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A Guide to Tuning your Ukulele and common problems you can solve easily.

In the guide I cover

  • How often do you tune? 
  • Why does the tuning alter?
  • Technology to Tune Your Ukulele.
  • A little lesson in the Musical Alphabet aka The Chromatic Scale.
  • How to tune up.
  • Problems to watch out for.
  • I've Tuned but it sounds wrong HELP.  
  • Tuning if replacing strings.
  • A Chart of the ACTUAL Frequencies your strings should be.
  • How long will it take for new strings settle down and hold their tune?
  • And finally for Visual Learners a video.

How often do you tune? 

You should tune before every playing session and check the tuning and adjust periodically during a session.   If someone asks you "Have you tuned?" They don't mean did you tune yesterday, in the morning or last week, they mean in the last 10 minutes.

 

Why does the tuning alter?

Room temperature, humidity, and the warmth of your hands and body can cause the strings and the wooden body of your ukulele to move slightly, this alters the tension of the strings and the Tuning will alter. 

 

Technology to Tune Your Ukulele.

TUNER APP: 
You can Download a Tuner App to your phone / pad that indicates the Frequencies of the strings. I use the App ‘Pano Tuner’, but any App with a Frequency display will do. And there are many FREE ones, great value.

DIGITAL HEADSTOCK TUNER:
If you have a digital chromatic tuner always set your tuner to the Chromatic Mode (Mode C) Do Not Use the Mode U the Ukulele Mode.  In Mode U / Ukulele it will only register notes if they are already close to G C E A.

If your strings are too far away e.g. G# then the tuner will not be able to ascertain the pitch of the string and throw up its hands in defeat, as you will too. 

If you use Mode C / Chromatic Mode then the tuner will register any note. No matter how far from GCEA the strings have stretched a Tuner in Chromatic Mode will know what the note is, then you either tune up (more likely) or down to the correct pitches of GCEA

Sharps, displayed as the #  Symbol should be avoided.  So look closely as you do not want to see any Hashtag # (Sharp) symbols next to the notes. Often they are small and hard to see, e.g. G# is a completely different note to G 

Need a Clip-on Headstock Tuner?

https://ukuleletradingcoaustralia.com.au/collections/tuners/tuner

A little lesson in the Musical Alphabet the Chromatic Scale.

The word "chromatic" comes from the Greek word chroma meaning Colour.   The chromatic scale is the Alphabet of Music

The Twelve notes of the Chromatic scale are
 A      A#/Bb      B      C      C#/Db      D      D#/Eb    E      F      F#/Gb      G      G#/Ab 

Think of the Sharps (Hashtag Symbol #) and the Flats (Lowercase b) as 2 sides of the same coin.  Sharps/Flats are the notes between the ‘natural’ notes, except for Notes B and E. 

The Notes B and E have no Sharp/Flat between them.  

REMEMBER THE RHYME: B no Sharp, E no Sharp.

A Spiral Staircase of Repeating Notes. The Notes are a repeating pattern, with every 12 notes equalling 1 Octave, then the pattern starts again 1 octave higher.

How to tune up.

The tuning pegs (machines) change the pitch of the strings by tightening or loosening the string. Tightening raised the pitch of the string, loosening the string lowers the pitch.

Hold your uke in the playing position. The strings of the Ukulele are numbered 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th from the bottom, just like floors of a building. The A string (1st String) is nearest your feet and the G string (4th String) is nearest your head.

The four open notes are the names of the strings G, C, E, A.  (Baritones are D G B E)

REMEMBER THE RHYME: Giant Crocodiles Eat Anything.

Or Good Children Eat Apples, or George Clooney Eats Apples.  However you do it, it is GCEA from your head to your feet. 

 

Problems to watch out for.

Breaking strings.  If you break strings tuning up you have probably ‘missed” the correct note and tried to tune an Octave above the correct note.  

If your String seems really tight, much tighter than the other strings STOP.  Slacken the string to be loose and start again. However If the string is very lose you may have tuned an octave below correct pitch.

A Spiral Staircase of Repeating Notes. 

The Notes are a repeating pattern, with every 12 notes equalling 1 Octave.  The pattern starts again. Imagine a Piano Keyboard, at the left is your lowest note, every key to the right raises the note by a semitone, after 12 keys the pattern starts again but you are now one octave above.

If your string is feeling tighter than the others then you have probably missed the note at the correct frequency and have begun climbing the Spiral Staircase to the note one octave above.

 

Close enough is not good enough.

Is your string really at correct pitch? Check that Tuner Display closely. If your tuner is displaying the correct note, good, but the string may not be perfectly Intune. 

You need to have the needle on the tuner display vertical, often it will change colour too. 

The Needle to the left is Flat and a needle to the right is Sharp.

 

I've Tuned but it sounds wrong.  

If you have tuned up but it still sounds funny then you may have tuned to a SHARP Note by mistake (G# C# A#) 

Be careful not to tune strings Sharp. Check to see if you have mistakenly tuned sharp, if so, the note will have a # symbol after the displayed note. The C Note and a C# Note are two completely different notes, as are G# and G and A# and A. 

 

Tuning if replacing strings.

If you are replacing strings it is also wise to take the opportunity to clean out the Nut Slot of debris and ensure bridge saddle is free of burrs.

Go Slow and bring to correct pitch in stages. When replacing with a brand new string the most likely cause of breaking strings is bringing the string up to pitch/tune too quickly.  Users of the AQUILA RED STRINGS please take note to follow this procedure and go slow.

Put some tension on the string. However DO NOT bring the string all the way up to pitch. Stop about one or two steps (notes) below the final pitch to give the string time to get used to tension. Bring each string slowly and gradually up to pitch. 

If you have down loaded a Tuner App that displays frequencies then it is harder to make mistakes.


Tune to these Frequencies: A Mind Blowing Factoid courtesy of Mr Pythagoras.

I've made a little table for you showing the Frequencies of the notes for both High and Low G and for Baritone tuning.

Tuning / Frequency High G
Soprano/Concert/Tenor

G High         392 Hz

C            262 Hz

E            330 Hz

A            440 Hz

Tuning / Frequency Low G Soprano/Concert/Tenor

G Low          196 Hz

C            262 Hz

E            330 Hz

A            440 Hz

Tuning / Frequency
Baritone  
D            147 Hz

G            196 Hz

B            247 Hz

E            330 Hz

 

Q How Does String Length change the Frequency/Note?

A. It doesn't

String length may change (Soprano vs Tenor) But the Frequencies of notes are the same regardless of which size ukulele you play!

Yes, a C note on a Tenor is the same frequency as the C note on a Soprano Ukulele, 262Hz. 

The Longer the scale length of your Ukulele the higher the tension to bring a Strings note up to Pitch. VS The Shorter the scale length of your ukulele the lower the tension to bring the string up to pitch.   But the Pitch of notes is a constant. 


But what about High G and Low G strings. 

Notes in different Octaves are at different frequencies.  As you move up an Octave Notes DOUBLE in Frequency.  The High G string is vibrating at 392 Hz, Vs the Low G being 1 Octave below is vibrating at 196 Hz.  They are both G Notes, but the Low G is 1 Octave (12 notes) lower in pitch.

Do you need a special Tuner? 
No your standard tuning Apps and Headstock tuners will tune any note regardless of Octaves.  

Summary:  Every Octave Higher doubles the frequency of a note vis-à-vis every octave lower halves the frequency. of a note.
Thankyou Mr Pythagoras 

 

How long will it take for new strings settle down and hold their tune?

New Strings can take a couple of weeks to stretch and “settle”, some strings settle faster than others.   

Strings made from Fluorocarbon settle down quickly and hold tune in a few days and remain very stable throughout their lifespan. 

Nylon strings generally take a little longer to stretch out, some cheaper Nylon strings seem to be eternally stretching till they snap. You do indeed get what you pay for. Its worth a few extra Dollars spent on strings to sound good and have trouble free stable tuning.

 

For Visual Learners.

 

1 Response

Allan Reade

Allan Reade

February 08, 2022

Very helpful and clearly explained,thank you.

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