What should you do?! First of all, don’t panic! Calmly make eye contact with the gift-giver and say “thank you.” Do not judge your new ‘ukulele just yet. It’s pretty hip these days. I mean, it’s even in commercials, like, all the time. Maybe it will grow on you.
Take the ‘ukulele out of its box and pluck the strings. They are guaranteed to be out of tune. Nice first impression! “My dog has fleas” doesn’t even sound right. It’s okay. Hopefully the kids didn’t notice because they were are busy tearing festive paper off their new Lego set while mom, dad, and the grandparents watch. Your Uncle who did notice your horribly flat first attempt probably won’t say anything …until later in the day at the worst possible moment. You’ve got a limited amount of time for redemption! Let’s do this. Step into my office…
In order for anything to sound good, you must first tune the instrument. Your options for getting your new ‘ukulele in tune are (in order of ease for a first-time player):
- By tuner/app
- By pitchpipe/tuning fork/piano
- By ear/relative
If your uke came with a tuner, you’re set. If not and you have an iOS device, download a tuner app. If you got an iTunes gift card in your stocking, check out one of these five. If you didn’t, find a free one. If (last one) you don’t have a tuner OR an iOS device, you can go to an online pitch pipe to hear reference notes.
I’d waste more space here on tuning, but I’ve already made an entire page about it: Tuning Your ‘Ukulele.
My headstock tuner of choice is the D’Addario NS Mini. It’s small – you can leave it on when you put your ‘ukulele in the case and it’s very accurate.
Learn A Chord!
The great thing about an ‘ukulele is that once it’s tuned it takes less than 5 seconds to learn your first chord: the open strings. Strum your newly GCEA-tuned ‘ukulele. This is a C6 chord!
Meh. Nobody uses that one very often. Let’s jump ahead to the easiest fretted (fingered) chord – C major. To play C, hold your ‘ukulele with the headstock pointing left, body flat against your own. Now, squeezing the neck gently between the thumb and ring finger of your left hand, press the bottom string in the third fret space. (The little metal strips on the neck are called “frets.” You place your finger(s) in between them to change the pitch of the note.) Like this:
Time to make the strings do their thang. Make a loose fist with your right hand (as if you were going to do rock, paper, scissors). Now, let your pointer finger pop out at a 90 degree angle. This is a ballpark for what your strumming position should look like. While holding the C chord with your left hand, brush the index finger of your right hand up and down the strings in a perpendicular movement. Try turning your wrist as you move your hand up and down. This helps pilot your pointer finger across the strings without getting stuck.
Strum down and up over and over again with even timing until it feels pretty comfortable.
Here are two more chords that are family members to C major.
To play F major, place the index finger of your left hand on the 1st fret of the 2nd string from the bottom. (The strings are counted like the stories of a building – 1 on the bottom closest to the floor, 4 on the top closest to your face.) Then place your middle finger on the top (4th) string on the 2nd fret. Like so:
Last up is a G dominant 7th chord. Place your index finger on the 1st fret of the 2nd string (just like in F). Your middle finger plays the 2nd fret of the 3rd string (one string down from where it is in F). And finally, your ring finger plays the 2nd fret of the bottom string. Since you have to play two fingers on the 2nd fret, you might need to turn your wrist outwards and down to get them both to fit.
Play A Song!
With three chords you can play way more songs than you’d ever think. Here are some good choices that use C, F, and G7:
- Down On The Corner by CCR
- Leaving On A Jet Plane by John Denver
- Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2
- Love Me Do by The Beatles
Once you’ve slept off the ham, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, get out your ‘ukulele again and practice what you’ve already learned. Short, but consistent daily practice sessions are much better than a long session once a week.
When you’re ready to move on to new things, check out my page on ‘Ukulele 101. It talks about many of the things presented in this post, but more in depth. You’ll also want to find a couple more Easy Songs to learn and the Chords you need to play them.
With that you will be well on your way. Check back when you need new things to practice and leave a comment to let me know how you’re doing!
May you have a merry Christmas and prosperous, peaceful new year!