Ukulele for Dummies

Back when I first started the blog I would bemoan the lack of beginner ukulele books. The situation has improved since then. But I still felt like there wasn’t a definitive book that covered all the important aspects of ukulele playing – particularly the way the ukulele is being played currently.

Last year the people who do the …for Dummies books made me put my balls where my blog is and actually write one myself. So for the last 9 months I’ve been working really hard to make this the best beginner’s ukulele book there is out there and now it’s available for pre-order it’s out now. You can find it cheapest (that I’ve seen) on Amazon:

Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK
Amazon France
Amazon Germany

And in countries that don’t have Amazon:

The Niles in Australia
Fishpond in New Zealand

A quick guide to what you can expect from it.

UPDATE: Since being released, the book has had a great reaction. You can read a selection of reviews here.

How It’s Going to Make You Awesome

Back in the olden days, people learned to play a musical instrument in a pretty one-track fashion. They’d buy a book and work through it. Or they’d get a teacher and follow their syllabus. But no one learns like that any more. Everyone who learns the ukulele now plays stuff from websites and learns tunes for clubs. So the usual ukulele book that follows the old way doesn’t really work any more.

Ukulele for Dummies is more of a reference book. So – while you can certainly follow through the book in a straight line and learn to play – it works best as a book you can keep nearby and pick up when there’s a particular technique you hear about or you’re trying to play something and it doesn’t quite sound right.

For example:

A website: “Play this bit with hammer-ons.”
You: “What the flipperty-heck does that mean?”
Your Brain: “Look in Ukulele for Dummies. That will tell you.”
*A short read later.*
You: “Thanks, brain. I now know how to play hammer-ons and am thusly much more attractive to the opposite sex.”

If you’ve ever read a Dummies book before, you’ll be familiar with this idea. All the books follow that ‘modular’ pattern where you can read little sections in isolation. Same here. You can read each little bit in on its own and it’ll still make sense.

What You Get

It’s a hefty book: 360 pages all told. So it covers a lot of ground. There’s a list of contents below. Each new bit of technique will have a demonstration of it in a musical context (a lot of the time that’ll be a song or a tune). The book is written for soprano/concert/tenor. It’s not suitable for baritone ukulele.

The book comes with a 98 track CD containing all the musical examples I could cram on it.

If you’ve bought the digital version of the book you can find details of how to download the audio and video here.

Dummies Style

The book is written in the Dummies style rather than mine. The tone is still conversational and laid back. But they’re very keen to keep a consistent style between the books. So if you read something in the book that doesn’t sound like me, that’ll be because it probably wasn’t me.

The big difference is it’s safe for family use. You won’t find any of the swearing, body-part references, ironic uses of the phrase ‘off of’ and calls for an anarcho-capitalist revolution that plague this blog. And it’s also packed with gerunds if that’s your bag.


The book is put together in a way that lets you zip around and pick out the bits that interest you.

You can download an extract, the contents and the index on the Wiley site.

Part 1: Ukulele Basics

The non-playing section. Covering the fundamentals that are worth getting down before you start.

Chapter 1: Exploring the Ukulele
– Advantages of the ukulele.
– Different sizes.
– Getting to know the ukulele.
– What you can play on the ukulele.

Chapter 2: Tuning Up to Sound Great
– Basic musical terms.
– Tuning up.
– Deciding which tuning to use.
– Methods of tuning.

Chapter 3: Discovering How to Handle Your Ukulele
– Holding the ukulele.
– Preparing to strum.
– Fretting without worrying.

Part 2: Chords and Strumming

Chapter 4: Playing Your First Ukulele Chords and Songs
– Chord diagrams.
– Fretting your first chords.
– A simple strum.
Chords: Li’l Liza Jane, I’ll Fly Away, Wayfaring Stranger.

Chapter 5: Drumming Up More Strumming Patterns
– Strumming Patterns.
– Strumming in genres.
– Playing when you don’t know the pattern.
Chords: What Did the Deep Sea Say?, Shady Grove, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, House of the Rising Sun, 12 Bar Blues, Banana Boat Song (Day-O).

Chapter 6: Meeting the Chords and Their Families
– The C chord family.
– The three chord trick.
– Barre chords.
– Increasing your chord arsenal.
Chords: When the Saints Go Marching In, Man of Constant Sorrow, Irish Rover.

Part 3: Picking and Single Note Playing

Chapter 7: Getting to Grips with Tabs and Notation
– How to read tablature.
– Reading rhythms.
– Getting it all together.
Melody tabs: London Bridge Is Falling Down, I’ll Fly Away, Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Chapter 8: Fingerpicking Patterns
– Fingerpicking technique.
– Fingerpicking patterns.

Chapter 9: Combining Chords and Melodies When Playing Solo
– Thumb strumming.
– Strumming between the melody.
– Strumming through.
– Fingerpicking.

Melody and chord tabs: London Bridge is Falling Down, Amazing Grace, In the Pines (Where Did You Sleep Last Night?), When the Saints Go Marching In, I’ll Flay Away, Freight Train.

Amazing Grace

I’ll Fly Away

When the Saints Go Marching In

Chapter 10: Picking Up Some Soloing Techniques
– Soloing techniques: hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, bends, vibrato.
– Picking notes for solos.
– Inventing your own solos.

Part 4: Genres and Styles

This section takes the stuff from parts 2 and 3, applies it to different genres and adds new techniques.

Chapter 11: Rock and Punk
– Rock and punk chord progressions.
– Rock riffing.
– Rock soloing.

Chapter 12: Blues
– 12 bar blues variations.
– The blues shuffle.
– Blues turnaround variations.
– The blues scale in solos.
Chords: Careless Love, St James Infirmary.
Melody: Memphis Blues.

Memphis Blues

Chapter 13: Hawaiian
– Hawaiian strumming: chnking, triplet strum.
– Hawaiian turnarounds.
– Playing Hawaiian tunes.
Chords: Aloha ‘Oe,
Melody tab: Papalina Lahilahi.
Melody and chords tab: Alekoki.


Chapter 14: Jazz
– Jazzy chord turnarounds.
– Jazzing up chords.
– Split stroke.
– Faking a jazz solo.
Chords: Darktown Strutters’ Ball.
Tab: 12th Street Rag.

Chapter 15: Reggae and Jawaiian
– Touch strum
– Thumb ‘n strum.
– Marley-style strumming.
– Skanking.
Chords: Linstead Market.

Chapter 16: Classical
– Strumming and picking classical tunes.
– Campanella playing.
Tab: Ode to Joy, Brahms’s Lullaby, Greensleeves, Romanza, Carulli’s Andante.

Part 5: Buying and Looking After Your Ukulele

For people who don’t have a ukulele yet, this would be a good section to read first.

Chapter 17: Buying a Ukulele
– Knowing what to look for.
– Choosing where to buy.
– Buying more ukuleles.
– Going electric.

Chapter 18: Essentials and Accessories
– Finding the best strings.
– Optional accessories.
– Websites, apps and programs.

Chapter 19: Re-Stringing, Maintaining and Adjusting Your Ukulele
– When and how to restring.
– Keeping your ukulele in tiptop condition.
– Identifying and fixing problems.

Part 6: The Part of Tens

All Dummies books have a section at the end listing ten sets of things. But I can’t count.

Chapter 20: Ten Ukulele Players You Should Know
Quick profiles of:
– Ernest Ka’ai.
– May Singhi Breen.
– Roy Smeck.
– George Formby.
– The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
– Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.
– Jake Shimabukuro.
– James Hill.
– Zach Condon.
– Julia Nunes.

– I also did an ‘If you like… check out…’ who are, respectively, John King, Nellie McKay, Bob Brozman, Garfunkel and Oates, Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, Paula Fuga, Kalei Gamaio, Paul Luongo, tUnE-yArDs and Sophie Madeleine.

Fight about those as much as you like in the comments.

Chapter 21: Ten Ways to Get Involved in the Ukulele Scene
– Joining a ukulele club.
– Visiting a ukulele festival.
– Making a video.
– Playing live.
– Going online.
– Spreading the uke news.
– Entering a contest.
– Teaching someone.
– Writing your own songs.
– Seeing a show.

Chapter 22: Ten Tips for Improving
– Playing very slowly.
– Refusing to rush things.
– Recording yourself.
– Playing with and for others.
– Practicing in sections.
– Knowing when to stop practicing.
– Steal from everyone.
– Varying your inversions and verying your invarsions.
– Opening your ears.
– Enjoying yourself.
– Busting a rut.


Appendix A: Chord Charts

Appendix B: Reading Music

Appendix C: Using the CD

How You Can Order It

It’s due out in August and you can pre-order it in these places (and some others):

Amazon US
Barnes and Noble

Amazon UK

Fishpond (Australia)

Got A Question?

Ask away in the comments.

Question Updates

Some pertinent questions from the comments:

Will there be an ebook version?

Yes, there’s going to be an enhanced, downloadable version. You can read about it on iTunes.

Will it be available in (insert language here)?

There have been discussion about translated versions. If you want to sway the decision go on the Wiley website, pick your location, contact them expressing your interest.

View Comments


  1. Pukulele January 19th, 2013 5:15 am

    Just browsed over to the iTunes store and see that there is a Ukulele for Dummies version 3.0.10, but it doesn’t say if it is the enhanced iPad version or not. Also it only has 1 review!
    Is this your book, I don’t want anyone else’s.

  2. Woodshed January 20th, 2013 8:54 am

    Pukulele: I would assume it’s mine. I’m not involved with the digital stuff so I don’t really know. If you want to know for sure as the publisher, Wiley.

  3. CM January 29th, 2013 6:39 pm

    i purchased kindle enhanced version from amazon, but no audio and video download after purchase. i asked amazon, it’s problem of publisher…suggested me to contact you that how can i download the cd/dvd content…what can i do now?

  4. Woodshed January 29th, 2013 9:28 pm

    CM: You can download the files here:

    Search for ukulele in the title.

  5. Will February 26th, 2013 11:23 pm

    Hi Alistair

    I bought ‘Dummies’ when it first came out and was really impressed by its informative content, relaxed style and value for money. I’d been a keen player for years but learnt all sorts of new techniques and ‘tricks of the trade’.

    Then, last September, I went and had a stroke. It badly affected the coordination in my left arm and fingers and I nearly decided to give up playing.

    However, by going back to your book and working my way through from cover to cover, I have regained a great deal of my previous flexibility and strength in my fingers. Even my physiotherapist has commented on how well my recovery has been going.

    I’ll never be quite as competent as I used to be, but my self-confidence has returned and I now feel able to join in with other players again.

    Many thanks.


  6. Woodshed February 28th, 2013 7:20 am

    Will: That’s fantastic! Great to hear you’re on the mend. Thanks so much for letting me know.

  7. Tim May 20th, 2013 4:23 pm

    I just found Ukulele Hunt a few days ago, and I’ve rated everything I have. I’m a very casual player over the last six years, and your site has inspired me to become a more frequent player (I hope).

    I like the site, and I like your writing style, so I bought the book at my local Barnes and Noble yesterday. If I’m not playing like Jake Shimabokuro inside a week, I expect a refund……Kidding!

  8. Tim May 20th, 2013 5:08 pm

    Okay, I should say something about the book, right?

    First, I’m glad that my one copy maybe paid 10 minutes of your electric bill. You should make millions on this fine book. From perusing the index, and skimming a few apt pages, I believe you have covered everything one should know about the ukulele. The serious stuff would only cover half as many pages, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

    Just knowing that you like Lanikai ukes told me that the book would be a winner…:)

    I have seen the main competitor, written for idiots, and I believe you have done a better job in writing for dummies. Much better than a couple of other modern “methods” I own, and a compilation of antique ones, as well.

    You sir, are the PhD of ukes. This dummy thanks you for choosing to share your knowledge with us.

  9. Woodshed May 21st, 2013 3:01 pm

    Tim: Thanks so much! You’re very kind.

  10. Daniel July 8th, 2013 6:47 pm

    Hello there! I bought the e-book for my kindle, I bought the “enhanced book” because it comes with the vids and songs, but my Kindle doesnt play anything, for it’s a simple kindle, not the “fire” one (my stupidity), therefore I would like to know where can I download the downloadeable part. It seems to be a very nice book!

  11. Woodshed July 9th, 2013 11:22 am

    Daniel: You can download the audio here:

    Just search for ‘ukulele’ in the title. Thanks very much for buying the book!

  12. nicholas martin September 7th, 2013 11:59 pm

    for the ebook how I download the extra content

  13. Woodshed September 8th, 2013 6:59 am

    nicholas: You can download the audio here:

    Just search for ‘ukulele’ in the title. Thanks very much for buying the book!

  14. Kenneth September 10th, 2013 5:08 pm

    Pardon me asking, but I want to confirm my understanding of frets and half-steps on the musical scale. P 98 says move the Eb7 chord down a fret and make Db7. Wouldn’t a one-fret move result in D7 and a TWO-fret move would result in Db7?

  15. Woodshed September 11th, 2013 9:12 am

    Kenneth: You’re right. Thanks for flagging up the mistake.

  16. itay September 22nd, 2013 9:21 am

    hi there, i live in israel.
    whats my options for purchasing the book and all the other stuff?

  17. Bob Appleby January 20th, 2014 1:17 am

    Hi Alistair,
    I have wanted to learn how to play an instrument for years and just never got around to it. A friend of mine, Ukeman7, suggested the ukulele. I purchased a tenor Ukulele and since I was familiar with the “Dummies” series for various computer programs, I knew I could not go wrong by buying Ukulele for Dummies. I purchased the e-Book version through Kobo and I am thoroughly enjoying the time I’m spending on the Ukulele as I work my way through your book.
    Kobo advertises that CD files are available to download after purchasing the e-Book version. Apparently the files should have been made available to me when I downloaded the e-Book, however this did not occur. Kobo customer service advised me that to obtain the CD files I now must contact the author. Is it possible for you to send me the files? Being able to actually hear how the songs should sound would be extremely beneficial. Thanks!

  18. Woodshed January 20th, 2014 10:28 am

    Bob: You can download the audio here:

    Just search for ‘ukulele’ in the title then click the ISBN number.

    Thanks very much for buying the book!

  19. Samhy January 31st, 2014 10:47 am

    I had the same question as Bob (bought the e-book version, but couldn’t find where the audio files were).
    Now I have my answer. Thanks!

  20. Woodshed January 31st, 2014 11:09 am

    Samhy: Glad you got it!

  21. Eduardo March 4th, 2014 9:06 pm

    Hey! I really like your site!!! I’m from Brazil, and I was wondering if there is any way for me to buy your book!! I can´t buy on Amazon, because I think they don’t accept PayPal, and it’s the only way I can pay online. Can you help me??? Tanks!!!!

  22. Woodshed March 5th, 2014 10:15 am

    Eduardo: Sorry, I’ve no idea. You could try contacting the publisher they might be able to help.

  23. Rhonda March 24th, 2014 3:25 pm

    I tried to order your Dummies book on Amazon (US)for my Kindle and this is what it says:

    Item Under Review
    This book is currently unavailable because there is an issue with its description, content, or formatting. We are working with the publisher to fix the issue. As always, we value customer feedback.

    Do you have any idea when the issue will be fixed? They didn’t seem to know.


  24. Woodshed March 25th, 2014 8:56 pm

    Rhonda: Sorry, I’ve no idea what’s going on with that. The best thing to do is contact the publisher:

  25. Sue December 28th, 2014 6:23 pm


    Great book!! Sadly I have misplaced the audio CD is it possible to just re-order the disc or is it a case of purchasing the book again.


  26. Woodshed December 28th, 2014 10:11 pm

    Sue: I don’t think it’s possible to buy the CD alone.

    You can download the contents of the CD and the videos. Links here:

    If it has to be the CD you could try contacting the publisher:

  27. Kevin December 29th, 2014 11:54 pm

    I just recently bought the book and I’m working on fingerpicking. I thought it was a specific thumb or finger for each string. (TIMA) On page 139 the middle and index finger are used to play the same note. The text doesn’t mention using different fingers for the same string. Is this a typo?

  28. Woodshed January 2nd, 2015 10:20 am

    Kevin: Argh! Yeah, that’s a typo. The last note in each bar should be M rather than I. Thanks for letting me know.

  29. Vinetta Blow August 6th, 2015 3:57 pm

    my laptop does not have a cd rom how can I get the demos?

  30. Woodshed August 6th, 2015 9:37 pm

    Vinetta: There are links to all the downloads here.

  31. Adam September 11th, 2015 6:23 pm

    Tried to download the audio from wileys. The only downloads available are for the 96 page basics book. I have the kindle version for android….

    Kind of sucks to not have the audio that is supposed to come with the book. Hope you can help.

  32. Adam September 11th, 2015 6:27 pm

    Oops Just actually followed your instructions, found the files. It would appear that your book is correctly titled for people like me.


  33. Woodshed September 12th, 2015 12:43 pm

    Adam: Glad you found them! Wiley do have plans to make them easier to download. So I hope it won’t be such a trial in future.

  34. Alex December 31st, 2015 8:38 pm

    What’s changed between the first edition and the second edition? Is the Kindle version of the second edition also “enhanced?” Or is the “enhanced edition” a separate entity altogether? If the kindle second edition version is also “enhanced” does it still only work on iPads?

  35. Woodshed January 4th, 2016 7:36 pm

    Alex: There are a couple of new chapters, a few things updated and typos fixed. I haven’t been involved on the enhanced edition side. But if it isn’t enhanced there’ll be links to downloads of audio and video.

    Wiley’s help might be more useful if you contact them.

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