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Thread: Are You Really In Tune?

  1. #1
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    Default Are You Really In Tune?

    There are so many ukulele videos on YouTube, and I've noticed that the vast majority of them are out of tune. Why?

    First of all, here's what not to do:

    Use your clip-on tuner to tune each open string to G-C-E-A.

    This guarantees that you will be playing out-of-tune!

    Why? When you tune the open strings this way, you are bringing them in tune at their lowest possible tension. As you begin playing and fretting notes, the action of pressing the strings to the frets increases string tension causing the strings to play sharper.

    Also, a great many people tune softly, and again, once you start playing louder, the notes go sharp (even the open ones) because you are moving the strings at a higher tension than when you were tuning.

    Finally, the equal-tempered scale that we use today is a compromise. In the "old days", each particular key had its own "color". The great composers took advantage of that to bring out the colors in different keys. But today, we have a system where each key is slightly, though equally, out of tune, so that all keys "sound the same". However, strings on a fretted instrument still abide by the laws of physics, not the man-made law of equal temperament. They vibrate at the harmonics which are integral multiples of the string length. These do not coincide with the fundamental notes of the equal tempered scale. It is most noticable on the minor third and major sixth intervals, which are more than 15 cents "off" from what our ears want to hear. So, we have to use our ears to tune our instruments to the best compromise.

    Here's how:

    Use your tuner to tune just the open A string to the pitch "A". This is all you should ever use your tuner for (this is also why many only need a tuning fork tuned to A 440). Then use your ears to tune the rest of the instrument to itself. Fret the E string at the 5th fret and match it to the open A string. Then fret the C string at the 4th fret and match it to the E string open. Then fret the G string at the 5th fret and match it to the C string open (low-G) or 2nd fret to match the A string open (high-G). Make sure you do all of this at the same volume level that you plan to play. This will give you the best possible compromise for being in tune. Depending on your playing sytle, you may need to make small adjustments as you play.

    It doesn't matter how expensive your ukulele is, or how well made, it will always be a compromise to tune it. The starting point, though, is to throw out the method of tuning all the open strings to a reference pitch, and start using your ear.
    Last edited by OregonJim; 01-17-2015 at 03:27 PM.

  2. #2
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    Well, yes and no, IMHO. I do use the clip on tuner on the open strings to get quickly to the 'almost' pitch. Then I do what you describe to tune the instrument "to itself" as you say.
    "The sole cause of all human misery is the inability of people
    to sit quietly in their rooms." - Blaise Pascal, 1670

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by VegasGeorge View Post
    Well, yes and no, IMHO. I do use the clip on tuner on the open strings to get quickly to the 'almost' pitch. Then I do what you describe to tune the instrument "to itself" as you say.
    I see no problem there. The key is that you don't leave it where the tuner claims it to be "in tune".

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by OregonJim View Post
    First of all, here's what not to do:

    Use your clip-on tuner to tune each open string to G-C-E-A.
    Yes. That's pretty much what everybody does. And let me tell you, those clip-on tuners are responsible for a LOT of over-correctly GCEA-tuned 'ukuleles! Seriously, I go to jams and see people taking time to tune to correct GCEA! Companies are so concerned with this these days that sometimes they even ship their ukes with a tuner (that tunes to correct GCEA, no less)! The nerve.

    In all seriousness, you have a point. It's important to inform people about the virtues of tuning by ear, but it's not so black and white that I'd come out and tell everybody they are wrong to use a tuner.

    I played bass at a gig this morning where the drummer was banging away during soundcheck. So were all 4 guitarists (it's a "for fun" band) and the guys checking the mics. You're not going to get a good tune on bass, 'ukulele, or any instrument in that environment using your ears. You're just not. So the compromise for most people is a clip-on tuner. You trust that it's close enough and you play music. Is it the best tune you're going to get? No. But it beats trying to use your ears and tuning really wrong because you can't tell what note is coming out of your instrument/amp.

    There are lots of other reasons you might need or want a tuner. They are useful.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hippie Guy View Post
    In all seriousness, you have a point. It's important to inform people about the virtues of tuning by ear, but it's not so black and white that I'd come out and tell everybody they are wrong to use a tuner.
    I never said that. In fact, I recommended using a tuner as a reference for the A string.

    What's wrong is using the tuner to tune all the open strings and calling it good.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hippie Guy View Post
    You're not going to get a good tune on bass, 'ukulele, or any instrument in that environment using your ears. You're just not.
    I gotta disagree with you here. I've been playing in bands all my life. My bandmates and I have always used the techniques I described to tune without problems. We usually get one guy to give us an "A", and the rest of us tune by ear to him. I hear what you're saying - it is a more challenging environment - but that's not an excuse for sloppiness. Unless there's alcohol involved.
    Last edited by OregonJim; 01-17-2015 at 02:33 PM.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by OregonJim View Post
    [I] Then fret the G string at the 5th fret and match it to the C string open.
    Appreciate this explanation....but doesn't fretting the G string at the 5th to match the C (3rd string) open only apply to low g tuning? For high g tuning I was told fret G on the 2nd fret to match the open A (1st) string. Is this wrong?

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by OregonJim View Post
    I never said that. In fact, I recommended using a tuner as a reference for the A string.

    What's wrong is using the tuner to tune all the open strings and calling it good.



    I gotta disagree with you here. I've been playing in bands all my life. My bandmates and I have always used the techniques I described to tune without problems. We usually get one guy to give us an "A", and the rest of us tune by ear to him. I hear what you're saying - it is a more challenging environment - but that's not an excuse for sloppiness.
    Well ,dear me ...sloppiness is it now....???

    Most people who have come to the uke have done so without the benefit of any formal musical training , especially of the conservatoire method and the notion of equal temperament is what they keep when dealing with the slightly patronising and mildly chastising attitude that you appear (emphasis ..appear..) to be displaying here.

    I accept that there are probably better ways to tune a ukulele or indeed any stringed instrument than a gizmo ,that hey presto does it for you and says you are in tune..but hey you know what ...Hippy Guy has it right ..most people are in this for the Fun ...

    I mean, screw it lets throw the tuning forks away and go with all getting the same string to sound like the piano at number 32 key,whatever that may be ...oh no piano....sheesh ...I must have let it in my other trousers.......come on Mr O Jim ...lighten up just a little....

    I have learned to.

    The trouble I find is that mathematicians and techies like yourself (and this is an observation NOT A CRITICISM OF THOSE ) come at music from a different angle to arty farty's ..I couldn't switch a computer on without a manual to and a map to show me where the socket is....but give me a pencil and a piece of paper and I could make marks that would look like ...well ...you ....(if ,of course you were in the same room ).

    But I don't like "sloppiness" or the implication and inference therein lurking.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by CeeJay View Post
    the slightly patronising and mildly chastising attitude that you appear (emphasis ..appear..) to be displaying here.
    If it appears that way to you, it is certainly not intentional. I was simply trying to point out that using a tuner in the manner that most newcomers seem to use it does not put your instrument in tune. Hundreds of YouTube videos bear that out.

    If one is content to play out of tune, then simply ignore the advice. Some people don't have an ear that can tell the difference (nothing wrong with that - it's not a criticism). If one wants to improve, though, then read and engage in constructive dialogue. That is neither patronizing nor chastising, just simple observation and attempted help.
    Last edited by OregonJim; 01-17-2015 at 03:24 PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by keod View Post
    Appreciate this explanation....but doesn't fretting the G string at the 5th to match the C (3rd string) open only apply to low g tuning? For high g tuning I was told fret G on the 2nd fret to match the open A (1st) string. Is this wrong?
    No, you are absolutely correct. Thanks for pointing that out as I was thinking only in terms of low-G when I wrote that.

    I've editied the original post to clarify.
    Last edited by OregonJim; 01-17-2015 at 03:28 PM.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by CeeJay View Post
    But I don't like "sloppiness" or the implication and inference therein lurking.
    The implication and inference was already present in the post I replied to. It was not mine. Hippie Guy admitted that, in a band environment, it was too hard for him to tune the "right" way, so he fell back on the "wrong" way just to get by. Is that not sloppiness?

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