Beginner Questions

Here we will try and answer some questions you might have when starting to play the ukulele, please click on each question to find our answers.  Please feel free to comment if you find this helpful or there are some other questions that you might want answered!

1. WHY SHOULD I PLAY UKULELE?

jakearailThe most important reason to play ukulele is because it is fun.  Other than that the ukulele is fairly easy to learn compared to a lot of other instruments.  With some very simple chord shapes and only 4 strings that are easy on the fingers, the uke is a great introduction to music for people with little or no experience.  Portability is another reason I love the ukulele and why it has become one of my constant companions, music can happen anywhere so its always good to be prepared!

2. WHAT KIND OF UKULELE SHOULD I BUY?

wallofukulelesUltimately the answer to this question is to buy one that you like, but if you don’t know what you like yet this can be a bit more complicated.  As far as price goes, if you are a beginner you want to find one that is near the $100 dollar range.  There is a good selection of instruments for around that price that can work well to learn at first.  You can then determine if you want to invest in a higher quality instrument later.  My suggestion would be to go to music shops and play as many ukuleles in your price range as you can.  Start to listen to the different sound that each instrument makes and see if there is a certain sound that you like.  Some sound more “bright” with an emphasis on the higher end of the sound spectrum, while others sound more “warm” with a more “round” and bottom ended sound.  Like developing your taste for certain food or drinks, you can develop your ear for hearing certain intricacies in sound.  Try strumming the instrument with the sound hole facing you as you will get a better idea of what the instrument sounds like to those that are listening.  Eventually you will develop your taste for what looks, feels and sounds right for you.

3. WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH DIFFERENT SIZE UKULELES?

See Ukes by SizeThere are 4 different standard sizes of ukulele each with there own particular feel and sound.  In general, the ukulele’s sound will get louder and deeper with each larger size.  The soprano is the smallest size, it has the smallest neck and fret size which limits its range but it is oh so transportable!  The concert is a sort of “in between size” that ends up being the go to for players that are looking for a good balance of small size and bigger sound.  The tenor is larger than the concert and because of its increased range and deep, rich sound seems to be the standard for most professional and advanced players out there.  The baritone is the largest and is in a bit of a category of its own.  In my opinion the baritone plays and sounds more like a small guitar than a uke.  It has a different tuning then the other three sizes which means the chord shapes are different as well.

4. HOW DO I TUNE THE UKULELE?

ukulele-tuningStandard ukulele tuning is from the top string down:
G C E A
By far the easiest way to tune is to use a digital tuner. This is device that clips onto the headstock of your uke and reads the vibrations of the string and tells you if you are lower or higher than the desired note. Simply turn the tuning peg until the display reads the appropriate note for that string. I strongly encourage everyone starting out to make the small investment ($15 to $25) in an electronic tuner.

5. WHAT ARE THE FIRST CHORDS I SHOULD LEARN?

The best chords to learn first are the ones that are the easiest to play. There are two chords that require you to use only one finger, those are C Major and a minor. Learning these two chords should be fairly quick. When reading the charts the left string represents the top G string and goes down to the bottom A string from left to right. Push down the appropriate string on the fret where the dot is shown.

CMajorchord aminorchord

The next chord you should learn should be F Major which is made with an a minor chord shape with your first finger added on the first fret of the E string.

FMajorChord

The next chord is a G Major which is a bit more of a challenge but will help us to make a complete song. Sometimes it helps to visualize this chord as a triangle with your ring finger on the point closest to you.

GMajorChord

If we put these chords in this order: C G am F, then we get the basic chord progression for a number of songs. No Woman No Cry, I’m Yours, With or Without You, Country Roads and so many others.

CMajorchord GMajorChord aminorchord FMajorChord

6. HOW DO I STRUM?

strumimageWe use the fretting hand to create chords and we use our other hand to strum and create rhythm. Most music is in what is called 4/4 time, which means that a natural pulse within that music can be counted out in 4 separate divisions, or beats, before repeating another 4. Learning to develop an internal clock that can keep you playing in time is paramount for any one learning music. The first strum that you should learn is to play is all down strums while counting out 1,2,3,4 in an even and slow pace. Getting this down will provide a solid foundation for learning more intricate strums later.

D     D     D     D
1      2      3     4

 

Next will be to further divide the beats by adding one between each of the four that we have. You can count this out as 1 AND 2 AND 3 AND 4 AND. Keep playing down strums on numbers 1,2,3,4 and saying AND between each.

D          D            D            D
1     +     2     +     3     +     4     +

 

Now add up-strums on every and, and practice counting while strumming. This down and up pattern will serve as the basis for learning a variety of strums.

D    U    D     U    D     U    D    U
1     +     2     +     3     +     4     +

 

Most strums you will learn in the beginning are created from taking away certain parts of this basic structure. Try this simple pattern and practice it slowly gradually building speed. Keep in mind that your hand should still be moving in the same up and down pattern, just don’t touch the strings on the up-strums that are removed.

D           D            D    U    D
1     +     2     +     3     +     4     +
7. WHERE CAN I FIND ONLINE RESOURCES?
Some of the best online resources out there and what they offer:

Ukulele Underground http://ukuleleunderground.com/UUlogo
The underground is a great place to improve your ukulele playing. They offer the highest quality instructional videos, and are consistently adding to there enormous amount of content.

Ukulele Hunt http://ukulelehunt.com/
UkeHuntUke Hunt is one of the longest running blogs about the ukulele and offers such a wide variety of content. You can find almost everything uke related on this blog, from funny and informative articles to a wide variety of instructional and inspirational videos. They offer a large selection of ebooks, both free and for sale, that can be a good resource for introducing you to the ukulele.

Dominator Ukulele Tabs http://dominator.ukeland.com/ got_tabs_1
Dom has created a great resource that is more geared towards the intermediate and advance ukulele player. His tabs are some of the only ones available that are specific for the ukulele and he has some great performance and instructional videos.

uke_inspired_small_logoUkulele Inspired http://ukuleleinspired.com
A little biased, but want to list it as a resource for getting inspiration and information. We want to offer high quality video and written content for all aspiring ukulele players out there.

8. HOW OFTEN SHOULD I BE PRACTICING?
15minsThe best way I’ve found to practice is for short periods of time as often as possible. Since learning an instrument involves a lot of muscle memory, the more often you do it the better. Practicing for 15 minutes every day is going to produce results much faster than an hour of practice once a week. Finding a qualified teacher for private lessons can be great in providing personalized instruction as well as accountability for your practice every week.
9. HOW DO I LEARN NEW SONGS?

searchbarThere are a lot of resources out there for learning new songs. If you are starting to become familiar with your ukulele chord shapes, then searching the name of the song and “chords” should get youyoutube to some links with lyrics and chords. You can also type the name of the song and “ukulele tutorial”. There are many videos on YouTube and other places of varying quality and helpfulness, but in general you are looking for a more detailed description of the chords and strumming pattern. You can also look for ukulele specific tab sites out there and places to download ukulele song sheets like our songbook here.

10. HOW DO I STAY INSPIRED?
ukulelecommunityLast and definitely not least, inspiration is something that I feel is so important when learning anything new. Inspiration can help you get excited about playing the ukulele, it will encourage you to practice and get better, and when you are ready can help to cultivate your creativity should you begin to write your own music. Inspiration is something we take very seriously here at Ukulele Inspired, whether it is our own video content, links to other videos, articles or interviews, we try to provide as much as we can for all aspiring players out there. I encourage you to find and interact with your local ukulele community as well. There are so many local and regional ukulele clubs around the country there is sure to be a group that meets nearby. If there isn’t, maybe you can start one up! Stay on the lookout for performances by ukulele artists in your area, and start to listen to as many players as you can. Inspiration is out there, you just have to find it!

 

Thanks for all the support, if you found this or any of our resources helpful be sure to

us on facebook and sign up for our email list under SUBSCRIBE in the sidebar to keep up with everything new at Ukulele Inspired. I want this to be interactive so don’t be shy and send me some requests for the songbook and other content that you would like to see!

10 Responses to “Beginner Questions”

  1. Sling July 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    A short audio clip next to each strum would be helpful

    • john nash July 25, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, working on having video clips for each of the questions as well as short video lessons for the songs in the song book so stay tuned!

  2. spoonballs April 26, 2014 at 1:48 am #

    I have a concert uke (in C) and i like to sing when i play. The problem is, to sing along i have to either sing really high or really low – not in my my natural range. Would buying a tenor or baritone or whatever help to match my voice? Are the chord formations the same?

    • john nash April 29, 2014 at 5:20 am #

      Soprano, concert, and tenor sizes all use the same tuning. A baritone is tuned to a different open tuning that is a fourth lower than the others which means that when you play each of those chords they are called a different letter name i.e. playing a C chord shape on a baritone will be a G chord.

      If you are finding that you are singing out of your range while playing it means the song you are playing in needs to be transposed to a different key (same chord progression, different chords).

  3. Karen Drozd February 9, 2015 at 9:20 pm #

    Can I use the photo of the different sizes of the ‘ukulele in an iBook (used for third grade children at Punahou School)?

    • john nash February 10, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

      Sure, but I found them through Google Images

  4. Thomas November 18, 2015 at 3:00 pm #

    Hi, I just have a few questions since I’m considering buying a soprano ukulele, and hope that you can help me recommend the right ukulele for me. So I’ve decided so far that it’s going to be a soprano ukulele since it should be as lightweight and short as possible, suitable for when I’m going camping. The reason I’ve decided to buy an ukulele is because, obviously, I love music, and it’s artists such as Eddie Vedder, Iron & Wine and Jack Johnson that has inspired me to start playing, since i love this type of genre (folk rock).

    What I’ve considered so far is this: http://musikinstrumenter.net/shop/sopran-ukulele-pakkeloesning-5778p.html (sorry the link is in danish) but it’s an Miguel Almeria ukulele, I haven’t found that much information about this model online, and was wondering if you have had any experience with this particular ukulele, and if it would fit the needs i wrote?

    Thank you for reading.
    Best regards,
    Thomas

    • john nash December 14, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

      Hey there Thomas, thanks for writing in. Shopping for a new ukulele is a tough endeavor especially if it’s your first time. My suggestion would be to play as many as you possibly can and try and develop your “taste” for what kind of sound and instrument you like. A ukulele is so portable already that it’s my opinion that you don’t need to limit yourself to a soprano for that benefit. I have no personal experience with this particular model so can’t speak to it’s quality directly. Just know that there are some manufacturers like Lanika, Kala, and Ohana that are putting out some great models in the entry level price range. Good luck with your purchase and let me know if I can help with ukulele in any way!

  5. Mike March 21, 2016 at 12:33 am #

    How many chords do you need to learn to be an effective uke player?

  6. Jonathan Taitt April 13, 2016 at 3:09 am #

    I noticed the G string knot on my ukulele tuner is a bit short? Does it mean it’s coming loose or is it ok that it’s like that? Just a bit nervous it will come loose and break :/

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