When you think of musical solos, what do you think of? Maybe you picture someone shredding on an electric guitar in front of a screaming crowd, or a violinist striking powerful notes while accompanied by an orchestra. Or maybe you think of a famous pop singer belting out high notes (that you and I could never hit once) like they grow on trees. Those are all great examples of soloing, but if you didn’t think of the ukulele, think again! You can totally solo on the ukulele, and we are here to show you how!
It doesn’t matter if you’re a total beginner, and it doesn’t matter what kind of ukulele you have (concert, tenor, baritone, high G or low G), in this lesson we are going to show you, in five easy steps, how to start soloing on your ukulele today!
#1 Up and Down
First things first, we need a scale. Any scale will do, but let’s keep this simple and use the C major scale.
To play the C major scale, play the open 3rd string (C) followed by the second fret of the 3rd string (D), then the open 2nd string (E) followed by the first (F) and third (G) frets on the second string, and finally the open 1st string (A), then the second (B) and third (C) frets of the first string.
Once you’ve got your scale, all you need to do for step one is to play it straight through, up and down, over and over. It’s that simple! Put on a metronome and play each note of the scale as a quarter note.
Take the time to practice this and get familiar with it before moving on.
#2 Change The Rhythm
Now that you’ve got your scale down (and up!), it’s time to add in some rhythm changes! We are still playing the scale up and down as before, but this time instead of playing them all as quarter notes, we’ll add in some 8th notes and 16th notes. I bet you’ll be surprised to hear how much of a difference this will make musically.
CHECK OUT: Beginning Soloing Course
There’s no particular order to this, so just play around with it and let the rhythm take you over!
#3 Limit Yourself
It’s easy to think that the more notes you have at your fingertips, the more impressive your solo will sound, but that’s not always the case. Sure, you could play a solo all up and down the neck of the ukulele, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
So now it’s time to take your scale and limit it, maybe to just the first five notes of the scale, and really focus in on those notes and what you can do with them.
Read More: Does The Ukulele Hurt Your Fingers?
#4 Use Licks
No, we aren’t suggesting you put your tongue on your ukulele. Although if you want to channel your inner rock star and give it a try go ahead – we won’t judge you! Just don’t blame us when your ukulele gets all sticky and everything tastes like plastic…
In musical terms, a lick defined as: a stock pattern or phrase, consisting of a short series of notes used in solos and melodic lines. If you listen to musical genres like rock, jazz, or blues, they are full of licks that have been repeated over the years. You can come up with your own licks, but you’ll also learn them by watching other musicians solo or by learning other’s music.
It may sound like stealing, but these aren’t full melodies or riffs, just pieces that can be used to make them. A lick is sort of like a musical meme, a basic structure that can be tweaked and adapted by many different er… “artists” on the internet to make different versions and variations of an overall joke.
To experiment, go ahead and start playing bits of the scale out of order, looking for little progressions of notes that sound good together.
Step 5 is how you take what you learned in steps 1-4 and take it to the next level. Common articulations on the uke include; hammer-ons and pull-offs, bending, sliding and vibrato. I’ll give a more detailed description of each below, but also make sure to check out this video for a demonstration of each technique.
Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs
Hammer-ons and pull-offs involve playing a fretted note and then without striking the string again, adding another note by either hammering-on a second finger above the first fretted note, or pulling-off the finger of the original fretted note forcefully enough to sound out the note behind it.
Bending involves playing a fretted note and then applying pressure with the finger fretting the note and bending the string (either up or down, either works) to reach a different note. By doing this, you can usually create the notes a half step and even a whole step up from the fretted note. Be careful with this as it’s possible to bend your string out of the slot it sits in by the headstock or even to break your string.
Sliding is one of the easier articulations and simply involves playing a fretted note and then sliding the finger holding that note up to another note quick enough that the second note is heard clearly.
A very popular technique on the violin, adding vibrato to a note is similar to bending mentioned above, except you go up and down really fast and don’t bend it far enough to reach the next note. It’s adding a sort of quivering feel to the note that will make it feel more alive and less robotic.
So there you have it. While you may not be wowing the internet with your shredding skills anytime soon, you now have the foundation you need to begin soloing with your uke, and with some practice, anything is possible!
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.