Intermediate ‘Ukulele

Intermediate ‘ukulele players face a stage of slow progress.

Strumming more consistently, picking more precisely, deepening your understanding – connecting all of the dots is what being an intermediate is all about!

I expect intermediate ‘ukulele players to probably know:

Not quite there?

Go to the beginner’s page to get up to speed.

This lesson itself isn’t going to take you through every part of the intermediate level. Instead, it will point you to other parts of the site that have much more detailed info on each subject.

Listen to More Music

Keep listening to your favorite ‘ukulele artists.

As you get better, more of their playing will become recognizable (“so that’s what he does there…” moments will occur).

Also listen to mainstream artists, guitarists, etc… Their music will open you up to new and different musical ideas.

Recommended Stuff has some suggestions for cool albums to open up your ears.

Learn Scales

One you have a grasp on what notes are in each key and where they are on the fretboard, it will be easier for you to see relationships between many aspects of music.

The theory behind scales helps explain why and how the notes land in the order they do. It’s good stuff to know so you can always figure out what the “good” notes are.

In regards to actually learning the location and names of the notes, start with this basic major scale shape that you can use up and down the fretboard. In the open position it looks like this:

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

It’s called a C major scale.

But you can move it up a fret (using the 1 finger per fret idea) and get a C# major scale:

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

Fingering is shown inside the dots:


One more fret up and you get the D major scale… And so on…

Practice it up the fretboard as far as you can, going up one fret at a time, and then come back down. In addition to learning the shape, you’ll be giving your fingers a very good workout.

The first note that you play in the shape tells you the name of the major scale you are playing. So if you start the shape on the 5th fret, your index finger is on an F note, which means you are playing an F major scale.

Start Soloing

I’m a big proponent of starting to solo or freestyle early in the learning process.

You can’t break anything by trying out your own licks and riffs. It helps you build a better familiarity with your ‘ukulele. Especially if you can let go of “what should be” and embrace “what is.”

Let yourself suck.

Don’t worry about playing it “right” yet. Just play it!

We all have to start somewhere. You will suck at first – I promise! I sucked when I started to solo. Jake sucked. James sucked.

It’s just something you have to work through. But if you stick with it you will find that you get better and better.

Soloing on the ‘ukulele is a massive subject best explained in its own lesson.

Learn Minor Scales Too

Once you know some major scales, learn some minor ones.

Each major key has a relative minor key that uses the same exact notes, but started in a different place. The minor key starts on the sixth note of the major scale.

So, if you are in the key of C, the relative minor key would be A:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

To get an A minor scale, you just start from the A note:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

This means that the notes you already know from the relative major key still apply when you go to the relative minor.

An A minor scale looks like this, but any note could also be used in the key of C major.

A |-0-2-3-5-7-8-10-12-|-12-10-8-7-5-3-2-0-
E |-------------------|-------------------
C |-------------------|-------------------
G |-------------------|-------------------

If you have a low-G you could also play it like this:

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

Start by learning the relative minor scales to C, F, G, Bb, A, and D (Am, Dm, Em, Gm, F#m, and Bm).

With these scales and their major counterparts you can ear out simple melodies, play solos, write your own songs, build chords, etc…


Techniques can really bring new light to your lead work. They help to articulate musical ideas and vocabulary.

Hammer-ons are a good place to start. They will make it easier to play some licks and form a good foundation for learning other techniques.

Other things to work on are: bending, tremolo picking, and harmonics.

No technique is a necessary skill, but they can add a little something different to a song. Techniques also give you more ways to express a phrase.

More technique lessons here.

Learn some substitution chords

Major 6th chords are probably the best place to start learning about chord substitutions. Almost any major 6th chord can be played over the major chord of the same name (C = C6).

Major 7th chords also work over some major chords (usually the I and IV).

Minor 7th chords go over minor chords of the same name.

A good way to practice using these chords is to take a very simple progression and use substitution chords instead of the originals. The “surf” progression is great for this: C Am F G7.

There are about a million ways to fill this out, so if it sounds good, it will probably work.

Here are some examples:

A |-3-3-3-3-|-3-3-3-3-|-3-3-3-2-|-2-2-2-2-|
E |-3-3-3-3-|-2-2-2-2-|-1-1-1-1-|-1-1-1-1-|
C |-4-4-4-4-|-3-3-3-3-|-2-2-2-2-|-2-2-2-2-|
G |-2-2-2-2-|-2-2-2-2-|-2-2-2-2-|-0-0-0-0-|
A |-7-7-7-7-|-6-6-6-6-|-5-5-5-5-|-5-5-5-5-|
E |-5-5-5-5-|-5-5-5-5-|-5-5-5-5-|-7-7-7-7-|
C |-7-7-7-7-|-6-6-6-6-|-5-5-5-5-|-5-5-5-5-|
G |-5-5-5-5-|-5-5-5-5-|-5-5-5-5-|-0-0-0-0-|

Each bar line indicates a chord change (C//// Am//// F//// G7////).

More like this

All these substitution chords can be found in my extensive book, ‘Ukulele Chord Shapes.

I have also made a chord chart of C major, minor, and 7th substitutions. These chords can be transposed to any key. I plan on making more charts, but for now you’ll have to learn to transpose and move it to other keys.

Play With Others

The best learning experience you can probably have is jamming with other musicians.

Whether you play Hawaiian, Bluegrass, the Blues, Oldies, or Rock, you are gaining experience with every chord you lay down in the right spot.

If someone asks you to pa’ani (solo) – play something! I see people who are capable of soloing who shake their heads and pass when their name is called (I know I used to). Even if you make a mistake you will gain experience. If you do make a mistake, be sure to remember to not let it show – if you stop all the way, everyone will know, but if you plow through the embarrassment and make it to the next note, only a few will, and they will respect that you kept going.


If you are shy about singing, a big group is the best place to practice. Everyone is busy drowning each other out, so they wont have time to listen to you!

Stand (or sit) up straight, breathe into your stomach with your diaphragm, open your mouth wide, and belt it out. Most people sound better singing confidently than quietly.

To make sure you are in the ballpark of the right pitch, cup your ear with a hand. It lets you hear yourself (weird!) and whether you are hitting the right note.

I highly encourage taking at least a handful of vocal lessons, no matter how good or bad you think you are.

Add Arpeggios To Songs

Sometimes chords are just to much for a song or even parts of a song, and it is better to use arpeggios to slow things down. An arpeggio is basically a “melted chord”:

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

The easiest way to do arpeggios is by holding a chord and picking the strings in a certain order.

It is a lot more subtle sound than a chord. You can find some basic arpeggios on the picking patterns page.

Learn Some Music Theory

Lots of ‘ukulele players blow off learning theory, but I think that a little bit really helps with your overall understanding of music – especially folks who lack experience “hearing” music. The analytical approach can explain a lot of mysteries.

You don’t by any means NEED to know it, but it will make you much more rounded as a musician.

There are tons of books and sites that you can find on Google, but I found Ricci Adams’ theory site to have a lot of good info. I have also written a few lessons specifically for ‘ukulele players.

Constructing Scales on the ‘Ukulele

Constructing Chords on the ‘Ukulele

Transposing on the ‘Ukulele

I would suggest you learn the material in that order so each lesson builds on the last.

If you’re an advanced player than head over to the Advanced Page.

By Brad Bordessa

I’m an ‘ukulele artist from Honoka’a, Hawai’i, 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 borrowed a uke to jam with HAPA onstage in my boardshorts. More about me