Many wonder: Is the ukulele easy to learn? Learn to play the ukulele with our step-by-step guide for beginners. Start playing basic chords and understand strum patterns with Fender.
Small, portable, relatively inexpensive, and fun to play, the ukulele is a great instrument for beginners to acquire and deepen their love of music. If you are thinking of learning to play the ukulele, there is no better time than the present!
Like any lifelong journey, you’ll want to know what to expect along the way. In this guide, you’ll get tips for choosing the right type of ukulele, tips for tuning and strumming your instrument, and some easy chords and songs to get you started.
“My advice to someone just learning to play the ukulele is to have fun with it and don’t take anything too seriously.”
– Grace VanderWaal
Looking for a good way to improve your musical repertoire? Look no further than the ukulele. There’s a reason it’s been the favorite instrument of a wide range of artists, from George Harrison to Elvis to Taylor Swift. In the Fender Play LIVE episode “Why you Should Play Ukulele”, expert uke musician Abe Lagrimas Jr. discusses some of the amazing techniques and songs you can play on the ukulele.
Whether you have never played an instrument or have played one or more instruments for years, there are many reasons to learn to play the ukulele:
While it’s true that you can learn to play the ukulele on your own, sometimes it’s helpful to get a little help from experts to improve your skills. On this page, you’ll find tips for playing the ukulele, tried-and-true techniques used by veteran players, and more information to help you play better and faster.
Choosing a ukulele can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many sizes and styles to choose from, not to mention that each one has its shade. To help you narrow down the field, here are some tips to keep in mind when choosing a ukulele.
Ukuleles come in a variety of sizes, and each has its distinctive tone
In general, ukuleles are one of the most affordable instruments and offer a lifetime of learning and playing fun at a relatively low cost, ranging from $50.00 to $150.00. Depending on what stage you are in with the ukulele, there are a variety of ukuleles to fit your budget while still giving you an instrument to cherish for years to come.
Before you strum your first few chords, learning how to hold the ukulele correctly can help you get the best sound out of your instrument and ensures that you don’t damage your instrument.
Start by holding your instrument with its back snug against you, supporting the body of your instrument with your right arm. Gently but firmly hold the neck of your ukulele in the crook of your left hand, resting it comfortably on the web between your thumb and forefinger.
From this position, you can comfortably move your left hand up and down the neck of the ukulele to finger chords, and your right hand is in the perfect position to strum those chords and make them sound.
One of the most distinctive features of a ukulele is the way its strings are tuned:
G = The fourth string
C = The third string (lowest pitch)
E = The second string
A = The first string (and the highest pitched string)
While all six strings on a guitar are tuned in descending order, the lowest pitched string on a ukulele is its third string.
Strumming chords is the backbone of learning to play the ukulele. Strum patterns involve different ways of playing upstrokes or downstrokes on your ukulele.
Some songs may require you to play all of your chords using only harder downward strokes at a steady beat. Others may require you to play the ukulele chords in an alternating pattern, playing an upstroke followed by a downstroke. You may also stumble upon a song that calls for an irregular strumming pattern, playing chords in a “down-down-up-down” pattern.
The more you play and practice strumming chords on your ukulele, the more you will hear the subtle differences between how a chord sounds when strummed down and strummed up. Over time, you will begin to strum chords instinctively, knowing whether you like the sound of alternating strum patterns or more irregular strum patterns based on the feel you want to create when playing a song.
“I think the ukulele brings a different feeling to every song… it inspires a different kind of writing.”
Not sure where to start? Here are some strumming tips for beginners just starting on the ukulele:
The most common way to strum your ukulele is with your thumb, index finger, or a combination of the two, as if you were holding an invisible D. You can also strum with the pads and nails of all four fingers.
If you use a pa to strum your ukulele, it is better to use a felt pa that will not damage the nylon strings of the ukulele. Holding the p slightly and at an angle can help create a smoother, less stiff sound when strumming chords.
It’s all on the wrist! While gently holding the pa can create a more pleasing tone when strumming a chord, keeping your wrist loose can also make chords sound better and less choppy. By keeping your wrist loose, you can transition between chords more easily and minimize the risk of wrist pain after playing for a while.
Chords are a combination of three or more notes played together to create a pleasing harmony. Chords are the basis for playing songs on a ukulele or any other stringed instrument.
To start learning ukulele chords, beginners can look at chord charts to show them where to place their fingers on specific frets to make their strings sing. Ukulele chord charts provide players with a visual representation of the four strings and their corresponding frets on their instrument.
In addition to showing your strings (in order: G, C, E, A), ukulele chord charts often have symbols to show you where to place your fingers to play a chord correctly:
Or: a circle on the string means playing that string in an open position
X: An “x” above the strings means do not play that string or mute it when playing
1 = index finger
2 = middle finger
3 = ring finger
4 = little finger
There are so many different chords and variations. However, some ukulele chords are not only easy but feature prominently in some of your favorite songs. Some of the most common and easy chords that beginners can learn to play on the ukulele include:
These chords are a great starting point for people who are new to the ukulele. However, you can explore even more ukulele chords with our Ukulele Chord Guide.
Ukulele rules, like, if you know three chords, you know every song. You can play any song. It’s so simple… The first chords I learned were C, G, and F. And since then, I knew, like 20 songs. It shows you how simple songs are.”
A ukulele scale is an organized sequence of notes. There are 8 notes on each scale. This string of 8 notes is called an octave. Each scale begins and ends on the same note, also known as the “root note”. The last note of the scale is also the root note of that scale, however, it is one octave higher than the first note itself. Each scale ascends in a prescribed series of semitones and whole steps, leading up to the eighth note.
For example, take a look at the C major scale, one of the easiest scales to play and one that you’ll hear in a lot of different songs. Part of what makes the C major scale easy for beginners to learn is that there are no sharps or flats.
Learning scales can help develop finger strength and dexterity, as well as develop an ear for music. Learning scales can help you learn melodies and riffs later when you start playing, or writing, your music.
One of the easiest ways for beginners to learn scales is to use a ukulele scale chart. When reading these ukulele scale diagrams, see notes represented by dots. These dots show you which note to play on a specific fret and string. If you see a dot with a note above the string, it means you are playing that string in an open position, with no fingers on any frets.
Playing songs and putting your knowledge of chords and notes into practice is one of the most rewarding parts of learning to play the ukulele. Learning songs you love not only inspires you to develop your musical knowledge and ear, but also allows you to progress further, applying what you’ve learned on your musical journey and applying it to the new songs you learn.
For beginners just beginning to play the ukulele, fun and easy song to learn is “Lava” from the Disney animated short of the same name. The song is made up of three easy-to-play chords: C, F, and G7.
This upbeat love song nods to the ukulele’s Hawaiian roots. It is impossible not to smile while learning to play “Lava”. Just take it easy and practice your chord transitions, smoothly maneuvering from one chord to the next and focusing on placing your fingers correctly before picking up the speed of your strum.
Once you master playing “Lava”, check out 10 more easy songs to learn to play on the ukulele and continue your journey!
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