Friday, March 1, 2013

Alternate Ukulele Tunings

Whether you are looking to spice up your ukulele playing, looking for a new challenge, or just looking to make a piece a little bit easier to play, alternate tunings on your uke might be the way to go.  They say that there's more than one way to skin a cat (which I actually disagree many ways can you actually skin a cat?  and what's wrong with you?  Why are you focusing your efforts on skinning cats, weirdo!?).  Likewise, there's more than one way to tune and play a ukulele.  Here's a few alternate ukulele tunings to try out, with a link below to many, MANY more.

Re-entrant C-tuning
This is the "standard" tuning that you are probably playing in.  G, C, E, A

Re-entrant D-tuning
This tuning was once more popular than standard C.  Everything is raised an entire step.  A, D, F#, B.  This is a good one to playing around with...especially if you're playing a piece of music that contains that pesky E chord (see my blog post about E chord alternatives here).  Click here for another blog with a basic chord chart for this tuning.

Low G tuning
This style of tuning is becoming more and more popular amongst players.  It takes the idea of standard C tuning, but drops the G an octave from a high G to a low G.  G, C, E, A.  Comes in really handy if you are playing a piece that needs those extra low notes or if you are simply looking for a bigger sound.  To tune to this, you need an actual set of strings with a low G like these Aquilas

Slack Key tuning
Mostly used in slack key playing, but can be very useful in a lot situations.  The idea is based off the re-entrant C-tuning, with the high A being tuned down to match your high G.  G, C, E, G.
If you strum the strings with this tuning you'll be playing a C chord.....moving up the fretboard and barring all strings on each fret, you'll be playing the next major chord (1st fret barred = C# major, 2nd fret barred = D major, etc.).

Slide Ukulele tuning
For those of you that are launching into the brave new world of slide ukulele, might I suggest a G, C, E, Bb tuning.  This creates a C7 chord when strummed open and makes for some very fun and bluesy slide ukulele playing.
Click here for a post with a basic chord chart for this tuning!

That should be enough to get you started....but if you're thirsty for more, check out this post by Ukulele Hunt and this article on The Jumping Flea.

Happy Uke'n!


  1. So what is a best way to figure out the chord shapes that match the different tunings (without looking them up in a chart).

    1. Jeff, I think the best way (without a chart to guide you) is to start memorizing where the notes are on your uke are and also start with a touch of theory for how certain chords are formed. For instance, on slack key tuning (GCEG), to play an Am chord (which consists of a root, a flatted third, and perfect fifth), you'll have to learn the notes that correspond to that chord in your alternate tuning. The three notes that make up that Am are A, C, and E. You can use your index and middle fingers to to hold down the second fret of both the G's and create the notes ACEA, giving you the notes that make up the Am. Familiarity will come with practice...good luck. Let me know if I can be of any more help!

  2. Okay I get that, but are you telling me that every time you change tunings you know the changed notes and chords and can go fluently from one tuning to another?

    1. Not at all! A couple of the tunings are pretty new to me as well (slack key and slide). When I change to those, I feel like a beginner again. :)

      Re-entrant D isn't so bad and I feel like I have trained my brain to adjust to that one.

      The other day, I was thinking about making up a chart of basic chords for some of these alternate tunings for myself. Maybe I'll share them here to the blog.

  3. That would be great. I'm always looking for good exercises to reinforce new stuff too.