Have you ever thought about playing the ukulele? Ukuleles are a hip, fun instrument to play, with a sound that always carries a happy vibe.
The ukulele’s popularity dipped after it peaked in the 1950s (along with the rise of rock and roll), but it’s been making a monster comeback in the last decade. Part of learning to play is learning how to tune a ukulele. It’s worth your time, though, because there are so many benefits to learning an instrument.
This article will provide you with some background on the ukulele, simple definitions of the parts of the instrument, and several simple ways to tune the instrument.
Interesting Facts About the Ukulele
The ukulele is a stringed instrument similar in shape to a guitar or bass. Musical sounds are produced by strumming or plucking the strings. It’s like a guitar but much smaller, and it only has four strings compared to a guitar’s six.
Ukuleles have a fun and fascinating history. The instrument’s roots are in Hawaii and influenced by Portuguese immigrants, and it also has African, Spanish, and South American influences.
Legend has it that local Hawaiians were fascinated by Portuguese immigrants playing a similar instrument, and they renamed it “ukulele,” which translates to “jumping flea.” This story is unconfirmed, but it does make for a fun, whimsical tale about the instrument’s origin.
Understanding the Parts of a Ukulele
A ukulele has several parts. You’ll need to be familiar with them to both tune and play your instrument. The first two parts, the body and neck, are what produce the sound. The rest of the parts have roles in securing or tuning the strings themselves.
The body of a ukulele is like an acoustic guitar, with an hourglass shape. The hollow body has a soundhole in the middle to amplify the sound of the strumming or plucking of the strings, which produces the instrument’s musical notes.
The instrument’s neck is, on average, about 21 inches long, making it much shorter than a guitar. Some models may have longer necks, but they’re still shorter than many other stringed instruments. This part of the ukulele is usually made of one solid piece of wood, which helps support the tension of the strings.
This is the piece located at the end of the neck. The strings are fastened and held in place on the headstock with tuners.
Tuners, as the name suggests, are what you turn to loosen or tighten the tension on the strings, which affects the sound they make. There is one tuner per string, so a ukulele will have four tuners.
The strings are what produce the sound. The player plucks or strums the strings, causing them to reverberate from the soundhole.
This piece is mounted on the body of the instrument below the soundhole. The bridge is where the strings are secured to hold them in place and under tension.
The saddle is located on top of the bridge. This holds the strings in place on the body of the instrument.
The nut is located where the neck and headstock come together. There are small notches that hold the strings in place, like the saddle.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the major parts of the ukulele, you’ll have an easier time tuning the instrument. You should visually inspect all parts of the instrument before playing or tuning. Producing good sound will be difficult if parts are damaged, missing, or defective.
Tuning Your Ukulele
Even though a ukulele only has four strings, it can still be difficult for a beginner to tune it properly. There are several ways to tune the instrument, but they all come down to having a device that plays the note the string should be tuned to. See which one sounds right for you:
Understand the String Locations
You’ll need to first know where each string is located. The strings, from left to right as you look at the neck, are G-C-E-A.
Tune Using a Pitch Pipe
There are pitch pipes made especially for ukulele players. Start by blowing into the pipe that matches the string you’re going to tune. Strum your string, listening to the pitch. Tighten or loosen the corresponding tuner until your string’s pitch matches that of the pitch pipe.
Tuner Using a Tuning Fork
You can use tuning forks to tune the strings in the same manner as the pitch pipe. Strike the tuning fork corresponding to the string you’re tuning. Listen carefully to the pitch. Strum your string, then tighten or loosen the correct tuner for that string. Repeat until your string matches that of the fork.
Tune Using an Electronic Tuner
Some electronic tuners work similarly to the previous methods by playing a note for you to tune to. You listen to it, play the matching string on your ukulele, then adjust the tuner for that string until the pitch matches the tuner. Other electronic tuners analyze the pitch of your string after you strum. It then tells you if the pitch is too low or too high, making tuning even easier.
The versatility of the ukulele gives you different options for tuning. Some methods are geared for beginners, which others are better for experienced players and allow you to grow your skills accordingly. Your music teacher can help you with detailed instruction on how to tune a ukulele or by answering any questions you might have.
A Music School That Will Get You Started on the Ukulele
The ukulele is a string instrument with a cheerful sound and a lot of range. Give it a try and you could have a fun musical companion you’ll enjoy for years.
Sloan School of Music can teach you how to tune a ukulele and play one with skill. Our expert instructors are here to help you on your musical journey in our two schools in Hagerstown and Urbana, MD. Find out more about our music lessons today.