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By James Hill

In the music world, ukulele is a new kid on the block. At only 120 years old (give or take), it's just a pup compared to most instruments. Which means that we're still figuring out just what this little dynamo can do. In fact, we're still trying to figure out how to tune the thing.

In the "old days" (i.e. pre-internet), tuning was a regional affair: different tunings were used in different parts of the world. The tuning used in Hawaii (g, c, e, a) was derived from the tuning of the ukulele's Portuguese ancestors, the rajão and the machete. As the instrument gained popularity in European and North American music halls, a brighter, louder variant emerged (a, d, f#, b) which became the standard for tin-pan-alley-era sheet music. These tunings co-existed peacefully for decades. (Note that chord shapes in both tunings are the same, they just have different names.)

Nowadays we're all "connected" by the internet and the merit of regional differences (what some might call "diversity") is the subject of much debate. In this issue's feature article, Jamyang Lodto argues the case for the adoption of C6 tuning (g, c, e, a) in Canadian school ukulele programs (where D6 has been standard for decades). Lodto makes some very good observations and eloquently tackles a tricky subject. Some of his observations are irrefutable. For example, C6 tuning (g, c, e, a) is clearly the most popular tuning on the internet and it may well be that as the internet becomes our primary source for information (as well as our favourite hangout), it will eventually eclipse all other ukulele tuning systems.

But ideas aren't always right simply because they're popular. And what's wrong with a little diversity anyway? If the world isn't big enough for two ukulele tunings, how long will it be until it's too small for humanity's multitude of languages and cultures?

Ideas aren't always right simply because they're popular. And what's wrong with a little diversity anyway?

Indeed, if the promise of the internet was a free and open environment in which diverse opinions could thrive and co-exist, what seems to happen all-too-often is that the internet acts as a tool for homogenization.  If two ukulele tunings are too much to handle, what next?  A cap on the number of languages that can be spoken (it would be more efficient, after all), the number of genres of music that can be played, or the number of religions that can be practised?

To complicate matters, people who play in D6 tuning (a, d, f#, b) are like people who use Apple Computer products: a dedicated minority. With D6 tuning still prevalent in Canada, Europe and some parts of the U. S. A., it's unlikely that it will be exterminated overnight. With that in mind, this pedagogy corner article offers practical solutions to one of the scariest ukulele teacher scenarios: the mixed-tuning class. These tried-and-true strategies may just save your bacon someday!

So, read on with an open mind and try to see both sides of the great Canadian tuning debate. If it were simple, it would have been solved a long time ago. My prediction: D6 tuning (a, d, f#, b) will disappear the day the United States goes metric.

Uke on!


James Hill
Editor, Ukulele Yes!

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