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I have a Soprano Ukulele, in standard GCEA tuning, and I've signed up for a 'Ukulele Summer School' (a special deal for 5 weeks of lessons with a little bit of money off) to try to get started on the right foot.

I want to practice between lessons to get the best out of it of course, however I'm having real difficulty tuning my Ukulele - primarily, determining whether each string is or is not in tune.

I've tried using the Online Ukulele Tuner which plays the sound of each string, however when I try to tune each string with small adjustments, I can't for the life of me tell when it sounds "right". (I'm definitely not tone-deaf or anything like that. I actually took part in a research study recently which measured aural sensitivity distinguishing between tones - and scored very highly.) So I'm not sure what my problem is.

Any tips? :)

I really want to get the most out of my lessons and it's starting to panic me a little that I'll never be able to tune for myself!

Thanks!

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Oh, and I've had two lessons already. He has tuned it for me twice, and told me it's likely to only need small adjustments when being tuned. It just sounded 'off' once I took it home (it had been rattling around in my bag) and I tried to tune it again but now it sounds wrong. –  ShimmerGeek Jul 2 '11 at 10:46

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I recommend the digital tuner. The scale length on ukes and similar instruments is very short, so little increments in tuning make larger adjustments. Also,presuming you're using nylon strings, they are notoriously stretchy especially when new.

Finally, you might check to see that there's no physical problem, nut slots not binding the string (a bit of graphite helps) or something similar.

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Thanks! I'd not heard of a digital tuner - I've download a fantastic app for my phone (just £2.39) which is fantastic! –  ShimmerGeek Jul 4 '11 at 13:01

Well, it really is hard to tune instruments when you've gotten really close but not quite. The trick that most people use is, they listen to the beats. Essentially, you play both the reference note and your string at the same time, and you'll hear a sort of shimmering, where over time the sound seems to fade in and out rapidly (It has to do with constructive and destructive addition of sound waves, which is something I've probably spelled wrong and am not even going to bother trying to explain here).

The point is, the closer you get to in tune, the slower those beats are going to be. Theoretically, you'll reach a point where the beats stop, but practically, you'll not be able to hear a difference in tone way before that. Keep in mind that due to the way sound waves work, it's going to be harder to get the higher strings beat-less than the lower strings.

Another trick that I use when I tune guitars is, i'll tune the 4ths between the strings. I've been playing the piano for so long that I can tell when the interval is sharp or flat; you might have a little more trouble with that method, but it's another tool you can use.

Finally, you can just cheat and get a digital tuner! :P

One last thought: If you can't tell if it's in tune or not, and the chords aren't sounding too horrible, you probably don't need to worry. Because I'm so lazy, I only tune my guitar when it's being out of tune really starts to hurt my ears.

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The sustain on a uke (especially a cheap one) is so short, and the pitch so high, it's difficult to hear beats. –  slim Nov 14 '11 at 16:55

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