The internet is a gold mine for any skill you want to learn, and playing the ukulele is no exception. Even if you’ve never laid hands on it, we can help you get the hang of this accessible instrument. We’ll walk you through some basics and skills you need to learn in order to play the ukulele as a hobby or a career.
To learn the ukulele, you need to:
- Hold the instrument properly.
- Learn about the uke strings, first through fourth.
- Try different strumming techniques (downstrokes, alternating ones, and irregular ones).
- Use your fingers, picks, or both for strumming.
- Learn the chord chart symbols.
- Play scales, beginning with the C Major scale.
Holding the Ukulele
Before we get started, we recommend that you use a concert ukulele, suitable for beginners. The first order of business is to learn how to hold the instrument properly. This way, you can play it safely and produce the best sounds.
If you’re right-handed, you need to hold your ukulele with its back against your chest or belly area while enclosing it with your right arm. This position gives your right hand easy access to the chords so that you can strum and pick them.
Then, using your left hand, hold the instrument’s neck (around the fretboard) in a tight but gentle grip; it should rest between your index finger and thumb. This way, you can press strings at different frets.
Tip: If you’re left-handed, you can re-string the ukulele and reverse the positions or buy a designated ukulele for that. Some lefties choose to play right-handed because it’s more convenient, though.
Tuning the Ukulele
With the ukulele positioned correctly, you should tune it. This uke has six strings, which is a universal standard. They include:
- The Fourth String: Also known as the G string, it produces the second-highest pitch. You should tune it to G4.
- The Third String: The C string has the lowest pitch, and you can tune it to C4.
- The Second String: The E string has the second lowest pitch, and you should tune it to E4.
- The First String: This string, the A string, produces the highest pitch. Tune it to A4.
Strumming refers to the pattern used to play up or down strokes on your ukulele. On the one hand, some songs have a simple steady rhythm like downstrokes.
On the other hand, there are other songs with alternating patterns. So, you’ll have to play an upward stroke followed by a downward stroke. There are also songs with irregular patterns.
But we’ll give you some ideas so that you can get started. For one, you want to merely pluck all the strings in a downstroke (downwards). Try that out, and ensure that your fingers are relaxed.
Once you’re done with that, start learning by context. You can choose songs to practice the patterns more effectively. Of course, you can find ukulele lessons to learn specific songs. And in time, you’ll find yourself stringing cords instinctively.
Fingers Vs. Picks
When we talk about strumming, we should also talk about the tool you use.
Firstly, you can strum a ukulele with your fingers, either your index finger, thumb, or both. You may even use the nails and pads of your four fingers on the strums. As for the sound fingerpicking produces, it’s muted and subtle. In addition, this technique allows you to jump strings fast when playing broken-up chords, known as arpeggios.
Secondly, using a small pick, plastic or nylon, is an option; we recommend felt, as it doesn’t damage the nylon strings. It helps you play strum patterns that are reminiscent of guitar or mandolin.
Compared to fingerpicking, picking creates loud, clear sounds, which makes them perfect for tremolo picking. You can also lightly hold the pick at an angle for a less aggressive sound.
To create harmony, you need two or more notes simultaneously. The chords of a song are about 80% of what you’ll need to learn. As a beginner, you can check the chord chart to learn the four strings (G, C, E, and A). It’ll also tell you where you should put your fingers on particular frets and in what order to play a piece.
But to read chord charts, you need to be acquainted with their symbols:
- 1: Index finger
- 2: Middle finger
- 3: Ring finger
- 4: Pinky finger
- O: A string that’s in an open position
- X: A string that should be muted or skipped
A scale is an ordered sequence of 8 notes, which makes it an octave. The scale begins and ends with one note; however, it’s higher than the first by an octave.
But let’s get you started with a simple scale. The C Major scale is a great place to start because it doesn’t include any flats or sharps. This is how it goes:
- C: First Note
- D: Second Note
- E: Third Note
- F: Fourth Note
- G: Fifth Note
- A: Sixth Note
- B: Seventh Note
- C: Eighth Note
Tip: Remember that the C of the 8th note is an octave higher than the first note.
Now that we’ve gone through the basics, you can get started with your uke journey. Use the knowledge you’ve acquired to hold the instrument correctly, read chord charts, and play scales. Last but not least, remember that learning the chords of songs you like can make the learning process more effective and fun!