As backwards as it might seem, beginning ‘ukulele is one of the fastest levels to progress through. That is, if you work at it. If you don’t feel that you need to go beyond strumming “White Sandy Beach” that’s fine too. My own process was a little unorganized in my opinion, so here is roughly how I would do it over again if had the chance. This page acts as a pointer to many other parts of Live ‘Ukulele.com. I encourage you to follow the links depending on what you are interested in. You will find much more information down the rabbit holes. Middle-clicking on a link in most browsers opens a link in a new tab so you can refer back to this page.
Listen to the ‘Ukulele:
If you haven’t heard it, you won’t be able to play it. If you have a Hawaiian radio station or show that you can pick up in your area, listen to that (a couple of online streams are KAPA, KINE and KCCN). Almost all traditional Hawaiian and some Jawaiian music has simple ‘ukulele in it. It will give you an idea of how you want to sound, what songs you’d like to learn, and if you even like the sound of the ‘ukulele. Otherwise you might have to buy some records featuring the ‘ukulele:
- Recommended Stuff page - My favorite ‘ukulele albums and more.
Buy or borrow an ‘ukulele:
It’s hard to learn ‘ukulele unless you have one constantly at your disposal. Get hold of one some way or another.
- Buying an ‘Ukulele - My advice on getting an instrument suitable to your needs.
- “What I look for in an ‘Ukulele” by Byron Yasui, the amazing jazz player.
The ‘ukulele is a pretty simple instrument, but there are a couple of things that are useful to know about it:
- Parts of the ‘Ukulele
- History of the ‘Ukulele
- It is usually tuned: GCEA (G closest to your face, A closest to the floor).
- The strings are counted backwards – A is the 1st string, G is the 4th string.
The word itself: The ‘ukulele originated in Hawai’i. Because of that fact it was the Hawaiian people who named it. Thus, ‘ukulele is a Hawaiian word. It is pronounced in Hawaiian like: “oo-koo-leh-leh.” How everyone else ended up with “you-ka-lay-lee” I will never understand… Since it is a Hawaiian word, ‘ukulele is actually spelled with the Hawaiian letter ‘okina at the beginning. An ‘okina at first glance looks like an apostrophe, but it is actually an inverted apostrophe that looks like a tiny “6.” So ‘ukulele actually should be spelled like this:
- The Correct Spelling of ‘Ukulele - More information from someone who grew up in a Hawaiian household
How to hold the ‘ukulele:
I see so many “strummer” level players struggling with basic things because they are holding the ‘ukulele in such an unnatural way. The exact way you hold your ‘ukulele depends on the size. You will also find info on playing left or right handed via this link:
Tuning your ‘Ukulele:
If you wish for any music that you play to be pleasing to the ears, you need to play in tune. You can tune your ‘ukulele with your ear, a pitch pipe/piano, or a tuner. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
Learn your first three chords:
Now that you have an idea of how to position your ‘ukulele and hands, you can go about learning some of the basic chords. With these chords you will be able to play your first songs! Start with “C”, “F”, and “G7″.
Hold C with your 3rd finger on the 3rd fret. Hold F with your index finger on the 1st fret, 2nd string up and your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the top string. Hold G7 with your index on the first fret, 2nd string, your middle finger on the 2nd fret, 3rd string, your ring finger on the 2nd fret, bottom string.
Remember, thumb on the back of the neck, fingers parallel to the frets, and use the tips of your fingers to hold chord notes. As a general rule, use your index finger to hold 1st fret notes, middle for 2nd fret, 3rd for 3rd fret, etc… That works great for the first two chords, but G7 needs two fingers on the same fret. This is an exception to the rule. You should play G7 with your 1st finger on the 1st fret, 2nd string (E), 2nd finger on the 2nd fret, 3rd string (C), and 3rd finger, 2nd fret, 1st string (A). To fit your fingers in, it helps to turn your wrist up towards the headstock.
You can strum a bunch of different ways . To start off it’s probably going to be easiest if you play just down strokes with your index finger. Curl up the rest of your fingers, point your index finger towards the soundhole and brush down across the strings, rolling your wrist a bit and moving your forearm.
The D U (D=downstrum, U=upstrum) strum is a great second step. Now instead of just the downstrokes, add an upstroke to the mix in between. When you do this D U strum it will help if you roll your wrist a bit back and forth so the strings deflect cleanly off your index finger. Otherwise if you keep your wrist stiff, you might end up jamming your fingers into the strings.
Learn a simple song!
This is where it gets exciting because you are actually making music! Here is a list of easy beginner ‘ukulele songs. I recommend something like “Island Style” by John Cruz or “Ku’u Home O Kahalu’u” by Oloman. Both only use C F and G7 and are great places to start with a simple D U strum.
Try to sing them once you learn how the chords go. It will give you a point of reference to keep you on time. Keep in mind that not all the songs on the list are in the same key as the recording. That means it will sound off if you play along with the CD and the two keys don’t match. That’s why singing will make things easier because your ear will automatically find the right key to sing in.
Once C, F, and G7 are a piece of cake, move on and learn all of the major, minor, and 7th chords, working on new songs as you go.
Vamps are the glue that holds most Hawaiian music together. They go between verses (or whenever you forget the words! ). If you like Hawaiian music learn some vamps.
- Vamp Chords - How strum a Hawaiian vamp
- All About Hawaiian Vamps – More detailed information about the theory behind strumming and picking vamps
Now you should be able to play a few songs, and the D U strum is getting a little plain. Spice things up by learning some new strums off of the Strumming page. Work on whatever looks interesting to you.
Most beginners seem to think of picking as something that is really hard – it’s not. You use many fingers to hold chords, you only need one to pick a single note. Start working on picking with something like a simple picking vamp:
That’s a “C” vamp, you can play that vamp along with D7// G7// C////.
The numbers and lines are called “tab”. It’s a way of writing out music without knowing standard notation (think piano music). Learn how to read tab here.
It’s the only way you will get better. If you are struggling with something you find hard, dedicate some time to it every day. After a week or two, maybe you’ll find something new that is a challenge and the old thing won’t be that hard anymore. There is no “get out of jail free” card in music. You get out what you put in, and there are no shortcuts.
- How to Practice – Tips on how to get the most out your session
You’ve got to enjoy the music you make or you are wasting your time. So once you learn a song, just play it and enjoy the music you are making. Don’t judge, “Oh shoot. That chord buzzed.” Just play it as best you can. This is called “jamming.”
We all focus so much on improving that sometimes it’s refreshing to take a step back, realize how far we’ve come, and then just play. The best music comes out when you don’t even think about it.
The Next Step:
If you feel like you’ve passed the beginner level, check out the intermediate page.