It has enjoyed bit of a renaissance as of late, but before you do anything, you need to know how to tune a Ukulele…
The Ukulele has, like many musical instruments, a rather interesting history. Though it is correctly thought of as a Hawaiian instrument, it is widely believed that the Uke is related to an earlier stringed instrument known as the ‘machete de braca‘. This was also a four-stringed instrument, which originated from Madiera in Portugal.
It is believed that the ‘machete‘ was introduced to Hawaii by Portuguese settlers towards the end of the 19th century. This, in time evolved into the Ukulele.
What’s in a name?
The name, Ukulele, has several different interpretations, both of Hawaiian origin. One translates it as ‘Jumping Flea’, and the other ‘The Gift That Came Here’.
Though from the 1920s through to the 1950s, the Uke enjoyed huge popularity, partly due to George Formby’s use of it – yeah we know it’s a banjolele in the picture -, partly due to its portability, and the ease with which it could be learnt.
Ukulele for a new generation
Though it spent many decades on the periphery – and let’s not forget the legendary duet between Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, “Tonight You Belong to Me” in the 1980’s film classic “The Jerk” -, now it is enjoying a resurgence and popularity, and has become (dare I say it…) quite cool. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder released his album “Ukulele Songs” – on which he actually covers “Tonight You Belong to Me“.
If you want further proof of the uke’s resurgence then just check out YouTube Feng E tear through a ukulele cover of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” below.
Inexpensive, and easy to play, the Ukulele is a great extra instrument to have around, and a great introduction to music too.
But, if you’ve just bought one, and have gotten it out of the box at home, there’s one thing you need to know before anything – how to tune a Ukulele!
So, how do you tune this thing?
Much like the guitar, there are many different tunings for Uke, but some are much more popular than others. The methods of tuning are pretty much identical to a guitar, so it’s worth investing in a chromatic tuner for the purpose if you haven’t already got one.
Here, we’ll illustrate the two most common ways to tune a Ukulele. Both the tunings below are for the more common Soprano and Tenor Ukes.
This is by far the most common way to tune a Ukulele these days. Moving from the uppermost string downwards when holding the instrument to play it, the strings are tuned G, C, E, A.
These are the same as the top (thinnest) four strings of a guitar in standard EADGBE tuning if it had a capo at the fifth fret. So, if you have a guitar that’s in tune, you can tune by fretting these strings on the guitar, and tuning the Uke to match.
However, the uppermost string is an octave higher in pitch than the guitar string, making it also higher in pitch than the string below.
‘D’ Tuning a la George Formby
This tuning is not quite as popular as it once was, though much of George Formby’s work uses it.
For those who like a bit of ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows’, the strings are tuned, from uppermost string to lowermost when playing the Uke, A, D, F#, B.
Once again, the uppermost string is tuned to a higher octave, meaning that this string is higher in pitch than the one beneath it.
There are many other tunings, but for most modern pieces (and music books), and George Formby tributes, these two should be ample.
And, a tuner to keep you on top of things…
The Aroma AT-105 Clip-On Guitar Tuner is actually perfect for Ukuleles too. It has several settings that you can readily switch between and one of them is tailored to Ukuleles specifically.
A fantastic feature is that when you pluck a string, the backlit LCD display tells you the note of the string, as well as the string number. For example, if you’re trying to tune to ‘C’ Tuning and you’re plucking the thickest string and aiming for G, the display will tell you that you’re plucking the 4th string and how far off G you are. Nifty!
Pocket-sized and cheap as chips, you can’t go wrong with the Aroma AT-105.
Grab your own Uke and get playing!
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.