Learning to play the ukulele sounds like fun, right?
At some point we’ve all dreamt of playing on stage like our favourite artists, only to find that picking up an instrument is much easier said than done.
But the ukulele is actually one of the simplest instruments to learn. If you’re one of those people who think it’s too late to master this instrument, you’re totally wrong!
Here I am going to show you 5 great steps that will help anyone learn how to play the ukulele, and even provide a source where you can find some professional help.
1. Find a Decent Ukulele That Works for You
I already know what you’re thinking:
“What kind of list is this going to be if number 1 is Buy a Ukulele?! ”
Well the truth of the matter is that the ukulele you buy is actually very important. I’m not saying to go and drop hundreds of dollars on a vintage hand carved Hawaiian ukulele, but like many things in life there is a price point that you want to avoid buying your first ukulele at.
I would say around $20 is where you should start looking.
My first ukulele cost me $5 at the surf shop while I was on vacation. Although I thought I had gotten the deal of the century, I soon realized that I got exactly what I paid for.
The strings were flimsy and resembled fishing line, and most of the frets would play exactly the same note. It wasn’t much later that I found it necessary to upgrade in order to properly learn the instrument.
Ukuleles come in all different shapes and sizes. Starting from smallest to largest there are sopranos, concert, and tenor ukuleles. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the ukulele, the deeper the sound.
They all play relatively the same, so pick whichever works for you. I personally own all three types but prefer my soprano and concert ukuleles over the tenor. For more details, you can check out this ukulele buying guide for beginners.
Great! You’ve found the perfect ukulele. All of the strings are tightly wound and tuned to perfection, now it is time to begin with the real fun.
2. Become Familiar With Chord Shapes In Order to Make Things Easier
When most people think of the ukulele they picture a large hawaiian man on a beach strumming to the tune of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” I know I did!
When I first started playing I always thought that song would be a great milestone for me to eventually work up to learning.
In reality, it was one of the first songs I learned and it happened much sooner than I had ever anticipated.
Learning and memorizing chord shapes is the first step to becoming a true ukulele master. You might think that I’m lying, but after I learned my first 4 chords I was able to play dozens of popular songs.
A good way to do this is to find a song you want to learn that has only a few chords in it.
Memorize those chord shapes, knowing which fingers to place on which fret and string. This will take some time but don’t let it discourage you. Muscle memory will kick in and soon you won’t even have to look at your fretting hand.
I found that by taking 2 of the chords and constantly switching from one to the other was the most helpful way to learn. It builds your muscle memory up quicker and makes the transition from chord to chord a lot smoother.
3. Learn the Strumming Patterns to Add a Unique Flair to Your Music
Now that you’ve picked out a simple song and have memorized the chord shapes and progression to some extent, it is time to give that song a unique touch.
This is done primarily by implementing different strumming patterns. A strumming pattern is basically the rhythm that you strum the strings in a series of up and down strokes to create the melody.
If you’re anything like me then your first strumming pattern should look something like this:
Down.. Down.. Down.. Down..
And that’s okay!
But once you’ve mastered that it is time to add a little something extra to the rhythm.
That something extra is going to be the up strokes.
There are many different ways to strum the strings, both up and down, but the method I found the most useful was to strum down with my pointer finger allowing the flat surface of the nail to glide across each string (almost like you’re flicking all of the strings).
Then for the up strokes you can use the flat surface of your thumb nail to drag over the strings. It is important to remember that these are only what i found the most useful to learn, and different strumming techniques will produce different sounds.
4. Use Tabs to Learn How to Play Practically Any Song
This is where things start to really get good.
You now know some basic chord shapes and strumming patterns, which is more than enough to start playing some songs.
The secret is learning to read tablature (or tab for short).
Tab is much easier to read than it may seem at first.
Most ukulele tab is arranged in the form of four horizontal lines with numbers at various points on the lines. Each line corresponds to a string on the instrument, and each number represents what fret should be held down on that string.
Once you have learned to read tab correctly you are truly on your way to mastering the ukulele.
5. Personal Tips and Tricks from an Advanced Ukulele Player
After playing the ukulele for over 5 years I have developed little tips and tricks along the way that you may find useful when learning the instrument.
It may sound odd but trim those fingernails! Not so much that you draw blood, but keep them relatively short so that you are able to hold the strings down without your nails getting in the way or digging into the fretboard.
Get yourself a tuner. I personally use a tuning app on my smart phone. There are many out there that are free and they make a huge difference since your ukulele will always be perfectly tuned.
Most importantly, if you truly desire to master the ukulele nothing will help you progress more than getting lessons from a professional.
I understand that many people simply don’t have the time to go out and find a tutor to take lessons from, which is why I would highly recommend getting online lessons. You get to learn the instrument at your own pace from the comfort of your own home.
Talk about a win-win!
So if you’ve taken anything from the points that I’ve mentioned here, the most important advice I can give to anyone looking to learn the ukulele (or any new instrument) would be to not give up.
The early stages may be rough at first and you may find yourself in a love-hate relationship with your instrument, but we’ve all heard it hundreds of times and there have never been more true words spoken…
Practice makes perfect!