UD#70 The Great Uke Tuning Mystery

Posted on

The Great Uke Tuning Mystery (UD#70)
from Ukulele in the Dark
with Guido Heistek

 

Let me start with a little story.

I played in a band called Family Frankincense when I was a kid in high-school. We had one guy in the band who was really good at tuning guitars by ear. He used to tune the guitars for everybody in the band before every show. We all agreed it was best that way. But if your guitar went out of tune during the show, well, you were out of luck.

One day we got our biggest gig ever. We were opening for the Dead Milkmen, a punk band from the US. John, our resident guitar tuner, diligently tuned all of our instruments. Our show started with a bang. Just as we planned. Halfway through the first number I broke a guitar string, and my guitar went totally out of tune. The show went downhill from there as I searched around for a replacement string, tried to get my guitar in tune, and the audience watched and waited. My buddy who was at the show commented, “That was the best opening I have ever seen for a band, until Guido broke a string, and then…”

The Dead Milkmen were late. They had trouble crossing the border. They came stumbling into the club around 10PM, very wild to my young eyes. We got a chance to hang out with the band while they chaotically rummaged around trying to prepare for the show. The bass player had something I had never seen before: a fairly large box with a dial on it. I asked him about it. He came right up to my face and said,

 

“It’s a TUNER MAAAAAN! You know why I use this thing? Cause I CAN’T HEAR THAT STUFF IN MY HEAD.”

 

I knew the feeling.

I’ve since overcome my tuning-by-ear troubles, though they sometimes act up, particularly when I’m nervous. That’s why I use a tuner when I record or perform. However, when I practice I love to tune by ear, to allow myself to start listening from the start. In that way tuning-by-ear is a good way to “tune in” to music making. Why not listen from the start?

I like to introduce tuning-by-ear by ear to my students. They sometimes get a little panicked and say something similar to my friend from the Dead Milkmen,

 

“I can’t hear the difference between the two notes! I can’t tell if one note is higher or lower!

 

I have a little system that I use to help hear differences in pitch. I like to teach it to my students. When you are nervous it is good to get organized! Let me share my system with you and then, I’ll show you a practice game that I’ve created so you can have the experience of tuning by ear.

 

Here are the steps:

 

STEP 1: LISTEN TO THE TARGET NOTE

When we tune an instrument by ear, we have to use a reference note, a note that is “in tune”. I call this note the TARGET NOTE.

When I do tuning-by-ear with a student, I often have them tune their ukulele to my ukulele, which is already in tune. So, I pluck a string and they try to make the string on their uke the same pitch.

I think that they get so nervous that they don’t really listen to the TARGET NOTE. They are so concerned about the note on their own instrument. Is it higher? Lower? Same? ACKKKKK!

So, listen to the TARGET NOTE many times so that it is ringing in your head all on its’ own. Make your whole mind vibrate with the target note.

 

STEP 2: KEEP PROJECTING THE TARGET NOTE IN YOUR HEAD AS YOU PLUCK THE STRING YOU ARE TRYING TO TUNE

If you keep projecting the target note in your head when you pluck the string on your uke, you will have one of three possible experiences:

a. Nothing will happen. There will be no difference in pitch between the two notes. This means that the two notes are “in tune”. Lucky you!
b. You will feel pulled “down” away from the target note, in which case the note on your uke is lower than the target note, or “flat”.
c. You will feel pulled “up” and and away from the target note, in which case the note on your uke is too high, or “sharp”.

 

STEP 3: ADJUST THE STRING ACCORDINGLY
Turn the tuning peg for the string to raise or lower the pitch until it matches. More on this part another time.

 

So, the secret seems to be in sustaining the TARGET NOTE in your head and having an EXPERIENCE when you introduce the NEW NOTE. Does the new note pull me UP or DOWN? Or does nothing much happen pitch wise?

I’ve prepared a little game so you can experience being pulled “up” or “down” when comparing notes. If you’ve had trouble with pitch this may be very interesting for you. Check it out :

 

THE GREAT TUNING CHALLENGE!

 

PRACTICE NUMBER 1

 

TARGET NOTE:

 

Instructions:
1. Listen to the TARGET NOTE several times.
2. While the sound of the TARGET NOTE is still ringing in your head listen to note “A” below.
3. Determine whether note “A” is higher than, lower than or in-tune with the TARGET NOTE.
4. Repeat process for notes “B” and “C”.

 

Scroll down for the answer! Then go on to Practice Number 2…

 

A.

B.

C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANSWERS:

A= Lower than target note (flat)

B= More or less in-tune

C= Higher than target note (sharp)

 

—————————————————————————

PRACTICE NUMBER 2 (LESS OBVIOUS)

 

TARGET NOTE:

 

Instructions:
1. Listen to the TARGET NOTE several times.
2. While the sound of the TARGET NOTE is still ringing in your head listen to note “A” below.
3. Determine whether note “A” is higher than, lower than or in-tune with the TARGET NOTE. Remember differences are subtle!
4. Repeat process for notes “B” and “C”.

 

Scroll down for the answers!

A.

B.

C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANSWERS:

A = slightly lower than target note (flat)

B= slightly higher than target note (sharp)

C= is “in tune” (or very very close)

 

 

How did it go? Please drop me a line and let me know!

I also found this very amazing game online. Give it a try! I love it…
https://trainer.thetamusic.com/en/content/dango-brothers

If you’d like to practice tuning your uke by ear you can go here to get the target notes. Enjoy it!
https://ukutuner.com/

More on tuning another time!

I loved making this newsletter today. I hope you enjoyed it! Forward it to someone you know who may benefit from it.

 

All for now,

Guido

p.s. I am regularly adding new material to this site. Subscribe to my mailing list to receive the new lessons as they come out. Be sure not to miss a thing!

Subscribe to my mailing list

* indicates required



Tags: