What Is a Tenor Ukulele?

by Kristin McFarland
The tenor ukulele is larger than the more common soprano ukulele.

The tenor ukulele is larger than the more common soprano ukulele.

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A tenor ukulele is a traditional Hawaiian stringed instrument with four, six or eight strings. The tenor "uke," as ukuleles are commonly called, has recently become more popular because of musicians like James Hill, Jake Shimabukuro and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. If you're thinking about learning to play a stringed instrument, the tenor ukulele is a versatile choice that has a traditional ukulele sound with the lower, louder tone of a guitar.


A tenor ukulele is about 27 inches long, making it 7 inches longer than a standard soprano ukulele and at least 3 inches shorter than the baritone ukulele. The tenor uke has 15 or more frets, compared with the standard ukulele's 13 frets.


A tenor ukulele has a deeper, richer sound and a lower range than a soprano ukulele. Although the soprano uke is the most common ukulele and has the most familiar ukulele sound, the tenor ukulele sounds more like a soprano uke than its larger brother, the baritone uke. Many solo performers choose to play the tenor ukulele rather than the soprano because the tenor weds a louder, richer tone with a sound more like the soprano uke.


Like the soprano and concert ukuleles, the tenor ukulele is tuned to G-C-E-A. Most ukulele music is written for this tuning, so if you play a tenor uke, you can play and read standard ukulele music. Although you can buy a six- or even eight-string tenor ukulele, the standard uke has four strings.

Famous Tenor Uke Players

As popular history has it, a Portuguese immigrant brought the ukulele to Hawaii. The ukulele has since become a beloved instrument not only in Hawaiian music but in popular rock. Britain's most famous ukulele player, George Formby, played a tenor uke, and the ukulele became very popular during the growth of bluegrass music in the 1930s. More recently, contemporary artists James Hill, Jake Shimabukuro and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole have again popularized the tenor ukulele.

About the Author

Based in southern Indiana, Kristin McFarland has been a freelance writer since 2005. Her work has appeared in the "Indiana Daily Student," "Indianapolis Business Journal," "River Falls Journal," "The Berkeley Daily Planet" and "Rio Grande Sun." McFarland earned a Master of Arts in journalism from Indiana University.

Photo Credits

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