So you are a newfound ukulele player, and you want to know how you can maximize your time and potential? Read on because I will guide you through the top tips for ukulele players that will make all the difference as you embark on a new journey as a true musician. Definitely think of yourself as a musician and as an artist who is planning your personal trajectory into the realm of music.
This is an exciting time for you especially if you never played an instrument before. This is, indeed, a journey. Even though I play the piano and flute, I was so jazzed to begin playing my ukulele. Trust me, this is a must-read because it will be a game-changer as you navigate through this unique experience as an ukulele player!
First Top Three Tips for Ukulele Players
In this article, I will be highlighting the top ten tips for ukulele players, but I will reveal them three at a time. When I first started, I did watch this amazing video from Terry Carter, founder of Uke Like the Pros, and it does outline many of the ideas included in this article. I followed and continue to follow these guidelines as they frame my commitment as a musician and as an ukulele player:
Top Tip #1 – Get a Better Ukulele!
This might sound bizarre, but it really is like night and day in the ukulele playing experience: Get a better ukulele! My very first ukulele was a beautiful ukulele with a Linwood top and a plastic backing with beautiful poppies painted on the body. It was an inexpensive, Flight ukulele and probably cost me around $60. Now there is definitely a use for an ukulele like this. When I go camping or to the beach, this makes a great, travel ukulele, but as I played, I knew that I wanted the perfect ukulele.
I started watching videos about different kinds of wood such as Koa, Mango, Spruce, or Mahogany. I really educated myself on the materials used to make ukuleles, and I purchased a mango, Romero Creations Tiny Tenor with a Low G from Uke Like the Pros.
It was much more than I spent on my Flight, but I knew I was getting a quality instrument. It is a dream, really. The action is seamless; the setup was beautiful and functional, and the sound is incredible. This made my ukulele easy to play because of the action and setup. It also has a resonating, warm sound that I enjoyed as I listened to the sounds of the different woods in the ULTP videos.
Investing some money upfront made all the difference for me, and this is the ukulele I carry with me in my free gig bag whenever I visit my family or travel. It also facilitated the learning curve that I found myself in because it made playing much easier and more convenient, and I found it so much more enjoyable than I would have just playing the Flight, although I like that instrument as well.
Top Tip #2 – Join an Online Community
I am a member of Uke Like The Pros. I have access to all of the structured courses offered through this membership from reading music to learning how to solo. Given that I can read music, I took the beginning courses to start that walk me through the process of learning how to play the ukulele. Structured courses help you build a foundation as a musician.
You can randomly watch YouTube videos, and I still do this; however, my focus for the courses is to gain the music fundamentals that I do not have in my musical arsenal. Having completed quite a few of these courses, I absolutely recommend that new ukulele players join this community which we call ULTP Nation. You connect with others during live streams or through challenges (videos posted by players). You learn from others, which is instrumental in improving as a musician. I have participated in the lives as well as the replays, and I find both beneficial. Many of the lives and replays have access to music covered in the sessions, and it has been vital in my growth as an ukulele player.
Top Tip #3 – Memorize the Chords
The third tip as we continue on our ukulele journey is to: Memorize the Chords. When you first begin, everything is pretty awkward. However, as you continue to grow as an ukulele player, these chords become easier to play as you transition from chord to chord.
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Memorizing your chords help you play songs without having to continue looking at the chord charts. A great place to start is with this free, pocket chord chart from ULTP. Memorizing the major and minor chords is a great place to start. If you want to go crazy, you can add the flats and sharps; however, I found starting simple was the best strategy for me. It may sound like a strange tip, but it is extremely useful. You will be far more efficient and proficient if you can quickly move your fingers through the different chord shapes without looking at a chord chart every time there is a new chord. Believe me, this will transform your ukulele playing.
Top Tips #4, #5, and #6 for Ukulele Players
You have made an investment in yourself and purchased a special ukulele; you joined an online community, and you memorized your major and minor chords. Now what? Building a strong foundation as a musician is critical. Yes, we are playing for enjoyment, but there is a lot to learn. When I started playing the ukulele, I had already played the piano and flute as I mentioned, so I knew how to read music and understood rhythm. However, this made me realize how important it was to have a strong musical base before embarking on this new instrument, the ukulele. I also had singing experience, so I knew a lot through vocal training and choir practice.
If you are in the same boat as me, then great. Yet do not worry if you have never played an instrument before. You can do this. My sister’s husband never played an instrument before, so he took the music reading course on ULTP which brings us to Top Tip #4.
Top Tip #4 – Learn the Fundamentals
Being a musician my whole life, I absolutely can say that it is imperative for musicians to learn the fundamentals. This can be done through progressive, structured courses that are available as a premium or platinum member of ULTP. If you are hesitant, ULTP does offer some free starter courses that can give you an idea of how the class is structured. There are so many courses to choose from that will help all ukulele players of varying skill levels.
If you do not have a firm grasp of music reading, theory, or the basics, you can select the course that best fits your needs. To begin, I took the starter courses, and I progressed into the higher levels as I played more. I needed the starter courses at first because I did not even know how to hold the ukulele correctly or how to strum comfortably. I skipped the music reading course because I already had that skill, but my sister’s husband took that course because he never played an instrument before the ukulele. Have fun on YouTube, and learn songs; however, also take the time to learn the fundamentals because that will truly transform you into a serious musician.
Top Tip #5 – Know How to Count
I have a story here. I struggle with this and always have my whole life as a pianist especially. I remember my piano teacher frowning and ruthlessly turning on the metronome which I learned to dislike, but the metronome clicked away. Eventually, my timing improved. I challenge anyone to play the third movement of Moonlight Sonata without a metronome! Presto agitato does not happen without the ticking of the metronome used over and over again.
You will build your instinctive timing if you use a metronome or a backing track to keep you in a steady rhythm. Slowing down and speeding up in places throughout a song does not sound musically pleasant to your audience. Of course, that will happen when you first start playing, but practicing to a fixed beat is the fastest way to gain mastery of a song.
Trust me on this one because I remember my 9-year-old self not understanding why I had to use a metronome constantly. Now I get it! I have an old-fashioned metronome now, and I use it on my very own volition!
Top Tip #6 – Pick Easier Songs
This one is another big one. When you first start, you are excited and rightfully so, but you need to rein that in and understand that you do not want to get too frustrated. I am an elementary school teacher, and one thing we learn is that children have frustration levels. You do not want to reach that level even as an adult. I remember learning the easier songs, but I wanted to play Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow.”
That song was just not possible at that time, and I did recognize that fairly quickly. If you frustrate yourself enough, you might stop playing or even entertain that idea. Learn the easier songs, and progress at a reasonable pace. Remember that you will learn so much with time, so you will get to that level eventually. I still cannot play “Shallow” on my guitarlele, but that is okay. I have archived the music, and I will pull it out when I know I am ready.
Top Tips #7, #8, #9, and #10 for Ukulele Players
As we continue with the last four tips, one of the most important things you can do is to make the commitment to play your ukulele every day or at least for some set amount of time each day. I did not follow this advice for about three months, and my playing and learning trajectory definitely suffered. In contrast, my sister is picking up her ukulele every day, and those three months catapulted her way past me even though I have a natural ability in playing instruments.
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Making a commitment is a crucial part of becoming a musician. “You are only as good as your practice,” said my piano teacher repeatedly. It is hard to convince a six-year-old of this, but now I know the truth. Practice does really make perfect! Consider this as we complete the final four top tips for ukulele players.
Top Tip #7 – Embrace Where You Are At
I believe Terry Carter refers to this as “embracing sucking.” Take this to heart if nothing else. When I first started playing the ukulele, I was shocked at how awkward everything was when my sister and her husband had no problem strumming away. Wherever you are at is absolutely okay! More than okay! The practice will work everything out. If you struggle with rhythm, practice will fix that. If you are weak at memorizing, repetition will mend that.
If you cannot master bar chords, consistently practicing will smooth that over. Embrace where you are at, and find peace with it. This is supposed to be fun! Enjoy the songs you know now. Look to future songs, but relax and strum happily regardless if you are a beginner or intermediate ukulele player. Musicians build on what they know, and this is the natural progression of your musical journey. This is a path you chose, and you should definitely enjoy it every step of the way.
Top Tip #8 – Learn How to Read Music
Now I will admit, I already had this locked in, but remember how I struggled with rhythm? I took the time saved from knowing how to read music and invested it in keeping time with a metronome. Everyone has different needs and strengths. The great thing about ULTP’s premium or platinum membership is that you have access to a huge library of structured courses that can be tailored to your specific needs which bring us to learning how to read music.
When I look at music with the chords included, I see the blueprint of the song. I can see the rests, the repeats, and the basic melody. All of this is possible because I know how to read music. I must emphasize this top tip because it really does make a difference. There is a course that is dedicated to reading music in the ULTP library of courses, and it helped my sister’s husband immensely. I skipped that course, but I had other needs. It may seem like a lot, but this is investing time in yourself and in your ukulele playing. Believe me, it is worth it! Valuable information for certain!
Top Tip #9 – Memorize a Few Songs
Probably the most enjoyable part of ukulele playing is being able to grab my ukulele and play a few of my favorite songs without pulling out my iPad or my huge music binder. There are three or four songs I love to play and sing, and I can now do that with little effort. I was a singer in my community choir, so I used the practice of memorizing the lyrics to songs as I started learning ukulele songs.
I would play Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” while I brushed my teeth, and I would sing it as I walked through the house. Now I can play it on my ukulele and sing it without any music or chord charts! It really is liberating, and it can be your warm-up before you start practicing as well. Memorizing a few songs will help you enjoy the process a little more as you entertain others as well!
Top Tip #10 – Stick with It!
So let’s address the music bug… We all have it when we start playing, and I definitely have it although you would not think so given I had a hiatus from ukulele playing recently. However, you will return to the ukulele whether you consistently play or not. Practice over time transforms your ukulele playing. It just does.
Time and practice are everything! The only way it doesn’t is if you do not stick with it. Like I said, my sister soared right past me because I took a break. I would be that much better if I had practiced! Now life happens which is what happened to me, but I am happily strumming again. The way you become a pro is by simply sticking with it! Stay engaged, learn new things, and work with others in the ULTP Nation community. Music is a shared experience, and it brings people together. Revel in that, and stick with it!
Enjoy the Ukulele Experience and Journey
Well, we have covered quite a few tips and facets of ukulele playing, and I hope it has been beneficial and informative for you as you read through a fellow musician’s experiences. These top ten tips really will make a difference in your ukulele playing journey. Above all, enjoy the process of your musical development and growth. We are all in this together which is great because it truly takes a village to raise a ukulele player! From my sister’s suggestions to another ukulele player’s perspective, I have learned so much, and I am grateful for the support. These are real experiences in my ukulele journey, and please do follow any or all of the tips that will help you improve and become a ukulele pro!