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How do you tune a ukulele?

The ukulele is a wonderful instrument for anyone of any skill level to take up. If you are a beginner, a ukulele is an affordable entry-level musical instrument that can provide a great deal of satisfaction. If you are an accomplished musician, it is versatile enough to let you display your virtuosity.

However, before learning to play, you must first learn how to tune the instrument. Don’t worry. It’s not as hard as it sounds. By following a concise set of steps, you’ll be ready to play in minutes.

Is a ukulele hard to play?

A ukulele only has four strings. Often, especially for beginners, these strings are made of nylon. Nylon strings are much kinder on the fingertips. The skill and dexterity needed to produce satisfying results can be achieved without a great deal of effort. It might not be easy to master a ukulele, but it is easy to get started. This makes the ukulele an extremely accessible instrument, even for people who have never played any other instrument before.

Benefits of a ukulele

There are many important physical, mental and emotional benefits that come from learning how to play a musical instrument. These benefits may include enhancing fine motor skills, increasing concentration, reducing stress and more.

However, a ukulele has a few advantages that may make it better for you than other instruments. For instance, its smaller size makes it extremely portable — you can take it on a plane or carry it with you when camping. It is an affordable and fun instrument that can be played by young children and seniors, and it does not require a power source. Best of all, the ukulele is a social instrument. After you learn just a few chords, you can entertain or provide the backing for a singalong.

Why do you need to learn how to tune your ukulele?

If your ukulele is not in tune, the songs you play might not be recognizable. With a piano, you can call a tuner out a couple of times each year to tune the instrument and trust that it will remain in tune for several months. A ukulele needs to be tuned every time you play it. In some situations, you will need to tune your ukulele before each song. If you took a ukulele into a store and paid to have it tuned, chances are, by the time you got it home, it would already be out of tune. This is why you need to learn how to tune it yourself.

What makes a ukulele go out of tune?

Many factors make a ukulele go out of tune. All of them are out of your control, so you don’t have to worry or feel bad that you frequently need to tune your ukulele. Here are some reasons a ukulele can go out of tune:

  • Weather: Changing humidity plays a large factor in the ability of an instrument to stay in tune. 
  • Temperature: A temperature change will also cause an instrument to go out of tune.
  • Change in environment: Moving your instrument from indoors to outdoors, or vice versa, will normally involve a change in temperature and humidity. As noted, both of these changes will make an instrument go out of tune.
  • Change in altitude: If you are flying with your instrument, you will need to tune it after landing.
  • Travel: Whether carrying your instrument by hand or placing it in a storage compartment, the jostling that occurs during travel can make your instrument lose its tune.
  • Playing the instrument: Simply playing your ukulele is enough to make it go out of tune.

What is a tuner?

A tuner is a small battery-powered device that fits in the palm of your hand. This device either clips on your ukulele or is held close enough to the instrument so it can measure the frequency of the sound waves. Each string on a ukulele produces a very specific frequency. The tuner notifies you when each string of the ukulele is producing the right note. This may be done via a meter, lights, a sound or some combination of these elements. When all four strings are producing the right frequency, the instrument is in tune.

How does twisting a tuning peg affect the tuning of a ukulele string?

​​When you twist a tuning peg on a ukulele in a certain direction, it reduces the tension on the string. When this happens, the frequency is reduced — you get a lower pitch. Conversely, when twisting the tuning peg in the opposite direction, the string gets more tension and the pitch gets higher. Which direction you twist the pegs to reduce or increase tension varies by instrument. By slowly and smoothly twisting a tuning peg and watching the display on the tuner, even a beginner can achieve perfect tuning on their first try.

Tuning a ukulele: step by step

Tuning a ukulele with a tuner is simple: All you need to know are which pitches you are aiming for. When holding a ukulele with the neck and headstock to the player’s left, the string furthest from the floor should be tuned to G (above middle C on the piano). This is called the fourth string. The next string (string three) should be tuned to a C (middle C on the piano). The last two strings (strings two and one) are E and A (above middle C) respectively. When tuning a ukulele, remember that C (the third string) is the lowest note on the instrument.

These are the steps you need to take to tune a ukulele:

  1. Silence all strings.
  2. Pluck only the string you are tuning.
  3. Watch the tuner for a couple of seconds to let the pitch settle — the force of your pluck can give a false reading.
  4. Make the necessary adjustments (turn the tuning peg clockwise or counter-clockwise).
  5. Pluck the string again and check the tuning.
  6. When you get it right, move on to the next string.

As you become more advanced, you will be able to pluck and adjust the tuning peg while watching the tuner to accomplish the task much faster. 

What you need to buy to tune a ukulele

Cordoba Guitars Concert Ukulele

Cordoba Guitars Concert Ukulele
If you need a ukulele, this well-made mahogany model offers a bright, rich sound. This elegantly designed instrument features a satin finish and silver tuners with pearl buttons.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Korg CA-2 Chromatic Tuner

Korg CA-2 Chromatic Tuner
A chromatic tuner lets you tune any instrument. This compact model from Korg will let you experiment with alternative tunings once you become a more advanced player.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Fender FT-2 Professional Clip-On Tuner

Fender FT-2 Professional Clip-On Tuner
For convenience, this Fender tuner clips onto the headstock of your instrument, so it is always on hand when needed. It features a ukulele mode, and the colorful LCD screen allows you to easily see when your instrument is in tune.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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