the piano, the third string, or the C, is middle C. That makes placing the rest of the notes easy. E is the next highest, then A, and then G (because, as I said earlier, G is the highest note on a soprano ukulele unless you have a low G). These are all in the same octave range.
Although you don’t necessarily need to know this to be able to tune your ukulele, it is still useful to know. After all, tuning to a reference pitch is a common way to tune a ukulele, and you can do that using a piano.
We’ll be talking more about reference pitches a little later. First, let’s look at…
Soprano Uke Tuning Method #1 – Tuning Your Instrument Using A Tuner
There are three basic methods to tuning your soprano ukulele, and each are important to know. The first method is using a tuner.
There are many types of tuners, and they are generally low-cost and convenient. Some are even free.
The main types of tuners are as follows:
- Handheld tuner. Handheld tuners are compact and generally fit in your gig bag or case. The Korg CA50 is a good example. Tuners like these sometimes require you to plug in. If your uke didn’t come with electronics, this may not be a practical choice.
- Clip-on tuner. Clip-on tuners have become increasingly popular as they simply clip on to the headstock of a ukulele (or guitar) and don’t require you to plug in. The Snark SN-2 is a popular choice.
- Smartphone tuner app. Ukulele Tuner Pocket – The Ukulele Tuner is one instance of a smartphone tuner app. Again, these don’t require you to plug in, and they are generally free to use (with in-app purchases for additional features).
- Rackmount tuner. Like the Korg PB05. Unless you’re a touring pro, you probably don’t have one of these. I don’t know any ukulele players that own one (it doesn’t mean they don’t exist; I suppose). That said, if you like fancy tuners that can be mounted in a rack and light up when turned on, you’ll enjoy this. May require you plugging in.
- Pedal tuner. Guitar pedal (stomp box) tuners like the TC Electronic POLYTUNE are the go-to option for guitarists with a pedalboard. Again, it won’t be of much use to you if your uke didn’t come with built-in electronics / pickup.
Tuners, regardless of what form they take, all work the same.
First, you need to turn your tuner on.
Then, you would play an open string on your uke. Let’s start with G, why not?
Play your G. You should see a needle or thin bar of light appear on your tuner, along with “G.”
If the note is already perfectly in tune, you will see the needle appear in the center. Depending on the tuner, it might even light up.
Chances are the string is a little out of tune though.
If the needle is leaning to the left, it means your string is flat. To adjust, turn your tuning peg in a counterclockwise direction to tighten it. Keep playing the note so your tuner can track with you and adjust until the needle moves to the center.
If the needle leans to the right, it means your string is sharp. To adjust, turn your tuning peg in a clockwise direction to loosen it. Again, keep playing the note to get an accurate reading from your tuner while adjusting.
So, we know that the ukulele is tuned G – C – E – A. But what about when any one of these strings shows up as something else (because this does happen).
Like, what if the E shows up as an F on your tuner. That must mean your tuner is defective, right?
Well, chances are your E string is overtight. The first note above E is F. And so, you’ll want to keep loosening the string until the display on your tuner shows E.
And it can obviously happen in the other direction. Your C might show as a B or even a Bb. These notes are just below C, so logically, it just means you need to tighten the string until the display reads C.
Again, for your tuner to keep tracking with you, you’ll need to keep playing the note while you’re adjusting.
Soprano Tuning Method #2 – Tuning Your Ukulele Using A Reference Pitch
Tuning your instrument using a reference pitch is a lot like tuning using a tuner. In fact, some tuners have reference tones built in!
The difference is you’re going to need to use your ear a bit. They call it a reference pitch for a reason. You’re going to be comparing the notes on your uke with another source and adjusting until they sound the same.
What source? Here’s a short list:
- Pitch pipe. Very old school. It’s a device you blow into to produce a note. Kind of like a harmonica. Still works.
- A piano or another instrument. You can totally tune to another instrument. Preferably, the instrument you’re tuning to should be in tune though!
- Electronic tuner. Some tuners have references tones built in. They will produce specific notes that you can tune to.
- Online widget. There are free online ukulele tuners like Ukulele Buddy’s.
- Smartphone tuner app. Likewise, some smartphone tuner apps have reference pitches you can tune to.
- YouTube video. You can easily grab reference pitches from YouTube videos these days! See video below.
To use a reference pitch, all you need to do is compare the note it produces to the notes on your ukulele. Generally, this is done one note at a time.
So, if you were tuning your G string, you would check your G against the reference pitch and use your ear to adjust until it sounds right.
Then, simply repeat the process for each string.
Once one string is in tune, the process of tuning the rest of your soprano uke gets much easier. It’s not uncommon for more experienced players to get a single reference pitch and tune up the rest of their strings using the following method.
Soprano Ukulele Tuning Method #3 – Tuning Your Ukulele By Ear
If you have perfect pitch, then this is a reliable method for tuning. For most players, it’s the least exact, because it depends on your ear. That said, it’s still important to learn the process, and ear training can only help you!
So, let’s review. The soprano uke is tuned G – C – E – A, right?
But there are only 12 notes in music. And that means all notes repeat a few times across the length of your fretboard. It’s just that some notes are higher, and some are lower.
So, that means there is an E on the C string, and an A on the second string, and so on.
Tuning your instrument to itself takes advantage of this fact.
To play an E on your C string, you would want to fret the fourth fret. Then, you could compare your E string to the E you hear on the C string and adjust until you’re happy.
And then we can repeat this process for the rest of the strings.
To play an A on the E string, you want to fret the fifth fret. Compare the two notes and keep adjusting the A string until you’re happy.
Finally, we have the G. We’re going to do the same thing here, just in a slightly different way. We want to grab an A on the G string, which is at the second fret. Then, compare that note to the open A string. Adjust your G string until it sounds right.
You can see why this isn’t exact, though, right? We didn’t tune the C string to anything. We just trusted that it was the most in tune string. And most of the time, it is. But without using a tuner or reference pitch or anything, we don’t know for sure.
It’s not a big deal unless you’re jamming, learning a song, or playing with a band though. If you are, then you want to make sure everyone’s tuning lines up.
How To Tune A Soprano Ukulele, Final Thoughts
So that was my guide on soprano ukulele tuning. If any part of this confuses you, go back to the beginning, review the guide, and watch the videos. It should start to sink in. And don’t worry if you don’t get it all right away. They call it a learning process for a reason.
Don’t forget to tune your instrument before all important engagements – recitals, rehearsals, jam sessions, performances, recording sessions, and so on. Start creating the habit now.