The ‘ukulele is a highly-pitched little beast. Its range sits above many other instruments. This is beautiful and gives it its signature “happy” sound, but when playing solo can leave you feeling a little naked.
It is because of this that I have, within the last year or so, began experimenting with tuning my ‘ukulele down a half step. I believe I ran across this concept when trying to figure out a song in a funny key that needed some open strings. It caught my ear because of the thicker, more dark sound that it gave my instrument.
On ‘ukulele, this half-step lower tuning becomes F#-B-D#-G#. Simply drop the pitch of each string down to the next note in the chromatic scale.
Because of the lower pitch, all of your chord shapes and notes change location. This is great for some keys, but terrible for others. A C chord shape becomes a B. Which is great for playing in B! …But it also means that to play a C chord you must play C# chord shape. This is fantastic for jamming along with your favorite easy song on the radio and challenging yourself with harder chord shapes.
For easier reference I’ll call the F#-B-D#-G# tuning a B6 tuning – just like how standard C6 is G-C-E-A.
Playing in this lowered tuning is not for everybody and for all situations. But I will do my best here to convince you to at least give it a try.
A run-of-the-mill set of D’Addario Nyltech tenor strings tuned to G-C-E-A on a 17″ scale create a combined tension of 44.23 pounds (according to their string calculator). Drop that down a half-step to B6 and you end up with 39.40 pounds. Almost 5 pounds of difference in string tension is quite a bit.
This lighter tension makes it feel like you dropped a gauge of strings. For instance, I use Worth CH strings. Tuned to B6 they feel more like I would expect a CT set to feel – the next lightest set of Worth strings. This is easier on your fingers and makes bends jump up to pitch faster and require less pressure while still retaining the feel of thicker strings.
When playing on your own, this B6 tuning really can open up some richer, deep tones. I find my ‘ukulele resonates more in this tuning as opposed to up the normal half-step in C6. The sound is fatter and seems to me to have more punch. It’s exactly the opposite of what tuning up to the English D6 accentuates on an ‘ukulele.
If you’re playing solo, any chord chart or tab can be played as if you were tuned to G-C-E-A. Don’t even worry about the different tuning. Your ‘ukulele is still tuned to “my dog has fleas.” It’s just that the pitch of it is lower.
B6 tuning is but one option to try on your ‘ukulele. You might find that another tuning brings out the tones and resonance you want to hear on your own instrument. Let this post be an encouragement to try other tunings and see what your ears like or dislike about them.
The biggest hurdle here is studying the location of notes on the fretboard. If you’ve spent any time learning where they live in standard C6 tuning, any effort you put into studying their location a half-step below might become contradictory. Every mind is different so proceed how you are comfortable.
Don’t Ask Your Doctor…
…if B6 is right for you. Try it – consequences be damned! There’s nothing to break and nothing to lose. Give it a try and let me know what you think.