The ukulele is a small, four-stringed sibling of the conventional guitar which became popular in Hawaiian music in the early 20th century.
This instrument comes in four main flavors; concert, baritone, tenor, and soprano.
Having only four strings poses a unique challenge to instrumentalists as most people are familiar with the six strings of the guitar. However, it’s not that difficult if you’re given the right tips.
Looking for some ukulele for beginners tips? We walk you through the steps you need to know so you can strum a tune in no time.
The tips include:
1. Buy the Right Ukulele
Not all ukuleles are the same. As stated earlier on, the main types are the standard (soprano), concert, tenor and baritone ukuleles.
They differ in length and tuning. However, all have four strings. They compare as follows:
This has a scale length and overall length of 13 inches and 21 inches respectively. The tuning options are G4-C4-E4-A4 or A4-D4-F#4-B4.
It has a scale length and overall length of 15 inches and 23 inches respectively. The tuning options are G4-C4-E4-A4, A4-D4-F#4-B4, or G3-C4-E4-A4.
This has a scale length and overall length of 17 inches and 26 inches respectively. The possible tuning are G3-C4-E4-A4, G4-C4-E4-A4, A4-D4-F#4-B4, or D4-G3-B3-E4.
The baritone ukulele has scale and overall lengths of 19 inches and 30 inches respectively. The tuning is primarily D3-G3-B3-E4.
While the most common ukulele is the soprano, you should learn more about the concert and tenor ukulele as well as the baritone ukulele to choose what fits you best.
2. Tune Your Ukulele
Before you learn how to belt out your first tune, you’ll need to put the ukulele in the right condition through tuning.
While there are many ways of tuning your ukulele, the most common one is the G, C, E, A tuning. That means that the four strings of this instrument are tuned such that the topmost one is tuned to the G note, the second one to the C note, and the remaining two in the E and A notes respectively.
To determine the order of the strings, hold the ukulele like a guitar with the string closest to your chin the topmost (G) and the furthest one as the lowest (A). This is for a right-handed person. Do the reverse if you’re left-handed.
Tuning simply means twisting the tuning peg to which the string is attached. As you turn the peg, tighter results lead to higher notes and looser ones lead to lower notes.
For the best tuning results, you’ll need an electronic tuner. This is because even the most practiced ears may have a problem differentiating the notes. Clip the tuner at the end of the ukulele then twist the peg for the first string as you test it till it gives you a G.
Repeat for the rest of the three strings as you seek to obtain notes C, E, and A respectively. Keep these notes in mind and always re-tune the ukulele whenever you feel that it’s gone out of tune.
3. Hold the Ukulele Properly
For a right-handed ukulele player, the correct way to hold the instrument is with the left hand and at the neck of it. That means the left hand should hold the ukulele close to the tuning pegs.
If you’re not using the ukulele with a strap, the whole weight of the instrument is borne by the left hand.
The right hand should be free to play the instrument at any part, but preferably right above the cutout on the wooden body. If you strum the strings too close to the end opposite the left hand, the sound will get muffled.
If you’re left-handed, everything works in the reverse. The right hand will hold the ukulele while the left will strum its strings to belt out a tune.
4. Strumming the Ukulele
This is clearly the most important stage of them all. You’ve tuned your ukulele, held it properly, and all that’s left is a tune.
Well, you’re not ready to be the next Jens Lekman but you’re certainly taking the right steps. Use your right forefinger to brush across the strings from top to bottom. The sound you get is the A Minor 7th and is the most basic of ukulele sounds.
Going forward, you’ll be playing this instrument with the forefinger, unlike the guitar where a combination of fingers is needed right away. As you advance in your training, you can use the finger that’s most natural to you.
5. Learn the Chord Boxes
Probably you’re wondering what people playing the guitar do with their left hand. Actually, the left hand plays a major role without which the ukulele will sound flat. The left hand dictates the chord boxes of the instrument which you need to master to play the instrument well.
Right after the tuning pegs is the first fret which elevates the strings so that they don’t lie flat on the ukulele’s body. Count two more frets then place your finger on the last string such that it lies between the third and fourth frets. When you strum the last string, you’ll get a C chord. This is the most used chord and you should know it first.
You can learn many more chord boxes as you go by on your journey to master the ukulele. What you need to master at this stage is that chord boxes get mapped unto the ukulele using the boxes created by the grid of the strings and frets.
The four strings and first five frets make a grid with four boxes. However, the boxes counted aren’t the spaces but the strings bordering the boxes. Holding the ukulele with the strings pointed up, the boxes from left to right will be 1,2,3,4. This is by counting the strings.
The best finger for switching cords is the ring finger as it’s the best positioned and easiest to manipulate in that position.
6. Strum Your Ukulele in Tune
You know the chord boxes and now you can make different sounds from your ukulele. Congratulations, you’re almost there with how to play the ukulele!
Next on the list is to try out a simple tune that falls within the knowledge you’ve gained so far. As you’ll realize on your musical journey, most songs have beats in 4s. The four beats are simply the four chord boxes you’ve learned above. For example, the popular children song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” has four beats going round and round when sang.
To strum your ukulele to this tune, press the first chord box then strum the first string at the top (G) for the ‘row’. For second ‘row’, press the second chord box for string C. The third chord box and string are get strummed for ‘row your’ and the last combination for ‘boat’.
Repeat this first line of the song as many times as you can till you’re comfortable with the sound. For the rest of the first verse of the song, the chords are as follows;
- 1,2,3 for gently, down the, stream
- 1,2,3,4 for merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
- 1,2,3 for life is, but a, dream
You just did your first song with your new ukulele!
7. Practice, Practice, Practice
From this point onwards, you need to practice and learn more as you go by. You can try out more complex tunes as your confidence builds up. The secret to gaining confidence with any musical instrument is starting with the simple tunes and only taking on more complex ones after you’ve mastered one stage.
If you try something out of your abilities, you’ll get discouraged with what you’ve gained so far. The simplest songs to play on a ukulele are one-chord tunes such as the reggae music and one-drop beats. With such a tune, you only use one chord repetitively. You just need to time the best with the chord.
With time, you’ll be an expert.
Ukulele for Beginners: Learning Your Way to Mastery
This ukulele for beginners guide is broken down into simple steps you can easily follow through. With the steps above, you don’t even need prior knowledge in music or the ability to read music knots and chords to play the instrument.
For more ukelele knowledge and practice lessons, check out this ukelele capo guide. Keep learning to bring out the musical genius in you.