Fingering Tips For ʻUkulele

Figuring out the best fingering for a passage is one of the hardest parts of playing a song. Since we only have 4 fingers to work with, optimizing what fingers play what notes is a must. I can only give you some guidelines, because every song and person’s playing style is different, but hopefully they will help shed some light on ways to make your playing more graceful.

Welcome to the matrix: There are several locations for each note across the fretboard, you must use whichever one is the most convenient. This might mean moving the whole fingering “box” that you have already figured out. Then you might need to change the order of what fingers you use. Is this E really better than that E? What fingering is the most practical? Should I play it all on one string, or spread it across a couple? This is also another reason to learn the fingerboard better, if you don’t already know it.

If you are playing inside the first 4 frets use the corresponding fingers (1st fret=1st finger, etc.). As long as you are playing a single note melody, this should work well for you. I consider this the “open position”, because below your index finger you have an open string to work with.

If you have time, use whatever finger(s) you want. But make sure you have time!

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I tend to think of every 4-5 frets as a position. So up the neck I still use my fingers in an order that is close to what you use in the open position.

Don’t forget that you can use open strings too, because they might be the most convenient option.

The most important thing is experiment! Try a passage every way you can think, you might miss the best option if you don’t.

Here are some examples to give you ideas. Fingerings above tab. 1=index, 2=middle, 3=ring, 4=pinky

This rhy. fig. in “Cliffs of Dover” is simple, but it took me a while to figure out the best fingering. I like to shift positions from the first fingering to the second. I found that if I didn’t, I couldn’t get the clearance needed to play the notes cleanly.

 3 2     1 2     1 4     1 2
A |---------------------------------
E |-3-------3-------3-------3-------
C |---2-------4-------6-------4-----
G |-----0-0-----0-0-----0-0-----0-0-

Most of this part of “Pineapple Mango” is simple and uses the open position. In the third measure though you use your pinky to play the 7th fret for E. From there I use my index finger to play the C because the open string after it gives me plenty of time to move.

 132 4 3 3 2     23  3 2 2   3   132 4 4 4 1     2 2 3   2 3
A |---2-5-3-3-2-0-|---0-3-2-2-0---|---2-5-7-7-3-0-|-------0-2---|
E |--3------------|--2----------3-|--3------------|-2-2-3-----3-|
C |-2-------------|-2-------------|-2-------------|-------------|
G |---------------|---------------|---------------|-------------|

Here is a part of “Bodysurfing”. In the first section I use just my ring finger for the high notes because the ring and pinky together would be tripping on each other. In the next part I use my ring and pinky because there is now room.

 3  1  1  3  3  1  1  3  3  1  1  3  3  3  1  3
A |-13----10-12-13----10-12-13----10-12-13-12-10-13
E |----10----------10----------10------------------
C |------------------------------------------------
G |------------------------------------------------
 4  1 1 3  4  1 1 3  4  1 1 3  4  3  1 4
A |-12---8-10-12---8-10-12---8-10-12-10-8-12-
E |----8---------8---------8-----------------
C |------------------------------------------
G |------------------------------------------

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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