Ten Tips for Ukulele Beginners

A couple of weeks ago Mike asked me for one or two tips for ukulele beginners. My brain went whiring into action (actually, is was more a nasty screetching and cracking of gears). I ended up with a big list of stuff. So here, in their original, un-rewritten and bloated form, are all of them.

1. Record yourself playing and listen back to it. It’s difficult to play and listen to yourself at the same time. Quite often just noticing what you’re doing wrong is enough to fix the problem. It also gets you used to playing infront of the mic – making it less of a big deal when you want to record yourself properly.

2. Much to the RIAA’s disgust, you can’t sue someone for stealing a chord progression. Although Metallica tried to sue the band Unfaith for changing from F to E. If you hear something you like, work it out and steal it.

3. Practice so slowly you can’t possibly make a mistake. If you make the same mistake over and over again, it’s incredibly hard to get rid of it. It’s much easier to start slow, get the tune under your fingers and gradually speed up. If you’re more consciencious than me, you’ll use a metronome while you’re doing this sort of thing.

4. Learn how to read ukulele tab. There are plenty of people around who can play the ukulele without learning to read tab. But there’s so much ukulele tab around on the net now that it’s really going to increase the speed that you can pick up new tunes.

5. Once you’ve decided you enjoy the ukulele, get a nice one. Almost everyone starts of playing on a very cheap ukulele. These ukes are fine for deciding if playing the ukulele is for you. But once you’re into it, get yourself a decent quality ukulele. It’ll be easier to play, sound better (so you’ll be more pleased with the way you sound), and will give you more impetus to practice.

6. The type of strings you use can make a big different to the sound of your ukulele. The strings you get with your ukulele are likely to be cheap and nasty. It’s worth replacing them with higher quality strings such as Worth or Aquila.

7. Don’t hold your ukulele too tightly. The ukulele is small and it’s very easy to smother the sound out of it. Don’t hold it too tightly or you’ll lose a lot of volume and tone. Watch how masters like Jake Shimabukuro and hold the uke.

8. Listen to lots of ukulele players. The more you listen, the more you’ll get a feel for the ukulele and the way it sounds. It will influence how you play subconsciously.

9. Take the time to tune up properly. The ukulele isn’t the easiest instrument to get in tune and keep in tune, but it has to be done. If your ukulele is out of tune, you WILL sound terrible. I’m looking at you, Mr Merritt.

10. Enjoy yourself. The big appeal of the ukulele is that it is the most fun instrument around. People try to denigrate the ukulele as a toy. I think calling the uke a toy is a huge compliment. Toys are fun to play with and so is the ukulele.

If you want more beginners’ tips, you can find 101 of them in my ebook Ukulele 101.

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82 Comments

  1. Bob January 9th, 2012 4:43 pm

    I have just purchased my first Uke, with the hope of making it my weapon of choice.
    I have a small problem. I notice that most strumming techniques require index finger nail on down stroke, I lost the tip of my index finger some years ago,
    should I use my ring finger or persist with my index finger?

  2. Woodshed January 9th, 2012 10:21 pm

    Bob: I think you’d be the best judge of that. I say go with what sounds and feels best to you.

  3. Anne February 2nd, 2012 3:12 am

    Hi,I`m a beginner uke player, and I have very small hands; any tips for that? Also would it be possible to make a simple version of the mario bros theme song, with just the chords listed as letters, because i haven`t quite learned how to read tabs.
    Thanks again for all your tips,
    Anne

  4. Winters February 2nd, 2012 10:15 am

    Hi Anne! As the ukulele is a tiny instrument, your small hands might be just the perfect fit! ;) Me, on the other hand (pun intended) have HUGE hands, and trust me! Huge hands and a tiny instrument is quite difficult, at first, but then you kinda get used to it, and it doesnt matter as much as you thought it did.

    I’d recommend you to spend FIVE minutes learning to read tabs. It looks complicated, but it’s really simple and more logical than our usual greek letters (ABC..)!

    Woodshed has some great info on it here on this webpage!

    Good luck! :)

    – Winters

  5. Anne February 2nd, 2012 9:15 pm

    thanks Winters, the only problem with small hands is streching my fingers for certain chords(haha, and I guess i`ll have to learn them eventually :)

  6. Araminta May 4th, 2012 4:14 pm

    Hi! i was wondering if anyone knew any tricks for tuning a ukulele? i just cant seem to get it right even with a tuner! and when i get it close to tuned, it just sounds horrid after like three songs!:( i have some strings i got from Guitar Center, but im scared to try to put them on lol. help?

  7. Mandoist July 11th, 2012 12:13 pm

    Strings are so subjective. the ONLY thing for certain is: instruments made of wood are very unique in their abilities to produce sound. lots of variables from type of wood, to bracing, carving, etc, etc. The one truth is that any one brand of strings will not necessarily sound good to you on all instruments.

  8. Gazzamm September 13th, 2012 7:44 pm

    Help!
    My C String does not go to C# when I press down on the first fret. All the other strings go up a semi-tone as expected but the C string rises a whole tone.

    Any idea’s? Is it the nut or the fretboard?

  9. Woodshed September 14th, 2012 1:46 pm

    Gazzamm: I’d say the most likely problem is the nut being too high.

  10. Gazzamm September 14th, 2012 2:33 pm

    So it would be reasonable to say if I can make the groove for the string a tiny bit deeper it should sort it out?

  11. Woodshed September 15th, 2012 6:01 am

    Gazzamm: It’s a possibility. I wouldn’t say any firmer than that. The first thing I’d try is changing the strings.

  12. Markus Dixon September 25th, 2012 12:11 am

    Woodshed, thanks so much!

  13. Woodshed September 26th, 2012 10:20 am

    Markus: You’re very welcome!

  14. uke4evr October 15th, 2012 3:12 am

    A nice article Woodshed, thanks. I’m happy to say I’ve now started almost 10 people on the uke since I started playing 4 years ago. I would offer showing C – Am as a great way to get someone playing something “song-like”. It helps the player concentrate on the strumming while doing some 1-finger chord changes.
    I might be embarking on my first paid teacher gig soon, so your article will help get me started for sure. Cheers!

  15. Woodshed October 15th, 2012 12:42 pm

    uke4evr: Well done! Good luck with the teaching.

  16. micah November 29th, 2012 3:48 pm

    is it okay if ill buy an ordinary or toy ukulele for a beginner? i dont know anything about instruments and now i decided to learn one and i choose ukulele. but i dont want to spend more money at first. thanks! Godbless. :))

  17. Woodshed November 29th, 2012 10:33 pm

    micah: “Toy ukuleles” tend to not be playable. So I wouldn’t recommend it. I’m not sure what you mean by “ordinary ukulele” but what I’d mean by “ordinary ukulele” would be fine for a beginner.

  18. Jenny December 13th, 2012 2:05 am

    Dad went from tubas to ukes and got me hooked in the process (and, unlike the tuba, we can have at LEAST one in every room :-) Thank you for all of your hard work on this site. It’s much appreciated!

  19. Woodshed December 13th, 2012 8:03 am

    Jenny: Thanks very much!

  20. David December 26th, 2013 2:50 pm

    Thank you for these tips! I’m just curious, though: Does Stephin Merritt typically play with an out-of-tune ukulele? It was his playing that sparked my interest in the uke.

  21. Woodshed December 27th, 2013 4:04 pm

    David: Thanks. Not always. He seems to be more in tune these days!

  22. Lord Pancake July 30th, 2014 7:06 am

    Thanks for this list. I’ve only begun and there is so much on the net, I’ve come across so much info that contradicts other info. I know like with other instruments there are many ways to play, it comes down to finding what works for your and get you sounding like you want. However this is one of the better guides I have come across. Thank you.

  23. Woodshed July 30th, 2014 8:11 am

    Lord Pancake: Thanks! Glad you liked it.

  24. sybilrae August 2nd, 2014 11:32 pm

    This is so good! Thanks all for your wit and wisdom. I’m a reasonably new uker. My biggest problem more i have some chords pretty well down, is the strumming. I have a reasonable sense of rhythm but find improvised strumming frustrating. Guess i need to learn to read those charts????

  25. Woodshed August 3rd, 2014 8:14 am

    sybilrae: I’m very biased in this but I think the best thing covering that is my strums book.

  26. Stevious September 29th, 2014 9:21 pm

    I love this site! I love acoustic music, and it hit me like a wave last week how much I love hearing the ukulele, so I’ve decided to get one. I watched tutorials on how to play, and settled on playing “Into The Sunshine” by Julia Nunes as my first attempt (Only has D,A,G chords). Anyway, I’m going to get a uke either this week or next week, but have a $50 budget. Which brand (i.e Diamond Head, Rogue, Mahalo, Kohala) would you recommend as a starter? I’m hoping to make the transition from listener to player as painless as possible, heh

  27. Woodshed September 30th, 2014 6:54 am

    Stevious: With that budget I’d probably go with a Makala. Hope you enjoy playing!

  28. Erick November 16th, 2014 3:36 pm

    Thank you so much for the tips. I’m starting on ukulele and these tips will be very useful.

  29. Woodshed November 17th, 2014 8:20 am

    Erick: Thanks! Glad you found it useful. And happy learning!

  30. Lauren August 25th, 2015 4:02 am

    I’m not sure if you still use this area (as it’s been almost a year since the last comment) but I figured I’d seek your advice either way and hope for the best.
    I play tuba in my middle school band, and am pretty good at it. My friend who is beginning violin this year is encouraging me to try ukulele (yeah 2 completely different instruments, don’t dwelll on it too much. Her logic.). I’ve been on a few websites and they all say it’s a pretty simple instrument to pick up, so I figured I might give it a go.
    My problem: I play tuba (bass clef, wind instument. playing both might mess me up), I’m in all advanced classes (lot of homework so I’m not sure how much free time I’ll have), I’m joining beginner tennis (after school activity, but i might switch to strength and conditioning), I don’t think my mom would be willing to buy me a uke (she’s paying for my tuba rentals, tuba lessons, and all my other crazy band things), I’d be self teaching and don’t know where to begin.

    In short, I would like your opinion. Should I try uke? I want your honest opinion, not ‘yes it’s perfect for everyone!!!’. If you think so, where do I begin? Do I try to save for a good ukulele? Do I go for beginner and see what I think? I really appriciate your guide and hope that you can help.
    Thanks in advance!

  31. Woodshed August 26th, 2015 9:39 pm

    Lauren: If you want an unbiased opinion on whether you should play ukulele you came to the wrong place! I’d definitely recommend buying a beginner level uke before diving right to a higher priced uke. Just avoid the very cheapest ones. Go for something like a Lanikai LU-21 or a Makala.

  32. Spiro June 4th, 2016 8:18 am

    I am new to Uke and I love reading the comments all of which are helping me along the way to having fun.

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