Whether to tune baritone ukulele like five-string banjo or like guitar


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Dec 8, 2022
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I'm a (pretty novice) clawhammer banjo player just getting into the ukulele thing to expand the kinds of songs I can play. I'm trying to decide whether to start with a DGBE or DGBD tuning on the baritone ukulele for learning chords. Of course the latter would help me expand my banjo chord range as well (minus the drone string, of course) but maybe it's time I took a baby step toward the guitar. Any advice?
You can’t really go wrong here. Whatever tuning you select now can be changed later.

Since you say you’re a novice I suggest using the same tuning on both instruments for now.

Enjoy your playing and don’t make it frustrating.
but maybe it's time I took a baby step toward the guitar.

Why ? Do you * want * to play guitar ? ( More specifically standard tuned guitar)

If you do , great , go for it . If not particularly so , there is no need or obligation .

And to really mix things up , DGBD = the top 4 strings of an Open G tuned guitar ( or Dobro) .
Personally … I wouldn't bother considering the baritone ukulele as a "baby" guitar … there's far more (or less) to it than that.
If you want to play a guitar, buy a guitar, six strings and all, and learn "full" chord shapes from the start.
You've got tuning variations enough on a five-string banjo not to worry about tuning any other instrument tuned in a similar manner … I use CGBD, DGBD and CGCD for claw-hammer on a regular basis, and there's always pegging the drone up a tone or two for a different sound.
My baritone ukulele is tuned GDAE, an octave down from a fiddle or mandolin, just like a tenor banjo, and serves well for practice of an evening or other occasions when a full-on banjo might be "socially unacceptable" ;)
I think you'll find playing a baritone ukulele as a 5-string banjo will stunt your "real" 5-string banjo progress. A characteristic of the 5-string banjo is the long neck, causing some finger placements to be a little "awkward", without practice. Also, of course, the main characteristic of claw-hammer playing on the banjo is the high drone … something that would be totally missing on a conventionally tuned baritone ukulele!
You could end up being satisfied you've achieved something, having practised on the ukulele, only to find, when you pick up the banjo, it's not quite so easy ;)
If you want something "different" as a cross-over between guitar and ukulele, try one of the small-bodied "travel" guitars.
My Washburn "Rover" has a body similar in size to my baritone ukulele, but with a full-size neck like my Epiphone Wildkat, (that's another story!), but tuned in "Nashville" style, effectively using half a set of strings from a 12-string guitar. The chord shapes are all standard guitar shapes but the sound is really quite different :)
As always … YMMV … good luck :)
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My two cents: I agree with poster kypfer, above. You have a variety of tunings available in the instruments he mentions, but each has its advantage on the "native" instrument it comes from. If you're new to ukulele, I suggest you play the baritone as a uke with the usual DGBE tuning, and learn to enjoy it as a uke. The transition from banjo to uke or any fretted instrument is easier than you might expect, given that you already know how to play single notes and how to finger chords. I think baritones may be tuned with a high fourth string and with the correct stringset, even GCEA, standard or down an octave (baritone players help me out here). Which ever tuning you choose, add the uke to your quiver, and you can thank us later.
If you intend to play with others then dgbe will likely give you a bigger variety of open chords in keys other than G. If you go with open G tuning you may depend more on capo use and simple movable chords.
Clearly you need more ukes:
  • G-standart
  • low-G (C-standard)
  • Open G
  • CuTro tuning
  • etc
Happy to help 🤣
You've already received some very good advice. I would just like to add one thing.

There is a tendency among musicians to value concepts like "difficult," "complex," "authentic," "original," and "fast (tempos)" more highly than concepts like "easier," "simpler," and "slower." Using a tuning on the ukulele that allows you to use the same finger patterns as you use on your banjo is "easier" than learning new tunings and fingerings. That can raise eyebrows in some musical circles.

But music isn't about eyebrows. It is about communicating with sound. If using your banjo tuning/fingerings is satisfactory for producing the sounds you want to hear, stick with it because it is easier. If you ever find that it limits you musically, then make a change. That change might be new tuning(s), additional instruments, use of capos, and so on. Be guided by your highest aspirations for your musical sound.
FWIW, I play in two non-standard ukulele tunings (CGBE/cGBE and GDAE) and both blend in well with others that are playing in gCEA. The point is a C chord is a C chord no matter which tuning you play it on.

The catch, however, is that you will be responsible for learning (sometimes developing) all the necessary chord variations to play with others. You are on your own to do this, as there will be no "chord boxes" for you to follow or look at. It has taken me many years to work those out., and continues to this day.

There is a world of resources for standard DGBE and gCEA.
(Banjo tunings; xDGBD, xDF#AD, xDFAD, xDGBbD, xCGCD are of a different world.)
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