The ukulele is a Hawaiian instrument that has a carefree and lively sound. Its small size makes it easy to carry and gives people of all ages who play it a chance to master it. Learn a little about the basics of playing the ukulele, and you'll be great at it in the long run.
Method 1 of 4: Hold a Ukulele
Step 1. Orient the ukulele so that the neck is in your left hand
The neck refers to the thinnest and longest part of the ukulele. Turn it so the neck is pointing away from you to the left. Due to the way the strings are arranged, it is very difficult to learn to play the ukulele by holding it so that it faces the other direction.
- Change the strings of the instrument if you are left-handed. If you turn the instrument over and hold it in the other direction, it will be very difficult for you to learn the chords and practice the songs. You can change the strings on a ukulele in the same way that you change the strings on an acoustic guitar.
- There are a few different styles of ukulele. It is possible to learn basically all of them except for the baritone ukulele. This one is very big and probably not what you have if you have a ukulele. The notes on a ukulele of this style differ somewhat.
Step 2. Stand or sit and hold the ukulele against your body
It can be played standing or sitting. Either way, hold the ukulele slightly below your chest so that the neck is pointing upward at a 15-degree angle. Slide your right forearm over the body of the ukulele so that your right hand is resting in front of your mouth. This is the opening in the center of the ukulele body.
- In case you are playing standing up, you are not supporting the ukulele from below. You just press it against your body with your right forearm.
- If you're playing seated, you may find it easier to hold the ukulele by sliding your right leg over your left knee to reinforce the bottom of the ukulele with your right thigh.
- You can attach straps to the ukulele to hang it around your neck like a guitar. You can use one of these if you want. For the most part, people who play the ukulele do not use straps since this instrument is usually very light, but you can buy one if you want.
Step 3. Rest your thumb on the 1st fret
The frets are the horizontal metal bars that separate the notes and chords. Rest your left thumb on the fret at the top and then thread the 4 fingers under the neck so that they can hold down the strings from the other side of the neck. As you play, your hand may slide back and forth along the neck to press the strings between other frets. However, the thumb should always remain on the top of the neck.
- Your left hand should look a bit like the letter C wrapped around your neck. It may seem a bit like you are forming a claw with your other hand.
- In case your hands are small and you can't reach the string at the top from below, instead place your thumb vertically against the back of your neck.
Step 4. Strum the ukulele with the side of your right index finger
Curl your right hand towards the strings over your mouth. Pull your index finger out a little so that it points perpendicular to the strings. Rest your thumb against the pad near your fingertip to form a tear with your thumb and index finger. To play, drag the side of your index finger along the strings so that your fingertip touches the strings.
- Unlike other stringed instruments, ukulele players rarely play specific notes. You will almost always strum all 4 strings when playing songs.
- You can use a ukulele pick if you want, although these are not popular with ukulele fans. The soft notes of the ukulele tend to get a little harsh when using a pick.
- If you watch professionals play, you might see them swing an open hand up and down along the strings. When you get good at strumming, you can skip your thumb and just play with your index finger. For now, keep your thumb against your index finger to maintain precision when playing.
Method 2 of 4: Learn Notes and Chords
Step 1. Memorize the natural notes that make up the strings from bottom to top
While you won't be playing individual notes when learning songs, you should memorize them to make reading chord diagrams easier for you and to understand the arrangement of the strings. Play each string on its own to identify the sound and memorize it. You will notice that the lowest sound is actually the highest string. This is because the ukulele strings are arranged backwards. The upper note (G or 4) is the lowest, while the lower note (G or 1) is the highest.
- In order, the strings from bottom to top are A (1), E (2), C (3), and G (4). In chord diagrams and beginner sheet music, you will generally see the numbers and letters.
- This can get a bit confusing because the "top" string is technically the "lowest" note in terms of sound. If you hear the phrase "highest chord" in the tutorials, assume they are referring to G (4), which is the lowest note.
- Make sure each string plays the correct note using a tuner. Turn on a tuner, attach it to the headstock, and play each note individually. Turn on the tuner for each string until you find the perfect pitch.
Step 2. Practice the easier major chords, starting with C and F
Major chords are the most commonly used chords. Start with simple chords, like C and F. If you want to play a C chord, press the A (1) string below the second fret with your ring or index finger and strum all 4 strings. Play it 4-5 times to get used to the way it sits. If you want to play F, press the E string (3) under the headstock with your ring finger and the G string (4) with your index or middle finger under the 1st fret. Play it 4-5 times to get used to the feel and sound.
When playing, it is up to you which fingers press the strings. Most players use the middle, index, and ring fingers to reach the highest strings (G or 4 and C or 3) and move those same fingers to press down on the strings below. However, if you prefer, you can use your little finger to always play the lower strings. For complex chords, you should use your pinky and ring fingers at the bottom, and your index and middle fingers at the top
Step 3. Memorize the other major chords
The chords get a bit more complicated after C and F, so you need to master these first. Then memorize the other major chords: D, E, G, A, and B. Start with A, which uses only 2 fingers to hold down the C string (3) under the headstock and the G string (4) at the second fret. The D, E, G and Si chords require 3 fingers, so you should learn them last. Practice playing each chord to get used to playing them all.
- It might take you 2-3 weeks to get used to all these major chords. Fortunately, many songs only use major chords in case you want to play some. U2's "Still Haven't Found" uses only the C, F and G chords, while Sublime's "What I Got" requires only the D and G chords.
- For chords for which two adjacent strings need to be pressed along the same fret, hold down both strings at the same time with one finger. You may need to learn the D and E major chords at the end because, in both cases, they involve holding down three strings at the same time with the same finger.
- You don't have to worry about strumming to a pattern or rhythm yet. Just focus on learning the finger positions on the neck.
Step 4. Familiarize yourself with minor chords after learning major chords
In chord diagrams, a lowercase "m" next to a letter indicates that it is a minor chord. The minor chords of C, D, E, F, G, A, and Si are much more difficult to learn than the major chords. To get started, memorize the A minor chord, which just involves holding down the G string (4) below the second fret. Then, move on to practicing the other minor chords and memorize them. Spend 2-3 weeks learning these chords.
- While minor chords aren't more complicated than major chords, it's best to learn them in groups so that it's easier for you to memorize them and internalize the sounds.
- Thousands of songs use only major and minor chords. For starters, you can learn a few full songs when you get to this point and work on the remaining chords if you want as you play over time.
Step 5. Memorize the seventh chords once you have mastered the major and minor chords
Each chord has a "seventh" version. Within these chords, there are major and minor versions. For example, there is the C seventh chord, the C major seventh chord, and the C minor seventh chord, which means there are 21 additional chords to learn, and they mostly involve holding down 4 strings. These are the most difficult chords, so you should learn them over time as you continue to practice. It starts with the pure seventh chords and then moves on to the majors. Finish up by learning the minor chords.
- You can play thousands of songs with ease without the major and minor seventh chords. In case you want to take it easy, just learn the basic seventh chords (seventh chord, B seventh chord, etc.) and save the major and minor chords for later.
- An easy way to do this is to learn a new chord each day. Spend 10-15 minutes a day practicing finger positions for a new chord.
- Try not to overwhelm yourself. Many of these chords are quite easy to learn. For example, you can play the B minor seventh chord by simply pressing all the strings below the second fret. The C major seventh chord is identical to the C major chord only that you move your finger one fret up.
Step 6. Get a chord diagram to see the finger positions for the chords
Chord diagrams are pictures that inform ukulele players about finger positions. Get a chord diagram to see the finger positions. If you want to read a chord diagram, pretend that the neck is positioned vertically in the picture so that the strings are facing you. Each horizontal line represents a fret and each vertical line is a string. The dots show you where your fingers go to play specific chords.
- When strumming the ukulele to play a chord, all four strings are always played at the same time.
- Here you can find a good chord diagram for beginners.
Method 3 of 4: Strum
Step 1. Use a single chord to practice the four main strumming patterns
In terms of rhythm, there are 4 key strumming patterns. You can play a chord by dragging your finger down from G (4) to (1) (top to bottom) or back up from (1) to G (4), so you can create different ambiences by strumming the strings in different patterns. Practice the patterns to memorize them.
- Down, down, down, down: strumming only from top to bottom produces a kind of melodic, heavenly feel.
- Down Up, Down Up, Down Up, Down Up - Strumming down and up repeatedly creates a kind of captivating, positive tempo. The famous song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" uses this strum pattern.
- Down, Down, Up, Down, Down Up: In this pattern, strumming up turns a 4 bar into a 2 bar, producing a slower, darker pattern in most songs.
- Down, Down Up, Up, Down Up - This is the opposite of the previous pattern. This creates gaps in bars 1 and 3 and produces a kind of wonderfully ethereal sound.
Step 2. Read strum patterns following D's and U's as you play
In ukulele tutorials, the strum pattern is listed below the chords. A "D" indicates down while a "U" indicates up. "DU" indicates down and up in one measure. If you see a "/", this means you need to pause.
In traditional scores, downward strumming is represented by a square with the bottom side missing, and upward strumming is indicated by a "V" shape. Unless you already know how to read sheet music, it's easier to learn with the tutorial notations you're more likely to find when searching for songs to play
Step 3. Develop a natural swing with your strums down
When learning songs, you should always calculate the strum so that you play it down the beat. In other words, if you see DU underneath a C-seventh chord, time your moves so that you strum down the bar before strumming up again. As you drag your fingers across the strings, hold down the C seventh chord at all times.
For most people, the hardest thing about playing the ukulele is strumming in the correct pattern. Avoid getting frustrated when matching strumming, timing, and chord positions
Method 4 of 4: Practice and Learn Songs
Step 1. Work on switching between the chords you learn to get used to playing fluently
For most people, the hardest thing about playing the ukulele is switching between chords. At the beginning of each practice session, review all the chords you have learned so far by playing them one after the other. This will help you get an idea of the type of movements you should do with your fingers to keep the strings pressed.
Step 2. Learn some easy songs to put it all together
Look online for some ukulele song tutorials. Pick an easy song that has few chords. Start at the beginning of the song and play the chords in order, following the strum pattern next to the chords. Practice playing the chords at a constant tempo. After you learn an easy song, pick another and move on.
- Iz's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is a classic and easy option. It uses a down and up strum pattern throughout most of the song, and only the C, G, A minor, F and E minor chords are needed.
- "You Are My Sunshine" is a fun and simple song that mainly uses the F and C chords. This song is great if you're working on your timing, as the entire song is played down strum with only one up strum.
- Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" is a great song if you want to practice chords, as the finger patterns are a bit difficult but the strumming is very simple.
- Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" is a great option if you have difficulty switching between different frets with your fingers.
Step 3. Keep practicing every day to learn more complex songs
Play the ukulele every day to keep improving, learn more chords, and master strumming patterns. Spend at least 15 minutes a day practicing. As you master a few simple songs, find more difficult songs online that challenge your skills with more complex strum patterns and chord progressions.
- You can find ukulele tutorials for just about any song you can think of. Choose songs that you really like so that learning to play is more fun.
- In case you find a tutorial where the strum pattern does not appear, it means that it is up to you. Some songs that are tailored for the ukulele do not have built-in strum patterns.
- Get a capo after you're good at playing. Capos are essentially pads that hold down a fret on the ukulele to change the key. While they are not required for beginners, they are helpful if you want to play songs in different keys.
- The ukulele is a great instrument in case you are trying to learn more difficult string instruments (for example, the guitar). It only has 4 strings, so the ukulele is much easier to master than other instruments.