A Breakdown Of ʻUkulele Playing Levels

This is likely to offend some people at first glance so please do not read further without understanding this one little thing:

My list is an abstract effort to visualize the overall curve of learning ʻukulele, not to categorize anybody’s abilities. Being here or there level-wise doesn’t mean anything. We all grow at our own pace.

Also, consider these things:

  1. This is just a curiosity project.
  2. Learning is not a linear thing. Everyone approaches it differently, has strong suits and weak points, and takes their own time.
  3. In real life there aren’t any lines dividing levels or achievements. It’s not bad to be considered “this” or “that.”
  4. One does not have to know or master everything on this list to be considered at the next level.
  5. Most importantly, music is not a competition.
  6. I tend to be kind of a hard-ass sort of guy on paper so perhaps it seems like my expectations are high. They’re not, really. In trying create space on the high end of the spectrum for advanced material, basic stuff gets pushed even further down.

Okay. Got it? Now, if you’re still interested to see what I came up with, keep reading.

I (Pre-Novice):

Knowledge:

  • The names of the strings
  • Simple ʻukulele terminology to aid learning (fret, up/down the neck, left/right hand, etc…)
  • C and F (or similar)

Motor Skills:

  • Basic right hand motion to produce sound from instrument (downstrum and/or thumb pick)
  • Finger movement of the left hand to hold a simple chord
  • How to hold a chord and strum at the same time
  • How begin moving the fingers to new chord shapes while strumming

Musical Skills:

  • Be able to hesitantly strum a two-chord song

II (Novice):

Knowledge:

  • Four easy and common chords like: C, F, Am, and G7 (or similar)
  • Some basic music terminology like: key, chord, note, timing, rhythm, etc…
  • Basic posture

Motor Skills:

  • Chalangalang down, up strum
  • How to strum more steadily while changing chords

Musical Skills:

  • How to stay on (or re-find) a basic beat with your strum

III (Beg 1):

Knowledge:

  • Basic chords in some easy uke keys: C, F, G7; F, Bb, C7; G, C, D7
  • Correcting posture for ease of playing
  • Simple picking exercises and melodies (1234 warmup or similar)

Motor Skills:

  • Down, Up and Down, Down, Up, Up, Down strumming patterns
  • Basic picking coordination.

Musical Skills:

  • How to strum relatively in time when playing simple songs
  • Begin to hear when a chord change happens

Theory:

  • Chromatic scale

IV (Beg 2):

Knowledge:

  • Basic chords in most common keys: C, G, F, D, A, Bb, E
  • The C major/A minor scale in its basic position

Motor Skills:

  • Begin playing chords just by feel, no looking
  • How to add a “chop” or “chunk” to a strum

Musical Skills:

  • How to convey extremes in dynamics (loud, soft)
  • Hold confident timing (no rushing!)
  • Play 2 or 3 songs from memory
  • Begin experimenting with improvising
  • Play a song from memory

Theory:

  • A better understanding of the chromatic scale, sharps/flats, enharmonics

Theory:

  • How a scale is created

V (Inter 1):

Knowledge:

  • Open position Major, Minor, and 7th chords in all 12 keys
  • What the notes are called up to the 3rd fret
  • How to transpose a basic song into any key
  • Some jazz chord shapes (6ths, minor 7ths, 9ths)
  • What the notes are called up to the 5th fret
  • Basic scales in ʻukulele-friendly keys: C, F, G, D, A, etc…

Motor Skills:

  • More exotic strum patterns like a reggae strum, country strum, hula strum…
  • How to integrate the thumb and index finger for picking string patterns
  • Introducing the index finger to picking

Musical Skills:

  • How to play with a metronome when strumming and for simple instances of playing lead
  • 5 songs from memory (1-2 with picking)
  • How to play in simple odd time signatures like ¾ and 6/8
  • Learning start and stop notes for improv

Theory:

  • How a chord is created
  • Intervals

VI (Inter 2):

Knowledge:

  • All main major, minor, and 7th chord shapes up and down the fretboard
  • Simple open position jazz chords in 12 keys
  • All major scales in a simple position (relative minors too!)
  • The notes on the fretboard up to the 7th fret

Motor Skills:

  • Basic picking articulations such as hammer-on, pull-off, and slide
  • Making what you already play more efficient/clean

Musical Skills:

  • How to recognize I, IV, and V chords in a progression
  • How to play triplet groupings
  • 10 songs from memory
  • Beginning to solo in all keys

Theory:

  • Chord scales, how they are made, and create keys

VII (Adv 1):

Knowledge:

  • What the notes are called up to the 10th fret
  • All 6th, minor 7th, 9th, major 7th chords up and down the fretboard
  • Open positions for almost any other chord
  • All major and minor scales across the fretboard

Motor Skills:

  • Incorporating vibrato, hammer-ons, pull-offs, or slides into any lead

Musical Skills:

  • Play any song with a metronome
  • Enough songs to fill an hour set
  • How to accompany almost any song with confident strumming or picking
  • Incorporating ideas and energy in solos

Theory:

  • Modes
  • Memorizing key signatures

VIII (Adv 2):

Knowledge:

  • All notes across the fretboard
  • All scales across the fretboard
  • All chords across the fretboard

Musical Skills:

  • Figure almost any song out by ear on the fly
  • Close-to-perfect timing
  • How to play MUSIC: when to play, when not to play, feels, listening, what to play, what not to play, etc, etc, etc…

Expert:

  • All of the above, flawlessly

Learn more! Play Better!

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Brad Bordessa
brad bordessa smiling holding ukulele

I’m an ‘ukulele artist from Honokaʻa, Hawaiʻi, 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 jammed with HAPA onstage in my boardshorts. More about me