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Why Does My Ukulele Sound Bad?

by Alex Lara

So, you have started to learn to play the ukulele. Maybe you feel like you are making good progress, learning chords and notes and mastering new songs. But for some reason, your ukulele just doesn’t sound good.

Why is that?

There are lots of reasons why your ukulele might not be producing the sound that you imagine it should.

To get to the bottom of the mystery, you need to ask yourself whether the problem is with the ukulele itself or perhaps with how you are playing it.

In this article, we’ll go through why your ukulele might seem like it is never in tune when you pick it up. Keeping your instrument in tune will make a big difference in how good it sounds.

Then we’ll look at the most likely reason that your ukulele sounds bad: you aren’t playing it quite right. We’ll go through the most common fundamental mistakes that beginners make, which leaves their playing seeming a little off. We’ll also share top tips to help you improve your playing and start producing the sound you want to hear.

My Ukulele Doesn’t Sound Right: Why Is My Ukulele Never In Tune?

If your ukulele isn’t producing quite the right sound, the first thing to do is to make sure it is actually in tune! It is surprising how often new players incorrectly turn their instruments. Beginners also don’t always realize how often they need to tune their ukulele.

Getting In Tune

These days, when you are tuning your ukulele, you are probably using a tuner app, headstock tuner, or electric tuner,which listens to the notes you are playing and lets you know when you have the string adjusted to just the right point.

Often, beginners will pop on the tuner and tune the first string to a note that looks like A, and then move on to the next one. But they aren’t paying close enough attention to the tuner, which is actually telling them they have tuned to A sharp (or B flat).

This discrepancy in the tuning just leaves the whole thing sounding not quite right. So pay close attention to your tuner and make sure you are actually hitting the right note.

Tune Regularly

It is very rarely the case that you can tune your ukulele on Monday and then just play it whenever you like for the next week. Ukuleles can go out of tune just by playing them or by shifts in temperature, and humidity.

The nylon strings that most ukulele players use take a while to fully stretch out. So, you put them on your uke, you tune it, and then, when you start playing it, the strings stretch and very quickly you are out of tune.

So, when you have new or fairly new strings, you will probably need to tune your ukulele each time you want to play.

Eventually, the strings will stretch out to their full extent and you won’t need to tune it quite so often.

You can speed up the process by deliberately stretching the strings when you first put them on the ukulele. You can find tips on how to stretch your new strings here.

Check The Humidity

As a final thing to check, if you live somewhere that is humid, the humidity can seriously damage your ukulele. It can cause the wood of the body of the instrument to crack, undermining the sound resonance, or damage your fretboard, which will leave you forever out of tune.

Rather than risk your instrument, pop a dehumidifier like the Boveda 49% Ukulele Humidity Control Pack into your case to protect the wood.

You can learn more about ukuleles and the challenges of humidity here.

My Ukulele Sounds Bad: Common Mistakes Beginners Make

OK, but if your ukulele is in tune and it still sounds bad, then the problem is going to be with how you are playing it. While your specific problem will depend on you, these are the five most common mistakes that new ukulele players tend to make.

You Have A Stiff Strumming Wrist

One of the most common things that beginner ukulele players do that undermines the sound of their instrument is to play with a stiff strumming wrist. This basically means that you are holding the wrist rigidly in place and strumming from the elbow. This dulls the sounds of the strings, creating a harsh sound.

Instead, you need to work on loosening up the wrist and developing a rotating motion. This lets the notes ring out properly, and will also mean that you can play both faster and for longer without getting tired.

The video below will give you some great tips on how to improve and master strumming the ukulele.

You Have Lazy Fingers

The next biggest mistake that new uke players tend to make is that they are lazy with their fingers on the fretboard. “Lazy fingers” means that you are holding down the strings with the pads of your fingers rather than the tips of the fingers like you are meant to.

As a result, you might not be putting enough pressure on the string, so you end up with a buzzing note. When you use the pad of your finger, you are also very likely to be touching the string either above or below, compromising its sound.

In order to make sure that you are making the notes with the right part of your finger, focus on curving your fingers to make a C-shape so that the tips of your fingers are properly positioned to play the strings.

For more advice, check out our video tutorial on how to hold ukulele chords.

You Are Holding The Ukulele At The Wrong Angle

Your ukulele will produce the best sound when you hold it in front of your body with the neck at about a 45-degree angle. This is the best possible angle for your wrist to reach the strings properly.

If you find it hard to do this naturally, then try a strap, which will help you position the instrument correctly. It also takes the weight of the instrument off your hands, which can be useful when you first start learning.

You Don’t Know The Essentials

Often, when people decide that they want to start learning the ukulele, they learn the basic chords so they can play a few songs. And that’s great. Being able to play something right away can be very motivating.

But it is a mistake to focus only on learning the chords that go with some of your favorite songs and completely ignore the fundamentals such as time signatures, notes, and rests.

A bit of music theory can help you to understand which notes you can play when you are in a certain chord, and why it sounds so wrong when certain chords follow each other. A little fundamental knowledge will help you pick up on mistakes you are making that are undermining your ability to play.

You Aren’t Practicing Enough

When you first got your new instrument, you were probably so keen to master it that you were practicing several times a day. When you are starting from scratch, you also learn a lot of big things quickly, which motivates you to keep going.

But then you miss a day, and one day becomes two or three. Or maybe you don’t feel motivated to practice because, instead of learning new chords, you need to focus on detailed finger positioning and transitions.

Ukulele is one of those things you need to practice regularly to improve and develop essential skills such as finger dexterity.

So, if your songs don’t sound quite right, could it be because you aren’t practicing them enough?

The Verdict

It is not uncommon for new ukulele players to feel like there is “something wrong” with their instrument because it is not producing the notes they are accustomed to hearing when the professionals play.

But there is probably nothing wrong with your ukulele. It is more likely that, because you are still learning, you are doing a few things that are dampening the sound and leaving the music sounding a little off.

Are you tuning your ukulele correctly, and are you tuning it often enough? Are you strumming with a relaxed and loose hand? Are you holding down the strings on the fretboard with the tips of your fingers rather than with the pads? Are you really practicing enough and learning the fundamentals that will help you master the instrument?

Follow our checklist above to try and identify what you could be doing to improve your playing, and you will soon see significant improvements in the sound of your ukulele.

Do you have any questions about keeping your ukulele in tune? Or advice on improving technique? Share your questions and thoughts in the comments.

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