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View Full Version : A few questions for uke scholars



pluck
02-28-2016, 01:35 PM
Why did typical uke tuning change from D6 to C6? We're concert ukes ever commonly tuned in D6 or was it just sopranos? Did the switch happen gradually or suddenly? Thanks!

janeray1940
02-28-2016, 01:54 PM
I asked the when/why question here (http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?31577-D-Tuning-why-did-it-fall-out-of-favo) a long time ago - you might find some of the responses interesting. I never did get a single definitive answer! There's a separate discussion here (http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/archive/index.php/t-59046.html) as well.

Mivo
02-29-2016, 05:36 AM
According to John King (in his article "A New History of the Origins and Development of the 'Ukulele, 1838-1915" from 2003), the earliest ukulele teaching book (Ernest Ka'ai, 1910/1915) used C6. In the years following, various authors of method books altered between C6 and D6, but it seems that C6 (gCEA) is the traditional, perhaps the original tuning. So now that we're back to C6, one could say that D6 was a temporary exception only, possibly brought on by the desire for unamplified volume in entertainment places, though Dirk of Southcoast Ukuleles makes compelling arguments that D6 is better suited for small soprano bodies.

As for concerts, those were originally called tenors, and I believe there were various tunings for those. Cliff Edwards, who allegedly preferred that size, favored the Bb tuning (fBbDG), and it is used in some of his books. Noteworthy is probably that people used gut strings back then, which aren't quite like fluorocarbon strings, so some things that worked back then, may not work so well now, and vice versa. Bb on a concert is probably pretty floppy unless you get custom strings for it (it's kind of floppy on a tenor scale already, with Worth Browns anyway).

All of this may have been covered by the links above too. Didn't check them, so I apologize if I repeated the same information.

pluck
02-29-2016, 05:52 AM
Thanks Janeray and Mivo, This is helpful. What I mostly got from Janeray's links is that the tuning change is as much a regional variation as it is one over time. Mivo's historical info is helpful too. I experimented some with D6 tuning on one of my soprano's and it did sound great. It would be tempting to keep it that way but transposing on the fly is beyond my pay grade. Interesting stuff. I suppose that since the uke is something of a hobbyist instrument (no offense intended), history and lore become intertwined and indistinguishable.

janeray1940
02-29-2016, 05:55 AM
So now that we're back to C6

...

All of this may have been covered by the links above too. Didn't check them, so I apologize if I repeated the same information.

Good summary of both discussions, Mivo! One thing though - when I first suggested that C6 was what was used now, I got quite a few responses from people in Canada and elsewhere who stated that D6 was alive and well and in the majority. That was a few years back though... now I'm wondering if it still holds true.

Mivo
02-29-2016, 06:06 AM
Here in Germany, there are still a fair number of teaching books that are for D6, too. Modern books, not just reprints. This past autumn, my landlady signed up for a ukulele course hosted by a music store (she ended up cancelling due to her husband's ill health) and she was told to bring a D6 tuned instrument. In one German D6 book that I accidentally bought, the author referred to C6 as a US-centric tuning that, due to the internet, is becoming the international tuning (first you gave us burgers, then C6!). In light of the John King info above, this is probably factually wrong and C6 really is likely the original tuning.

There is a lot of information on Dirk's site: http://www.southcoastukes.com/tunings.htm To me (as someone who doesn't really know much about physics or acoustics), his take on tuning vs. body size makes sense. My soprano didn't sound better in D6, but my tenor was greatly enhanced by Bb6.

janeray1940
02-29-2016, 06:09 AM
In light of the John King info above, this is probably factually wrong and C6 really is likely the original tuning.


That's what I tend to think as well. For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure that when I was a kid and my dad, a product of the 1920s, taught me a little bit of uke, it was C6 tuning - the only thing I could remember when I picked up the uke again in my 40s was the first-position C chord!

pointpergame
02-29-2016, 08:41 AM
I thought Dirk's site: http://www.southcoastukes.com/tunings.htm made all kinds of sense. I grew up way out in the country long, long ago. We didn't have what all you children (aged smiley face here ) regard as "standards." There was almost certainly a pitch pipe laying around, but after a day or a week, a person's guitar / banjo / uke(?) was going to drift this way and that, more than likely downward. At times there might have been a piano or an accordion, but generally when family or neighbors met to play, there weren't any fixed-pitch instruments, so pitch drifted around. It didn't matter what the uke book declared as instrument pitch. You played the chord shapes and the music went to the "key" that weather / age of strings / indifference led it to.

I'm trying to say that it used to be quite a bit more relative than it is now. That said, the history of orchestral music includes pushing the pitch up. The orchestra sounds "brighter" and the harps, violins, harpsichords / pianos sound louder. This has to be true of the ukulele as well. "D" is going to be louder and "brighter" than "C" or "Bb." Brighter, because all the lower strings on a little Ukulele are "foreshortened." The higher the pitch, the less foreshortened.

Croaky Keith
02-29-2016, 08:44 AM
I had a lot of old music sheets from the 20s/30s, (they used to belong to my brothers father in law), & it was for ukes tuned A-D-F#-B, so I think tastes changed & then went back again to G-C-E-A.

cml
02-29-2016, 09:43 AM
D6-tuning is probably the one most used here in Sweden and most books and musics sheets are adapted for it. This is contrary to the US I believe where the C6 tuning is in vast majority, no?

pluck
02-29-2016, 10:51 AM
D6-tuning is probably the one most used here in Sweden and most books and musics sheets are adapted for it. This is contrary to the US I believe where the C6 tuning is in vast majority, no?

I D6 mostly used on sopranos or is it used on concerts also?

billten
02-29-2016, 11:18 AM
I D6 mostly used on sopranos or is it used on concerts also?

Also i'm curious how it would sound on a tenor?

Uncle Rod Higuchi
02-29-2016, 11:24 AM
please be careful when tuning either a concert or tenor-size uke up to D6 or higher.

for the longest time, I thought a tenor should be tuned like a baritone! then, when
i tuned to to C6 i couldn't believe the tension on the strings... so be careful! :)

Not saying you can't, just don't want to be reading a bunch of threads on how to
glue a bridge back on after tuning concerts and tenors to D6 and higher :)

keep uke'in',

ukulelekarcsi
02-29-2016, 10:17 PM
Interesting discussion!

True, even symphonic orchestras had the tendency to creep up in tuning. Even today not many of them tune A=440Hz, but a few notches higher. The Scala in Milan once 'went up to 451', to paraphrase Nigel Tufnel. That's called pitch inflation, and it's only stopped because of snapping strings.

cml
03-01-2016, 12:07 AM
I D6 mostly used on sopranos or is it used on concerts also?
Yes I believe so. Tenors are not very common at all here. I visited four different stores when buying my current uke and saw perhaps a grand total of 7 or 8 tenors. Not models mind you, but the total amount. Soprano and concert are both quite common and both are bought pretty equally iirc from my conversations with the staff.

ukulelekarcsi
03-01-2016, 01:36 AM
For the longest time, I thought a tenor should be tuned like a baritone! Then, when
i tuned to to C6 i couldn't believe the tension on the strings... so be careful! :)

For a long time, the recommendation was exactly that tenors should be tuned lower to open G6 (DGBE) like a baritone, or before that, a tenor banjo in Chicago tuning. Martin tenor were supposed to be tuned like that, and Lyle Ritz used it for his 1956-1957 jazz recordings with a Gibson tenor. It's only the last few decades that open C6 (GCEA) has become standard on tenors, thanks to lighter gauge string sets.

Tootler
03-01-2016, 02:43 AM
C6 tuning is pretty much the standard in the UK.

I was given a tutor from the 20s/30s (I've been unable to find the exact publication date). It suggests the standard tuning is D6 but also expected you to retune as needed and gives both C6 and Eb6 (a semitone higher than D) tunings. All the chords are given for D6 tuning with instructions on how to translate the shapes into the other tunings.

I have a book of George Formby songs and at the top of each song it gives the tuning to use and the chord shapes are shown without chord names attached and the chord names written underneath.

Much sheet music of the 20s and 30s has ukulele chords included. They use the same convention giving the ukulele tuning at the top of the music and the chord shapes are above the staff without names and the chord names are underneath the music.

From this, it's clear that during the 20s and 30s ukulele players were expected to retune as necessary - or keep ukuleles in different tunings. George Formby did the latter and would have several ukuleles on stage in different tunings.

The author of my 30s tutor seems to have been an Englishman who emigrated to North America - I think Canada. The Canada link might explain his treating D6 tuning as the standard.

As an interesting aside, the tutor recommends using violin inner (G & A) strings for ukuleles - presumably because they were better quality than most strings sold for ukuleles at that time. It does say that if you can find ukulele strings, it's OK to use them but there is an implication that most strings sold as "ukulele" strings are inferior in quality to violin strings. Not an issue we have these days as there are plenty of good quality ukulele strings.

Tootler
03-01-2016, 02:50 AM
For a long time, the recommendation was exactly that tenors should be tuned lower to open G6 (DGBE) like a baritone, or before that, a tenor banjo in Chicago tuning. Martin tenor were supposed to be tuned like that, and Lyle Ritz used it for his 1956-1957 jazz recordings with a Gibson tenor. It's only the last few decades that open C6 (GCEA) has become standard on tenors, thanks to lighter gauge string sets.

I dislike the high tension of tenors tuned to C6 and I have taken my tenors down to G6 (re-entrant). With suitable choice of strings, I get a tension similar to a C6 tuned soprano. I can cope with tension of a D6 tuned soprano or C6 tuned concert but that's about as high as I like the string tension and prefer it slightly lower.

Down Up Dick
03-01-2016, 03:50 AM
I have an old (1950) Roy Smeck book that has songs in D6, C6 and Bb6 keys. I guess one was supposed to retune for each song. Whatever info written in the front of the book, including some chord shapes, was for all three keys.

I guess they had more time and patience then. I wonder if they had capos . . . :old:

vinceherman
03-01-2016, 10:49 AM
Look! D6!
88823

farmerjones
03-01-2016, 04:40 PM
Uncle Rod: I think you may be on to something there. With the popularity of tenors that I see now and the high tension they have with C6, I doubt many players would want to use D6.

I'd say just use a capo, but vinceherman beat me to it.

Sanfe
03-02-2016, 05:19 AM
If I may go off-topic, a guitar builder once told me that if the strings are too flimsy, there's not enough tension to "drive" the sound board, and that the top has to be under some tension to "sing."

Now if the string-tension is too high, the structural integrity of the top becomes an issue.

All things the same, I wouldn't be surprised that a D6 tuning might yield a different "tone" than C6. If your instrument can stand the higher tension, then experiment.

I change the tuning of my instruments according to whatever I want to learn or who I'm playing with anyway, so C6 or D6, it doesn't matter to me.

As for which came first, or which is the original, yeah, I'm sorry I can't contribute.

Jim T.
03-02-2016, 02:13 PM
GCEA was the original 'ukulele tuning, borrowed from the Madeiran five-string rajao (ancestor of the taropatch), as is made clear in Edward Holstein's "Chords of the Taro-Patch Guitar" (Honolulu, 1894): "...the tuning of which is the same as the Taro-Patch deprived of the fifth string." D tuning began to emerge early in the 20th century, when Hawaiian musicians began appearing regularly in mainland venues -- as others have mentioned, it's a brighter sound and projected better in that unamplified era. Ernest Kaai's pioneering 1906 method used C tuning, but Mekia Kealakai was among the first to advocate D tuning in his 1909 chord book. By 1915, when Hawaiian music and the 'ukulele turned into a cultural phenomenon on the mainland, methods with both C and D tuning were published (Sherman, Clay in San Francisco published C and D editions of the same book of 'ukulele solos, to play it safe). D tuning became the mainland standard in the '20s (it was the tuning favored by the influential May Singhi Breen, among others), but in the third wave the original G tuning has made a comeback.

bonesoup
03-03-2016, 02:15 AM
Great info, thanks Jim.

TheCraftedCow
03-03-2016, 05:30 AM
It is interesting to see that only one person commented upon the frequency of A as we yanks know it as 440. Europe is a different frequency, and it drives my daughter crazy as she accompanies the college choir to concerts outside of the USA. She is cursed with 440 perfect pitch. For those of us with tuners with the ability to adjust frequency, if you want to mess with someone's head, change to 430 and tune it...when they complain about you being out of tune, hand them your instrument with the tuner on and watch the look on their face when it shows the needle in the center. It really is not common knowledge that there is a varied frequency throughout the world. Which makes me wonder if it varies from country to country in Europe, and what about other continents and nation within them. This is a very interesting post and thank you to the originator and the contributors.

Mivo
03-03-2016, 12:17 PM
It is interesting to see that only one person commented upon the frequency of A as we yanks know it as 440. Europe is a different frequency ...

The modern standard frequency of the concert pitch (A) is 440 hz in Europe, as well. There are some exceptions, but the same is true for some orchestras in the US, too.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concert_pitch

LDS714
03-03-2016, 12:41 PM
I had a lot of old music sheets from the 20s/30s, (they used to belong to my brothers father in law), & it was for ukes tuned A-D-F#-B, so I think tastes changed & then went back again to G-C-E-A.

I have several pieces of sheet music from the same era which specify the same tuning (A-D-F#-B), as well as some which specify Bb-Eb-G-C.

LDS714
03-03-2016, 12:49 PM
I have an old (1950) Roy Smeck book that has songs in D6, C6 and Bb6 keys. I guess one was supposed to retune for each song. Whatever info written in the front of the book, including some chord shapes, was for all three keys.

I guess they had more time and patience then. I wonder if they had capos . . . :old:

Yes. Deep in the Arms of Love by Lou Davis and Roy Ingraham, published in 1929 specifies A-D-F#-B with capo at the first fret.