Playing the ukulele is becoming a popular pastime among people all around the world. However, it might seem daunting to try to learn how to play this brand-new instrument. There are not very many simplified guides online that can help you out.
This guide will provide you with an easy step-by-step manual to help you learn how to play this wonderful instrument. Though it will still take a lot of practice, the steps listed here should be an excellent kicking-off point to get you started on your ukulele journey.
So let’s learn how to play ukulele!
Find a Comfortable Spot to Rest
When playing the ukulele, you will need to be in a comfortable position so you can practice without the issue of arm, back, or leg pain. Your unique playing stance can either be standing up or sitting down, whichever is more comfortable for you.
The best places to station yourself for learning the ukulele include:
- A sofa: This should be one with quality back support and a place you can rest your arms.
- A bed: Rest your back against your wall and make yourself comfortable in your bed.
- The floor: Again, brace your back against the wall to ensure that you don’t hurt yourself if you’re practicing for a long time.
Whatever you choose, make sure that your back is provided with support as you begin to learn. Practicing should devote your time to the instrument, not with hurting yourself. Sit against a wall or use a chair with a great back to support you on your journey.
Learn How to Hold the Instrument
There are several ways that you can hold the ukulele, all of which have their specific benefits. We will discuss the most popular techniques and the one that will allow you the simplest access to the string.
To hold the ukulele, follow these simple steps:
- Place it against your chest: Once you’ve picked up the ukulele by the neck, pull it close to your body. Ensure that your forearm lies across the front edge of the lower ukulele.
- Tilt it upwards: With the uke tight, you can tilt the head upwards a little bit. This movement will make it easier for you to play.
- Bend your elbow: This should be done at a 90-degree angle while pressing the ukulele into your chest. This angle relaxes once you start playing to avoid strain in your arm and back.
- Hold it tight: Make sure that your grip is strong enough to keep the ukulele in position for you to play it.
Once you’ve established your position, continue to correct your grip as you start to learn. It’s critical to make sure that you stay in this position. Soon it will become natural, and your body will fall into action when you pick up the instrument.
For those who are left-handed, switch your hands and follow the same set of steps. Nothing changes except this when switching hands.
Tune the Ukulele
There are many ways to tune a ukulele, but we will be discussing the standard version here. It’s the easiest for beginners and operates in line with how most songs come into existence for the ukulele.
The lower right knob should be tuned to A, while the lower left is tuned to a high G. The top right is tuned to E, while the top left tunes to a C. Some of the tools you can use to make sure that you’re tuning the piece properly include:
- Tuning apps: There are many apps for free that you can find on smartphones meant for tuning instruments. Some are even created specifically for the ukulele. These can help you understand if you’re working in the right direction.
- Microphone-based tuner: This is a physical tuner that takes in the notes of the string and lets you know if it is in the right key.
- Clip-on tuner: This tunes clips to the head and measures the vibrations that happen inside of the ukulele. These can help to determine the key as well.
- Using another ukulele: If you or a friend has a tuned ukulele, you might compare yours to what theirs is. You can keep altering and tweaking until they sound the same.
There are many other tools available besides these to help you in the first stages of tuning. You might also want to research videos to help you understand or visit your local music store. They’ll gladly help you out with the process of making your ukulele sound like perfection. You can also watch a tutorial below:
Understand the Name of Each String
As you tune, you can take this time to get familiar with the name and placements of each of the strings if you don’t already know them. They represent different notes, and each makes different sounds thanks to the variations in thickness and tautness of the lines.
The four strings on the ukulele are the:
- G string: This is the lowest string in terms of position on your ukulele. Rather than being a low G, this is a high one.
- C string: This is the third-lowest string in terms of position but the lowest tone overall.
- E string: This is the second-lowest string in terms of position.
- A string: This is the highest string in both position and tone.
It helps if you think of the strings in order. You might notice that the lowest-tones string is not placed on the very bottom. This positioning is different from the ukulele’s sister instrument, the guitar. It’s created this way because it gives the ukulele a bright and charming sound versus the lower strum of a guitar due to its descending tone order.
Understand What Frets Are
Another piece of the ukulele that will be important to know is an item known as the fret. These are the vertical pieces of metal that lay across the fretboard. The fretboard is the piece of wood attached to the neck, running behind the string. It’s where your fingers lie when you play.
The fretboard is divided up into three vertical sections. These are known as the:
- First fret: This is the closest to you if you are right-handed.
- Second fret: This fret is directly in the middle of the board.
- Third fret: This is the lowest one down if you are right-handed.
These will come into more use later on when we discuss beneficial chords and scales. For now, it is just critical to know them. Each fret will allow different pitches and tones to come through your ukulele, permitting you to play unique songs and variations of basic chords.
I’d advise you look at ukulele chord diagrams to get a better feel of this if you don’t have your ukulele currently with you.
Get Into the Proper Mindset to Play
Before you play, it’s important to clear your mind of any frustrations or irritations that might be clouding your mind. With learning any instrument, a clear head is the best state to start in. That way, you can handle mistakes and take them one chord at a time.
Before you begin, assess your current headspace. Are you frustrated? Mad? Sad? Is your brain simply cluttered with the activities of the day? To clear these impulsive emotions, you might try:
- Taking a deep breath, holding it, and exhaling
- Counting backward from twenty with your eyes closed
- Having a brief walk outside in the fresh air
You will notice a massive difference in your willingness to learn and relax if you take the time to calm yourself down before any ukulele session. It might seem like a silly and unnecessary step, but it does wonders for preparing yourself to be willing to learn.
Practice Strumming Patterns
Once you have your uke and body fully prepped, you are ready to start understanding how to play this wonderful instrument. Before you can play any song, it is crucial to learn how to strum. These will help you to get in the rhythm of pushing the ukulele strings.
Not all strumming patterns are created equal. We will discuss a few that are very effective for brand-new players and one that is a little more advanced.
The Down Strum
The down strum is as simple as you can get. Just move your fingers downwards on the strings to produce a beautiful noise. You can practice doing this to a beat or counting out a rhythm yourself.
The down strum is meant to get you acquainted with the feeling of strumming the ukulele. It might feel strange to your fingers at first, but they will get accustomed to the sensation over time.
Invest in a Metronome
One of the items that can help you keep a beat in the music world is the metronome. This small device counts out a beat and can be set to a variety of different tempos. They come in variations that are electric or traditional.
The metronome is an excellent guide if you need help keeping a beat. It’s a worthy investment for any blossoming musician. They will help you become accustomed to the various tempos that exist within the music. It’s something that will help you out for a long, long time. Strumming becomes more purposeful with the guidance of a metronome.
Protect Your Fingers
If you use this basic strum and it hurts your fingers, there are a few options that you can take. You might:
- Continue: You can choose to push on through the pain until your fingers are used to the feeling of the strings. Often, callouses will form over the places on your fingers that hurt. These will protect your hands from feeling any aching that strings create.
- Invest in a pick: Though a pick isn’t the most common item for ukulele players to own, you can buy one if it will protect your fingers. These are sold in any instrument store and online.
- Purchase finger protectors: Individual finger protectors exist on the market, made for those who want to protect their fingers while playing an instrument. They are sold online and in stores for an affordable price.
Once you’ve protected your hands and ensured that you have access to a proper beat, you’re ready to move on to the next level of strumming. Your fingers are ready.
The Down/Up Strum
The down/up strum adds a form of movement to the strum we just learned. You’ll start by performing the classic downward strum, but instead of doing another one down, you will strum upwards. This will follow a pattern which goes:
As with the basic down strum, using a metronome will help you to get the hang of this. Do it over and over again until you feel like you have it down. Practice makes perfect in the case of strumming. It’s the foundation for the music that the ukulele produces.
The Calypso Strum
This is the most complicated of the strums and one that a beginner doesn’t need to attempt on their first dabble in strumming. This method follows the following beat:
Essentially, this is a 1,2, and, and 4 rhythm. It’s tricky. The best way to understand it is to repeat it over and over again, though getting started might be a trick. This is perhaps the easiest of the hard strums.
Learn Some Basic Chords
With several strumming patterns in your back pocket, you are now ready to attempt some basic chords. These are the roots of the sound for every song played on the ukulele, so it is crucial to becoming familiar with them as you continue on your ukulele journey.
Four basic chords will serve you well to become familiar with. We’ll go over them so that you can get a better understanding of how to perform them with your ukulele.
The G major chord is one of the most familiar chords across all genres of music. It is made up of three simple notes:
The G major chord is incredibly versatile, so it is critical to know it to increase your ability to play other songs. It will help to stretch your musical ability much farther than you ever might have thought possible.
How to Play the G Major Chord
The G major chord is played with certain finger placement on the strings and the frets of the ukulele. By following these steps, you can produce the G major chord with a simple strum. Place your fingers as such on each of the strings:
- C string: Place your index finger on the second fret.
- A string: Place your middle finger on the second fret.
- E string: Place your ring finger on the third fret.
Once you have your fingers in place, you can practice strumming and replacing them to master this ability. It can be tricky to keep your fingers in the right positions at first, but with time it will come.
The C chord is a staple of playing that everyone in every instrument needs to understand. The C major chord is the easiest of these to learn and use. It’s involved in nearly every single song that’s available.
We’ll go over how to play this incredibly easy chord. It will help you a lot as you go about learning and understanding brand-new songs.
How to Play the C Major Chord
The C major chord operates a little differently than its counterparts. It’s simple. All you need to do is handle the:
- A string: Place your ring finger on the third fret.
- Your other fingers: Allow these to lay loose, and don’t touch the rest of the strings with them.
Of course, there are variations of this chord that are a little more involved. This version is the best and easiest chord for beginners to become familiar with, so you should practice your C major chord with this one until you feel advanced enough to try an alternative. You might also watch a tutorial here:
The D major chord is another popular group of notes. Along with the C major and G major, it’s a staple of many songs. Knowing this one will help to widen your ability to play many songs.
The D major chord is a bit more complicated than the C major. It’s not, however, too difficult for a beginner to understand.
How to Play the D Major Chord
The D major chord is played with a certain arrangement of fingers. By placing your fingers in this way, your strum can produce a unique sound that fits in many songs.
The D major chord can be played by putting your fingers in the following ways on these strings:
- G string: The middle finger goes on the second fret.
- C string: The ring finger foes on the second fret.
- E string: The little finger goes on the second fret.
All of the fingers fall on the same fret with this chord. Take care to make sure that your fingers don’t fall out of line, as that will change the overall tone and pitch of the chord.
The E minor has the most abstract noise of these four basic chords. Being a minor chord, the notes tend to be sharper and more abstract than with the major chord.
Using this chord will add a level of depth to your music. Minors and majors each will impact your playing in different ways.
How to Play the E Minor Chord
Like the other chords, the E minor one requires the use of multiple fingers to play the correct notes. This can be achieved by using different fingers on the following strings:
- A string: The index finger goes on the second fret.
- E string: The middle finger is placed on the third fret.
- C string: The ring finger goes on the fourth fret.
These fingers are on the neck in descending order. Once you’ve got this positioning down, you can practice strumming with this unique chord.
Learn Some Basic Scales
The next natural progression from learning chords is to learn the scales that accompany them. While it’s a bit trickier, this is a step that is necessary to learn before attempting a full song on your new instrument.
Scales are a step up from the chord. They are a progression of notes in a certain order, either by whole or half steps. Some of the most common chords in the ukulele world include:
- C major: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.
- D major: D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D.
- E major: E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E.
- F major: F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F
- G major: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G.
- A major: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A.
- B major: B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B.
All of these are played by moving up a whole step or a half step on the strings. This is done by moving up and down on the strings and measuring the distance between the frets. Sharps go up a half step, while flats go down a half step. Combining chords and scales will allow you to create music.
Learn a Simple Song
Now that you have the chords and scales mastered, you can put them into action by learning a simple song. It’s important to stick with something easy o=for your very first time. It might seem tempting to jump right into trickier numbers, but it’s best to stay within your comfort zone at first.
Selecting a simple song can be a little confusing. It’s hard to know what deems something as easy to play. There are a few criteria for this that you might want to use in your search.
What Does a Simple Song Consist of?
A simple song does not consist of much. Pick one that holds a basic scale or a song that has been altered for beginners. You do not want to attempt anything too complicated for your first shot at making music. An easy song should have:
- Simplicity in finger placement: The song should not use chords that require four fingers. Three should be the maximum.
- Limited chords: It should possess four or fewer chords within the music. More than that isn’t suitable for a beginner.
- Simplicity: The song should be able to be played by everyone, no matter the skill level that they’re at.
If a song checks all of these criteria, it’s a good beginner song. If not, you’re always welcome to attempt it. However, it may be a bit more frustrating than choosing to take on an easy song.
The Best Simple Songs for Beginners
There are a few very easy songs that you can look at when trying to take the next step with your ukulele playing. These consist of:
- Riptide by Vance Joy: This song has a strum that’s fun to learn and easy for a beginner to pick up on.
- Octopus’s Garden by The Beatles: This piece has a fun mix of strumming and harmonious moments that serve as a great challenge for any newbie on the ukulele.
- Leaving On A Jet Plane by John Denver: This melancholy melody follows the same three chords the entire time and works very well as a masterful song.
- You Are My Sunshine: This classic American song only consists of three chords.
Once you’ve picked one that you like, take the time to attempt it. There may be chords and strums that you’ve never heard of. This can be remedied with a little research and persistence. In no time, you’ll have your very first song under your belt.
Practice Like You Mean It
Mastering a song is only the beginning of this process. If you want to get good from this point on, you need to practice every single day as if you were starting from scratch. The only way to get better at something is to do it over and over again until it is mastered.
Practicing might seem like a hassle, but it’s worth it in the end. The more that you put in, the more you’ll get out. There are many benefits to practicing, which include:
- Stress relief
- Improvement of patience
- Strengthening of memory
- Benefits blood flow to the brain
- Getting better at a brand-new instrument
The more you practice, the more you’ll get out of this new thing that you’ve picked up. Putting in the work will work wonders for many aspects of your life.
Decide How Advanced You Will Push To Be
Are you learning the ukulele for a one-time show, or do you want to grow in expertise over time? This is an important decision to make, as it impacts how much time you are going to put into deciphering the notes of the instrument.
You can always stay at the basic level with the ukulele, using it as a party trick or when you need a good tune. Or you can master the ukulele and play any song that you’d like. This will take a lot of work, but if you want it, you can achieve it.
How To Play Ukulele For Beginners, Closing Thoughts
That’s it, our beginners guide on how to play the ukulele. I’m sure it’ll be a great starting point for anyone looking to play the uke, especially if you’ve been strumming along while reading this.
That said, this is just the basics. There are many things you’ll only get with more in-depth ukulele lessons, so if you’re ready to take things to the next level you’ll want to check that out.