Sounds, Noises, and Modulations to Make on ‘Ukulele

Despite the ‘ukulele’s beautiful “fretted-note” sound, there are plenty of quirky noises that you can discover (just ask James Hill!). Many of these have to do with the individual instrument, but here are some standard ones that probably work on most ‘ukuleles. Experiment and see what you can come up with!

Behind the Nut

Pick the strings on the wrong side of the nut – the tuning peg side. This produces a very high note because of the short string length and relatively high tension. Use a tuner to figure out what those four notes are on your ‘ukulele. They will be different on every instrument.

Percussion

Bang on your ‘ukulele, flick your ‘ukulele, tap your ‘ukulele. See what sound each part makes when you hit it. (Go easy!) For example, I have a strap button on the neck heel of my Kamaka. It makes a great clave-block sound when I flick it at the right angle.

Cricket

– Grab a pencil or pen and hit it on the string behind the nut (the outside strings are easiest to reach). Bounce it correctly and you will be rewarded with a chirping cricket sound. Hold the pen down lightly when you hit the strings so it bounces several times.

Mute

Mute the stings and strum or pick. If you are clever you can make conga sounds!

Soundboard Screech

This one takes some finagling and might only be possible on ‘ukuleles finished with a high-gloss coat. Pull one of your hands up the soundboard below the bridge. Vary the pressure of your hand until the soundboard makes an awful screeching sound.

Bending Behind the Nut

Play a note and then reach over and grab a string behind the nut. Pull it into a bend. You can bend in big jumps using this technique, but it does usually mess with tuning a little bit. My favorite use for this is to play a set of harmonics on the top three strings (a C major chord), bend the second (E) string up a half step to F for a sus4, and then back down to the major.

Neck Bend

Warning: this technique can break your instrument in half. Use your best judgement. Strum a chord and then hold the body of the ‘ukulele against yourself with your picking arm. Then gently push the headstock away from you. With this technique you can bend down – something that is not usually possible. Like I said, be careful!

Church Bells

Lift the C string down over (across) the E string and fret the C string somewhere around the 10th fret in between the E and A strings (it’s a bit unorthodox). The E string needs to be clear or any obstructions except for the C string. Pick the E string at slow even intervals. Bong! Bong! Bong! Here’s a video lesson:

Wrong Side of the Fret

You can play “reverse ‘ukulele” if you pick between the nut and your fretting hand. This creates a super-thin tone. The intonation is really bad in most places since you essentially reverse the fret spacing, but if you work at it you can figure out “right” notes. This is great for playing DJ sounding rap riffs.

Screaming Pickups

Most pickups will amplify a ghost of your voice if you talk into your ‘ukulele.

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