Learning to Play The Ukulele For Absolute Beginners

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Congratulations on buying a ukulele!

 Becoming a ukuele player is a worthy goal and you are joining the ranks of music greats like Israel Kamakawiwo’ole,George Harrison,Jake Shimabukuro, and Robert Plant! While the ukulele is traditionally associated with Hawaiian music many musicians have shown that the ukulele can be just as versatile as the guitar it can be used to play classical,country,bluegrass,rock,blues,Reggae,even punk so you have made a great purchase!
 Just starting out you may find learning to play the ukulele overwhelming(Especially if its your first instrument as it was mine) but I’m here to help so lets begin:

1.Tune your uke

 Tunning is very important because no matter how well you play the ukulele if its out of tune if going to sound terrible. With your new uke you will have to tune it many times in the first few weeks to stretch out the strings and if its a cheaper uke (which by the way is ok because we all started out with one) then you will have to tune it even more so this step is vitally important.
  Most ukuleles are tuned in GCEA as in the first string from the top going down is G then the second from the top is c and so on. The easiest way to tune the ukulele it to buy an electronic tuner for $20 or less at your local music store or online and that is the method I mainly use but if you don’t have the money or you want to learn to tune by ear here is a great online ukulele tuner that will help you out.
  To tune go to the tuning gears at the top of your uke and twist them up or down slowly while picking the string until they sound identical to those on that website or are show to be the correct GCEA on your digital tuner.

2. Learn to strum with your fingers

  When I first got a ukulele I made the mistake (or at least what I consider a mistake) of learning chords right off the bat while strumming with a pick. While there is no “wrong” way to play the uke its impossible to do some of the more complicated strums such as the fan while using a pick so its a good idea to get comfortable using your fingers.
  To start take your Left hand and lightly put it over the strings and with the index finger bent down on you right hand begin to strum up and down near the 12th fret. This may sound easy but you will soon learn that its not. The first few weeks of strumming I always found my fingers would get caught in the strings and that only went away with practice.
   Now you can use any finger you want but the majority of players just use there index and I personally prefer it though for a time I would strum with my index down and my two middle fingers up so whatever you feel works best for you go for it!

3.Learn some useful chords

  Now that you have mastered strumming (or maybe your inpatient like I was and have skipped ahead but thats ok) its time to learn some basic chords. Most songs are in the key of C and your uke is tuned in that key so its best to learn the three most important chords in that key which are C,G7,and F.
 C is possibly the easiest chord of all,to do it take your left hand and use your third finger to hold down the bottom A string on the third fret and strum,you have now learned the c chord.
   G7 is a bit more challenging,to learn it take the first three fingers of your left hand and put your first(index) finger on the third string(E) down at the first fret,take your second finger and put it on the second string ( c) the second fret down,and finally take your third finger and put it on the last string (A) at the second fret then strum, you have learned the G7 chord.
   F is a bit more tricky then c but a lot less so then G7. To do it ,using your index and middle finger or 1 and 2, take your first finger and put it on the third string down (E) first fret and your second finger on the first string down second fret and strum! you have now learned to play F!
Even though I have taken you through each of the three most important chords in the key of C below you will find the fingering for each chord to make it easier so start practicing, Try to get to a point were you can do them while strumming seamlessly.

  OK now that you have learned those chords try to learn all the major chords and if your up for it the minor chords.    Heres a nice online chord chart to help but remember that there are different fingerings for some of the chords so if you find one particularly hard (commonly people find E difficult) there are likely other easier ways to do it so Google around or join a forum and ask. (I recommend the forum over at ukulele undeground because the members are nice and it already has a huge archive of questions and answers Ive found very helpful.)

4. Learn some songs!

You have finally reached the step where you can start learning a few songs. To do that head on over to one of the major ukulele tab sites like www.ukulele-tabs.com and find a song you like.  I think its important that you find a song you like,regardless of how difficult it seems,because you will have more incentive to learn it! Take it slow at first learning any of the chords you might not know and remembering to strum. Speaking of strumming strumming patterns(as in up up down down and others) are not included in tabs so you will have to figure it out yourself but don’t despair because many songs sound fine simply strumming up down up down!
 At this point you might be wondering looking at the tabs how to read them,I know I was, and if you see 4 lines with numbers here is how it goes.
  Read from left to right the line at the bottom represents the top string on the ukulele (G) and so on and the number represents the fret so if you have a 3 on line one then put your ring finger on third fret on the g string and so on. If you see only one number then you are not meant to strum it but to pick it. If you find that you see 4 number stacked on top of each other thats means you need to strum. 0 means to leave that string open.
 Confused? I hope not but here is a more detailed explanation of tabs if you need it.
With a little practice you will be playing your first song pretty well and feel the joy and sense of accomplishment of achieving something but this is not where the journey ends. The fan strum,pick style,hammering,and other more advanced techniques are waiting for you to learn but this is an absolute beginners guide and if you followed it you have already learned your first song so enjoy the moment and take some time to get use to playing songs before you go on to the more advanced stuff.
 Regardless of what you do remember to have fun because the ukulele is one of the funniest
instruments around!

Helpful Links


Uke School-Beginner

Ukulele Underground Minutes-Beginner

Ukulele Underground lessons-Advanced

Ukulele Tabs-Beginner to Advanced

Ukulele Chord Chart

Online Ukulele Tuner


Jula Nunes Youtube Page

Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole- Somewhere Over the Rainbow

George Harrison playing the uke with Paul Mcartney and Ringo Star

While my ukulele gently weeps- Jake Shimabukuro


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