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. Cappers June 10th, 2011 3:12 pm

    Congrats on the new book Al. Judging by the contents page it’ll be great. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy and am looking forward to getting it soon.


  2. Woodshed June 10th, 2011 11:05 pm

    Cappers: Thanks very much. Hope you enjoy it.

  3. Jimmy June 11th, 2011 1:06 am

    I like the graphic metaphor you use:)
    Can’t wait to buy this!

  4. PaulC June 11th, 2011 5:07 am

    It looks fantastic, Al. When it arrives at the bookstore I work at I’ll definitely make sure it gets one of those “Recommended By:” stickers on the cover and a prominent place on the shelf!

  5. Woodshed June 11th, 2011 7:08 am

    Jimmy: Thanks! I do love graphic metaphors.

    PaulC: That would be great! Thanks very much.

  6. keith June 12th, 2011 4:41 pm

    just ordered it!

  7. chris June 12th, 2011 8:19 pm

    Ordered it last night, can’t wait!

  8. Marty Nedaj June 12th, 2011 11:35 pm

    Al, I sympathize with Claudio. I was raptly looking over the details of your upcoming “dummies” book, when my wife interrupted me with a question: : What website are you looking at? I replied: “UkeHunt”. She grabbed my uke and hit me over the head with it. Can’t understand why. I sure could use an advanced copy of Chapter 17.

  9. Woodshed June 13th, 2011 11:58 am

    keith: Thanks!

    chris: Hope you like it.

    Marty: I can’t understand it either. Women, eh?

  10. Damnearperfect June 16th, 2011 6:42 pm

    So this is it – I’ve downloaded the e-stuff – I watched the online uke vids – Now I ordered the book. If this doesn’t change me into a ukulele god in 6 months then I’m changing my tag to dumbnearperfect. (Which might be nearer the truth)

  11. Woodshed June 17th, 2011 10:32 am

    Damnnearperfect: Six months is a pretty short time frame for god-status.

  12. The0R4NG3 June 21st, 2011 9:33 am

    So… Check iTunes store for once in a very long time… See “iTunes Festival”. What…? *Click* *Scroll…* “July 3rd: Ukulele for Dummies. Studio Session.” Can I just ask what is going on here?

  13. Claudio June 21st, 2011 9:41 am

    A spot of launch promo for novices.

  14. Farah June 21st, 2011 5:13 pm

    I think you are totally awesome.

    I was wondering when they’d make one for the ukulele, and if they had if it’d be at all useful and if I’d actually learn something. Knowing that you wrote puts me at ease. So thank you!

  15. smilesbetter June 26th, 2011 12:33 pm

    This looks awesome, looking forward to getting my hands on it!

  16. Ace-T June 30th, 2011 6:54 pm

    It is now in my grubby paws!

    Ooh, ooh, am I the first? Yay!

    I must confess though, the first thing I do with Dummies books is have a chuckle at the cartoons. I really like Christmas cracker jokes so I am their target audience! :D

    Thanks again for your hard work on this Mr Shed.

  17. Woodshed June 30th, 2011 8:46 pm

    The0R4NG3: I don’t have much to do with that. It’s a mass ukulele lesson hosted by Amy Lame.

    Farah: Awww! Thanks very much!

    smilesbetter: Hope you enjoy it.

    Ace-T: Great! I think you might be second after my mum! Hope you enjoy it.

  18. paulmoody July 1st, 2011 11:20 am

    My copy of Ukulele for Dummies arrived in the post this morning! It’s fantastic, so basic to understand! Thanks!

  19. Andy July 2nd, 2011 9:06 am

    Just wanted to wish you the best with the Book. I hope it’s sales will allow you to do what you want (especialy wirth ukehunt).

    Although I cant afford the book I expect it to be equal in quality to this site.

  20. J-Hob July 2nd, 2011 8:24 pm

    My copy turned up today and now my table wobbles no more!

    Seriously, looking forward to giving it a good thumb through, sure it will prove to be an essential reference.

  21. keith July 4th, 2011 8:01 pm

    Mine arrived today, gona get stuck in!

  22. Dave W July 7th, 2011 1:45 pm

    I got “Ukulele for Dummies” yesterday. I have skimmed it and am now reading cover to cover. As a 65 year old new Uker can I say it is superb and will be my main tutor on my fun journey with my Uke.

  23. Woodshed July 8th, 2011 1:46 pm

    paulmoody: Thanks very much! Glad you like it.

    Andy: Thanks! I mostly do what I want anyway.

    J-Hob: Glad you can safely have your breakfast now!

    keith: Hope you enjoy it.

    Dave W: Good luck with it. Hope you find it useful.

    paul, J-Hob, keith and Dave: When you’ve given the book a good going over, would you be able to leave a review on Amazon? I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

  24. Damian July 11th, 2011 10:53 pm

    Just ordered your book today from Amazon UK for a bargain £8 delivered ! As soon as i heard you where involved in this i had to have it .
    I got a bit carried away and also ordered Harmonica for dummies even though i don’t have one…
    Going to start trawling the net to choose one, anyone out there got any recommendations for a cheap but good one for a beginner ? Kind of like a Makala Dolphin of the Harmonica world !

  25. krabbers July 12th, 2011 11:28 am

    can we get signed copies anywhere?
    has someone already asked the question ?

    if so, its early sorry

  26. banterCZ July 12th, 2011 7:34 pm

    It is very tempting :-) The only thing is that the delivery rates to the Czech Republic is almost the same as the price of the book.

  27. Woodshed July 14th, 2011 7:07 am

    Damian: Thanks very much! Hope you enjoy it. I thought pairing those two books was a bit strange – never played a harmonica myself.

    Krabbers: Sorry, no there isn’t.

    BanterCZ: It is available in Germany – hope that works out cheaper.

  28. banterCZ July 14th, 2011 7:23 am

    Thanks for info, but €17.5 is more than £8.5
    Anyway I have already purchased in in UK. It is nice way how to pay for your blog :)

    I bought the harmonica book too. I know some basics so I am keen on be better.

    The main motivation is that my new born child loves music :)

  29. thegrd July 15th, 2011 6:28 pm

    I need it but I’m French…

    It will be translate ? :)

  30. Woodshed July 16th, 2011 2:05 am

    thegrd: There have been discussions about that. The best thing to do is get in touch with the publisher and register your wish for a French version.

  31. Peter Evans July 17th, 2011 12:50 pm

    Had the book about a week from Amazon, What a fantastic book! I’ve spent far more on beginners books that don’t even come close to the content and quality ! ( have i said enough for a free signed copy yet?) :-) but honestly, beginner or not, don’t delay buy today !

  32. chris July 17th, 2011 2:13 pm

    I enjoy turning all the videos on at once. also, and this is probably in the comment section somwhere but does anyone know when the book comes out?

  33. thegrd July 18th, 2011 9:41 am

    Woodshed: It’s done! :)

    Thanks you

  34. Woodshed July 18th, 2011 3:04 pm

    Peter: Thanks very much! Glad you like it.

    chris: In the US, it should be out at the end of August.

    thegrd: Thanks for doing a review. Very much appreciated.

  35. Pomme July 23rd, 2011 9:11 am

    For once I know what I’ll ask for my birthday (assuming I can wait!), no present face this year!!

  36. Woodshed July 23rd, 2011 12:53 pm

    Pomme: Hope you have a happy birthday!

  37. keith August 3rd, 2011 7:27 pm

    To anyone who isn’t sure: Buy it!.
    I am a guitar player, who thought i would give the ukulele a try, not sure if i would take to it or not.
    I bought a cheap uke , put on some aquila strings, and gave it a shot. While i enjoyed learning something new, i needed something to “show me the way” if you like.
    While searching the net for info i found this site, and of course the link to the book.Well i have to say not only is it very informative and structured, it’s very enjoyable.
    Great work.

  38. Woodshed August 4th, 2011 7:51 am

    keith: Thanks very much! Very glad you enjoyed it.

  39. fyg August 6th, 2011 12:17 pm

    A proper brillaint book.
    And very funny.

  40. Woodshed August 7th, 2011 7:03 am

    fyg: Thanks very much!

  41. Stefany Owens August 27th, 2011 2:16 pm

    This looks so awesome! I’m buying it tomorrow :D

  42. Woodshed August 27th, 2011 3:28 pm

    Stefany: Thanks. Hope you like it.

  43. Christian MICHON August 31st, 2011 12:15 am

    Just received it through Amazon France. Great book, great stuff. Glad I could manage to get it that fast.

    Thank you for your hard work, looking forward to improving my beginner’s skills.

  44. Woodshed August 31st, 2011 7:14 am

    Christian: Thanks very much! I hope you get a lot out of it.

  45. Pomme September 4th, 2011 8:36 am

    Got it for my birthday at last!! I have to admit after having managed to read through the wrapping paper, I opened my pressie a day early.Very excited, been browsing through it all evening, love it!!

  46. Woodshed September 4th, 2011 11:33 am

    Pomme: Happy birthday! Hope you enjoy the book.

  47. Issy G October 14th, 2011 10:59 am

    Really looking forward to working my way through this. It seems to be the most comprehensive guide out there.

    I have a tip for the uke-versus-wife players. Buy her a uke for Christmas! My hubby is a very appreciative audience for my strumming & warbling so I bought him a very nice Ashbury tenor for his last birthday, which was the perfect size for his big hands. He loves it. When it came time to upgrade from my humble Kala mahogany soprano to a Kala curly mango concert (at more than four times the price) he helped me source it and couldn’t wait to get his hands on it!

    We’ll both be using your book. Harmony is the key… :)

  48. Clyde Ortego October 15th, 2011 4:43 pm

    Is this book only for GCEA or can It be used for the DGBE uku’s as well?



  49. John October 19th, 2011 1:49 am

    Great book! Thanks for writing it.
    Unforunately, I bought the Kindle version. Is there a way to buy the CD or to get MP3s?

  50. Woodshed October 19th, 2011 10:25 am

    Clyde: It’s gCEA only.

    John: Thanks! The best thing to do is get in touch with, the publisher, Wiley.

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