The undeniable charm of the ukulele’s melodies gained the musical instrument a respectable place in the world of music.
From its fleeting appearances in Elvis’s hands to its charismatic presence in Taylor Swift’s concerts, the ukulele continues to attract people to this day, urging them to learn to play it. And that’s where I come in to help!
I’ve prepared a detailed tutorial on how to play ukulele. While it won’t make you an expert right away, it’ll put you on the right track and get you ready for more advanced levels.
So grab your beloved instrument, manifest your musical spirit, and jump in!
To learn how to play ukulele, follow these steps:
- Choose the right ukulele
- Learn how to hold the instrument correctly
- Tune your ukulele
- Learn about the frets
- Learn the four basic chords of the ukulele
- Learn about the scales
- Try different strumming patterns
- Play a one-chord song
9 Steps to Learn How to Play Ukulele
Now, let’s have an in-depth look at the steps you’ll need to follow to start playing ukulele.
1. Choose the Right Ukulele
The first step, and the most important, in my opinion, is choosing the right ukulele for you. Many types are available on the market, and if you’re inexperienced, you might get confused and buy the wrong one.
There are four main types of the ukulele, soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. Soprano ukuleles are the smallest and most suitable for beginners and people with small hands. Many people also call it the easiest type to learn, but this point depends on your personal preference.
Concert ukuleles are larger than sopranos and breed deeper sounds. I personally prefer concerts to sopranos for beginners because of their richer melodies and ideal sizes. Soprano ukuleles might be too small for some people.
The third type is the tenor ukuleles, and they’re larger than the previous two with a richer tone. Unfortunately, the size of the tenor ukulele deems it less portable than the other types. However, it’s an ideal choice if you plan on playing it while sitting.
The last type is the baritone ukulele, and it’s nearly as large as tenors with a slightly broader build. Baritone ukuleles produce deep and rich sounds and are a joy to play for experts.
If you’re a beginner who hasn’t touched a ukulele before, I recommend getting a soprano or a concert ukulele. They’re comfortable, famous among beginners, and produce delightful sounds.
Also, I don’t recommend buying an expensive instrument unless you’re sure of your passion for the ukulele. First, practice on a budget-friendly one and ensure you want to continue playing it.
2. Learn How to Hold the Ukulele Properly
Holding the ukulele in the correct position is key to playing it right. Also, if you hold it wrong, you risk getting hand and neck cramps.
To hold it properly, place the ukulele against your chest and support it by draping your right forearm near the lower part of the instrument. Then, hold the uke’s neck in your left hand and ensure the grip is comfortable by placing the neck between your index finger and thumb.
After holding the uke correctly, you should test its placement and the movements of your hand. To do so, make sure your left hand can move comfortably and reach the finger ukulele chords to change them. Meanwhile, your right hand should be able to strum the chords.
If you’re left-handed, follow the same steps but reverse your hands. To elaborate, the neck of the ukulele should be in your right hand, and the body should be in your left hand.
You should also know that stringed instruments like the guitar, ukulele, and bass are ideal for left-handers because they don’t require a dominant hand.
3. Tune Your Instrument
There are unlimited ways to tune a ukulele, but I’ll stick to a standard one that’s easy enough for beginner ukulele players.
There are four tuning notes you should know about, G, C, E, and A. Of course, many ukulele players tune their instruments using other notes, but you should stick with these four if you’re a beginner.
First, tune the fourth string on your ukulele, which is closest to your face if you’re holding the instrument properly, to G. Then, tune the third string to C, the second string to E, and the first string to A.
Note that in ukuleles, the lowest-toned string is the third string, not the last one, like in guitars.
If you find tuning your ukulele challenging, you can use the help of smartphone applications or online tools. Also, you’ll probably need to tune your ukulele after each training session because the strings tend to stretch.
4. Learn the Ukulele Frets
Every ukulele has a fretboard on the neck that consists of wood and tiny pieces of metal on its surface. A fretboard is usually divided into three sections, the first, second, and third fret.
The first fret is the one nearest to your face if you’re right-handed. Each fret breeds a unique sound, and you’ll use them all to play different chords. You should also know that the number of frets differs from one instrument to another.
So, for instance, if you know how to play the guitar, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll excel at playing the ukulele right away.
5. Learn the Four Basic Chords of the Ukulele
When you play two or more notes on your ukulele repetitively, this is called a chord. While there are many chords to learn for ukulele playing, you can start with the basic four and go from there. So here’s a quick guide about the four basic chords of the ukulele.
The first ukulele chord, also known as the C chord, is the easiest to learn because you only use one finger, and most beginners begin with it.
You can play it by placing your left ring finger on the third fret of the first string, which is tuned to A, and strum it downwards using your right hand.
To play the F chord, you’ll need to use your index and middle finger on the ukulele’s neck.
First, place your left middle finger on the second fret of the fourth string and your left index finger on the first fret of the second string. Then, strum the strings on the uke’s body using your right thumb and index fingertips.
To play the Am chord, place your left middle finger on the second fret of the fourth string, and strum the other three strings with your right hand.
The G chord is the most challenging of the four because you’ll need three fingers to play it, so it’ll need some more practice.
First, put your left index finger on the second fret of the third string and your ring finger on the third fret of the second string. Then, place your middle finger on the second fret of the first string.
Before practicing G chord strumming patterns with your right hand, you should test each string and ensure it produces a good sound. For instance, the positioning of your fingers might need to change.
If you master these four chords and want to learn more, I recommend you read ukulele chord diagrams.
A chord diagram is a simple chart that shows you all the notes, strings, and frets. While you can’t always play with a chord diagram in front of you, it’ll help you memorize notes at the beginning of your journey.
6. Learn Some Ukulele Scales
After learning the basic ukulele chords, you should start learning the scales. Ukulele scales are sequences of notes, with each scale having eight notes. A ukulele scale should start and end with the same note, with the last note being an octave higher than the first one.
I’ll give you an easy example to help you get going, the C major chord. To play the C major chord scale, you’ll play the C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C notes in this order. However, the last C will be on a different fret than the first one.
You’ll need to learn many scales for playing the ukulele, but starting with the C chord is suitable for beginners and won’t overwhelm you. Also, you might need the help of chord diagrams here.
7. Try Different Strumming Patterns
Many people skip this step, but it’ll help you greatly in the long run. After learning about ukulele chords and scales, you should start practicing different strumming patterns.
What I mean by different is that you should try your hands at strumming downwards and upwards and alternating between the two mid-song.
More so, you should try strumming with your fingers and with a pick. But make sure to use a felt pick to avoid damaging the ukulele strings.
Ideally, you should excel in at least one strumming pattern before going on to the next step.
8. Play a One-Chord Song on Your Instrument
Now, you should be ready to play an entire song on your ukulele. First, look for an easy, one-chord song online, and open its music sheet. Read the sheet carefully and know which ukulele chord you need to play. I personally recommend looking for a C chord song because they’re the easiest.
Practice the chord and the strumming pattern multiple times till you’re sure you can play the song. Then, give it a try!
If it doesn’t sound as good as you thought, don’t be discouraged. It might take a while to learn to play ukulele songs without a chords chart in front of you.
While this doesn’t count as a step, you should take it as a solid piece of advice. Practice is key, especially if you want to learn to play ukulele chords from memory. Ideally, you should practice a different chord or a strumming pattern every day.
Moreover, you should practice positioning your index, middle, and ring finger on the frets. This way, over time, it’ll come more naturally.
In a month or so, you should be able to play ukulele chords from memory and strum a few easy songs. However, this tutorial is only enough to make you a beginner or intermediate. You’ll need more ukulele lessons if you want to take your skills up a notch and become an expert.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Difference Between a Major and a Minor Chord?
Major ukulele chords consist of the first, third, and fifth notes of a major scale. Meanwhile, minor chords consist of the first, flattened third, and fifth notes of a major scale. So the only difference in playing is in the third note. However, regarding sounds, minor chords sound sadder and darker.
Is the Ukulele Easy to Learn?
Yes, the ukulele is easy to learn, mainly because it only has four strings and three frets. Meanwhile, guitars have six strings and 20 or more frets.
What Easy Songs Should I Practice at First?
You can start with One Republic’s Counting Stars. It has a repetitive strumming pattern that consists of only four chords. Then, you can try The Beatles’ Octopus’s Garden, which has four chords and rhythmic breaks to keep you comfortable. Lastly, you can play Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash if you like classics. It has three chords and will take you no time to learn.
The ukulele is an easy instrument to learn, and you can practice the basics within the comforts of your home with the help of my tutorial. The keys to succeeding are learning to hold the instrument right, memorizing the chords, and practicing daily. And that’s it!
Now, you can start your ukulele journey and play songs for your friends and family.