Mastering the Art of the Ukulele
If Adam Sandler did it in the publicly-acclaimed film ’50 First Dates’, then you, too, can certainly master the art of the beloved instrument known as the ukulele
Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell has a theory that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something (plus talent) to become a master. It’s in his book Outliers: The Story Of Success, where he gives examples of Bill Gates and The Beatles putting in those hours to get to where they are.
Some disagree with the theory, but not Oprah. She agrees with Gladwell that its years of hard work that leads to success.
So if you truly want to master the ukulele, practice is your ticket. That said, you don’t need to put in 10,000 hours to get pretty good at playing the uke.
Take Adam Sandler. He probably didn’t practice that much but still played a pretty mean ukulele in “50 First Dates.” Then there are other celebs that strum well, probably without the hours, including The Rock, Ryan Gosling, Marilyn Monroe, and Lucille Ball.
Pete Townsend, Cyndi Lauper, and Taylor Swift also play. They may be close to mastery thanks to the time they practiced other strings.
But for you to start, we’ve put together this guide of basics. Keep reading to see what you need to learn ukulele and play songs. Then, grab your uke and start practicing toward mastery!
Get a Ukulele
If you don’t already have one, begin by getting an instrument that’s right for you. This means a soprano ukulele for starters.
Sopranos have just the right size while you’re learning. Later you can try others as you move toward mastering your technique and songs.
Also, get one that’s easy to tune. This means get a ukulele that has tuning pegs that stick out of the sides rather than the back.
The ones that stick out of the sides are called “geared” tuning pegs. The ones that stick out of the back are called “friction” tuning pegs.
Learn Ukulele Tuning and Tune Your Uke
Each of the four strings of your ukulele needs to be in tune for your songs to sound like they’re supposed to. Once in tune, strings slip out of tune over time, so this is a skill you need to master because you’ll use it on an ongoing basis.
We like the GCEA tuning method. Each string gets tuned to one of these notes. The top string on the fret is tuned to G, the next down is tuned to C, the next down is tuned to E, and the bottom string is tuned to A.
First, find a way to hear the note you’re tuning the string to. You can use a tuned piano to play each note and match to. You can also find the sounds online or get an electronic tuner.
Start with the top string. Play a G note on your source. Turn the peg that holds the top string until the string sound matches the G note when you strum it. Tighten the string and the sounds goes higher. Loosen the string and it goes lower.
Repeat for the other strings going down from the top, matching to C, E, and A notes respectively.
Learn Ukulele Strumming
Sit down and hold your uke so the neck is pointing left. Put your left hand over the strings and frets on the end of your uke neck right before the pegs. When you play, your left hand creates the melody by selecting the chords you’ll play. Your right hand strums and creates the rhythm.
Take your right hand and open it with fingers spread apart. Hold it over the hole so your palm is facing the hole and your thumb is pointing up towards your face.
Keeping your pointer finger straight, bend it in so it’s pointed at you. Your pointer will be doing the strumming as you turn your hand so your pointer points down to the ground and then back up to point at you again. So you strum down and back up.
When you’re starting out, each chord gets four strums, two down and two up, before you move on to the next chord in the song.
Learn Ukulele Chords
Songs are written in notes/chords. I chord is when you need to combine a few notes to make a sound.
Sheet music tells you the chords to play in order. When you play them, you get a song.
We use chord boxes to show you how to play the chords. The chord box is an illustration of the top frets on the uke. The vertical lines are the strings. The horizontal lines are the frets. The dots are where you put your fingers to play a chord.
You can look at a ukulele chord chart to learn the ukulele chords. For example, C only requires one finger. You put it on the bottom string on the third fret and strum. For D, you put three fingers on the top three strings in the second fret.
Try it out. Put your ring finger on C, then strum up and down repeatedly. You’re playing C!
Put It All Together
Take a look at the lyrics and chords for “You Are My Sunshine.” Memorize the chords from the chord chart on our site that we linked to above. Then, start practicing. Whenever it says a chord, play that. Keep singing and strumming until it tells you to play the next chord. And you’re playing a song!
Keep practicing and singing. Then you can get the music for other songs and learn a whole slew.
If you want to bump up your game from there, keep practicing, find people to play with and for, and get a teacher if you want.
Get Going With Your Ukulele and a Few Songs
Ready to learn to play ukulele? Ready to learn a few songs? As you can see, it’s not that difficult and really quite fun. And then if you love it, you can put in those hours of practice and become a master. Or you can just play for fun whenever you want.
To start, take a look at our guide to choosing the right ukulele for you. Leave us a message at the bottom if you have questions or want advice on the right instrument to buy.