Beginner’s Guide on How to Play the Ukulele

The ukulele is a string instrument that originated from Hawaii and is known for its sprightly sound. It resembles a small guitar and has four strings. A jump to the right of each fret (if you are holding the ukulele in its correct position) lets you move two and a half steps higher than your previous note.

Choose the Right Ukulele

1. Soprano (21″ long)

It is the smallest and most common ukulele. It has only 12 to 15 frets. Because the frets of a soprano ukulele are narrow and close together, individuals having big fingers will have difficulty playing it and are more prone to bending its strings out of tune. Ukuleles are known for their jaunty and jangly sound. Because the soprano ukulele is small, it produces the most jangly and lively sounds. Its strings are commonly adjusted to GCEA and ADF#B tuning.

2. Alto Ukulele (23″ long)

It is also called as the concert ukulele. It is slightly bigger than the soprano and has only 15 to 20 frets. The frets are now slightly far from each other and there is a greater tension on the strings. Because of its bigger size, it produces a fuller and less jangly sound. If you have a heavy finger, this is more suitable for you than the soprano. Its strings are commonly adjusted to GCEA tuning.

3. Tenor Ukulele (26″ long)

It is bigger and produces even fuller sounds than the soprano and alto. It usually has at least 15 frets. Because it has more frets, it allows you to reach higher notes. It is perfect for performing on stage. Its strings are commonly adjusted to GCEA tuning.

4. Baritone Ukulele ( 30″ long)

It is the biggest of all the ukes and produces the fullest and deepest sound. It has over 19 frets and is perfect for playing blues. If you want to hear crisp, sprightly sounds, you will hear it from the baritone uke. Its strings are commonly adjusted to DGBE tuning.

Know Its Parts

parts of the ukulele

1. Head — This is where the four tuning adjusters are located.

2. Tuning adjusters — These are the four pegs that are turned clockwise or counter-clockwise to tune the ukulele.

3. Neck (or fret board) — This is where the frets are located and where you should press the strings to make chords and play specific notes.

4. Frets — These are the spaces separated by thin, wooden or metal sticks and located on the neck.

5. Body — This is where the sound resonates. It usually has a hole in the middle.

6. Saddle and Bridge — This is what supports the strings.

Now that you’re familiar with the ukulele, it’s time to start playing!

Learn the Proper Way to Play It

1. Hold it properly.

If you are sitting, remember not to squeeze the ukulele with your stomach and upper thigh. Stabilize it without applying too much pressure on the body. If you are using a right-handed uke, place your left thumb behind the neck to allow your other fingers to play chords and change frets with ease. Use your right hand to strum. Press the strings with your finger palms, not with your finger tips. Cut your nails to avoid accidental plucking of other strings and scratching the neck.

holding the ukulele

2. Tune your ukulele.

You can use a ukulele tuner or other properly tuned instruments to tune your ukulele. When we say GCEA tuning, it means that the four strings are tuned to G (sol), C (do), E, (mi), and A (la). The same principle goes with the other tunings. Hold your ukulele properly and look at the four strings. The string nearest to your face is should be tuned to G. The string farthest from your face should be tuned to A.

3. Know your chords.

Chords are combinations of notes. It is good to study how to play each chord in a chord chart, but learning how to play the ukulele will be faster and more fun if you immediately play a song. Choose simple songs to begin with. Remember not to press the strings on the fret separators, but on the space between two separators. This is because the frets are not the separators, but the space between them.

4. Strumming.

Relax your hand, and slide your fingers up and down the strings. There are different strum patterns to choose from, though each song uses the appropriate strum pattern. For practice, you can start with the down stroke pattern (DOWN DOWN DOWN DOWN) or the up and down stroke pattern (DOWN UP, DOWN UP, DOWN UP, DOWN UP,).

Check out this video featuring 5 strumming patterns

Focus on the chords first as strumming will come naturally in time.

5. Learn from others.

Watch how professional ukulele players perform. This will give more idea and tips on how to play the instrument.

6. Have fun.

The sound from the ukulele invigorates the spirit. Play the ukulele with feelings. Put your heart in it and convey your thought through music.

Quick tip: Though available, you don’t actually need a pick when playing the ukulele. Since it uses nylon strings, it’s not as stiff as guitar strings. 

Related content:

  1. How to Tune a Ukulele

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