How To Teach Yourself To Play The Ukulele

The Father of Ukulele...
The Father of Ukulele...

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Choosing your uke!

The most important part of learning to play is choosing your ukulele. The four main types are all different in sound, size and character and you should choose one which suits you!

For beginners, a soprano is usually best. When you first start you won't have the finger flexibility of trained players so a smaller soprano with smaller frets makes it a lot easier to learn.

After a while upgrade to a concert - they have more frets which improves your range of songs and they have so much more depth to their sound and can really fill a room better.

My first uke was a 12-fret soprano Korala, still one of my favourites because its still close to my heart.
My first uke was a 12-fret soprano Korala, still one of my favourites because its still close to my heart.

Technique

Moving on to actually playing the ukulele, there are several different topics to be covered:

  • Grip

Holding the ukulele seems straightforward but the key is stability. When your ukulele is firm and secure, it makes changing chords a lot easier and when you feel in control of your uke - you feel in control of your music. Your ukulele should, for right handed players, have the base firmly tucked under your right armpit and the fretboard should travel across horizontally. If your ukulele is large, it is ok to rest it on your hip and press it against your body for stability.

  • Finger Placement

Using your left hand, it should go around the back of the fretboard so your fingers curl in towards you. Having good technique early makes things a lot easier in the long run, your fingers should be tight, precise and make as little contact with the fretboard as possible. Often the cause of bad sounds is strings touching the wrong finger so you should make sure your fingers are touching the string needed and nothing else. At first some chords may seem out of range of your fingers, with time it will come and it definitely gets easier.

  • Strumming

Another great ukulele player is Jake Shimabukuro, you may know him from playing Bohemian Rhapsody on a TED Talk. He is a great technical player and has a great video on strum patterns which should be towards the bottom of this article! The key to strumming well, I believe, is confidence. You should feel good about when you strum. Your hand should move uniformly up and down but only actually strumming selectively. More advanced players should try plucking strings individually between strums. A great traditional Hawaiian pattern is to pluck the C-string then strum up and strum down, then strum down and strum up, repeating for as long as you need.

Jake Shimabukuro On Strumming!

Upgrade

Eventually I upgraded to an 18-fret Brunswick BU4C - a great concert uke with a lot of depth and a lot of soul.
Eventually I upgraded to an 18-fret Brunswick BU4C - a great concert uke with a lot of depth and a lot of soul.
  • Enjoy playing the uke - it should never be a chore
  • Just relax, chill, listen and jam
  • Get your friends involved
  • Listen to some of the greats like Jake Shimabukuro and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

Playing The Right Songs...

The most important tool in your arsenal is your passion. That's why its important to choose songs to play which you enjoy or feel passionately about.

When I first started playing I decided to go straight for learning Bohemian Rhapsody. This was a really valuable experience as being thrown in at the deep end helped me to learn quick. There are a lot of resources out there for ukulele tabs - a quick Google search can tell you that. But the great players take a song and make it their own. Its easy to play 4 chords over and over in a row. Try changing your strum pattern, why not pluck some strings and see what happens. Slow down or speed up or strum harder or leave a silence. Experiment! Make a song your own!

A great resource for beginners and experts alike is the "Ukulele Wednesdays Songbook" which contains hundreds of classic and modern songs and is great for gatherings and impressing people!

Moving On

Now you know the basics of ukulele, push yourself. There are so many cool techniques and tricks for the ukulele so get creative! Learn how to hammer on, pull off, use the uke base as a percussion tool, run your finger up the fretboard to get a rattle sound. Pull the strings for a more edgy tone to your songs, and never stop learning!

See Uke-later!

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