Ukulele For Kids: Quick-Start Guide

Kids and music, how could you go wrong? All kids love music, but getting them to learn an instrument can be a challenge.

In this guide I’ll take you through all you need to know about how to get your child playing the ukulele.

Why the Ukulele is Great for Kids

Congratulations for choosing the ukulele to get your child making music. It’s the perfect instrument for a young music student; easy to learn and fun to play.

Making music should be an enjoyable experience, not full of frustration because the sound that comes out is painful to hear. Unlike traditional instruments such as violin or trumpet that take years of practice to sound pleasant, ukulele students can be playing their favorite tunes by artists like Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and Grace VanderWaal in their first lesson or two.

There are also some physical reasons why the ukulele is great for kids. Children have small arms and hands so the little size of the ukulele makes it easy to hold and strum. The nylon strings also make it easy on their fingers, unlike a steel-string instrument such as guitar, which can be painful to fret for beginners.

changing ukulele strings with kid

Best Ukulele Size for Kids

There are a number of ukulele sizes out there to choose from, so it can be confusing to know which size to get for your child. In general you can break up the different sizes into four main categories. They are, from smallest to largest, soprano (sometimes called standard), concert, tenor, and baritone.

My recommendations are pretty simple, if the student is younger than 10 years old, go with a standard size, also known as a soprano. They are small, easier to hold, and the neck isn’t as wide, which makes holding chords more comfortable. If the student is 10 and up, a concert is perfect for growing bodies. The concert is a little bigger than the soprano, but not so big that it is going to impede their playing. They can also grow into it as they hit their teenage years and it will never be too small for them.

It is also a good idea to go to a music store and have your child hold each size. Ask them which feels most comfortable. For example, you might be able to completely rule out a concert ukulele as an option if it feels too big.

You can always start with the soprano and then move up to concert size later on. In fact, I still love and play my soprano Kamaka uke all the time.

teaching kid to play ukulele

What Age to Start Lessons

The right age to start ukulele lessons really depends on the individual child. In general, you can start them as early as 6 or 7. Remember though that all children have different levels of fine motor skill development, so this is just a guideline.

As a parent, you know your child best, so pay attention to how they react to learning music and be patient if they are not ready. You don’t want to turn them off of the experience so there’s nothing wrong with pressing pause on lessons and restarting at an older age.

Music enrichment sessions are a great way to get even younger students engaging with music. These are usually short 15 to 20 minute sessions that are a way to teach the basics of rhythm and movement. Look for a teacher in your area that specializes in early child music education to get them started at an even younger age.

The Best Ways to Help Them Learn (Teacher, Online Lessons, Courses)

How you facilitate learning depends on your child and what resources you have access to. Ideally a live in-person teacher who is knowledgeable in music instruction is best.

I’d suggest starting with one ukulele lesson per week for about 30 to 45 minutes per session. Consider your child’s attention span; some kids function better in smaller chunks so see if you can do two 20 minute sessions instead of one 45 minute lesson.

Not everybody has access to a live teacher, so online lessons can be a good option as well. Video conferencing technology is very seamless and you can get a lot of the same benefits online that you would get in person. Most children should be comfortable with this type of instruction having done their schooling online due to COVID-19.

Following pre-recorded courses or watching YouTube is not ideal, but for a self-motivated, young learner this can be an easy and cheap way to learn the ukulele. But be sure to do some research before committing your kids to an ukulele course like this. Not everybody knows what they’re talking about!

Brad did a week-long livestream course on the very basics of playing ukulele that might be a good place to begin if you can’t find or afford personalized lessons.

How to Encourage Learning/Practice

I always tell my students that you should practice for the same amount of time between lessons as the length of one of our lessons. So if we meet once a week for an hour, then they should play for one hour in total between meetings. This hour should be spread out during the week in 10 or 15 minute chunks.

One way to encourage young learners to practice is to show them examples of other kids their age playing ukulele. There are a number of YouTube channels and Instagram accounts of young people playing the ukulele. Make a shared YouTube playlist and watch it together with your child.

Also ask around your circles to see if anyone knows other kids who are taking ukulele lessons or playing the uke. There is definitely a motivational power in collaborating with friends who are learning the ukulele at the same time!

Finding Fun Songs to Play

The songs that are the most fun for kids to play on the ukulele depends on their age. For children under 10 or 11, usually any number of simple, common songs are a great bet. “You Are My Sunshine,” “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and “Amazing Grace” are some of my favorites to teach students.

For kids 12 and up, it’s good to get them connected with the musicians that they are passionate about. Use Google to help them find the chords to songs by their favorite artists. Many pop songs only require the knowledge of 4 or 5 chords.

Some sites even have a built in transposing feature that allows you to put the song in a familiar key. (Ultimate-Guitar comes to mind. Just look for chords with a high rating.)

Here is a collection of 100 easy uke songs that include a handful of hits from the past decade.

Conclusion

The ukulele is the perfect instrument for kids and technology has made it much easier to learn in recent years. It really is the musical instrument of the 21st century. Small, sweet sounding, and affordable, if you are considering getting your child started on the wonderful journey of learning the ukulele, you’re on the right path and the uke community is here to help!

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Dagan Bernstein
dagan bernstein smiling

Dagan is a musician and educator from Waimea on Hawaiʻi Island. He enjoys singing and playing 100 year old Hawaiian cowboy tunes as well as being in the classroom teaching students how to derive the quadratic formula or pick the Harry Potter theme on their uke. More about Dagan