The Ukulele is one of the most beloved instruments in the world. Attributed originally with Hawaiian music, it is has spread across all genres.
These days, it is more popular than ever. Many guitar and bass players love to throw it into their repertoire as well as the plenty of people who are solely interested in it.
This short guide will teach you all the basics of how to play a ukulele so that you will be ready to play your favorite songs in no time at all!
Remember, the most important thing that you have is patience. Although most people agree that the ukulele is one of the easier instruments for you to learn the basics, it does take a little time for you to get the hang of.
But all of that effort will pay off. You just have to keep diligent and practice everyday.
After no time at all, you will be ready to play any of your favorite songs and even start creating a few of your own!
Table of Contents
LEARN HOW TO PLAY UKULELE 101
Part 1: Ukulele Basics
1) Select a Ukulele
Not all ukuleles are the same size which create different sounds. As a beginner you will be inclined to choose the cheapest option, but it is better to think long-term and figure out which sound works best for you. There are four different styles of the instrument.
- Soprano – Most popular variety. It is the smallest and cheapest style of ukulele and typically chosen by beginners. It is about 21 inches long and about 12-14 frets.
- Alto – Also is also referred to as the concert ukulele. It is about 23 inches long and 15-20 frets. It is better suited for people with larger hands and has a fuller sound than its smaller counterpart.
- Tenor – At 26 inches and 15 or more frets, you are starting to get to guitar size. It’s sound is even richer and because of the long fretboard, you have a much broader sets of es.
- Baritone – This one will surprise you that it is ukulele! It is 30 inches long and has over 19 frets. Because of its size, it doesn’t quite have the classic ukulele sound but is a great option for a really full sound and music.
2) Know Your Ukulele
Although it looks kind of like a guitar, the Ukulele is a little bit different. You need to make sure you know the parts of it before you begin playing.
- The Body – The body is the hollow wooden area that makes up the majority of the instrument. It has a small hole under the strings that you strum above.
- The Neck – The long wood portion above the strings sit. It refers to the slightly rounded bottom section while the flat part of the neck is called the fingerboard or fretboard.
- Frets – Just like a guitar. The section of the fingerboard divided by metal each of which is different notes.
- Head – The top part where the tuning pegs are located and you adjust the tone.
- Strings – There are four strings. The first string is the lowest note and is goes up to the fourth string, the highest.
All instruments need to be tuned properly before you start playing. This will ensure you have the correct sound out of your strings and make sure you get used to playing with the right sound. To tune, simple twist the tuner knobs at the top to tighten or loosen the strings respectively. Over time, the strings loosen so you will have to tighten them up.
- If you are facing the uke, the top left should be C,’ the bottom left tuner is ‘G,’ the top right tuner is ‘E,’ and the bottom right tuner is ‘A’. Any changes will affect the sound.
- Electronic Tuners– For beginners to music in general. This is the best option. Use an electric tuner to make sure you are getting the exact right note.
- Keyboard-If you have a keyboard or piano, you can play the corresponding note and tune to match, but this can be a little trickier.
- Ear-Over time, you want to train your ear to be able to recognize notes over time. Not only does this make tuning easier, it will able to learn songs quicker and be better at soloing.
4) You Need the Right Posture
If you don’t hold your instrument correctly, it will not sound good, it will be uncomfortable and you may risk injuring yourself over time. Always make sure you are in the right position with the right posture before your begin playing.
- Sitting or standing, always hold your ukulele in the same way. There is one correct way to hold it, and that is it!
- It needs to be pushed slightly between your right forearm and your body while resting it in the crook of your elbow. If you are holding it right, then you should be able to remove either of your hands without the uke moving position. Also the ukulele should be relatively high on your body approximately by your waist and chest.
- The neck should be resting on the thumb of your left hand so each of you four fingers can easily reach around it.
- When you strum with your right hand (vice versa for left) use your nails going down and the fleshy parts of your fingertips going up.
- You strum slightly higher on the body above the hold. For a uke you play nearer to the neck (unlike a guitar)
- Make sure your back and shoulders are straight so you are not hunched over. This will reduce discomfort and you will look better!
Part 2: Learning to Play
Chords are when you play more than one note at once, creating a combined sound. The majority of music we hear from any instruments really is a combination of different chords played in different sequences.
To play a chord, you use your left hand to press down strings at different frets simultaneously. Learning to play chords is easy; you will be given the string number, fret number, and the particular finger required to create each sound.
1. Major Chords
Formed by three or notes played at the same time with the distance between the first and second notes being two whole steps apart. Major chords are associated with happy or upbeat music.
- To play an F Major chord, place your index finger on the 2nd string of the first fret, and your ring finger on the first string of the second fret.
- To play a G Major chord, put your index finger on the 3rd string of the second fret, your middle finger on the 4th string of the second fret, and your ring finger on the 2nd string of the third fret.
- To play an A Major chord, place your index finger on the 3rd string of the first fret, and your middle finger on the 1st string of the second fret.
- To play a D Major chord, put your middle finger on the 1st string of the second fret, your ring finger on the 2nd string of the second fret, and your pinky finger on the 3rd string of the second fret.
- To play an E Major chord, place your index finger on the 4th string of the first fret, your middle finger on the 1st string of the second fret, and your pinky finger on the 3rd string of the fourth fret.
2. Minor Chords
Are three or more concurrently played notes, with the distance from the first and second notes being three half-steps. Minor chords are considered sad or gloomy sounding compared to major chords.
- To play an A Minor chord, place your middle finger on the 1st string of the second fret.
- To play an E Minor chord, put your index finger on the 4th string of the second fret, and your ring finger on the 3rd string of the fourth fret.
- To play a D Minor chord, place your index finger on the 2nd string of the first fret, your middle finger on the 1st string of the second fret, and your ring finger on the 3rd string of the second fret.
- To play an F# or Gb Minor chord, put your index finger on the 3rd string of the first fret, your middle finger on the 1st string of the second fret, and your ring finger on the 2nd string of the second fret.
- To play a B Minor chord, bar the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings with your index finger by holding them all down simultaneously on the second fret, and hold the 1st string down on the fourth fret with your ring finger.
Part 3: Playing Your Ukulele
Timing is essential. After you know some basic notes and chords, you need to know how to put them together with the right timing. It may seem simple but it requires practice for everything to sound good. It is also all about have good rhythm.
- Keeping a rhythm with your strumming will be challenging in the beginning while you learn how to move your left hand quickly between notes and chords. As you improve, try to avoid breaks between finger changes to improve your timing.
- Try counting in fours (1-2-3-4) while playing to help keep a beat while you strum.
- If you have a difficult time keeping rhythm, try using a metronome. This is a small electronic gadget that sounds off little clicks at a steady rate and you can change the speed that it plays to meet your comfort level.
- Don’t try to play super fast at first! This will cause you to make mistakes. Start out with a slow, steady rhythm and then work up towards heavy metal like shredding!
Part 4: Learn Songs
Most musicians have the goal of writing their own music. Well like everything you need to learn from somewhere. Writers read books before that ever sat down to type and artists saw paintings. Musicians are exactly the same.
Once you have gotten the hang of the common major and minor chords, you should be able to play about any beginner level song, like Riptide. With this ability you will be able to play recognizable songs very quickly.
- Many ukulele music books have popular songs that are easy for beginners to learn. Buy one online or at a local music shop.
- If you want to learn some of your favorite songs, search online for the song’s uke tabs. Tabs are like the music for the ukulele, telling you the differing chords and fingering positions that are required. There are tons of websites out there.
Here are 3 excellent songs you can to start with:
1) Some Where Over the Rainbow – IZ
2) Three little birds – Bob Marley
3) Shape of You – Ed Sheeran
Practice, Practice, Practice
Like anything, practice makes perfect. Most musicians aren’t natural geniuses, it is because they worked hard at it.
You need to practice daily so you can really become familiar with the instruments.
Try to set a schedule of at least thirty minutes every day and after some time, you will be the master you have always wanted to become!
Part 5: Moving on to Intermediate and Advanced
After you have mastered the basics you are going to want to move on to some more challenging pieces. This is a good time for you to start learning music theory if you haven’t already.
With music theory, you will be better able to put together your own music as well as improve your improvisational skills.
There are also some additional with a lot of great content on the skills that you need to improve once you have hit the intermediate and advanced levels.
Again, don’t rush your way here. Think of it like climbing a mountain. You can’t just run to the top!
Instead take each level just as slowly as you did with the beginning. It is all about patience. If you take the time to master each technique, you will not only be improving your uke skills, but also your general musicianship.
Think about your favorite musicians, do they seem concerned at what level they are at. Absolutely not!
It is all about making everything look effortless and the way they do that is by practicing their scales, chords and each song thousands of times.
10 UKULELE JUICY TIPS:
There is a lot of information that is thrown your way once you have purchased a ukulele so we have boiled it down to these ten simple tips to get you from the beginner to the advanced level.
1. Buy a good quality ukulele.
This is the most important rule if you are really serious about wanting to learn how to play the ukulele. There are a some okay ukuleles in the $100 range, but you can be certain that anything under $50 is not good.
The main problem is that you won’t be able to stay in tune. You will constantly slip out of tune and it will wreck your sound.
2. Know how to hold your uke!
This sounds simple, but so many people don’t follow this advice! ! Take a few minutes and try different positions either sitting and standing.
When sitting, you can let the body of the ukulele rest on one of your legs and rest your strumming arm on the top of the ukulele. This way the ukulele neck should be in the air.
While you are standing you keep it there against your chest and hold it with your strumming arm. This will take some take some practice but it will be worth it because that way you will be able to pick up your ukulele and play immediately without having to search for the right position.
Most users don’t even need a strap are comfortable just the way it is. Also, be sure to not hold it too tightly just nice and easy.
3. Fingering Exercises!
Finger strength is critical. Playing any stringed instruments challenges your fingers in new ways that they are probably not really used to doing.
There is so much to do at the beginning from learning chords, to how to strum to tunes and so on, but fingering exercises are also key.
What they do is help you build up those calluses you see only all real musicians that will make your fingers tough enough for hours of playing. It is one of those cycles.
The more you play, the stronger your fingers will become and the stronger your fingers become, the longer that you will be able to play.
Nylon is great to start on but you may want to move to steel strings eventually which will be a little more strain on your fingers. But once you have developed those calluses, you will be good to go!
Here is a little exercise for you to do. Pluck the first then with your index finger just behind the first fret, then with your middle finger on the second fret, then with your ring finger on the third fret and finally with your pinky finger on the fourth fret.
Pluck the pinky one twice and then work your way back down: ring finger on third fret, middle finger on second fret, index finger on the first fret, then open. Next move to the second string and repeat this. Follow this for all of the strings multiple times.
Then do this several times. Slowly at first! The more you get used to it, the more you will be able to build your finger strength and speed.
The most important thing for you to do is to avoid making any errors. Build up speed over time and soon you will be shredding up and down the fretboard!
Another good tip is to start with shorter practice sessions and build your way up. For example play for fifteen minutes a day a few times a day and then gradually build up to one longer 60+ minute long session.
Those first stages are essential though as they will help you build up those calluses!
One bonus tip! Your fingernails need to be cut very short. You should cut them a few times a week! This is how you can get a very clean sound because you need to press the strings with the tips of your fingers!
4. Master the Fundamentals
There are some incredible ukulele virtuosos out there and eventually you can be one of them. But instead focus with the basics and move on from there.
Don’t start with some crazy hard to do mega tab. Just work with your chords. Learn the chords charts up and down, forwards and backwards and you will be on your way to being able to play the majority of songs out there.
The thing is, most of the songs are based on fairly simple chord progression so just knowing the chords is most of the effort!
5. Listen to Other Players and Jam with Them.
The best person to teach you how to cook is a chef. Likewise, learn from fellow ukulele players. They have been where you are and many of them are willing to lend you a helping hand and give you some advice.
Get a group of friends and all play the ukulele together and make a little band.
If you can’t find anyone to jame with, you can always go online and watch videos and listen to music so you can get the feel of the ukulele groove.
Before you start strumming along, listen carefully and watch what they are doing with their fingers. Pay careful attention to rhythm and tempo, you brain will be subconsciously taking it back in and you will be learning how to play well!
6. Strum and Strum Well, My Friend
Most musicians who are new to instruments like guitars, basses and ukuleles do a simple up and down,strum. But to get that good sound, you need to mix things up. Try adding some different patterns.
You can also do some slapping and palm muting to really get funky sound.
There are some websites that an can offer you a little help with strumming, but the best thing you can do is just practice as much as possible and experiment!
You can also listen to a song and get a feel of what the strumming pattern is like. What’s even better is if you come up with your own strumming patterns and start creating your own style.
7. Please Start Playing Slowly
I know we are used to hearing our favorite musicians do some incredible things. But they didn’t start that way! You don’t learn how to drive a car by flooring it!
Learn your basic chords and strumming and start practicing going between two at a time. Practice a lot with many different chords ensuring that you do not make any mistakes.
Accuracy counts much more than quickness! Even if you are learning tabs, play slowly even if it doesn’t quite match the tempo of the song. You want that clean sound with no buzzing.
Once you have got the hang of it then you can build up your speed and try more challenging things.
8. Record Yourself and Listen to It Over and Over
Did you know that’s how famous dancers, athletes and even politicians get good at what they do? They watch themselves so they can see where they made mistake and likewise did well.
It is very difficult to play and really hear yourself at the same time. You need to see where it is that you may be having some trouble.
Also it is always a good idea to get used to play in front of microphone. You may want to record some of your music one day or play live and the more you get used to the idea of yourself being recorded the more comfortable you will with all of these exciting opportunities.
9. Tab Websites are Your Best Friend
The best way to learn how to play the songs you want is to simply find them on the Internet. There are plenty of songbooks out there but they usually have outdated stuff that nobody wants to here!
With Tab sites you will already have the chord diagrams for each chord in the song so you don’t have to look each one up. It is also makes it easier if you feel like transposing the key of song to something easier.
10. Don’t Forget to Have fun!
This is one of the most fun instruments! It is supposed to make you and your listeners smile so remember that when you are practicing. It is an easy instrument to learn the basics of and you can be playing songs in no time.
So don’t stress, you will be able to break through and get to where you want to be! The more you enjoy playing it, the more you will improve naturally.
If you do not have time to get lessons, there are fortunately plenty of online resources for you. Be sure to go through our entire site, The Musician Lab, you’ll find buying guides, playing tips and everything else you need to know for how to become not only a great ukulele player, but any kind of musician.
The best thing out there for you are ukulele tabs and chord diagrams. Here is a great example of a chord diagram:
You should go through resources like these to help you grasp the basics of how to play the instrument. There are also numerous YouTube channels that have everything from basic to advanced playing skills. Here are some of our favorites.
For any kind of string instrument, he has become of the most popular and trusted names in video tutorials.
Ukulele in 5 Minutes
Simple, quick and easy way for you to start playing
For many players, the most challenging thing isn’t learning chords and notes, but getting the strum pattern just right. This short video will teach you all the different strumming techniques so that you can master nearly any song!
CONCLUSION – The Ukulele: Such a Great Instrument
If you have read all the way through this guide and have followed it closely, you are well on your way to mastering the beautiful instrument that is the ukulele!
It is such a widely loved and unique instrument that you are surely spending your time well learning it.
Best of all, it does not take too much time to learn the basics. If you follow this guide, you will be able to play most of your favorite songs within a month of two.
And start composing your own tracks not long after that!
Be sure to check out some of our guides on the best ukuleles on the market that match any budget!
This guide was made for you!
So if you enjoyed it, then please share it with some of your friends who might be just picking up the ukulele too.
That way, you will all soon be ready to jam. Good luck!