A tenor ukulele has tuning pegs. As such, tuning plays an important role in playing the uke. Did you expect any less?
Well, we know that it can be a bit of a challenging process figuring out how to tune your instrument. That’s why we prepared this guide.
Here’s a how-to tutorial on how to get (and keep) your tenor ukulele in tune.
How Is A Tenor Ukulele Supposed To Be Tuned?
A tenor ukulele is generally tuned G – C – E – A (or gCEA as the case might be). It has this in common with soprano and concert ukuleles too.
By default, soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles all have a high G. To be fair, though, modern day ukuleles are often set up to handle low G tuning too (which requires swapping out your high G for a thicker G string).
This means that G is the highest note on your ukulele.
If you know how a keyboard / piano is laid out, it can be helpful to visualize the notes / strings on your ukulele this way. The C string is middle C. All following notes are in the same octave. E, A, and G, in that order. So, C is your lowest note, and G is your highest.
While this point of reference won’t make much sense unless you’re in music class or have taken piano lessons, don’t worry, it’s not an absolute must to tuning your uke. But at least you can say you’ve learned something new, right?
A Step-By-Step Guide To Tuning Your Tenor Ukulele
There are multiple ways of tuning your tenor ukulele, and they’re all good to learn.
Let’s get into them here.
Tuning Up Using An Electronic Tuner
Tuning up your instrument using an electronic tuner is probably the easiest way.
Tuners are available at most music stores, and they are affordable and convenient besides.
There are a few types of electronic tuners. There are handheld models, clip-on tuners, tuner smartphone apps, rackmount tuner units, and guitar pedal tuners.
That list shouldn’t be considered comprehensive. There are other devices with built-in tuners, like multi-effects pedals, certain Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) applications, and even digital multitrack recorders.
Most tuners operate the same way. Perhaps the most convenient and universally applicable is the clip-on tuner.
Other types of tuners may require you to plug in using a 1/4” instrument cable, or simply operate best when you do (i.e., guitar pedal tuners and certain handheld tuners). This is not a practical choice for you if your uke doesn’t have built in electronics (e.g., pickup), so take note.
So, once you’ve turned on your tuner (if it’s a clip-on tuner, be sure to clip it onto your headstock), you want to begin tuning your first string.
What were the names of each of the strings again? G – C – E – A, right?
We can begin with any string. I usually like to start with the thickest string, which in this case is your C string.
So, with your tuner on, you want to play your C string and check to see what shows up on your tuner screen.
Chances are you will see “C” pop up, but the needle will indicate that you’re flat (left of center) or sharp (right of center).
To tune up a flat string, you will generally need to tighten your tuning peg in a counterclockwise direction.
To tune up a sharp string, you will usually need to loosen your tuning peg in a clockwise direction.
Remember to keep playing the string while adjusting or your tuner will not show an accurate reading.
You would then repeat this process with each string – E, A, and G. The order doesn’t matter too much, but I have had some teachers tell me that it’s best to tune the middle strings first.
You can see how this all works in this video:
Now, there is the possibility that one or more of your strings is so flat or so sharp that your display doesn’t show the right note name as you’re playing it!
For instance, an A might show up as Ab or even G. What do you do then?
Well, what this means is that the string is quite loose – looser than it should be! Keep tightening (gradually), until you reach the right pitch.
Or a G might show as a G# or even A!
Well, that usually means the string is a little too tight. Keep loosening the string (gradually), until you reach the right pitch.
When the wrong note displays on your tuner, we need to do a bit of problem solving to reach the right conclusion here. After all, if you tighten too far, you risk breaking a string. If you loosen too far, there aren’t any major consequences beyond the string going floppy, but it can make the process of tuning back up more strenuous.
Tuning Up Using A Reference Pitch (Like A Piano)
With the right electronic tuner, you can usually get quite precise with your tuning.
Still, many players make micro adjustments until they are completely satisfied with their tuning. And that means they’ve developed their ear.
To tune your tenor uke using a reference pitch, you will also need to develop your ear. But even though it can take time, it’s a good thing to work on!
Before we get there, though, we need access to a reference pitch. These days, fortunately, you can find them just about anywhere. Here are some examples:
- YouTube video (see video below)
- Smartphone app
- Online widget, like UkuTabs’ online tuner
- Electronic tuner (sometimes have reference tones built in)
- Piano or another instrument (preferably one that’s already in tune)
- Pitch pipe (quite old school, but some still use them)
Again, going back to the names of the strings, we have G – C – E – A, right?
I already explained how you might go about tuning using a piano earlier. If you don’t remember, go back to the first section of this guide and review (How Is A Tenor Ukulele Supposed To Be Tuned?).
The point is, we need at least one reference pitch (G, C, E, or A) to work with.
If you’re using a piano or another instrument, you would simply play the note on that instrument, and check it against the note on your ukulele. Does it sound flat? Tighten the tuning peg. Does it sound sharp? Loosen the tuning peg. Keep comparing the two notes until they’re in tune with each other. Then, repeat for each string.
The process is the same for any other reference pitch. It can be nice to use a reference pitch that’s constantly playing and won’t stop unless you tell it to. There are multiple online tuners that work like that.
There are many players who, because they’ve trained their ear, can tune their entire instrument after hearing one reference pitch.
And that goes together with…
Tuning Your Ukulele To Itself (Or By Ear)
To be able to tune your ukulele to itself, you will need to have developed your ear, at least somewhat.
The process is as follows.
First, place your index finger on the fourth fret of the third string (C). You can compare this note to your E string. The goal is to keep adjusting your E string until it sounds in tune with your third string (but be sure to keep the note fretted).
Next, place your index finger on the fifth fret of the second string. Compare this note to your first string (A). Adjust your A string until it’s in tune with the other note.
The G (forth string) is obviously the highest note on a tenor uke. So, the rules change a bit here, but we can still use the same basic process to tune it up. Here, we suggest placing your index finger on the second fret of the fourth string and comparing it to your first string (open). Remember – you’re adjusting your fourth string to be in tune with the first string.
Most players use a reference pitch before tuning up the rest of their instrument to itself. This ensures they can still jam along to a backing track or play with a band.
If you’re practicing by yourself or if your band has agreed to tune up to you, then there’s no need to use a reference pitch.
Until your ear is trained, this will be the least exact method to tuning your tenor uke. But you should still learn how to do it because it comes in handy.
How Often Do I Need To Tune Up My Instrument?
Okay, so this tuning thing… it’s not that important, right?
Hey, we know how you feel. This whole thing can sound a little overwhelming and a little complicated.
The good news is, once you get used to it, you’ll be able to do it on virtual autopilot.
And why do we say that? Well, you’re probably starting to get the sense that you’re going to need to tune your instrument often, and if that’s what you guessed, you’re correct!
I recommend tuning your instrument before every jam session, performance, recording session, or otherwise.
It’s not mandatory that you tune it up before a practice session, but it’s still recommended. After all, you’ll want to be tuned up to play along to jam tracks or your favorite song. Otherwise, something will sound off, and that can stifle your learning.
As such, it would be wise to invest in an electronic tuner. It could end up saving you a lot of time.
Tenor Ukulele Tuning, Final Thoughts
Now you should be equipped with everything you need to know to tune up your tenor ukulele. So, be empowered! Once you know how to do it, it isn’t so bad, and at the end of the day, it’s really an essential skill.
Best of luck on your ukulele journey!