ArtistWorks Blog

How to Play Ukulele

Want to learn how to play ukulele but unsure where to start? You’re in luck, because that’s our topic of the day! Let’s take a look at the basics:


Holding the Ukulele

Before you can play your uke, you’ll need to establish a well-balanced position so that you don’t have to worry about it slipping during the process. Use your chest as one contact point, the inside of the right arm just below the elbow, and the left hand as a counterbalance.

The left hand thumb exerts a forward force on the neck of the ukulele, while the right arm exerts a backward force, providing a perfect counterbalance. The contact point at the chest adds additional stability.

Strumming Basics

Since ukulele tuning produces a C6 chord, you can practice strumming on open strings without sounding too dissonant.

The first strum to master is a simple downstroke with the thumb. With a supple wrist, sweep the thumb across the strings towards the floor. Practice this with a metronome in a basic four-beat rhythm, one strum on each beat.

Next, you’ll want to add an upstroke to accompany the downstrum, which is done with the index finger. Taking the same rhythm you just practiced, add the upstroke by sweeping upwards with the index finger on the “and” between beats 1 and 4. “One and two and three and four and … down-up, down-up, down-up, down-up” will be your count to follow.

You can also use the fingernail of the index finger to produce a downstroke, which will provide a brighter tone in contrast to the flesh of the thumb.

Fretted Notes

You’ll want to start with notes in first position, which is the first five or so frets that can be easily reached without having to over-stretch the left hand or slide it up the fretboard.

Try the C Major Scale on the following strings and frets: 3rd string (0, 2) 2nd string (0, 1, 3) 1st string (0, 2, 3).

Your First Chord Progressions

If you want to learn your favorite ukulele songs, you’ve got to start with some simple chord progressions. We’ll start with a I-IV-V progression in the key of C Major. Roman numerals represent the scale degree on which the chords are constructed.

The ukulele chords we’re learning today are simple to play, making use of open strings. Fret numbers are shown below in parentheses, 4th string through 1st string:

C Major (0, 0, 0, 3); F Major (2, 0, 1, 0); G Major (0, 2, 3, 2). Practice these three chord shapes with only the left hand first, and when you are able to drop all fingers into position simultaneously, begin to practice strumming in a basic four-beat pattern.

When you’re ready for something slightly more challenging, try a I-VI-IV-V progression. The VI chord, A minor is fretted as follows: 2, 0, 0, 0.

The pattern, then, will be C major, A minor, F major, G major. You’ll recognize this as a hugely popular progression that has been used for literally hundreds, if not thousands, of songs.

In fact, if you’d like to check out ukulele tabs for some of your favorite tunes, you can do so here.

Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel teach Ukulele online with ArtistWorks. To learn more our Ukulele lessons, click here


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