With all the stuff on the net about the ukulele, there’s very little about how to play scales on the ukulele. It’s a bit strange as scales are the building blocks of music in general and chords in particular. I wrote an ebook about how ukulele chords are made up, so I won’t go into it now, but the more you understand scales, the more you be able to adapt chords and add single note runs to your playing to make it more effective and interesting.
A good knowledge of scales is essential for improvising. If the chords you are playing over are in C major, you can play any of the notes in the C major scale and they will work. Of course, some will work better than others in certain places.
The most important scale is the major scale. This is the most common scale you’ll hear. It crops up in all the most well known songs from nursery rhymes to national anthems. The sound of the scale is completely natural.
The major scale is made up of eight notes with a set distance between the notes. You start on the first note of the scale (the root) and move up two frets to the second note, then another two to the third, up one to the fourth, up two to the fifth, up two to the sixth, up two to the seventh and finally up one to the octave. The distances are: 2,2,1,2,2,2,1.
You don’t have to memorise all these scales individually. It is much more important to remember patterns on the fingerboard and where the root note occurs in these patterns.
Take the D scale for example. Start on the D note at the second fret and move up the scale like this to the next D:
If you play this same pattern up two frets (so the E is the first note you play), you’ll have an E major scale.
The same goes for any other pattern you can spot in these scale maps.