Ukulele Lesson

A few people* have asked if I ever give lessons and I thought it was high time I put up a few tips on ukulele playing.  This is purely for beginners, so please take what you like from it and always remember: music making is fun and if you put in a little bit of effort at the beginning - it'll pay off in spades later (or your money back).


Its also a great ice breaker and could make you a hit at parties…….but lets not get ahead of ourselves!


Getting started and practicing

Me? I always hated to practice, so I'd just leave my ukulele lying around the house and strum it a little, in front of the TV, while cooking food, on the phone (hands free!), even in the bath (it was a cheap one).  It worked for me and I never did learn to “practice” - but I did get a lot better. 

Bear in mind also that the uke works very well with the human voice (singing is good for you!) so don't be afraid to sing while you play!  Everybody has to start somewhere, even the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain was just a bunch of friends who got together to strum every Wednesday, it is always more fun to play with others.



Buying a Uke, What type of Uke should I buy?

Just like any family of instruments, there are several different sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, baritone.......... even bass!  For our purposes though, I’d recommend starting off with a soprano uke and while there are plenty of cheap ones around, nearly all of them have fairly good intonation - unlike yesteryear when I started.  Two good entry level ukes are the Lanikai LU-21 and the Kala KA-S which you can by online or order at your local music store.

Me? I play a soprano ukulele by Welsh Maker Pete Howlett, but they’re a little more expensive.


Holding your Uke

Are you left handed or right handed?  Either way its fairly simple to hold your uke - if you’re sitting, just rest it on your knee while you’re strumming.  If you’re standing up hold it under your strumming forearm on one side and your chord playing hand on the other. 



Tuning your Uke  

The most common tuning on the soprano is GCEA and the ukulele traditionally uses RE ENTRANT or 'Hawaiian' tuning.


The bottom string    G   (the one closest to your chin) has a high sound               G_Note_1st_String.aif


The next one up       C     has the lowest note on the instrument                          C_Note_2nd_String.aif


Next up                   E     is a little higher                                                          E_Note_3rd_String.aif


While the high          A     (string furthest from your chin) has the highest sound    A_Note_4th_string.aif


Here's how all the strings sound together,  Uke players sing "MY DOG HAS FLEAS" to remember it    




Pick, Pluck or Strum? - how about giving it the finger!

There are lots of ways to play your ukulele: with a felt or plastic pick, with the backs of your fingernails, or just with the pads of your fingers.  I'd recommend using your forefinger and gently brushing up and down on the strings while you get comfortable with the instrument.


It should sound something like this     Open_Strum.aif



Chords - the building blocks of a song

Chords are the combinations of notes that go together in harmony to provide a "bed" or "backing' for your singing.  The easiest chord of the lot is most definitely the C chord, which uses only one finger  C_Chord.aif


 It sounds like this C_Chord.aif


Introducing chord boxes

Most beginners use chord boxes or "windows' which show how to finger the chords.  Here's some examples of chord boxes and they are easilly obtained from most ukulele internet sites.  Some are harder than others - lets try and learn a few chords so we can have a go at a song - it'll be a children's song so you can start by being a sensation at children parties. 


                This is F_Chord.aif             and this is G7_Chord.aif



If it starts to hurt, don't worry - carry on till you pass out...seriously though, a little and often is better than a lot at once.  What you want and what you will get after a while is "muscle memory" whereby you will see the name of the chord and your fingers will instantly make that shape and it'll become almost unconcious - after a while it'll feel like you could play and be unconscious at the same time.....just kidding!



Major and Minor Chords 

All of the chords above are MAJOR chords, but chords are generally split into MAJOR and MINOR, generally speaking major chords sound happy and minor chords sound sad, put 'em together and its a bit like life really.  Here's some minor chords

     Dm_Chord.aif                     Gm_Chord.aif                       Fm_Chord.aif


Lets have a go at a simple song 'He's got the whole world in his hands" - its got two chords in it F major and C Major: - here's how I would play it:



F                 F               F               F

He's got the whole world in his hands

 F                C             C                C

He's got the whole world in his hands

C                F               F               F

He's got the whole world in his hands

F                C             C            F

He's got the whole world in his hands


Not bad for a first effort - just remember that more chords you learn the more interesting songs you can play.


Lets play another song that has only two chords: one minor and one major, maybe you know it  "What shall we do with the Drunken Sailor - heres how I play it using A Minor and G Major






Am           Am            Am              Am

What shall we do with the drunken sailor

G              G              G                G

What shall we do with the drunken sailor

 Am           Am            Am              Am

What shall we do with the drunken sailor

 G              Am

Early in the morning


Am           Am           

Hooray and up she rises

G            G

Hooray and up she rises

Am             Am

Hooray and up she rises

 G              Am

Early in the morning 


Master these and you'll be able to play everything from Coming Round The Mountain* to Kumbaya and yes, Cinders, the ball awaits you and your trusty ukulele!  Lets have a go at another simple song: - Clementine , which has two chords - C and G7.




C                C                 C                     G7

In a cavern, in a canyon, Excavating for a mine

G7                   C                G7                  C

Lived a miner, 49er and his daughter Clementine

C                    C                        C                      G7 

Oh my darling Oh my darling Oh my darling Clementine

 G7                                  C                  G7               C

Thou art lost and gone for ever dreadful sorry Clementine


That sounds pretty good!  Lets ramp up the pressure and try a three chord song: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  Here's how I play it -



C           C         F       C

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

F        C         G           C

How I wonder what you are

C       F          C          G

Up above the world so high

C       F          C          G

Like a diamond in the sky

C          C          F      C

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

F        C           G          C

How I wonder what you are

Well there you have it, you now know 4 songs, a bunch of chords and are ready to go out into the ukulele world and let 'em have it.  Good Luck my ukulele friend and if you have any feedback ping me an email:

* Complete and utter fabrication: nobody has asked - I just thought I'd put 'em up anyway! 

* Coming Round The Mountain is actually 5 chords








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