Learning to play a little ‘ukulele is easy! In a ten minute ‘ukulele lesson I can get most students playing a song.
Past that point though and you inevitably start to study the instrument. That takes time.
Taking ‘ukulele lessons from a good teacher is an amazing opportunity that I highly recommend. Best is in-person, but there are also lots of people teaching on Skype these days.
Since both options are not always feasible, I’ve written a huge collection of ‘ukulele lessons over the years that will help you improve on your own time.
‘Ukulele 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.
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.
Rhythm ‘Ukulele Lessons:
All about chords and right hand techniques using all the strings.
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.
Bending A soulful articulation that moves the pitch of one note seamlessly up to another by stretching the string.
Hammer-Ons 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.
Octaves 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.
Pull-Offs Increase your picking speed with smart descending technique. This is the name of the pull-off game and in this lesson I show you how to use it.
Rakes How to create a quick, but dramatic lead-up to a note. Great for accenting key points in a solo.
Slides 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.
Tapping 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!
Trills A trill is basically a lightning speed, repeating hammer-on, pull-off combination that is a staple in classical music.
Unisons A possibly useless technique in which you play the same pitch in two places. It creates a big, fat, chorusy sound.
Vibrato 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. Not actually ‘ukulele lessons, but important nonetheless. You don’t need to know how to make a 7b5 chord to be a great player, however, 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.
Modes Understanding the seven scales within each key, how they are related and used.
Transposing 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.
If you don’t have access to a local teacher, there are still many resources you can study from.
The best, in my opinion, is The Ukulele Way by James Hill. I’ve worked as a site admin for James for years and have really seen this program inside and out. It’s made up of six “books,” each containing about 10 lessons that focus on the skills required for playing solo arrangements. Each lesson includes a video, sheet music or tab, and audio examples. The pedagogy is well thought out and each lesson builds upon the previous, starting quite simple and become quite advanced by the end. It’s only $9 CAD per month and is really the best value around.
Another great resource is Ukulele Underground University. Taught by Aldrine Guerrero, these lessons cover many areas of study like theory, song tutorials, genre styles, and also include guest teachers for more diversity. There are also weekly updates and live streams.
Finally, I’ve been very impressed by the book and corresponding video lessons Daniel Ward has put together called Arpeggio Meditations. You can check out my review of the program here. There are 16 studies presented with the focus on picking hand agility and, obviously, arpeggio playing. In addition to beautiful transcriptions in the book, there are accompanying videos that can be rented on Vimeo (for a whole year).
By Brad Bordessa
I’m an ‘ukulele artist from Honoka’a, Hawai’i, where I run this site from a little plantation house in the jungle. I’ve taught workshops internationally, made Herb Ohta Jr. laugh until he cried, and once borrowed a uke to jam with HAPA onstage in my boardshorts. More about me
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