This is a stage of slow progress. The biggest part of being in the intermediate level of ‘ukulele playing seems to be that you are reinforcing the info you have already learned. Strumming more consistently, picking more precise – connecting all of the dots. It can be frustrating because it feels like you are spinning your wheels, but all of your practice really does add up to better ‘ukulele playing (I promise!).
By now you should probably know:
- The majority of the open-position major, minor, and 7th chords.
- How to tune
- A few different strums
- Some songs that really float your boat
Not quite there? Go to the beginner’s page to get up to speed.
This lesson isn’t going to take you through every part of the intermediate level. Instead, it will point you to other parts of the site that have much more detailed info. Follow the links and see what you can learn!
Listen to More Music:
Keep listening to your favorite ‘ukulele artists. As you get better, more of their playing will become recognizable (“so that’s what he does there…” moments will occur). Also listen to mainstream artists, guitarists, etc… Their music will open you up to new and different musical ideas.
(*Cue scary music*) Sure, scales can be boring to learn, but the benefit of knowing them far outweighs the boring hours of practice. One you have a grasp on what notes are in each key and where they are on the fretboard, it will be easier for you to see relationships between many aspects of music.
I like to over analyze things and know why they are happening so I always overstudied theory. You don’t need to know it, but it helped me understand and internalize what was happening under my fingers better.
In regards to actually learning the location and names of the notes, start with this basic major scale shape that you can use up and down the fretboard (video lesson). In the open position it looks like this and is called a C major scale (note names below – try to get familiar with them):
C D E F G A B C C B A G F E D C
But you can move it up a fret (using the 1 finger per fret idea) and get a C# major scale:
Fingering is shown inside the dots:
One more fret up and you get the D major scale, and so on… Practice it up the fretboard as far as you can, going up one fret at a time, and then come back down.
- The first note that you play (1st finger, C string) tells you what major scale you are playing. Whatever note is under your finger is the root note. So if you start on the 5th fret, C string you are playing an F major scale.
I’m a big proponent of starting to solo or freestyle early in the learning process. You can’t break anything by trying out your own licks and riffs. It helps you build a better familiarity with your ‘ukulele. Especially if you can let go of “what should be” and embrace “what is.”
Let yourself suck.
Don’t worry about playing it “right” yet. Just play it! We all have to start somewhere. You will suck at first – I promise! I sucked when I started to solo. Jake sucked. James sucked. It’s just something you have to work through. But if you stick with it you will find that you get better and better.
The easiest way to sound good with your solos is to use the major scale of the key you are playing in. If you are soloing in the key of G, use a G major scale. Here’s more:
Learn Minor scales too:
When you know some major scales, learn some minor ones. There are a few different types of minor scales: natural minor, melodic minor, and harmonic minor. For now you can just focus on the natural minor.
Each major key has a relative minor key. The minor key is the sixth note of the major scale. So, if you are in the key of C, the relative minor key would be A.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 (or 1)
C D E F G A B C
The cool thing about this is that the relative minor scale still uses the major scale notes, you just start everything from the new root (A). So if the new key is A minor, the A minor scale will look like the C scale, you just start and stop on A.
Likewise, minor scales can be played over the same minor chord (A minor scale = Am chord). Start by learning the relative minor scales to C, F, G, Bb, A, and D (Am, Dm, Em, Gm, F#m, and Bm). Once you have those mastered (it shouldn’t take as long because you know the relative major scales already)
Adding techniques to your ‘ukulele playing can really bring new light to your lead work. Hammer-ons and pull-offs are a good place to start. They will make it easier to play some licks and make your playing smoother. Other things to work on are: bending, tremolo picking, and harmonics. Tremolo picking is one of the hardest techniques to play consistently. You think you have it figured out, then you start having problems. So, start working on this as soon as you have a place to add it to your playing. None of these techniques are necessary, but they can add a little something different to a song. Techniques also give you more ways to express a phrase.
Learn some substitution chords:
Major 6th chords are probably the best place to start learning about chord substitutions. Almost any major 6th chord can be played over the major chord of the same name (C = C6). Major 7th chords also work over some major chords (usually the I and IV). Minor 7th chords go over minor chords of the same name. A good way to practice using these chords is to take a very simple progression and use substitution chords instead of the originals. The “surf” progression is great for this: C Am F G7. There are about a million ways to fill this out, so if it sounds good, it will probably work. Here are some examples:
Each bar line indicates a chord change (C//// Am//// F//// G7////).
- Jazzy Intros and Outros has more info about substituting chords
I have also made a chord chart of C major, minor, and 7th substitutions. These chords can be transposed to any key. I plan on making more charts, but for now, learn to transpose.
Play with anybody you can find:
The best learning experience you can probably have is jamming with other musicians. Whether you play Hawaiian, Bluegrass, the Blues, Oldies, or Rock, you are gaining experience with every chord you lay down in the right spot. If someone asks you to pa’ani (solo), play something! I see people who are capable of soloing who shake their heads and pass when their name is called (I know I used to). Even if you make a mistake you will gain experience. If you do make a mistake, be sure to remember to not let it show – if you stop all the way, everyone will know, but if you plow through the embarrassment and make it to the next note, only a few will, and they will respect that you kept going.
This should probably go in the beginners section, but at that point you need to learn to play before thinking about something else.If you are shy about singing, a big group is the best place to practice. Everyone is busy drowning each other out, so they wont have time to listen to you. Even if they do listen to you, the odds are they will appreciate that you are adding to the music. I think most people would rather hear many people who are “just ok” than one person who is “good.” Stand (or sit) up straight, breathe into your stomach with your diaphragm, open your mouth wide, and belt it out. Most people sound better singing confidently than quietly. To make sure you are in the ballpark of the right pitch, put a finger in your ear. It lets you hear yourself (weird!) and whether you are hitting the right note. To develop note/finger relations practice singing whatever you play. If you are practicing scales, sing them (or sing the harmony). If you are learning a solo, sing it. This will get your mind loosened up so that when you hear something (in your head or elsewhere) you can find where the notes are easily.
Learn Slack Key and standard guitar chords:
Odds are at some point you are going to be playing with a guitar player. This means that unless you ask – or sit, listen, and figure them out – you will have no idea what chords are being played. If you want to jump right into a jam or song this can be frustrating, and might result in you sitting out for songs you don’t know. The answer: learn basic guitar chords. Learning both standard tuning and slack key (if you jam with slack key players) chords will give you a bigger advantage. But the tuning your jam partners use most should be your main guideline. This gives you the ability to “watch fingers” and play along. You can also now play rhythm guitar, which can be handy. You can find basic guitar chords for standard tuning here, and slack key here.
Add arpeggios to songs:
Herb Ohta Jr. said in one of his classes that he once saw a group of students playing “Tears in Heaven” with an up-tempo reggae beat. “You guys know what that song is about right? He’s mourning for his son.” He goes on to demonstrate how “I would much rather hear a sad song played like this” [demonstrates slow arpeggio chord pattern] “then like this” [plays fast reggae strum]. Sometimes chords are just to much for a song or even parts of a song, and it is better to use arpeggios to slow things down. An arpeggio is basically a “melted chord”:
The easiest way to do arpeggios is by holding a chord and picking the strings in a certain order. Another way is to play several notes on each string. It’s kind of a weird concept but hopefully this lesson can give you some insight.
It is a lot more subtle than a chord. You can find some basic arpeggios on the picking patterns page.
Learn some music theory:
Lots of’ ‘ukulele players blow off learning theory, but I think that a little bit really helps with your overall view of music. You don’t by any means NEED to know it, but it will make you much more rounded as a musician.
I would suggest you learn the material in that order so each lesson builds on the last.
If you’re an advanced player than head over to the “Advanced Page“.