How To Play Octaves On The ‘Ukulele

An octave is a grip (chord shape) of two notes. A main note, and the note an octave above (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8). Octaves can be used to make a single note sound bigger without playing an actual chord. Jimi Hendrix used octaves a lot – in songs like Villanova Junction. I have also seen Jake Shimabukuro use octaves on his “Play Loud ‘Ukulele” DVD in the song Europa.

I have seen people play octaves on the ‘ukulele in three different shapes:

  1. X2X5
  2. 2X5X (low-G)
  3. 5XX3 (low-G)

I find that it is easiest to play the first two shapes with the index and pinky fingers of my left hand. The third seems to work best with the index and ring fingers of my left hand. The two strings that don’t sound are muted by any fingers you can use. Then you can strum just like you were playing a chord. Or you can just pick the two notes in a pincer movement with the thumb and index finger of your right hand.

Both notes are the root, so just move the shape around your ‘ukulele until you land on the note you are looking for. So a C octave would be X0X3 or 5X8X or 5XX3. A G octave would be 0X3X or X7X10 or 12XX10. (Etc.)

Try playing Jake’s Europa break. (In octaves): D E F E F A G F E E (or something close to that. Watch the video for the whole idea).

Europa Break MP3

Here’s a video lesson demonstrating the octaves technique: