How To Play Ukulele
Like any instrument, learning how to play ukulele can be a little frustrating at first, especially if you haven’t tried playing the guitar before and have no experience whatsoever with the strumming patterns or how a certain chord sounds.
While I do believe that “practice makes perfect”, there is a lot more than just practice that contributes to how the song you are playing turns out.
And if you figure out where to place your first steps, you will find out that it’s not really hard, it’s a lot simpler than it looks actually.
So, let’s go through everything you need to know to be able to master this lovely instrument
1. Knowledge is power
The first thing you need to do is read about ukuleles. I know this might strike you as a little odd, but you have no idea how much this will help you especially at the beginning of your practice.
Do you know what the different types of ukuleles are? How different types of wood affect how your ukulele sounds? Which ukuleles are more suitable for recording in a studio and which would make your audience applause, clap and cheer?
These are not really hard to figure out. Maybe you can dedicate an hour or two to getting the bigger picture.
Now you have a background, so make up your mind
It’s about time you start taking an action and get the right ukulele that will serve what you want it for.
Keep in mind the size of your ukulele; there are different styles of ukuleles to choose from.
These are arranged from the smallest to the largest. The most common ukulele in the market is the soprano, being the smallest and hence the most portable and the most affordable so it is too often a convenient option for beginners.
I would recommend you get an alto ukulele if you have large hands, because a soprano would be a little uncomfortable for you.
Generally speaking, alto ukuleles are known as “concert ukuleles” because they have a much fuller sound compared to sopranos.
Next comes the tenor ukulele, and being larger than the two types mentioned above, it has an extended fret board so it will allow you to get more notes.
Not to mention that it has a fuller sound than the concert ukulele.
And the last on our list is the baritone, being the largest, it actually doesn’t have the classic ukulele sound but of course it has the richest and fullest sound of all four.
There are also different shapes for ukuleles so before you invest your money in one, give it a try and see if it feels right when you are holding it.
You want your instrument to feel comfortable between your hands even if this might sound a little cheesy to some people but for me, whenever I’m playing my ukulele it feels like a part of me that I’m in total control of.
Even after you buy the ukulele that best fits you, take some time to try different positions while playing. Some like to play while standing others play while sitting.
For me, sitting is better, I can rest my ukulele on my leg and my strumming hand would be on the top of it. It’s what feels easier for me but for a lot of people out there, it’s more comfortable to play it while standing and hold the ukulele against their chests.
2. Become familiar with the anatomy
A ukulele is a little different than other stringed instruments; this is particularly an important tip because whenever you are playing, you shouldn’t be thinking much about where everything is.
Also, this step is what will get you prepared to the next one; tuning your ukulele. The ukulele has four strings and thus four tuners on its head.
The lowest string is the thickest and as you get higher, the strings become thinner and produce a higher tone.
Tuning your ukulele
This is a non-negotiable step if you want your song to make sense!
If you don’t tune your instrument it will never ever sound right no matter how much you practice a song because the strings are simply not producing the right sounds.
As mentioned before, you have four strings namely G, C, E, A, G being the top string and A the lowest. These of course are connected to the tuning knobs at the top of the head of the ukulele.
You use the tuner knob to lighten or loosen the strings so as it’s under the suitable tension to produce the sound you want it to.
Keep in mind that this is something that you will need to do regularly because with time, the strings spontaneously loosen.
If you are facing your ukulele, then the bottom left tuner is connected to the G string. The top left tuner is connected to the C string. The top right tuner is connected to the E string and the bottom right string is connected to the A string.
You can always buy an electric tuner but to be honest, more often than not, I use an online tuner or use a tuning application on my phone.
3. Time for the real challenging part; learning your chords, and having a strumming pattern
If you have never tried playing a stringed instrument, then don’t rush into trying to play such a fancy song. This will only be discouraging and will make you feel disappointed.
Your fingers need time to build calluses at the tips, which will make playing easier and easier by day.
Know some basic chords, from my own experience; consistency is your goal here. The first chords I learned were C, then Am these need only one finger.
Try to switch from C to Am in a regular rhythm. Then I learned how to play the F chord, followed by G chord.
Let’s see where to place your finger to play each of these chords and the basic strumming pattern to try with them.
C major chord
Place your ring finger on the third fret of the 4th string (the bottom string).
First, try doing simple down strums, then try doing simple up strums.
Now try alternating down and up strums.
Don’t try to rush things and do it too fast. Think of this like trying to learn how to drive for example. You don’t just rush down the road once you start the car. You want to practice this for a while till it becomes a reflex, something that you can do without thinking too much just at ease.
4. Next Comes Am Chord
To play your Am chord, place your middle finger on the second fret, 1st string.
Now try playing the chord in a more complicated yet still such a simple strumming pattern. Something like D, DU, UD
Take your time with it, master it … Learn how to change from C major to Am without changing the strumming pattern.
If you get confused and mix things up, don’t give up; just go slower till you are playing at a speed that allows you to get it right.
Once you are comfortable doing this and feel like you have mastered it, try speeding it up a little bit and keep going in this manner.
One thing that works for me is, I don’t stick to things more than I should, meaning; once I learn how to play a chord at a certain speed, I don’t try to speed it up right away and the next time I practice I try to speed up together with learning a new chord.
This is only because at this point things can get a little boring for me. However, this might not be the case for you so come up with a plan that works for you and will help you persist.
The coming chord is F major
This is a bit different from the above mentioned chords because you need to use two fingers.
Put your index finger on the 2nd string, first fret and your ring finger on the first string, 2nd fret.
Try the same strumming patterns you know and then maybe you can try changing from C to F and vice versa.
Or should you try changing from C to F then from F to Am? You get to decide. HAVE FUN with it, try different arrangements and different strumming patterns.
I think by now you have a better understanding of how you should start and maintain your practice. You are the pilot of this journey actually, there’s no one single right way to do this.
5. Finger exercises
Surprisingly, mastering ukulele is not all chords and strumming and this one tip is handy if you want to become good faster.
You probably already know that stringed instruments hurt a little especially at the beginning and we talked about how it takes time for your fingers to build up calluses.
The way I see it, you know you have mastered a song when playing it stopped hurting.
Exercising your fingers will speed up this process. First, make sure to cut your finger nails really short on the fret hand, this will make it a lot easier to press the strings without getting muted sounds.
Try picking the first string with your index finger on the first fret, then do it with your middle finger on the second string, then pick it again with your ring finger on the third fret, now try doing it with your pinky finger on the fourth string. Do it with the pinky finger on the fourth fret one more time and then work your way back.
Try going faster and once you get good at it. Try the same thing on the next string and so on.
I always start my practice with these finger exercises just to warm up for 10 or 15 minutes.
6. Timing is everything
Now that you are familiar with most of the basics, you need to give some attention to practicing your timing.
I know that for a lot of beginners this might not seem like a big deal, but trust me it is.
This is what is going to make you sound professional. If you got a good rhythm, your music will sound melodic and flowing in harmony and it’s the only way you will be admired.
This will be a little difficult at first but you already know the rule, the more challenging you find it, the slower you need to go at first. Once you are able to maintain a steady rhythm, you can go faster.
7. Practice daily
Even if you usually have a busy schedule, you don’t have to practice for hours, 20 or 30 minutes are enough, just make sure to do it on a regular basis. No one is born a star when it comes to playing an instrument.
Yes, some of us do learn faster than others and find it easier, yet with practice you eventually get there and the more time you spend the better you get and the easier it is to learn something new.
8. Listen and watch other ukulele players play
Perhaps you know someone who plays already and they encouraged you to do it as well. Let them play for you and listen carefully to how their music sounds. Watch how they move their fingers and know more about their techniques.
Even if you don’t personally know someone who plays Ukulele, you can always go to your computer and watch videos all over YouTube. You know what’s even more fun? Jam along!! You will get the hang of it.
9. Listen to yourself playing
Be your own judge before anyone else. Record yourself playing and listen back. You will be amazed how much difference this will make.
It will help you recognize what you are doing wrong and which parts you need to work on. You will hate it at first, but it will surely pay off.
Ukuleles are fun to play, don’t stress yourself. Have all the fun you need, it only gets better and easier and if you are dedicated enough, you will get there sooner or later.