Holding a ukulele properly is one of the most essential skills a ukulele player like yourself can learn. The right grip and posture will help you play smoother, play for longer, and it can even prevent injury. In this article we’ll teach you all the tips and tricks on how to hold a ukulele.
Many players inadvertently skip this crucial step. Why? Probably because the ukulele is so small and compact compared to other instruments – so how hard could it really be to hold one? Well, anyone who’s ever held a human baby knows that size doesn’t matter in such… matters. And really, how different from a baby is a ukulele?
I mean seriously, we uke players treat our instruments like they are our kids, so let’s learn to hold them properly for goodness sake!
How To Hold A Ukulele
When it comes to holding a ukulele, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every uke player is different, and so is every uke! However, there are a number of tips and tricks you can use that will move you in the right direction and help you avoid any major mistakes that can cause you (or your uke) pain down the road.
Disclaimer: The following tips are assuming you don’t have a strap for your instrument. Straps can add a lot of support, and there are a wide variety of strap types available for uke, but in this article, we are going to focus on what it takes to hold your uke with nothing but your own sweet loving arms!
Points of Contact
When it comes to holding a ukulele, the most important thing to understand is what your points of contact are. In other words, where precisely the ukulele makes contact with your body and vice versa. These points will be slightly different depending on the player, the uke, and whether you are standing or sitting, but there are some general guidelines to follow.
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The first point of contact is between the body of your ukulele and your own. Start by holding the back of your ukulele up against your mid section, somewhere between your stomach and your chest. Again, everyone’s anatomy is different, so play around with the positioning until you find a level and positioning that is comfortable for you.
Strumming Arm Contact
For the majority of uke players this will be their right arm, but for the sake of inclusivity I’ll be using the terms strumming arm and fretting hand. This one’s for you, lefties!
Ok, so at this point you are probably cradling your ukulele with your strumming arm in order to hold it up to your mid section. Depending on the size of your uke and your style of playing – i.e. if you are just strumming on a soprano uke – you may already be in the best position. However, this technique will not work as well when using larger ukes or when finger picking, so what you want to try here is to place the fleshy inner, lower bit of your forearm (somewhere roundabout the elbow) on top of the uke, slightly above the bridge. Your arm should be somewhere near a 90 degree angle at the elbow, but make sure the position is comfortable.
This is probably the most important point of contact, so it is important to get it right. You don’t want to push down on the ukulele too hard, or the neck of your instrument will swing out and away from your fretting hand and you will create opposing forces when trying to hold down chords. Don’t fight yourself! The key here is to apply a very gentle pressure, while allowing the friction between your arm and the ukulele to do the work.
TIP: Try for direct skin-to-uke contact here. If you have long sleeves, roll them up! The friction created by your skin touching the wood of the uke will do a much better job of holding it in place and therefore will require less pressure to hold it in place. This works especially well with ukes that have a glossy finish!
Fretting Hand Contact
The final point of contact is between the neck of your ukulele and your fretting hand. So take your fretting hand and hold it out as if you are going to shake someone’s hand. Pretend like it’s a super formal business setting and really ham it up, make it nice and straight! Now, take the neck of your uke and place it on top of your pointer finger, in between the metacarpophalangeal joint and the proximal interphalangeal joint – or in layperson terms, the base knuckle and the middle knuckle (oh the things you learn while researching knuckles for an ukulele article!).
This positioning will allow you to support the weight of the uke while still allowing you to slide up and down the neck. It also frees up your thumb to use as a support on the back of the neck. It may take some getting used to, but practice fretting chords like this and soon you will find it doable.
Remember, your fretting hand is simply like a mantle, the uke is resting on it, not being held by it.
An additional point of contact – only available if you are sitting down – is on your thigh. If your uke is small enough, you may not even use this, regardless of if you are sitting or standing. For larger ukes however, resting the uke on your thigh (instead of holding it to your mid section) can greatly help support the uke.
Side note: Playing in this position will cause the neck of the uke to be at more of a 45 degree angle, as opposed to parallel.
Trial and Error
Like I said at the beginning, there is no one-size-fits-all rule to holding a ukulele. Depending on things like what type of music you are playing, or the size of your uke, or the shape of your body, the positioning of your forearm, or of the uke on your midsection may change. For example, to play fingerstyle ukulele you will need to move your whole arm backwards a bit so that you are picking the ukulele over the soundhole as opposed to over the fretboard where you normally strum. In this form you will have less surface contact with the body of the uke and may find it more difficult to hold it up. If you plan on playing a lot of finger style, and would like to be able to play while standing, it could be worth having strap buttons installed or investing in a soundhole strap.
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All in all, this is one of the most commonly asked ukulele questions – I’ve asked it myself many times over the years (and still ask it from time to time, as it’s fluid and things can change over time). It’s good practice to watch different people and see how they do it, I find, as each one has a slightly different method and will offer slightly different possibilities. So don’t just take it from me, go look up some more videos or articles and see what others are saying. It’s a combination of research and experimentation, and I’ll be right here with you, tweaking my own methods and figuring out what tweaks work best for me!
For more lessons on chords, techniques, and songs to help you along on your own uke journey, make sure to check out our site www.ukelikethepros.com. We offer you a bunch of great ukulele content that comes hand-in-hand with an awesome ukulele community that will support you in this journey.