One of the first things that new ukulele players have to figure out is how exactly to hold their instrument. While the professionals make it look effortless, you’ll soon discover that holding the instrument while playing is not as easy as it looks.
In this article, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about holding a ukulele on its own, and we’ll also talk about straps, and how and when to use them.
Play around with our tips and tricks, and bear in mind that you might decide to do things slightly differently depending on whether you are playing a lightweight soprano ukulele or a larger and heavier tenor.
Get Your Posture Right
The first thing to consider when holding a ukulele is actually your posture because this will make a big difference in how easy it is to hold your instrument.
If you are playing your ukulele slouched on the couch, you will find that the angle at which you are holding the ukulele in relation to your body makes it challenging for your neck hand to properly reach the strings. You will find that the instrument is at an angle that requires you to twist your wrist in an unnatural and uncomfortable way.
Not only is this bad for your playing, it can also be bad for your wrist. You might find that if you consistently play like this, you will end up with some wrist pain and strain. You want to sit up pretty straight so that you can hold the ukulele horizontally in front of your body. This will automatically have you putting your neck wrist at the best possible angle.
Angle Your Instrument Correctly
As well as having your ukulele correctly angled in relation to your body, you also need to hold the neck at the correct angle.
If you hold the neck straight, again you will find that you need to manipulate your neck wrist to a strange angle in order to properly reach the strings.
Ideally, you want to tilt the neck upward at about 45 degrees so that, when the neck sits in your hand, your wrist is pretty much straight. This will make it easier for you to support the ukulele and hit all the notes that you want to reach.
Holding A Ukulele Without A Strap
If you are going to play your ukulele without a strap, you are going to need to use your arms and your body to hold the instrument in place.
Most of the weight of the ukulele will need to be borne by the strumming arm, which needs to press the ukulele into your body to keep the instrument in place. You should be pressing the ukulele against the high mid-point of your torso, with the soundhole pretty much over the center of your chest.
There are two main ways to do this.
The first is to press your forearm into the top half of the body of the ukulele. This should be done in such a way that, while you’re pressing the ukulele, your fingers are resting where the body meets the neck, which is the perfect place to strum the instrument.
Your other option is to rest the body of the ukulele in the crook of your elbow. You will then find your hand reaching slightly upward to strum. This will generally see the ukulele sitting higher up on your body, which some players prefer.
Whichever way you choose to hold the body, you will also need to support the neck of the uke. Basically, the neck should be resting lightly on the fleshy part of your index finger that is closest to your palm.
If you want to see how to hold a ukulele using these methods, watch our How To Hold A Ukulele Tutorial below.
Should You Use A Strap?
If you have watched any of our videos, you’ve probably noticed that we usually use a strap when we play. This is a personal preference, both to reduce the weight of the ukulele in the hands, but also because it means that we can stop and talk without having to put the ukulele down.
But should you be using a strap? Well, that will come down to your personal preference. But there are a few things to consider.
First of all, what type of ukulele are you using? If you are using a tiny soprano, the instrument is probably light enough that you don’t need a strap, and a strap might even feel a little cumbersome on the tiny instrument.
However, if you are using a larger tenor or a baritone, you might find that a strap significantly increases your comfort while playing.
Also, how are you playing? If you are strumming your ukulele, you will probably find it very easy to hold your ukulele in place without a strap. But if you are doing complicated fingerpicking, or stretching your neck fingers to play higher complex notes, you will probably find that your stability is reduced.
How To Use A Strap
If you do decide to use a strap, you have a few options for attaching it.
First, check whether your ukulele has a button to connect the strap to the heel of the body. If it does, great. If it doesn’t, you can add one. But you might not want to do that if it is a particularly nice instrument and you don’t want to drill into it. But that’s OK, you can also get straps that hook onto the soundhole of the ukulele. No drilling required.
However, be forewarned that, unlike a traditional strap, if you use one of these straps that attach to the soundhole, the ukulele will fall forward if you let go of the instrument. So you do need to keep your hands on the ukulele at all times, though you don’t need to hold its weight.
For the other end of the strap, you can either wrap the strap around the headstock end of the neck or you can put another button on the heel (the underside of the neck where it meets the body). The former is usually better for smaller ukuleles, while the latter can feel more comfortable when you have a larger instrument.
Once you have your strap attached, it is important to use it correctly, positioning the ukulele at the right height for your hands and keeping the ukulele neck at the magic 45-degree angle.
You can learn more about straps here.
How To Play Sitting Down
If you are playing while sitting down, then you also have the option of resting the body of the ukulele on your thigh. Place the lower angle of the body on your thigh so that the uke points upward at a 45-degree angle and both of your hands are in the right position.
How Do You Hold A Ukulele Left-Handed?
Holding a ukulele when left-handed is exactly the same as it is for right-handed players— just flip the ukulele around so that the neck is in your right hand. That said, you can’t just flip and play a right-handed player’s instrument, as the strings will be upside down. You will need to correctly string the instrument for a southpaw.
How Hard Do You Press Down On Ukulele Strings?
Ideally, you should find the “sweet spot” when pressing on the ukulele strings. You want to press hard enough so that the sound rings out clearly, but not so hard that you both tire out your fingers and stretch the strings out of tune. The sweet spot is playing as close to the higher fret as possible without being on top of the fret. This will produce a clear and balanced sound and requires the least amount of pressure.
When you get the fundamentals down, you will find that your progress toward mastering the ukulele becomes faster and smoother. Holding the ukulele correctly is one of the most fundamental elements of mastering the instrument.
The key is to secure the ukulele between your body and your strumming arm by applying a little bit of pressure so that it stays in place.
After that, it is all about getting the ukulele at the correct angle, parallel to your body with the neck tipped up at about 45 degrees, so that your fingers can reach the strings with ease and you don’t need to twist your wrist at a weird angle to reach the notes that you want.
If you struggle with this, you are doing challenging fingerwork that makes holding the ukulele difficult. Or, if you just prefer the freedom of having your hands free, you can always invest in a strap to hold the ukulele in place for you.
What do you think? Do you like to use a strap when playing the ukulele, or do you prefer to hold the instrument yourself? Let us know in the comments section below.