How to Play the Ukulele

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Ukuleles are more popular than ever and the good news is, this is a very easy instrument to learn and play, as well a one of the least expensive instruments. Whether you’re brand new to the concept of making music or if you’ve been playing other instruments for a while now, you’ll appreciate this quick guide to playing the ukulele.

How to Buy a Ukulele

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No ukulele? Don’t worry – even if you can’t find a ukulele locally, there are tons of great options online. If you know someone who plays ukulele, it’s a great idea to ask for some pointers. If not, take some time to check out reviews and learn about what sets different ukuleles apart from one another. Our guide to the best ukuleles for beginners is a good place to start your journey. You can also visit our store for more information

Online Resources to Learn

There are tons of great online resources for learning ukulele, beginning with online lessons. There are quite a few tutorials on YouTube, but these can be a bit confusing unless you’re able to find an instructor who starts at the very beginning and gradually helps you build skills. If you’re not interested in endless searches and you’d rather not take a trial and error approach, consider starting your journey with some free ukulele lessons from our own Terry Carter.

Get your FREE Ukulele Fundamentals Course

  • This 6 lesson mini-course will show you the most important strum patterns used in hundreds of songs
  • Great for the beginner who wants to learn some chords and how to strum properly
  • Master Half Notes, Quarter Notes, and Eighth Notes
  • Develop amazing right hand strumming technique
  • Learn how to play in ‘time’ and keep a solid rhythm
  • Memorize essential major, minor, and 7th chords

Terry starts at the very beginning with a series of introductory lessons designed to help you learn how to hold the ukulele, get it into tune, and more. Next, in his free Ukulele Fundamentals Course, you can pick up more essential skills that help you build a strong foundation without feeling overwhelmed. You can progress to chords and tabs, try out some ukulele strumming lessons, learn basic music reading skills, and even get started with fingerpicking, all without spending any money.

There are lots of other paid and free online ukulele resources; for example, some ukuleles are sold with free lesson packages to help you get started. There are online ukulele forums and communities where players interact and help one another, too. The odds are good that if you have a question, the answer is out there! Exploring is a lot of fun, and learning basic music theory sets you up for a lifetime of enjoyment. Be sure to check out our blog while you’re looking for ukulele learning material. Terry has lots of free ukulele tutorials there, all designed to help you become a better player while having ufn in the process.

How to Play Ukulele Songs

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The easiest way to play any song on the ukulele is to break everything down into small, simple steps that don’t feel intimidating. Songs are made up of single chords, after all! Here’s a simple technique you can use any time you’re ready to learn a new ukulele song:

  • Review the chords that make up the song. You’re going to be amazed at how many popular ukulele songs contain just a few chords! Practice each chord on its own and make sure that you’re confident in your ability to play it. If you need a refresher, check out Terry’s free guide to playing ukulele chords. Once you’ve learned or reviewed the chords, go on to the next step.
  • Check out the song’s strumming pattern. If you need help getting started, take a few minutes to watch Terry’s free ukulele strumming lessons. Once you’ve practiced the strumming pattern, it’s time to put the song’s elements together.
  • Play through the song slowly and deliberately without singing, focusing on the quality and accuracy of your chords and strumming. Don’t worry if it sounds odd – you’re still practicing and learning! Gradually pick up the pace as your confidence increases. Soon, you’ll be playing the song and it will sound recognizable.
  • If you want to sing along, hum the tune or jump right into practicing your vocals while you play. You might find it easiest to break the song down into smaller chunks and gradually work your way toward playing and singing the entire song from beginning to end.
  • Practice the whole song several times. Play around with your style and make it your own! Most of all, have fun.

How to Play Ukulele Chords

If you’re right-handed, your left hand is your fretting hand and your right hand is your strumming hand. If you’re left-handed, it’s the opposite. The easiest ukulele chord is a C, so we’ll use it to demonstrate.

With the ring finger of your fretting hand, cover the third fret of the bottom string (A). Press firmly to ensure that the string is in contact with the fret. Leave the other three strings open.

With your strumming hand, strum down over all four strings. You just played a C chord!

Beginner Tips

As a brand-new ukulele player, the best approach is to start from the very beginning and gradually build skills. Recognize that you probably won’t learn tons of songs overnight this way, but you will be well on your way to building a strong foundation for total mastery of the ukulele. Here are some additional beginner tips to help you on your way.

  • Tune your ukulele frequently, particularly if it’s brand-new. Use a tuner or add an app to your phone.
  • Practice holding your ukulele the right way. A neck strap can help keep you comfortable, particularly if you’re using online learning resources and you need to handle your phone or tablet frequently during practice sessions.
  • Keep things simple so you don’t get overwhelmed. Learn one thing at a time, master it, and then move on. Periodically review what you’ve learned so that you don’t have to start over. As time passes, you’ll be able to remember basic chords and play your favorite songs from memory.
  • Immerse yourself in ukulele music. Listen to ukulele music, watch other players, and see what you can pick up along the way.
  • Practice! The more you practice, the better your results will be.
  • Sore fingers are normal in the beginning. Keep your practice sessions fairly short – 10 to 15 minutes or so – during the first several days and gradually build your way toward longer sessions. Don’t worry – your hands will soon be up to the task of playing as long as you like.

Last but not least, have fun! Don’t expect too much of yourself, particularly during the earliest days. Everyone – even the most talented players – had to start at the very beginning just like you’re doing now. It takes time to become a skilled musician so be patient with yourself as you build your knowledge. With consistent practice and repetition, you’ll soon be strumming your favorite songs.

 

FAQs

  1. Can you learn ukulele by yourself?

Since ukulele is one of the easiest instruments to play, it’s possible to get started by yourself. If in-person lessons or online lessons aren’t in your budget at the moment, you can still get started. Terry’s Free Ukulele Fundamentals Course is a great way to learn the basics without spending any money.

  1. How do I get better at ukulele?

In a word, practice! Spend at least a few minutes with your ukulele every day and gradually build new skills on top of what you’ve already learned. There are a few other ways to improve your ukulele skills. Besides practicing, listen to ukulele music, watch the way others handle their instruments, and read up on music theory.

  1. Is ukulele easy to learn?

Yes! Ukulele is one of the easiest instruments to learn and play. It has only four strings, you can get started without knowing how to read music, and there are lots of simple songs that sound great, which is very encouraging when you’re a beginner.

  1. How do you play ukulele chords?

Start by looking at the chord chart for the chord you’d like to play. Place your fingers on the corresponding strings at the fret position indicated on the chart and press firmly. Make sure that your fingers aren’t accidentally touching strings other than those that make up your chosen chord. With the other hand, strum firmly. You’ve just played a chord on the ukulele!

  1. What are the basic chords for ukulele?

There are over 100 ukulele chords but most songs are based on just a handful! The major ukulele chords are C, D, E, F, G, A & B. The minor chords are Cm, Dm, Em, Fm, Gm, Am, & Bm.

  1. Is the ukulele a serious instrument?

Absolutely! It’s true that there are lots of fun, simple songs for ukulele – but it’s also true that one can learn to play traditional Hawaiian music, jazz, classical, blues, flamenco, and other serious music styles on the ukulele.

  1. What are the 4 types of ukulele?

The four basic ukulele types are soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.

  1. Can I play ukulele with long nails?

Some artists do learn to play the ukulele with long nails, but it’s easiest to play with fairly short nails. Most experts recommend keeping the nails on your fretting hand short, and allowing the nails on your strumming hand to grow just a bit so that you can use them to produce a clean, ringing sound.

  1. Should I use a pick for ukulele?

It’s a matter of personal preference. Some people like to use a pick to play ukulele, while others prefer the versatility of strumming with their fingertips as it’s easier to switch over to finger picking. Some use picks for certain ukulele songs and opt to go pick-free for other tunes.

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