How To: Open Tunings for Soprano Ukulele

We have a ton of soprano ukes around the house and I'm a huge open-tuning guitar player so I keep a number of them in alternate tunings. At some point I'll be recording a shorter instrumental album with all of the fiddly-aye-oh sort-of tunes I've come up with on them here and there, but I figured I'd share the tunings I use while I'm thinking about them right now.

All of these are tunings that've been retuned from a standard, re-entrant (high G), gCEA tuning, and all are written-out low to high. I like the re-entrant tuning to start from because it gives a 5-string banjo-like attack to the instrument a good sound, maintains the "uke-y-ness" of the voice, and forces one to think sideways when coming-up with new tunings. My own playing tends to leave the first (high) string as a drone in 5-string banjo fashion rather than something I fret overly-much. I capo these up and down the first three frets to get into different keys.

Open F: fCFA (g down to f, E up to F)
Open F Minor: fCFG#

F tuning correlates to open C tuning on guitar, with the 3rd on top. It's a pretty tuning, but the lack of a low root note means you have to attack it more like a 5-string banjo and walk your lower notes around so they don't sound strident over the higher F drone.

Open C: gCEG (A down to G)
Open C Minor: gCEbG

C tuning is the standard "slack key" tuning and most common alternate uke tuning. It correlates to open G tuning on guitar.

Open B Modal: f#BF#B (g down to f#, C down to B, E up to F#, A up to B)

B modal gives you a definite "old time" vibe and a nice low B root note. This is a very useful tuning when you're traveling between major and minor or getting a little bluesy.

Open A: aC#EA (g up to a, C up to C#)
Open A Minor: aCEA

With the lowest note a third, A tuning can sound pretty bright and chipper with a little bit of an island or bluesy swagger. It correlates to open D on guitar.

Open E: g#BEB
Open E Minor: gBEB

With the third on the "drone" string (from my point of view), this tuning starts-out with a weird feel from the get-go. Its "melody" strings (BEB) are all modal, however, which makes for fast fingering and an extended range as well as easy sliding octaves.

Other Tunings: ??

There are many other tunings to explore (and I have), but these are the ones that seem to adapt happily from "normal" high G uke strings. Obviously, some courses will be a little more slack or tight than before, so the tonal success of the chosen tuning depends a lot on how the instrument responds to it. Some ukes just don't like some tunings.


Ben Jackson said…
I recently restrung and tuned my soprano to 5ths tuning in GDAE. I'm really enjoying the change. I have a set of new strings to put on my concert that are CGDA. Fun exploring the new sounds
Jake Wildwood said…
Yep, 5ths tunings will get you a lot of mileage with extra range, for sure. Like bari ukes or low G uke, though, to my ears it becomes a different instrument, really, because the range is so extended out of that compact little space where standard ukes drift.