Ten Arpeggio Exercises Plus a Song to Improve Your Fingerpicking on Ukulele

If you don’t know that I wrote Ukulele for Dummies I obviously haven’t been doing enough shameless self-promotion. It did well enough that the Dummies folks wanted a follow up: Ukulele Exercises for Dummies. I’m highly allergic to the word “exercise” – I had to take half a dozen Benadryls just to write this intro – so I recommended they get Brett from Ukulele Tricks to write it.

I’ve been working with him on the book right from the start and he did a fantastic job with it. I’ve already learnt a ton from it and it’s inspired me to get more serious about practicing.

It’s out now in the UK, Canada and Australia and New Zealand. And you can pre-order it in the US.

You can read all about the book on Ukulele Tricks. And to give you an idea of what’s in the book Brett’s kindly agreed to share this post on fingerpicking exercises.

Those Benadryls are really kicking in now so I’ll let Brett take over from here.

Fingerpicking comes in many styles on the ukulele. You might use a repeating fingerpicking pattern to pick out the chord progression of a song as you sing the melody; this is what I like to call rhythmic fingerpicking. Or, you might pluck out the melody of a song on the ukulele without singing, sometimes known as fingerstyle or solo fingerpicking. Whether your fingerpicking for rhythm or melody, practicing arpeggios is a great way to improve your fingerpicking in either style.

In this lesson, I select ten different arpeggios exercises plus a song by the famous 19th century composer Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849) from my new book Ukulele Exercises For Dummies that you can use to increase your ease of movement, speed and accuracy as you fingerpick the ukulele.

How to Fingerpick the Ukulele

The following arpeggio exercises are designed to work out each finger in your picking hand: thumb (represented by a p), index finger (represented by an i), middle finger (represented by an m) and ring finger (represented by an a). The letters p-i-m-a represent the Spanish word for each finger, which originates from early Spanish guitar pieces.

Most of the time, I like to assign my thumb to pluck the g-string and C-string of the ukulele (top two strings), index finger to the E-string and middle finger to the A-string (bottom string). However, sometimes it works best to assign each finger to a string. This means, the thumb plucks the g-string (top string), the index finger the C-string, the middle finger the E-string and the ring finger the A-string (bottom string).

When plucking the strings of the ukulele, for the most balanced sound, aim to pluck the string with the part of your finger where the flesh of your finger meets the fingernail. If you pluck more with the nail, you get a brighter more lively tone, and if you pluck more with the flesh of your fingers, you get a softer, warmer tone.

If you’ve never fingerpicked the ukulele before, it can be a bit awkward at first. Be patient with yourself and avoid the impulse to smash your ukulele up against a brick wall because your fingers need time to build up some strength and independence from one another. Each of the following arpeggio exercises makes use of different fingers to help you do exactly this!

‘P i m’ arpeggio exercises

To play an arpeggio, pluck individual notes of a chord in a repeating pattern with your picking hand. After plucking each note, allow it to ring out as long as possible until plucking the string again.

These first few arpeggios use your thumb, index and middle fingers in varying orders. Each arpeggio is played in groups of three notes, so play these patterns in an eighth note triplet rhythm counting: 1 – trip – let, 2 – trip – let, etc.

UPDATE: A few people have had trouble seeing these images. If that’s you, here’s a zip file with all the exercises.

exercise-1

exercise-2

exercise-3

The next two exercises alternate your thumb between plucking the top two strings.

exercise-4

exercise-5

‘P i m a’ arpeggio exercises

Now add in the use of your ring finger (represented by an a). These exercises are a bit more difficult because the ring finger isn’t known to be the strongest finger in your hand. Use these exercises to build up strength and to free up movement in your ring finger.

exercise-6

exercise-7

The last three exercises eliminate the use of your thumb and focus on working out your index, middle and ring fingers.

exercise-8

exercise-9

exercise-10

Practice tip: In these exercises, you switch between just a C and G7 chord. For more practice, write out your own chord progressions and practice these arpeggios while switching between other different chords.

Dionisio Aguado’s “25 Pieces Pour Guitare, no. 17″

The cool thing about arpeggios is that they are used quite often in classical and Spanish guitar pieces to play beautiful and intricate-sounding fingerpicking pieces. When these pieces are arranged for ukulele, they are really fun to play and sound quite impressive.

Aguado’s 25 Pieces Pour Guitare, no. 17 is played solely on the bottom three strings of the ukulele. Use either a constant p-i-m or i-m-a arpeggio to play the piece. Try your hand at playing this piece!

Aguado’s 25 Pieces Pour Guitare (Tab and Sheet Music)

Aguado’s 25 Pieces Pour Guitare (MP3)

 

To take it to the next level, compose your own intricate fingerpicking piece by coming up with your own chord progressions and using an arpeggio to play the chords. You might even experiment with using moveable chord shapes across the ukulele fretboard to get more interesting tones out of what would be really common chords.

Brett McQueen is the founder of Ukulele Tricks and author of Ukulele Exercises For Dummies, a brand new ukulele practice book with hundreds of fun exercises, drills and practice tunes in a wide-range of styles. Now available on Amazon.com here.

View Comments

30 Comments

  1. Glenn April 24th, 2013 10:42 pm

    i kinda like the fingepicking beter, because I’m still have trouble with struming, still working on it . never give up

  2. Jeremy April 24th, 2013 10:55 pm

    The images do not seem to want to load!!

  3. Lou Mascolo April 24th, 2013 11:09 pm

    Your link to “Aquado 25 Pieces” doesn’t work.

  4. Woodshed April 24th, 2013 11:15 pm

    Glenn: That’s a good attitude to have!

    Jeremy and Lou: Hmm, both seem to be working fine for me. I’ll see what I can do.

  5. Pat Solstad April 24th, 2013 11:20 pm

    Oh, this is SO MUCH FUN!! Thank you, Brett. Can’t wait to get my book!

  6. Ron Hale April 24th, 2013 11:21 pm

    Uke fingerstyle book author, Rob MacKillop, just the other day uploaded two new videos playing an
    historical copy guitar, Al. Take a look.

    Small guitar. May interest ukers.

  7. kwokkie April 25th, 2013 12:31 am

    When I try to visit http://www.ukuleletricks.com I get to see a “Test Page for the Apache HTTP Server & InterWorx-CP” page.

    Is that website down at the moment, or is there a problem on my side?

  8. Daniel Yu April 25th, 2013 1:25 am

    I downloaded the file but unable to open it. This message from my VLC (videolan) format shows up:

    No suitable decoder module:
    VLC does not support the audio or video format “undf”. Unfortunately there is no way for you to fix this.

  9. Dom Pirro April 25th, 2013 1:58 am

    What tuning does this book use? I have a Baritone Ukulele.

  10. Juke Joint Jim April 25th, 2013 6:14 am

    Very rich! Great job, stepping up to the plate with a nice lesson and useful tools for all us uckylaylay pickers. Thanks.

  11. kwokkie April 25th, 2013 7:15 am

    Oh, nevermind, the ukuleletricks website just started working for me, and the images show up now.

  12. Woodshed April 25th, 2013 12:54 pm

    Pat: I hope you enjoy it!

    kwokkie: I hope I didn’t crash his site! The images are hosted here now so there shouldn’t be a problem.

    Daniel: You need to use an unzipper on it.

    Jim: Glad you liked it!

  13. Woodshed April 25th, 2013 12:54 pm

    Dom: Standard, high-g tuning.

  14. Jamie April 25th, 2013 1:52 pm

    This is pretty damn awesome. I have a ukulele student who’s learning fast. I think he’ll appreciate this classical number. Not only can he practice his fingerpicking, but it’s different than the pop/folk songs he’s been playing. Thanks for offering it.

  15. John Payne April 25th, 2013 1:57 pm

    This is great!

  16. Brett McQueen April 25th, 2013 2:46 pm

    Sorry about the server issues everyone. Not sure what happened there but it looks like I’m back and running.

    Very glad to hear you all are enjoying the fingerpicking!

    Jamie, the Aguado piece is definitely a fun one to play.

    For the baritone players, you could definitely make use of these exercises for practice and even play the Aguado piece following along with the tab. It would just sound in a different key.

  17. Sandra April 25th, 2013 10:45 pm

    This is a great taster of Brett’s book – just got mine this week and its fab. A welcome change from all the other uke so called learn to play books, great follow up to al’s dummies book. Thanks for the post, hadn’t got to this chapter in the book yet!

  18. seamus4string April 26th, 2013 6:31 am

    Thanks Woodshed this looks like fun

  19. seamus4string April 26th, 2013 6:32 am

    You too Brett

  20. viv April 26th, 2013 12:53 pm

    I am new at the uke but our teacher has thrown us in at the deep end and asked us to do fingerpicking which i cannot even begin to do i cant even get the three fingers in the right position and so not know how to pluck the strings properly so have given and i usually dont give up but i find it daunting!

  21. Woodshed April 26th, 2013 8:12 pm

    Brett: I hope I didn’t cause the problems!

    seamus: It is fun!

    viv: Good luck with it.

  22. Joshua Grenrock April 27th, 2013 12:03 am

    This was great! A wonderful finger warmer upper! The MP3 download helps a lot. Might there be more of these Aguado treats or something along the same line in the future?

    Thanks again!

  23. Brett McQueen April 29th, 2013 4:00 pm

    viv, these exercises are definitely helpful if you have some of the basics down. For a basic fingerpicking lesson that addresses technique, I have video lesson on YouTube here that might be of interest: http://youtu.be/0osv8Z2fbm8

    Woodshed, I don’t think you did. I’ve been having some server hiccups recently. Transferring to a new server right now!

    Joshua, would love to do more in the future!

  24. Woodshed April 29th, 2013 4:43 pm

    Brett: Argh! Sorry to hear that. I hope the move helps.

  25. Musicalou April 30th, 2013 1:33 am

    These are just perfect exercises for me at the moment Brett. Thanks so much!

    I’m a pianist primarily, so using my fingers independently is easier than reaching for weird chord formations on the uke.

    I tend to use a ‘rest stop’ motion when fingerpicking. This is where the finger sweeps off the string (think of flicking a bit of dust off the edge of a table) and comes to rest (or gets stopped by) the adjacent string. I find this is an easier motion. I have seen students learning who end up pulling at the strings in an effort to ‘pluck’ them, so I’ve found it to be more effective to teach something that will, eventually, be more efficient.

    Looking forward to seeing the book but… can you tell me… does it come with audio files?

    thanks, Lou

  26. Jan May 6th, 2013 2:27 pm

    Just started on finger picking in class but using thumb & 3 fingers so all 4 strings, your 3 string exercises are nice and easy thanks a lot, look forward to the book.

  27. Mari May 17th, 2013 7:36 pm

    Why is it that the open G string note is written on the staff above middle C? It’s confusing because the G is a lower note and should be written below the measure lines. Is it common with the ukulele to write it that way? I’m having a hard time switching my brain. Yikes!
    Otherwise, these are great exercises. Thank you!!!

  28. Woodshed May 18th, 2013 6:44 am

    Mari: It’s written for standard tuning which has the g-string tuned higher than middle C. So it is correct.

  29. Ian Grems May 24th, 2013 3:52 am

    Wow this is awesome! Thanks for another post by my hero, Woodshed!! P.S. love the “25 Pieces Pour Guitare, no. 17?.

  30. Woodshed May 24th, 2013 9:02 am

    Ian: Thanks but I didn’t write this one!

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