How to Play the Ukulele – A Guide for Beginners
by Rodrigo Sanchez, Apr 18, 2022 . 6 min read
In this Beginner’s Guide to Ukulele, we’re going to explain the basics of the instrument and how to play it.
By the end of this article, you will understand how the ukulele works, which are the strings, and how to play chords. In other words, we’re going to give you the most important tools to start playing the uke.
The ukulele has exploded in popularity in the past few years, for obvious reasons. It is relatively easy to play, affordable, easy to take anywhere, and a lot of fun! If you want to learn how to play it right from the get-go, you’re in the right place! We even have a fantastic ukulele app: Practice the chords now for free with Roadie Coach available on IOS and Android to help you along this fun journey. Without further ado, here’s our Beginner’s Guide to Ukulele.
There are four main different types of ukuleles. Firstly, there is the soprano. This is the smallest and typically has a higher tone when compared to other ukes. Because of their diminutive size, soprano ukuleles are good for children or players with small hands.
Next up is the concert uke. This one still features a compact size, albeit a little bigger than a soprano. They also have a bit of a deeper and warmer tone.
Finally, there is the tenor ukulele. These are the largest type and feature a rich tone that tends to project more than the other two. Tenor ukes are great for folks with bigger hands.
As simple as it gets
To play the ukulele, one hand will strum the strings and the other will hold down the chords. Usually, the left hand does the chords, and the right hand strums. This is pretty simple and straightforward.
To hold a ukulele correctly, place its back facing your chest/belly area, while gently placing your right and left hands on the instrument. Your right arm should be angled in a way that lets your hand reach the left edge of the acoustic front hole of the uke or the place where the neck meets the body. This is where you’ll be doing most of your strumming.
The left hand goes on the neck of the uke, and will mostly stay around the first four frets, as this is where 95 % of the chords are played. In reality, the left hand will take a position of almost holding the uke. Your thumb stays behind the neck, and the rest of your fingers in front of it, right on the fretboard.
Tuning your ukulele
For this article, we’re going to use the most common tuning for ukuleles. The fourth string (the lowest and closer to your face) is tuned to G. The third string is tuned to C, while the second string is tuned to E. Finally, the first string (the highest and closest to the floor) is tuned to A. Make sure you have a reliable tuner that you can trust. This ensures that your instrument will always sound good and let you get right into learning without hiccups.
When it comes to playing the ukulele, strumming is crucial. Naturally, there are more than a few ways to go about strumming the uke. However, it is important to keep your right hand relaxed at all times, regardless of the strum pattern being employed.
Some songs will require simple strumming, such as just downstrokes. Other songs may require more involved strumming patterns. The best way to learn different uke strumming patterns is to apply them in context. In other words, learning songs will be the most effective manner of getting better at your uke strumming.
For now, just strum downwards and get a feel for that. Simply pluck all the strings in a single downward motion. Do that a few times and make sure you are relaxed and not hitting the strings too hard. The uke is usually strummed with your thumb. However, feel free to try a pick or a combination of the thumb with the index finger. After all, you must do what feels right to you, but you have to try different things to discover what that is.
Simply said, chords happen when two or more notes are played at the same time. They are the building blocks of harmony. Additionally, chords typically account for 80 % of the act of learning a song.
There are a few things to know when learning ukulele chords. First, you need to be clear about the fact that the string closest to your lap is the first one and the string closest to your face is the fourth. This is crucial because as you learn chords, you will be asked to place a certain finger on a certain string.
Also, it is important to know the finger numberings. Your index is finger one, middle finger is two, ring finger is 3 and pinky is 4. Now that you know that, let’s do an F chord! Place your finger 1 (index finger) on the second string first fret. Then place your second finger (middle) on the fourth string second fret. There you have it, your first ukulele chord is an F!
Piecing it together
Keep that F chord there! Now, take your right hand and strum down. How does it sound? Is every string producing a clear sound, or do some of them sound muffled? To check, play string by string. That way you can make precise adjustments. If some strings sound muffled, you’ll typically find that you are not applying enough pressure or you are not in the middle of the fret. For the strings that are open (those that do not have a finger on them) check if they are being muffled by the finger on the adjacent string.
Take your time and fine-tune your F chord to get that “balance” where all four strings are sounding just right.
This Beginner’s Guide to Ukulele is a great start for your learning journey. With some practice, you will be playing uke songs in a short time. This is especially true if you also employ our very own Roadie Coach to be your guide along the way.
So get right to business with the tools we have provided here, and start learning some uke songs to have a lot of fun! Enjoy!