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Stretching The Strings: An Exercise in Listening

Posted on: March 24th, 2010 by dville

I recently saw a lively debate on a ukulele bulletin board about the frequency in which one should change their strings. Everyone seemed to have a different opinion ranging from never to monthly.

It got me thinking about the more important question of how long one should take in changing their strings.

Having worked with ukuleles in a retail setting for a number of years I became pretty fast at changing out a set of strings. My record of 00:02:38 probably still stands. However, when you change a set of ukulele strings that quickly you are missing the most important aspect of the procedure, the stretching of the strings.

The act of re-stringing a ukulele provides an excellent opportunity for a meditative ear-training experience. First, remove all the old strings. Then, install the new strings one at a time. Start with the 1st string (A) using an A-440 tuning fork as your reference pitch. Put the sound of the A tone in your head. Hum it. Bring the string up to pitch. Hum the in-tune pitch again.

Now, stretch the string with your finger. The act of stretching the string will pull it out of tune. Re-tune the string quickly back up to the pitch you are hearing in your head. Always tune up to the note. Repeat the process until the string begins to hold the correct pitch. This may take some time, especially with Aquila brand strings that really stretch.

Next install the 2nd string (E) matching the A on the 5th fret and stretch it. Repeat on the 3rd string (C) 4th matching the A on the 9th fret and finally the 4th string (G) matching the A tone on the 2nd fret.

Changing the strings in this fashion, rather than the two-and-a-half-minute version, is akin to attending a Japanese tea ceremony (which can last up to four hours) as opposed to gulping down a quick Chai from Starbucks.

Be patient and listen to the vibrations as you stretch and tune each string and in time you will become one with your in-tune ukulele. That is, if you ever change your strings.

One Response

  1. J-Hob says:

    I'm always too impatient to tune it that way when putting on new strings! It had crossed my mind in the past however. I will endeavour to tune by ear in the future. Why is it that you advise tuning up to the note? I've heard many people recommend this but have never been quite sure why.

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