Making the decision to learn how to play Ukulele can come about in many ways.
For me, it was purely because I thought the word Ukulele sounded pretty cool and I already liked guitars. Pretty solid reasoning, yes?!
Well, no matter the reason, learning how to play Ukulele (also called 'Uke') can be some of the best hours you will spend holding an instrument, depending on if you have all the right information to start off with.
For such a cool little instrument, it hasn't been around for too long. Originating in 19th century Hawaii, it was an adaption of the Portuguese Machete (an instrument, not the weapon!). From the shores of Hawaii, it soon gained popularity and spread across the world with good reason: it's good looking, fun to play and sounds great.
Want to try learning to play Ukulele? Cool. Read on comrade...
STEP 1: PICK UP A BOOK
How to play ukulele can be a bit of a daunting subject if you have never played a guitar or an instrument before. The best piece of advice I can give anyone is, buy a book.
I know lots of people who have picked up instruments and learnt to play by strumming the strings themselves.
However, I am not that smart, I needed a book and several videos which I could pore over. The How To Play Ukulele (Level 1) book is super cool to get you started.
Yes, there are a ton of videos online, and we refer to some below, but grabbing a simple how to play Ukulele book that you can carry with you is a great idea.
Holding your Ukulele correctly
A side note, try holding the ukulele in a few suggested positions until you feel comfortable.
Trust me, you do not want to play for a couple of hours holding a ukulele in the wrong position. It can hurt your arms considerably, this is why I'd suggest finding a comfy place to sit for awhile.
Check out the links below to learn how to hold a Ukulele right and some top tips for beginners.
STEP 2: choose a ukulele
Buying a ukulele for beginners can be an arduous or fun task, you just need to know a few facts before rushing out and buying the first thing you see.
First off, there are different sizes of ukuleles to consider, four main types in fact.
The soprano being the smallest is ideal for children wishing to play, or those wishing for the traditional, bright sound we associate with ukuleles.
The concert is slightly bigger by a couple of inches and produces a deeper sound.
The tenor has a length of 26 inches with a bigger fingerboard. This ukulele is ideal for those with larger hands that stumble with smaller
The largest, baritone, has a length of 30 inches and produces a much deeper bass sound. This is considered the easier instrument for those transitioning from a guitar to a ukulele
We're not done yet! There are various shapes to the Ukulele to choose from too. Three popular ones are:
- Guitar / figure 8
- Boat paddle
The guitar/ figure 8 shape is the most common and well known of the shapes and the one I would recommend to anyone just starting out.
Ukuleles are also made from a variety of different woods, a popular option being the Hawaiin Koa, which gives a balanced tone. Mahogany is the most well known as it gives the classic sound of the ukulele without being too thin. It is an inexpensive option which is great for anyone wanting to start out but not wanting to make a big commitment. There are various other woods but the Koa and Mahogany are the most common.
Whatever you choose, try to actually go into a shop and hold different types before picking your ukulele, if for nothing else than to admire yourself in the mirror holding one.
If buying online, you can pick up a Ukulele from Amazon super cheap, most including a bag.
Check this one out here (picture opposite)
I've also include some links below if you're struggling to know which Uke to choose.
STEP 3: LEARN SOME common ukulele chords
Once you have bought your instrument, gotten comfortable holding it and, lets face it, messed around strumming for a bit; it's time to learn some chords (for a more in depth look at chords, see our article about Ukulele Chords For Beginners)
The following are some of the most common and easiest chords to learn for beginners.
Practice with each separately until your fingers are comfortable, then practice going between the different chords. Try strumming a few times with each one until you can effortlessly go between each one.
After learning these six common chords, you will find yourself ready to learn a few songs. There is no greater accomplishment than muddling through that first go at a song, mine sounded nothing like The Addams Family theme tune, but I didn't care.
STEP 4: LEARN HOW TO tune YOUR ukulele
One of my least favourite tasks with playing a guitar or ukulele is tuning the instrument. It took me weeks to learn how to do it properly, hopefully it won't take you as long!
The easiest method to tuning the instrument is buying an electric tuner. I really wish I had done this first instead of trying myself for ages.
They are sold in most music shops, just make sure to buy one that tunes ukuleles. You simply place the tuner close to the ukulele and pluck a string. The tuner will show what note you are playing, simply turn the pegs until you get the note you want.
I have tuned my ukulele by also using my electric piano, as this instrument is always in tune. I struck the A on the piano and by ear, turned the pegs on the ukulele until it matched. You can do this with the different keys or use a pitch pipe/tuning fork.
There is also the 'relative tuning' method, which I personally find the most difficult. This is by using the first string as a reference, then tuning the other strings by placing your fingers on various frets. There are websites detailing how to do this, look at further reading, however I would suggest investing in an electronic tuner as it is the simplest method, especially for a beginner. This tuner from Eno is specially made for Ukulele and super cheap.
STEP 5: LEARN SOME BASIC SONGS
Now for the moment you have been waiting for, playing songs! I'm afraid for beginners, it might take some time before you become Black Sabbath. The easiest songs to learn how to play first may be nursery rhymes, not quite as rock and roll but they still sound nice to play.
Baa baa black sheep is probably the most simple to play as it only requires a few chords. Needing to only know the C, G and F chords, you can be strumming away to this nursery song quite quickly. Here's a rendition of another basic song, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.
For a more upbeat and familiar song, you could try playing U2's 'Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For'. This song only requires a few notes and is a song you can really have a good sing to.
Simon & Garfunkel's Cecilia is also an extremely easy and well known song to get used to playing the ukulele. Using three chords, it is simple to practice strumming between each chord and singing along.
Hope you have enjoyed my how to play ukulele in 5 easy steps tutorial, please add anything you would like to say in the comment section. Also, if you liked this article, please share it!
This list of how to play and choose a ukulele is important to me as I wish there had been an article like this for me to read when I started to play. It would have made things a lot easier, which I hope it has for you. I know how difficult it can be to find an article with everything you need to know to begin playing an instrument.
Overall, the Ukulele is a fantastic gem of an instrument, which I hope to see more people playing. Drop me a comment below...
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.