Picking a Ukelele
Ukuleles are pretty easy to find these days. You can usually find one that suits you at a local music store or online. Ukuleles range anywhere from $40 to $4000. But just like with anything else, buying a crazy cheap ukulele means you'll be sacrificing quality and usually isn't the best option.
There are four different types of ukulele: Soprano, Concert, Tenor, and Baritone.
- Soprano - The soprano ukulele is the smallest and is typically what people use when learning to play. Because they are so small, they are portable and easy to work with. You can usually find a reliable one for about $50
- Concert - Concert ukuleles play exactly as soprano ukuleles do. They are just a little bigger. They are a little more expensive than Soprano ukuleles but still affordable, starting at about $100. But they are recommended if you have bigger hands as it can make playing a little easier.
- Tenor - Tenor ukuleles are similar to the soprano and concert ukuleles because they are tuned the same way. But tenor ukuleles are larger and have a fuller sound.
- Baritone - Baritone ukuleles are the largest and are tuned differently than the other ukuleles. They have a deep sound that is almost closer to a guitar than a ukulele.
Tuning Your Ukulele
Once you buy your ukulele, the first thing you will want to do is tune it. If you purchase it at a music store, they will probably tune your new ukulele for you before you leave. However, most people, especially beginners, do not have perfect pitch, so you need an electric tuner. Or you can download a tuning app on your phone.
It is essential to go slow when you are tuning, especially when you're still a beginner. If you turn too quickly, you risk over-tuning, and you could break a string. Ukulele strings are meant to be tight, but not so much so that the strings can't move when you pluck them.
Your ukulele may have trouble holding its pitch if it is new or if it hasn't been played in a while. This is because ukulele strings stretch like rubber bands. When the strings are tightened in place, they want to return to their unstretched position, which causes the ukulele to sound flat. Tune your instrument regularly to help the strings maintain the stretch they need to hold the correct pitch.
The ukulele is a little strange when it comes to tuning it. When you are tuning the G and C strings, you have to turn the pegs clockwise to lower the pitch and counter-clockwise to raise it. The E and A strings are the exact opposite.
Playing the Ukulele
A ukulele has four strings, and you hold it how you would hold a guitar. Your left hand holds the neck of the ukulele where all the strings are. Your right hand hovers over the strings above the soundhole. Once you are holding your ukulele the right way, look down at the strings. The string closest to your face at the top is a G. Moving down the strings, the following notes are C, E, and A. Unlike most stringed instruments, the pitches do not move from low to high.
When you are learning to play the ukulele, you can choose to learn individual notes or chords. Most people choose to learn chords for two reasons:
- Once you learn enough chords, you'll be able to play a variety of different songs.
- Playing chords makes it easier to sing along while you play.
Eventually, you will find it fun to learn individual notes so you can play riffs, find melodies, and play songs with finger-picking patterns.
The first chords most people learn on the ukulele are C Major, A Minor, F Major, and G Major. You can find these four chords in hundreds of songs.
Learning C Major and A Minor are straightforward because they only require one finger on a string. F Major and G Major will be a little more challenging because they need two or three fingers to be down. Once you learn the position for each of these chords, practice slowly moving between them. It is essential to focus on hand position first, and once you are comfortable, you can start to practice strumming.
Since your left hand is in charge of forming chords, that means your right hand strums to keep the rhythm and music going. You can strum with a pick, 2-3 fingers, or your thumb. Strumming downwards is how most people choose to play, probably because it gives you the most robust sound. When you are starting, practice playing chords for four counts at a time. Once you are comfortable moving between the chords and strumming downwards, you can start adding some up strums into the mix. Up strums are important because they add rhythm emphasis and texture to your music.
Once you have mastered the basics of learning the ukulele, you can move to more complex chords and strumming patterns. There are play-along videos and apps to help you practice. You can also find a group of friends who can jam with you. Playing with other musicians is the best way to hone your craft.
Have questions about learning how to play the ukulele? Let us know in the comments section below!
And for all other things ukulele, including some outstanding performances, check out our YouTube page!