Three Best Ways to Use a Pick on a Ukulele

I’ve pretty opinionated with my anti-pick stance. I find the common advice of, “Use a pick if you want to, or don’t,” entirely fair and entirely useless advice. I assume you’re here to find out what are think and are capable of rejecting if it’s bollocks.

Despite my anti-pickery I do think there are some occasions where a pick is useful. So here are my tips for using a pick and where I think using one is more effective than using fingers.

Picking Basics

Which Pick?

Over time I’ve moved towards thicker and thicker picks. Now I’m using the Dunlop Jazz III picks which are thick and pointy. That makes for precise picking. On the downside, they do take some getting used to. Picks are pretty cheap (except when they cost $75 a throw) so you can pick up a variety pack and seeing which takes your fancy.

How to Hold It

I like to hold picks between the pad of my thumb and the side of my index finger.


That feels the most secure to me. But plenty of people do well by holding it between the thumb and the tip of the index finger or the tips of the index and middle fingers. Either way, don’t hold the pick with too much pressure and keep your hand as relaxed as you can.

Picking Motion

Don’t let the picking motion come from your elbow. You’ll tire out very fast. Long teenage nights of experience have taught me that swinging from the wrist gives you more stamina than swinging from the elbow.

Move from your wrist. Concentrate on moving the pick as little as you can. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Rest the underside of your hand against the bridge of the uke so you’re brushing against it a little as you pick.

When I need to pick really fast I put my pinkie on the soundboard. It’s not good technique (because it restricts your movement a bit). I’m working on it but for now I find I need that stability.

To pick really fast you don’t need to move your hand more frantically. Build up speed by making the smallest movement you need to pluck the string.

Best Uses

1: Alternate Picking for Speed

If you need to play a flurry of notes on a string it’s much easier to do that with a pick.

The best way of achieving it is alternate picking i.e. you always pick downstroke, upstroke, downstroke, upstroke etc.

This example has alternate picking all the way through. In tab downstrokes are indicated with a square that has its bottom missing. And upstrokes are a V.


Alternate Picking Across Strings

Alternate picking makes sense when you’re playing one string. It’s not so obviously useful when you’re playing multiple strings. In this example you play a downstroke on the C-string then an upstroke on the E-string. So you have to move the pick past the E-string then come up when it would be quicker to do another downstrum. There are advantages to that way of picking (known as economy picking). But alternate picking keeps your hand moving at a constant rate and gives the notes more definition.

This lick uses the C blues scale (much more about that in my Blues Ukulele ebook if you’re unfamiliar).


2: Tremolo Picking for Sustain

There’s no denying that ukuleles are lacking in sustain. You’re lucky to get much more than a *plink* out of a soprano played up the neck. One way to recreate sustain is to repick the string in a constant rhythm for the length of the note. This is something mandolin players do all the time.

To play them just fret the note then alternate pick the string (usually with eighth notes or sixteenth notes) for as long as the note lasts.

The tab for tremolo is one or more thick diagonal lines under the note. Strictly speaking, one line means eighth note picking and two lines means sixteenth note picking. But that is sometimes ignored by the lazy and semi-competent (i.e. me) and it’s left up to you how quick your tremolo strum is.

This technique is really useful in a ukulele orchestra. You can use it to build up chords one note per ukulele. In this example four different ukes are playing one note each to create an Em – G – D progression with Uke 1 playing a little melody.

Tremolo Picking MP3



3: Bashing the Strings for Attack

The harshness of picks can sometimes be a big advantage. When playing a single string line in a group of strummers a pick really helps you cut through.

I did this UOGB stle version of Misirlou recently (more on that coming later). Using a pick gives the notes a piercing tone that suit the tune perfectly. And when it gets loud at the 1:47 mark you can get an attack that isn’t possible with just fingers.

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Elliott Smith – Waltz #2 (XO) (Chords)

Elliott Smith – Waltz #2 (XO) (Chords)

Two things prompted me to do this one: tbone rightly chided me for not having done any Elliott Smith yet and my favourite ever episode of Roderick on the Line.

Suggested Strumming

This strum will see you all the way through the song:

d – – u d u

Main Strum (MP3)

With the intro you need to miss out the down strum on the first bar. So it starts with u d u. You can follow that with the main strum. But I like to do alternate bars of d u – u d u. So that makes the strumming for the very start of the song:

u d u
d – – u d u
d u – u d u
d – – u d u
d u – u d u

Which sounds like this:

Intro Strum (MP3)

Twiddly Bits

That’s followed by this little riff which crops up throughout the song:


Here’s how that sounds against the chords (played on another uke):

Intro (MP3)


Buy it on iTunes
Acoustic Intros tabs

Elvis Costello, Izumi: UkeTube

Full Playlist

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Ukulele Flamethrower: Friday Links



– Tired of carrying around your ukulele and your flamethrower? Make your own Mad Max style ukulele/flamethrower. (Thanks to Rob.)
Site dedicated to the history of Ditson ukuleles.

New Releases

The Wonky EP from Lou and the Llamas
Craig Robertson cover EP (pay what you like).
The Jive Aces Spread a Little Happiness (iTunes link).
Hidden Histories by Arroyo Deathmatch (pay what you like).


Play Ukulele by Ear asks Three questions about ukulele ergonomics. Not sure I agree with all his advice but he has some interesting things to say.

Choan Gálvez – If I Had You (Tab)

Choan Galvez – If I Had You (Tab)

I put Choan’s marvellous version of If I Had You (most known to me in Cliff Edwards’ ukulele version) on the UkeTube a while back. And he was kind enough to send me his tab of it.

The whole piece is full of interesting chord ideas. Even if you’re not going to learn the whole thing I’d recommend playing through the intro (bars 1 and 2), the turnaround (bars 9 and 10) and the outro (bars 30 – 33). You can use these directly in a jazzy piece in A or adapt them for other keys.


Buy the Cliff Edwards version on iTunes
Choan Gálvez on YouTube

Ukulele Videos of the Year So Far

Full Playlist

We’re coming up to the halfway point of the year so time for roundup of the best ukulele videos of 2015 so far. It’s turning into another vintage year for ukulele music so I had a nightmare time trying to get the list down to a reasonable length. In the end I’ve tried to represent the incredible breadth of ways the ukulele is being used these days.

YouTube is going all out to make itself impossible to use. With being capricious about which videos they show from subscriptions and turning off RSS feeds it’s been harder to keep up. So if I’ve missed something leave a link in the comments and I’ll check it out.

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twenty one pilots – We Don’t Believe What’s on TV (Chords)

twenty one pilots – We Don’t Believe What’s On TV (Chords)

I’ve been a bit on the fence about twenty one pilots. But I’ve been looking for some good old ukulele punk pop since The King Blues called it a day and We Don’t Believe What’s on TV fits the bill very nicely.

The are some chord inversions in the song you might not be familiar with. I’ve written them up the way I think he’s playing them. But feel free to use inversions that are more familiar like your prefered way of playing E or the 0100 version of A7. If you’re using the chord charts as written remember that the fret number at the top right of some of the diagrams indicates the fret the diagram starts on. For example, the E7 starts with a barre at the fourth fret (not the first).

Suggested Strumming

You can use this as the main strum:

d – d – d u d u

The ‘Tros and the Verses: One main strum each for F#m and E. Then twice for A except the ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ bits. There do the main strum once, then one down strum. Then either stop or do three down muted strums.

Bridges: Main strum twice for each chord.

Chorus: Just one down strum per chord.

Twiddly Bits

He uses this nice little run at the start of each line in the slowed down version:


After that you go to F#m as usual.


Buy it on iTunes


Full Playlist

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Friday Links


Concerto for Ukulele Featuring Jake Shimabukuro.


– People have been busy trying strings this week. GotAUkulele tries using fishing line for strings (and The Ukulele Blog considers it). While Uke Nut has a more conventional string comparison.
KoAloha Naupaka. Mango and koa wood, live together in perfect harmony, side by side on my uku-lele soundboard, oh Lord, why can’t we?

New Releases

– The Ukulele 2015 Spotify playlist is filling up nicely. Recent additions include the UOGB, Twenty One Pilots, Melanie Doane and Herb Ohta Jr.
Joe Linthecome’s only two known tracks have been reissued. They’re the only pre-war blues ukulele recordings I’m aware of.
– Pre-order the new one from The Jive Aces.
Treehouse EP from Furuberget.

Sam Muir – Sounds Irish (Tab)

Sounds Irish Melody (Tab)

A guest tab from Sam Muir today. It’s her simple but effective arrangement of a tune from The Guitarist’s Way by Peter Nuttall and John Whitworth.

The tune works well as a solo piece but it’s a perfect piece for ukulele groups as it has parts for all abilities: simple chords for beginners, a picking part (below) for those starting on fingerpicking and the melody (above) for the show-offs.

Backing Tab/Chords

The picking part is just the chords played arpeggio (i.e. one note at a time). Played against the melody part it sounds far more intricate than the simplicity of the two parts suggests.

Baritone Version

Sounds Irish (Baritone Tab)

Baritone Backing

And here is a baritone version of both parts for the bariukers in the group. It’s in the same key as the standard tuning tab so they can be played together.


Buy The Guitarist’s Way on Amazon
Sam’s ukulele ebooks

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