Beginner 1 Ukulele Lesson

This beginner lesson is a continuation of my page on novice ukulele. It assumes you know how to:

  • Hold your uke
  • Tune your uke
  • Fret F and C7 chords
  • Keep a rhythm with a downstrum
  • Play a two-chord song with F and C7

If you’re not sure about any of that, be sure to go check out that page and return here when you’re ready.

The contents of these lessons loosely follow the progression I’ve outlined here.

These lessons don’t attempt to cover everything. Instead I try to present what I feel is most valuable for an ukulele player’s given skill level and how to practice and improve it through videos, infographics, and links to more detailed pages.

Learning Some More Ukulele Chords

As James Hill recommends in this podcast interview, F and C7 are the best chords to learn first on the ukulele. This is because they are super easy to hold, but are also very closely related to each other, musically.

To get the same relationship with other chords, you end up using more fingers. Which is why you should already know F and C7 from the first lesson – they’re easy!

Since we’re moving to the next level in this uke lesson, we’ll be playing in the tied-for-second-place, easy key of C.

Here’s the most popular chord on the ukulele:

c major ukulele chord diagram

C major

Play C by holding down the 3rd fret of the bottom, A-string with your ring finger. Like this:

cmajor

Here’s a video of how that looks, except, as noted above, use your ring finger instead of the index:

Adding Chords to Your Repertoire

Any time you learn a new chord, whether it’s super simple or super hard, you need to implement it. Learning chords for the sake of learning chords doesn’t achieve much.

Without context you will have a hard time remembering what you learned. Because of this, when you’re beginning, don’t try to learn more than one or two chords at a time. Just add to what you already know by finding songs that incorporate the new shapes.

With C and the F that you know from before, you can play a number of songs, but one of my favorites is a tune I teach in the live lesson below, “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog.

“Hunger Strike” song sheet

Don’t try to play the bridge yet as shown in the sheet. Just focus on getting super comfortable with the C to F and back transition.

Index Finger Strum

In the novice lesson, you learned how to thumb downstrum. This is great for starting out, but not super expandable.

To create a better foundation for more complex strums, you’ll want to transfer to using your index finger for downstrums.

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. Like this:

ukulele strumming hand position

Try brushing the index finger down across the strings in a perpendicular movement. Angle your wrist slightly downwards and allow your finger to bend. This helps pilot your finger across the strings without getting stuck.

Strum down over and over again with even timing until it feels pretty comfortable. Try revisiting any of the songs you already know and switch from using a thumb strum to an index finger strum.

More Chords!

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:

Fmajor

Next 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 (clockwise) to get them both to fit.

g7

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 for beginner ukulele players, use your index finger to hold 1st fret notes, middle for 2nd fret, 3rd for 3rd fret, etc… We’ve already broken this rule with G7, but it’s a good guideline 98% of the time.

Practice changing between these chords, strumming four counts in between.

Faster and easier chord changes

Learn a Simple 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:

Try to sing them once you learn how the chords go (or have somebody else sing). It will give you a point of reference to keep you on time. 

How to sing and play at the same time

Keep in mind that not all songs you get chords for will be in the same key as the recording. That means it will sound “wrong” if you play along with the CD. That’s why singing will make things easier because your ear will automatically find the right key to sing in.

Here are some more easy two to four chord songs

Tips for singing and playing at the same time

Expand Your Chord Knowledge:

Eventually you’ll probably want to learn all of the basic major, minor, and 7th chords. It’s important to keep working on new songs as you go. The more chords you know, the more songs you can play, but it’s no use to learn chords if you don’t have songs to put them in.

Complete chord charts

Simple Picking:

Most teachers start with strumming when they teach ukulele to beginners. They seem to think of picking as something that is out of reach. It’s not.

You use many fingers to hold chords, you only need one to pick a single note!

Easy fingerpicking tabs.

“Tab” is a simple way of writing out music without knowing standard piano notation.

How to read TAB

Improve Your Timing

Understanding rhythm, beats, and timing

Practice:

There’s only one way you will get better. Practice!

If you are struggling with something you find hard, dedicate some time to it every day. You’ll be amazed where steady effort will get you in the course of several days.

There is no “get out of jail free” card in music. You get out what you put in and there are no shortcuts, though I do have some tips:

How to practice

Play:

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

Tips for taking ukulele lessons

Find a Local Kani Ka Pila:

A kani ka pila is a jam group that usually forms in a circle and everyone takes turns choosing songs. Usually the pace is very slow so it’s a fabulous place to hone your skills in a group setting without any pressure. This is how I learned to play ukulele as a beginner.

You’d be surprised how many groups there are across the country and around the world – you just have to find them. Got A Ukulele has a huge page of ukulele clubs. Scroll through to see if your area has one you could ask about local kani ka pilas.

Ukulele Basics 101 Live Stream Replay Series

This video series was initially a week-long set of live streamed lessons about the very basics of playing the ukulele. You can now watch the replays and follow along as we learn a handful of chords and some fun, easy songs.

This is a perfect intro if you want to get your kids started playing the uke!

Day 1: Strumming Basics & Hunger Strike

In the first lesson you’ll learn how to strum C and F and use them to play “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog.

Day 2: Just the Way You Are

Time for a couple new chords and a new song!

Part 2:

Day 3: Island Style

One more new chord and a song.

Day 4: One Day

One last song!

Day 5: Review and New Strum

Adding the D D DU strum to Hunger Strike and One Day.

Intermediate ukulele lessons >>>

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brad bordessa avatar About the author: Brad Bordessa I’m an ‘ukulele artist from Honoka’a, Hawai’i, where I run this site from an off-grid cabin 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