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‘Ukulele Chord Shapes
“If you have questions about ukulele chords, Chord Shapes has the answers.” ~ James Hill

‘Ukulele Lessons

Playing the ‘ukulele is fairly easy compared to most instruments. Four strings, about two octaves – it really is simple on the surface. But as you dig deeper and deeper into the core of what makes tick, you’ll find that the ‘ukulele can be as complex as you desire. The only boundaries are the ones in your mind.

Lessons by Playing Level:

Aside from containing their own basic ‘ukulele lessons, these pages point to many different parts of the site. If you’re not sure where to start, choose your level and see where your interest takes you.

In addition, you’ll find the links to all lessons on this page marked with a green, yellow, or red tab to denote difficulty. These are just a guideline and don’t really serve an organizational purpose beyond helping you browse for something relevant. Pages that span multiple ‘ukulele skill levels aren’t marked with a colored tab.

‘Ukulele Lessons For Beginners
Tips on where to start and how to learn the basics of playing ‘ukulele. Buying an ‘ukulele, how to hold an ‘ukulele, tuning, strumming, chords, simple picking, and songs.
‘Ukulele Lessons For Intermediate Players
Improving on the basic skills. Adding picking, theory, and more interesting chords. Learn scales, techniques, arpeggios, how to solo, and more.
‘Ukulele Lessons For Advanced Players
Ideas for where to go next and what I have found helpful. Advice on books to learn from, how to teach yourself, write songs, perform, and create your own style.


How To Hold An ‘Ukulele
A key, but sometimes overlooked component to playing the ‘ukulele. If you’re not holding your ‘ukulele correctly everything will be harder.
Learning The Notes Of The Fingerboard
Some suggestions for how to effectively memorize the ‘ukulele’s fretboard.
Tuning Your ‘Ukulele
How to tune an ‘ukulele with a tuner, pitch pipe, and piano. Also a list of alternate tunings.
How to get you fingers going before you play. Also exercises to “buff up” your hands.


Incredibly important, but often overlooked.

Timing Basics: Beats, Counting, Time Signatures
The most common weakness of any ‘ukulele player is timing. Fortunately, it can always be improved. Here’s how to lay down a foundation of the key points you need for good timing.
Practicing Timing With a Metronome
Tips to get you and your best friend/worst enemy – the metronome – acquainted. Instructions on clapping exercises, finding off beats, and dividing beats to help improve your timing.

Video Lessons:

‘Ukulele Video Lessons
Sometimes all it takes to understand a song or technique is to see it happen. For your learning pleasure, here is a page of all my ‘ukulele video lessons.

Most recent video:

Rhythm Lessons:

All about chords and right hand techniques using all the strings.

Hawaiian Vamps
All about playing the Hawaiian II7-V7-I turnaround – or “vamp.”
Intros And Outros
How to create jazzy lead ins with substitution chords.
Picking Patterns
Some common picking patterns for “melting” chords in a way that is less aggressive than strumming.
Strumming techniques and strum patterns.
Switching Chords Faster
Tips for visualizing your next moves and how to make them easier.

Lead Lessons:

All about playing single notes on one string (or two).

10 Hawaiian Vamps
Picking turnarounds in the key of G.
Harmonized Lead Lines
Harmony 101: How to add a second lead line on top of a melody to create a harmonized part.
High Notes Beyond The Fretboard
How to outwit the frets and access otherwise out-of-reach notes.
Double-Stop Intervals: 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, and 10ths
How to use common shapes to play two notes at once and get automatic harmony.
Fingering Tips
Which fingers to fret with for the easiest playing.
Jake’s Diminished Riff
The crazy-fast one from Equator.
Pedal-Steel Style Double-Stop Bends
How to play two notes simultaneously and bend one of them to change the interval. Get some twang on!
Learn how to use your index and middle fingers along with your thumb to pluck the strings.
Sequencing Scales
Rearrange the notes of a scale for interesting practice and melodic ideas.
Soloing, Improvising, Pa’ani
An overview of how to use scales to rip it up in an on-the-spot mini-composition.
String Sets To Jump Octaves
How to play one thing here and another thing there using the same shape.
The Vamp To End All Vamps
How to play the coolest Hawaiian vamp I’ve ever heard.


You can play beautiful notes all day, but at some point you will want to add some more texture to your songs. Techniques are where it’s at. From giving you additional sounds you couldn’t achieve otherwise to making things easier to play, techniques are an important part of any ‘ukulele player’s arsenal.

The poor-man’s effects pedal! How to use your arm to dampen the soundboard and create a filtering sound.
A soulful articulation that moves the pitch of one note seamlessly up to another by stretching the string.
Hammer-Ons And Pull-Offs
The bread and butter technique of any ‘ukulele player. Allows you to pick the string once while playing multiple notes using carry-over sustain.
Harmonics (AKA “Chimes”)
This lesson covers several ways to produce a bell-like sound from the magical, mathematical “nodes” found on each string.
The Mono Strum
A key part to James Hill’s signature sound. Learn how to mute all strings except the one you are sounding so you can essentially strum a melody.
The same note played in two different octaves at the same time has a great full sound signature of Jake Shimabukuro and Brittni Paiva.
Open String Pull-Offs
How to incorporate fast pull-offs with the use of an open string to create a machine gun barrage of notes.
Palm Mute
Muffling the strings with the side of your hand creates a tight, plucky sound that can be used anywhere to create a different texture or add emphasis to a part.
How to create a quick, but dramatic lead-up to a note. Great for accenting key points in a solo.
Another staple technique that allows you to transfer the momentum of one note into another without picking a second time. It creates a smooth texture and can simplify the playing of certain lead lines.
The most over-the-top technique ever created! Eddie Van Halen built a career (and sound) around hammer-ons and pull-offs that incorporate the picking hand.
Tremolo Picking
How to pick a rapid succession of notes at the same pitch. A simple concept that takes years to perfect!
A trill is basically a lightning speed, repeating hammer-on, pull-off combination that is a staple in classical music.
A possibly useless technique in which you play the same pitch in two places. It creates a big, fat, chorusy sound.
Vibrato is the light bending and releasing of the string to create a pitch warble. It is one of the most subtle ‘ukulele techniques, but it can also be the most personal.


Blah, blah, blah. This is the nitty-gritty section about how music actually works. You don’t need to know how to make a 7b5 chord to be a great player, but knowing theory deepens your understanding as a musician.

Cheat Sheet
A step by step look at chord/scale relationships on one page.
Chord Scales
Why you use major, minor, or diminished chords for different scale tones in a key.
Constructing Scales
How to make diatonic scales from the 12 note chromatic scale.
Constructing Chords
How to create any kind of chord from a major scale using a formula.
Understanding the seven scales within each key, how they are related and used.
How to move a song to a different key to perfectly fit the ‘ukulele or your voice.

The Mental Game:

Being able to play cool songs is only half of the journey an ‘ukulele player takes. The other half is learning how to find joy, satisfaction, and sustenance in your desire for music. It can be harder than you might think…

Some of my musings are collected here as “Patience and Improving” pieces:

I: Patience And Improving
Some thoughts on taking the time to allow yourself to improve. Also: Why I wouldn’t want to wake up as good as Jake.
II: Tabs And Time
Why tabs aren’t always best and how time is the best teacher.
III: The Meat Grinder Of Real Life Music
Some tips from the stage and observations on the gigs that really just suck.
IV: Abandoning The Search For Answers
Why you should just play Music

Some other random writings:

Finding Inspiration
Advice for overcoming a “wall” or getting out of a rut.
Playing And Singing At The Same Time
How to break any song down into manageable sizes and practice it for strumming and singing success.
Notes are just clever ways to get from space to space…
Soulful Playing
Making music from the heart – and making it count.
Finding your own sound.
Tone: It’s In Your Fingers
A few thoughts about style.


Tips for improving at your full potential.
Things To Practice
A mass list of what you could be working on right now and when the going gets “bleah.”

General Lessons:

Everything else…

Creating A Band
Step #1 to becoming a rockstar and my low-profile assessment of how to move in the right direction.
How To Read Tab
Learn how to make sense of this practical way to write out an ‘ukulele song.
Muting Chords And Notes
How to keep your playing tight and clean by muting unwanted noise.
Playing Cleaner
How to make your notes ring more true and insight on the incredible skill of Herb Ohta Jr. and how he plays so clean.
Reading Standard Notation (Sheet Music)
A simple look at how to understand standard notation.
Creating a song order that compliments you and keeps the audience engaged.
Slack Key ‘Ukulele
Learn the basics of the alternating bass and Hawaiian slack key sound.
Solo Fingerpicking Arrangements
The basics of adapting songs for a single ‘ukulele.
Song Endings
My favorite ways to stop a song.
Spicing Up A Boring Song
5 ways to practice and keep yourself from being bored when playing easy tunes that are old-hat.
How to get a good (or better) sound out of any ‘ukulele. Hint: it’s in you hands!
Weird Sounds
Some ideas for making the ‘ukulele sound not like an ‘ukulele.

How To Play Ukulele - Lessons From Beginner to Advanced