I had a good day yesterday. The day before, too, and it had a lot to do with this little gadget:
For the uninitiated, that’s a ukulele auto-tuner. Also known as a chromatic tuner or a headstock tuner or possibly a few other names. I’m pretty new to this stuff myself. One thing I do know is that it’s a lifesaver if, like me, you’re completely hopeless at tuning a stringed instrument by ear.
See, Chad got me a ukulele for Christmas because I’d seen one on our anniversary trip in October and mentioned that I wanted one. He’s pretty awesome that way. He also got me a “teach yourself ukulele” book, and I diligently sat down on day one and started working through it.
Step one, after learning the parts of the uke, was to get the thing in tune. As I know from trying to learn the guitar twenty-some-odd years ago, I suck at that. I can’t tell if two notes are different when I play them together, and I can’t remember what the first one sounded like by the time the second one’s done if I play them separately. So it came as no surprise when my friend Dan told me that my uke was out of tune when he was at our house the other night.
I’ll admit that I’d been getting a little frustrated because I knew my uke didn’t sound right. I knew it was out of tune. But for the life of me, I couldn’t get it right. I told Dan that, and he suggested I pick up an autotuner.
So I did.
An autotuner — or, at least, the one I got — works by sensing the vibrations in the instument when you play it. Which makes sense when you stop to consider that all sound is just vibrations. Anyway, you clip the autotuner to the head of your ukulele (or guitar, or whatever instrument you’re playing, provided, I assume, it has strings). Pluck a string, and the tuner flashes up the nearest note that the string is tuned to. If the string’s in tune for that note, the background on the tuner turns green*. Otherwise, the background turns red* and the speedometer-like graph lets you know how sharp or flat you are. Then it’s a simple matter of twisting the string’s tuning knob until the pointer is in the middle of the graph and the background turns green.
How sweet is that?! If I’d had one of these twenty years ago, I might have done more than butcher “Desperado” for a few weeks before setting my dad’s old guitar aside.
The guy at Guitar Center warned me that nylon strings like to stretch and I’d have to keep getting them back in tune until they eventually hit a sweet spot and stayed in tune. So now my ukulele practice sessions start with clipping my tuner onto my uke and checking to see if anything’s out of tune. (Usually the A string, which on my uke apparently has a deep-seated terror of staying in tune, because it can’t manage it for more that a few minutes at a time.) And, because I’m a geek and a chromatic tuner is a nifty gadget, my practice sessions usually wrap up with checking to see if my uke’s still in tune.
It’s a simple thing, but it’s made playing a lot more fun. I look forward to it and was actually a bit disappointed when I checked my schedule for today and saw I hadn’t scheduled any time for uke practice. I might try to sneak in a half hour or so tonight, time permitting.
Oh, and for the curious, I got Chad some drums for Christmas. A set of Irish bodhráns. Who knows? Maybe we’ll start a band.
*You’ll have to trust me that the background turns red or green, depending on whether the string is in tune. My camera refuses to acknowledge it, but it’s true. Apologies to the pics-or-it-didn’t-happen crowd.