The Healing Powerof theUkulele

The Healing Power of the Ukulele | Personal Stories and Interviews

learn to play ukulele

Whether you just started ukulele lessons or you’ve been playing for years, there are a number of benefits that result from learning to play an instrument. From social perks to health benefits, it’s important to learn about your instrument and craft. Here, writer, speaker, and host Don Smith shares interviews with ukulele players on the big power of a small instrument and why you should learn to play ukulele…


Gone are the days when the ukulele was just an instrument for comical value. It was common to think of the ukulele as an instrument only played by men in flamboyantly printed shirts in a tropical setting.

Cristine DeLeon, a New Jersey based singer/songwriter, has seen an increase in the use of the ukulele.

“It really is a fun instrument to play,” she says. “My husband got me one about four years ago, when I said I was interested in learning to play.”

And what she has seen is the level of sophistication that musicians have brought to the ukulele. In fact, it can be compared to other trends in the artisan communities, where very basic items are refined into more complex works of creation.

Take macaroni-and-cheese, for example. One blogger writes, “it’s time to ditch the almost-instant stuff (complete with day-glow cheese) for a more sophisticated version.” It’s not uncommon to see higher-end restaurants with mac-and-cheese made with noodles made on premises with more exotic cheeses and other ingredients such as bacon and parsley.

Another example is the adult coloring book renaissance. In a recent article in The Guardian it states that “coloring has been said to be able to help [adults] achieve mindfulness, banish anxiety, and even deal with trauma.”

With that spirit, the last few years have seen a renaissance in the ukulele, and DeLeon is thrilled.

“There are performers like Victoria Vox and Lil Rev who are two of my favorite ukulele performers,” DeLeon says. Both of these performers are serious ukulele players who have made it their life’s work. ”

Another inspiration is the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain,” DeLeon says. “They are fantastic!” The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain formed in 1985 “as a bit of fun,” and since, has inspired other ukulele groups all over the world.

DeLeon took a different direction with her ukulele group. She and fellow musician Jeff Rantzer started a duo called BrassFedora and perform the music of Tin Pan Alley (i.e. “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” and “My Blue Heaven”) and are able to capitalize on the trend.

DeLeon says that one of the reasons the ukulele has done so well is because the level of complexity of learning the instrument is not as detailed as other instruments, like the guitar.

“For most people, the ukulele is easier to learn,” she says. “Whereas the guitar has six strings, the ukulele has four.” She also feels that the nylon strings of the ukulele are easier on the fingers compared to the steel strings of the guitar. “It can take a while to develop the callouses on the fingers to play the steel string,” she says. “The ukulele is easier on the fingers.”

While it takes several piano lessons before a player can play the most basic songs, the ukulele is quick to learn and quick to play. “When playing it [ukulele], there’s an instant gratification,” she says.

More: 4 Reasons Why Ukulele is the Perfect Stringed Instrument for Beginners


These days, many people learn to play ukulele by watching YouTube. Back in the day, however, musicians learned from books. Justin A. Martell, Tiny Tim’s manager, said Tim learned to play from a book.

“[Tiny Tim] got a book called You Can Play the Ukulele by Don Ball,” Martell says.

Tiny Tim was born Herbert Khaury and made the song “Tiptoe from the Tulips” famous in the ’60s. He’s probably one of the most famous ukulele players who ever lived. Sadly, Tim passed away in 1996 from a heart attack.

Martell has been able to share details about Tim’s life; according to Martell, Tim found it easier to get into the ukulele because he played guitar beforehand.

Martell says that when Tim would audition for shows, he would use the ukulele because it was easier to carry. Martell says that if the performer failed the audition, it wouldn’t be awkward to ask for the sheet music back from the pianist. “[Should] I never make it, I wouldn’t have to hang my head in shame and ask for my sheet music back, I could get right out’,” Martell says, quoting Tiny Tim.

More: Music Lessons for Kids: Should My Child Learn Ukulele or Guitar?


Besides helping Tiny Tim save face, the ukulele has another benefit: health!

In Hawaii, the Roy Sakuma Studio offers a program called “Hands on Healing” which is free of charge for cancer survivors. According to the website, “[The studio] provides an environment where those facing cancer may explore and discover their creative resources to promote physical, mental, and spiritual healing.”

The program helps cancer patients “discover new personal expression in a non-medical setting. It’s a great way to quiet your mind while keeping your hands busy.”

One blogger who suffered from breast cancer, says the program helped her “forget about cancer for a little while.”

“The physical and mental scars are a daily reminder of what we’ve been through,” says cancer survivor Lori Nakamura. “But the [ukulele] program lets me focus on learning new songs, and I know the process is helping with my memory.”

“I’m not surprised to hear stories like this,” DeLeon says. “The ukulele is such a fun instrument and learning a musical instrument helps in all kinds of areas.”

In an article on Effective Music Teaching, some benefits to learning an instrument include better memory, improved coordination, better concentration, stress relief, a sense of achievement, and happiness.

“I have played the guitar for years,” says DeLeon, “and now learning the ukulele has just made my life so much richer.”

With resurgence and health benefits, there will always be the element of fun in the world of the ukulele. Going back to Tiny Tim, Martell wanted to make sure that Tim’s legacy and his place in the world of the ukulele were understood.

“I think he definitely would have liked [the resurgence],” said Martell. “Unfortunately, I think many of those involved in the resurgence – neo-ukers I call them – scoff at Tiny Tim. They overlook the fact, though, that Tiny saved the ukulele from extinction in the ’60s.”

Martell adds, “If people perceive Tiny as a joke, that’s their problem, not his. He was very serious about his craft.”

While Tiny Tim was serious, DeLeon says there will always be a place of whimsy in the ukulele culture. When asked if she believes there will still be a place for the ukulele players with the flower print shirts, she laughed.

“Of course,” says DeLeon. “There will always be a place for fun in the world of the ukulele.”

For a primer on how to play the ukulele, check out at a video of Christine DeLeon (produced in coordination with this article) explaining the basics on how to play the ukulele.

The Basics of the Ukulele with Christine DeLeon from Don Smith on Vimeo.

Ready to reap the benefits of playing ukulele? Find a ukulele teacher near you! 


don smithGuest Post Author:
 Don Smith
Don writes comic books, graphic novels, books, and short stories. In addition to writing, he is also a speaker and a host.  Learn more about Don here!

Photo by Donald Judge

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how to strum a ukulele

Video: How to Strum a Ukulele for Beginners

how to strum a ukulele

In order to play any stringed instrument (like a ukulele), you have to learn how to strum! Not quite sure which technique to use? In this article and video, Winston Salem, NC teacher Willy M. shows you how to strum a ukulele… 

Today we’re going to take a closer look at how to strum a ukulele. I have also included a video to show you the proper technique. Before we get into strumming specifics, let’s review how to hold a ukulele and how to tune a ukulele.


 

How to Tune a Ukulele

how to strum a ukulele

Even if your strumming technique is perfect, you’re not going to get the sound you want if your ukulele is out of tune, so it’s important to learn how to tune a ukulele. Standard tuning is the most common way to tune a ukulele, and the tuning you should learn as a beginner. When you tune your ukulele in standard tuning, you tune your strings to G, C, E, and A.

In the video, I show you how to tune your ukulele with a chromatic tuner. Chromatic tuners usually have three lights, or a series of lights, red on both sides, and green in the middle. These types of tuners are better than the ones that only have one light.

Many beginning musicians think that all tuners are the same, but some of them are slightly out of caliber. So if you use one tuner and your friend uses another, you might be slightly out of tune with each other. In order to perform with other people, use the same tuner. It will save you some headaches in the long run.

Sometimes, it helps to start in the middle and tune out toward the outside of your ukulele. Instead of just tuning G C E A, you might want to start with C and E, and then tune the G and A, it can make tuning easier if your uke is pretty far out of tune.

You can purchase a tuner at a music store or you can download a tuning app for your smartphone.

If you don’t have a chromatic tuner, you can still tune to a keyboard, a pitch pipe, a harmonica, or even tune the ukulele to itself. If you don’t have a chromatic tuner, here’s how to tune a ukulele using these other methods.

One thing to keep in mind as you tune your ukulele: nylon strings often stretch, and the wood expands and contracts depending on humidity. So if your uke goes out of tune, simply keep working at tuning it until it settles in.

Sometimes, it can take a while to fine-tune your ukulele, but keep at it. The more you practice, the better you will be at tuning your ukulele.


 

How to Hold a Ukulele

There’s nothing very special about holding the ukulele; the key is to make sure you’re comfortable. You don’t want to strain your wrist or cause any undue tension. If you get in the habit of playing with tension, it can cause all sorts of medical problems, in the long run; so try to stay relaxed.

Cradle the body of your ukulele with your picking hand, and hold the neck gently with your fretting hand. Your elbow should be at a 90-degree angle, more or less, and your wrist should be relatively straight.

 

how to strum a ukulele

How to hold a ukulele


How to Strum a Ukulele

How to Strum a Ukulele With Fingers

There are several different ukulele strumming patterns that you can try, but essentially, there are up strums and down strums. When you’re just learning to play, the easiest way to strum your ukulele is to simply strum up and down with your fingers.

You can use your fingernails or the pads of your fingers to strum the ukulele strings. See which method feels more comfortable, and which one produces the best sound. In the video, you will learn about the different sounds you get from using your fingernails, the pads of your fingers, and your thumb.

The basic up-down strum can be done rhythmically with the beat of the music to produce just about any strumming effect you can imagine. You can strum fast or slow, depending on the rhythm of the song, and this simple pattern gives you time to change chords with the changes in the song. It may not seem glamorous, but the up-down strum works wonders.

How to Strum a Ukulele With a Pick

You can also strum a ukulele with a flat pick. You can do the up-down strum with any type of pick, from a regular guitar pick to a felt ukulele pick.

When you hold the pick in your hand, hold it firmly, but not so tight that it gives you tension or pain in your hand. Hold your pick between your thumb and first finger. When you use a pick, you can pick one string at a time, or you can strum up and down.

When you strum a ukulele with a pick, you don’t have to worry about what to do with all of your fingers, you can simply strum up and down.


 

How to Strum a Ukulele

Follow along with this video to learn how to strum a ukulele.

 

Now you know some simple tricks to get started playing your ukulele. I hope you enjoyed the video, and if you want to learn more about alternate tunings, you can check out some of my other videos. Until next time, keep on practicing!

Which ukulele strumming method do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below! 

 

Willy MPost Author: Willy M.
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston Salem, NC. He’s the author of the Dead Man’s Tuning series of mandolin songbooks, and is a former member of the American Federation of Musicians. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80s. Learn more about Willy here!

Image courtesy Debby

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ukulele fingerpicking

The Beginner’s Guide to Ukulele Fingerpicking

ukulele fingerpicking

As you advance in your ukulele lessons you will learn different techniques to achieve different sounds from your instrument. Ukulele fingerpicking is an important component if you want to boost your playing skills and take your music to the next level. Here, ukulele teacher Willy M. teaches you ukulele fingerpicking basics…

A lot of people like to strum the ukulele, but they usually stop there and never explore all of the ways to fingerpick the ukulele. Typically, I deal with people who come to the ukulele through other instruments, like the guitar. But regardless of your level and experience, we’re going to go over ukulele fingerpicking basics. I’ll also give you some tips on how to learn to control each finger, and provide some examples of ukulele fingerpicking patterns, ukulele fingerpicking songs, and even some ukulele fingerpicking tabs.

 


 

Ukulele Fingerpicking Basics

The most basic form of ukulele fingerpicking is thumb-style picking. Very basic fingerstyle starts with learning how to use your thumb to pick the strings of the ukulele.

You may be used to thumb strumming, and fingerpicking with the thumb is not much different. The main difference is that instead of strumming all of the strings, you use your thumb to strike particular strings.

You could strike the strings in a random order, but that would not necessarily be very musical. Here are a couple patterns that you might want to practice. You don’t even have to hold down any chords at first.

We are going to use the bottom three strings (G – C and E) which spell out the C major chord. These three strings will give us our drone that we can create with our picking pattern.
Try these patterns using only your thumb:

1. Quarter Note Arpeggio

ukulele fingerpicking

 

 

 

 

 

G C E G, G C E G

Once you’re familiar with this pattern, try working through some of the chords that you know, but keep plucking these strings as you change chords.


 

2. Full Ukulele Arpeggio

ukulele fingerpicking

 

 

 

 

 

G C E A, G C E A

Again, start with just the open ukulele, but then work on changing chords as you go.


 

3. Quarter Note – Eighth-Note Mix

ukulele fingerpicking

 

 

 

 

 

C E C E

Start with a quarter note on the G, and then play eighth notes for beats 2 and 3 on the C and E strings a couple times, and then come back to the G string. It looks like this: G (quarter) C E C E (eight notes) G. Repeat as often as necessary.

Once you master these patterns with your thumb, you can go on to trying them with your other fingers. I would recommend trying each pattern with each finger. When you get these patterns down with all four fingers, then them again with the two, three and four finger styles.


 

How to Control Your Fingers

 

Two-Finger Style

Let’s take a look at what pattern 1 would look like with two-finger style. First, your thumb will control the G and C strings, while your first finger controls the E and A strings. Pattern 1 would look like this: G (thumb), C (thumb), E (first finger), G (thumb). Repeat as often as necessary.

In two-finger style, you can also use your thumb to control the first three strings, and control the top string with your first finger. Pattern two would look like this: G (thumb), C (thumb), E (thumb), A (first finger), repeat.

You can alternate between the thumb and the first finger, to get a Spanish guitar sound: G A, C A, E A, A A. Check out the example in the tab. The first finger controls the A string here as well, so the mechanics are thumb, finger, thumb, finger (over and over).

 

Three-Finger Style

Three-finger style can be a bit tricky if you’re just learning how to finger pick. The best way to do this is to mimic a banjo fingerpicking pattern, a la the bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs. Scruggs often used his thumb to go back and forth between the high string and the low string of the five-string banjo.

You can do the same by using your thumb to alternate back and forth between the G and the C strings. Your first finger controls the E string, and the middle finger controls the A string. Go back through the ukulele fingerpicking patterns and try to use this fingering.

Four-Finger Style

Four-finger style is similar to three finger, except each string is governed by a different finger. The G (thumb) C(first finger) E(middle finger) and A(ring finger). This style is not one that I use often, but it’s worth practicing. You can achieve some nice rolls if you can get the rhythm in uniform.

Once you’ve mastered these styles and figured out which ones works best for you, give these ukulele picking patterns a try.


 

Ukulele Fingerpicking Patterns

 

Forward Banjo Roll

 

 

 

 

 

 

G E A, C E A 

Use a triplet on each of these notes to give it a banjo-roll feel.


 

Reverse Banjo Roll

A E C, A E G

Same as the above, but backwards


 

Forward-Reverse Roll

 

 

 

 

 

 

G E A, A E C

Use the same technique as the first two rolls, only reverse directions when you get to the top.


 

Reverse Four-Finger Roll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A E C G, A E C G.


 

Chord Forms

Once you master the basics of these picking patterns and rolls, you should learn how to change chords while you finger pick. I recommend starting with simple chord changes. Go from the C chord to the G chord, back and forth several times, until you have it mastered.

When you’re comfortable with these changes, start going from the C to the F to the G, and back. Once you’ve got that down, start working on popular chord progressions that you know. Start with a simple blues progression: I, IV, V (C F and G in this case) progression, or a country progression: I, IV, V. After that, work up to an oldies progression: I, vi, IV and V (C Am F and G in this case).

Once you’ve mastered some of the popular chord progressions, take a stab at playing your patterns over different versions of the chords that you know. Try to finger pick over a C chord, moving to a C2 chord, and then to a Csus4 chord. This will give you a lot of practice that will serve you well in any style of playing.


 

Ukulele Fingerpicking Songs

There are a lot of songs that you can start fingerpicking on the ukulele. One of the first songs I  learned to fingerpick was “Vincent” by Don McLean. I also learned a lot of good fingerpicking technique by working through several songs by the Eagles. “Hotel California” was probably the first Eagles song I learned, followed by “Desperado”  and “Peaceful, Easy Feeling.” I also recommend songs like “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” by Bob Dylan, and “Sounds of Silence” or “Kathy’s Song” by Simon and Garfunkel.

I’ve included links to find all of the chords for these songs, plus if you want to print any of the ukulele fingerpicking tabs I mention above,  you can download them here!

So there’s a lot of information that should help you get started fingerpicking on the ukulele! I hope you practice a lot, and get better and better. Remember, if you have questions or need any help, make sure to ask your ukulele teacher.

Don’t have a ukulele teacher? Find a private instructor near you

 

Willy MPost Author: Willy M.
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston Salem, NC. He’s the author of the Dead Man’s Tuning series of mandolin songbooks, and is a former member of the American Federation of Musicians. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80s. Learn more about Willy here!

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christmas ukulele songs

Songs for the Season| 11 Christmas Ukulele Songs

christmas ukulele songs

The holidays are right around the corner; get in the spirit with these classic Christmas ukulele songs. From “Jingle Bells” to “Mele Kalikimaka,” learn these Christmas ukulele tabs with Winston, NC teacher Willy M

Ho! Ho! Ho! While, I don’t look a lot like Santa Claus (well, apart from the beard and pudgy belly), I’m bringing you a sack full of holiday cheer this month with Christmas ukulele songs! That’s right, I’m going to give you fun holiday songs that you can play on your ukulele.

Most of these tunes are simple to play, and I have included the chords, the tabs, and the tunings that you need to start playing these Christmas ukulele songs. The tabs for these holiday classics originally came from my book “Mandolin Dead Man’s Tuning: Christmas Edition.” If you’re interested, with the book, you can learn more of these fun songs (over 30 are included in the book).

The nice thing about Dead Man’s Tuning (an old time fiddle tuning), is that it works for mandolin, ukulele, banjo and violin, so you can use these tabs to play Christmas tunes with any of these instruments. So if you’re a teacher who teaches multiple instruments, or a student with other friends who play, then the ADAD and DDAD tabs are perfect for you.
I have also included three popular ukulele Christmas songs in standard tuning G C E A. These tabs are great for the ukulele, and some of the other four-stringed instruments can be tuned to this tuning as well, so Santa Willy has given you plenty to mull over this holiday season.

The other six songs are in ADAD or DDAD tuning, and should give you endless joy! And when you’re sitting by your tree, sipping on your eggnog, and lightly picking out these fun holiday classics on your brand new ukulele, think of me, and raise a glass of nog in honor of your favorite ukulele writer this year!

I’ve included links with each song which allow you to download and print the ukulele tabs. Have fun and happy holidays!

Christmas ukulele songs: 


Ukulele Christmas Tabs

 

“Away In A Manger”

So, the first three tabs are in standard ukulele tuning of G C E A. I bring you first the wonderful children’s classic “Away in a Manger.” This beloved Christmas song is attributed to Martin Luther, and ranked as the second most popular Christmas carol of all time according to a 1996 Gallup poll.

This version is designed to be fingerpicked. It’s not the easiest song on the list, but it should give you a good challenge. If you find it too difficult to finger pick, then simply play the top line, and leave off the bottom line.

If you wish, two beginner students (or a student and teacher) could divide the tabs between them, one playing the top line and one playing the bottom line for a duet.

Download the ukulele tabs here.

“Coventry Carol”

“The Coventry Carol” is a beautiful, haunting melody that dates all the way back to 16th Century. It’s still a popular song, and sounds lovely on the nylon strings of the ukulele. My favorite version is Sting’s version on his “Winter” album. Dominic Miller played it on the classical guitar, and this arrangement should sound similar on a ukulele, if not slightly higher in pitch!

Click here for the ukulele tabs.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is in ADAD tuning (or DDAD for a mandolin). This song is not as old as everyone thinks, it was written in 1977 by one of the Beatles. No, I’m just kidding! Just making sure you’re paying attention.

It actually isn’t that old, however, as far as Christmas carols go, it was written to sound like it’s from the Middle Ages, but it was actually written during 1800’s. It’s still a fun song to play and a very popular one to play while Christmas caroling.

I give it to you here in ADAD, but have included the chords, if you would rather just strum along and sing it!

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”

“Breton Carol”

“The Breton Carol” (a.k.a. the Huron Carol or “’Twas in the Moon of Wintertime”) is a really beautiful piece of music that originated in Canada in around 1642. This song is reportedly based off of a melody from the Huron Indian tribe in and around Ontario Canada. A Jesuit missionary named Jean de Brebeuf is said to have written the song there.

I give you this simple melody unadorned, in ADAD tuning, in its slightly unfamiliar 12/8 time signature. Enjoy!

Download the ukulele tabs.

“Jingle Bells”

Who doesn’t love to play “Jingle Bells” during the holiday season? Here’s a really simple version in ADAD tuning. The fun thing about ADAD, and this song, is that you can let the bottom strings drone on while you pick out the melody above them!

It’s the perfect sing along song for those snowy winter nights in Hawaii! I’ve also provided the chords for your guitar playing friends to join you as you carol!

Click here for the ukulele tabs.

“Jolly Old St. Nicholas”

Here’s another popular song from before the turn of the century. I present this fun Christmas song in ADAD, with the chords written above for you to play with your friends!

“Jolly Old St. Nicholas”

“We Wish You A Merry Christmas”

Here are the chords for the holiday classic “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” I have included the ADAD tuning and the chord forms, so you can see how to play most of the chords for all of the songs on this list.

“We Wish You A Merry Christmas”

“O Christmas Tree”

“O Christmas Tree” is a popular German Christmas song that dates back pretty far. Not quite as far back as Christmas Trees, which actually date back to the 16th century in Germany.

I give you this song in ADAD, and I’ve included the chords.

“O Christmas Tree”

“Silent Night”

Finally, everyone’s favorite Christmas tune “Silent Night,” as a duet between two ukuleles. Or, if you’re playing alone, you can always play the melody first, and use the second ukulele part as what you play while you’re singing the melody the second time through.

The chords are also included for your guitar playing friends, or if you just want to chord along while you sing. And as many of the other songs on the list, the tab is given to you in ADAD tuning.

“Silent Night”

I also wanted to give you a couple favorite popular songs, but because they are under copyright, I can only give you their chord progressions. Here are two that every ukulele player wants to learn. The first one is the always popular “Feliz Navidad,” and the second one is everyone’s favorite ukulele Christmas song “Mele Kelikimaka!”

I transposed “Feliz Navidad” out of it’s original key of G into the key of C for easy playing for beginners. Those of you who are more advanced, can easily transpose it back into G!

“Feliz Navidad” Ukulele Chords

C F G
Feliz Navidad,
G C
Feliz Navidad,
C F G C
Feliz Navidad, próspero ano y felicidad.
C F G
Feliz Navidad,
G C
Feliz Navidad,
C F G C
Feliz Navidad, próspero ano y felicidad.

C F
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas,
G C
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas,
Am F
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas,
G C
From the bottom of my heart.

“Mele Kalikimaka” Ukulele Chords

Bing Crosby’s version of “Mele Kalikimaka” is in F, but for the beginners, here it is in the key of C.

C
Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
G7
On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day.

That’s the island greeting that we send to you
C
From the land where palm trees sway.
C C7
Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright
A7 A7 G7
The sun will shine by day and all the stars by night
C G7 A7
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way
Am G7 C
To say “Merry Christmas” to you.

So there are some of my favorite holiday classics that I pass on to you this holiday season! I hope you have a blessed time, and a very happy new year! See you in 2016, and keep jamming on these Christmas ukulele songs.

Willy MPost Author: Willy M.
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston Salem, NC. He’s the author of the Dead Man’s Tuning series of mandolin songbooks, and is a former member of the American Federation of Musicians. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80s. Learn more about Willy here!

Image courtesy phip_s

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Siz Destructive Beliefs

6 Destructive Beliefs That Hold Beginner Musicians Back

Siz Destructive Beliefs

Do you ever wonder how good your skills would be now if you started practicing a year ago? A question like this should motivate, not dishearten you. In this article, guest writer Elizabeth Kane will take you through six destructive beliefs you might face as you’re learning how to become a musician, and how you can overcome them…

 

Mind Over Matter

Your mind is a powerful tool. Your thoughts dictate just about every conscious decision you make.

Whether you’re a beginner guitarist who’s just learning how to hold your instrument or a seasoned singer who’s preparing for an important vocal audition, your thoughts can make or break your self-esteem.

Negative or self-doubting thoughts are mental poison — they can hurt your confidence and stop you from taking risks.

Risks Are Good

As you learn how to become a musician, you’ll soon understand it’s your job to take risks. It’s also your job to bring beautiful music (through passion) to an audience that craves authenticity. For this reason alone, we’ve got to put a stop to these perilous ideas that creep into our minds when we’re feeling overwhelmed.

Are you ready to face them? I’ll help you along.

Six Destructive Beliefs and How to Overcome Them

 

1) “If only I had…”

We think we need a particular instrument. We imagine learning from a specific teacher. We dream about having more time to practice.

Whatever it is, we have an idea that if only we had this or that, then, and only then, would we become the perfect musician.

But life doesn’t work like this.

Sure, we DO need a quality instrument, a great music teacher, and plenty of practice sessions. However, this “chasing perfection” thought pattern is holding you back from using the resources and skills you have now to become a better musician.

Instead, don’t idealize every step of the process. Take things as they come — you may be surprised by how well it all turns out.

2) “I’ll never be able to do that.”

Too many times we tell ourselves that despite everything we try, we’ll never be able to flawlessly play that piece, nail that audition, or impress that audience.

Naturally, some things do take more practice than others. You might have to work harder than you ever have before, but that doesn’t mean you won’t master the skill you desire at some point.

Think about something that’s ridiculously easy to you now: a skill, sport, or technique you’ve mastered. Remember when you didn’t know anything about it? When you barely even knew where to start?

Keep that in mind the next time a voice creeps in your head telling you there’s no way you’ll ever be able to do that. Time is all you need. Remember that patience and consistency are the keys to achieving whatever you want.

3) “If I mess up, ________ will happen…”

Let’s face reality — you’re going to make mistakes. We all do. To be great at what you do, you’re going to make a ton of mistakes.

Try to think about what you’re truly worried about.

Are you worried about someone laughing at you if you make a mistake? What happens if someone does laugh?

Write down what you’re afraid of if you make a misstep. Better yet — try it out! See what really happens when your fear manifests in real life. Overcoming stage fright is easier than you think!

4) “I’m not ready.”

It’s not easy failing, is it?

That’s what we’re really talking about when we say we’re “not ready” to give our skills a try. Failure is tough for every single one of us.

It’s terrifying.

We’ll never be truly ready to fail, no matter how much we’ve practiced, and no matter how much we’ve prepared. Trust me, there’s no giant sign that flashes across the sky saying, You’re absolutely 100% ready! There’s no way you’ll fail this time!”

But we do it anyway.

And with each moment, we defeat our insecurities, one shaky note at a time. We do this until we feel strong and proud, wondering why we were ever nervous in the first place.

5) “I can’t do that until…”

We spend too much time thinking about what we don’t have in order to achieve our goal. But with all the time and energy we spend worried about what we don’t have, we gloss over what we DO have.

What tools do you have now that will help you get closer to your goal? I’ll bet you can think of a few, even if they’re small: organization skills, persistence, optimism, imagination, etc.

Who can you go to for help when you’re struggling and facing unexpected challenges? Perhaps it’s a family member, a friend, or even a colleague. It’s important to know, especially for young musicians, that you have direct support when you need it.

What skills have you refined that will help you gather even better skills? Knowing one skill can help you learn another.

Use what you have now, right at this moment, to get to the next step. It’s not always easy and it’s certainly not always glamorous, but that’s how real growth happens: step by step.

6) “I’ll never be as good as him,” or “I’ll never play like her.”

Jealousy is a strong emotion.

When you doubt your own abilities, it’s easy to look at someone else’s highlight reel in comparison to your lousy dress rehearsals.

Everyone has someone they can compare themselves to. There will always be someone who began lessons before you did, performed a piece better than you played, and practiced more than you have.

The key is to measure where you are now to where you used to be — that’s a lot more satisfying. Staying motivated is a key to reducing anxiety during your practice and performance.

These destructive beliefs won’t go away overnight. It’ll take some practice to face these dangerous thoughts and eliminate them from your mind. Just know this — it’s definitely worth fighting for.

ElizabethKanePost Author: Elizabeth Kane
Elizabeth Kane is a music teacher who loves helping parents get the music education their child deserves. She is the creator of Practice for Parents, where she discusses what to look for in a music teacher, why kids really hate practicing, and what parents can do to guarantee their child’s success.

Photo by Alex Masters

 

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types of ukuleles

Types of Ukuleles: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

types of ukuleles

Whether you want to buy your first ukulele or upgrade to a new instrument, there are several different types of ukuleles to choose from. Here, ukulele teacher Michael L. introduces you to the different types of ukuleles so you can make the best decision for your goals and your budget…

When you’re shopping for a ukulele (for yourself or your child), it’s important to know the different types of ukuleles so you can find the right fit for you. There are several different types of ukuleles; they come in different sizes, pitch ranges, and distinct styles, which gives them each a different sound.

If you feel overwhelmed by all the different options, don’t worry, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about the different types of ukuleles.


Ukulele Sizes

The first question you should ask yourself is: “what size ukulele do I want?” Traditionally, ukuleles comes in four sizes (also known as voices): soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.

Soprano Ukulele

types of ukuleles

Image courtesy Musician’s Friend

The soprano ukulele is the smallest, and the most common ukulele. The lightweight size makes them ideal for children with smaller hands.

If you have a young student who wants to take ukulele lessons, this may be the ideal ukulele for you. Soprano ukuleles are also generally less expensive than the larger-sized ukuleles.

Concert Ukulele

types of ukuleles

Image courtesy Guitar Center

The concert, or alto ukulele, is the next size up from the soprano. The main difference between the concert size and the soprano size is the length and width of the neck (concert ukuleles have a wider neck). You can tune both ukuleles the same way.

If you or your child need a ukulele that’s a little bit larger than a soprano, but still in the same general price range, you may want to consider a concert ukulele.

Tenor Ukulele

types of ukuleles

Image courtesy Martin Guitar

The tenor ukulele has a warm tone, in comparison to its two smaller counterparts. Some uke players prefer the tenor size for the rounder, more bass-y tone.

Tenor ukuleles are generally a little more expensive than concert and soprano ukes, but if you have a background with guitar, you may prefer the tenor ukulele due to its larger body.

Baritone Ukulele

types of ukuleles

Image courtesy Ukulele tricks

Moving up in size, the baritone ukulele is larger and has a deeper, darker sound. The baritone ukulele is generally tuned lower than other ukuleles. The four strings are usually tuned the same as the lower four strings of a guitar.

If you’re an adult switching from guitar to ukulele, you may want to try the baritone.

Bass Ukulele

types of ukuleles

In the last few years, a new size ukulele has been developed: bass ukulele. These are bigger than the baritone, but they can only be heard through a pickup, which adds more power to your sound. Most bass ukuleles are sold with pre-installed pickups.

Bass ukuleles have the same tuning as electric ukes (see below), but they’re much shorter. It’s actually quite astounding how low they can go in pitch (for such a small instrument).

 

More Ukulele Options

When choosing an instrument, it’s also important to decide if you want an acoustic, electric, or electro-acoustic ukulele.

Acoustic Ukulele

An acoustic ukulele is a traditional ukulele, which doesn’t have to be plugged in. If you get an electric or electro-acoustic ukulele, it can be pretty fun to experiment with effect pedals as well.

Electric Ukulele

types of ukuleles

Electric ukuleles are similar to electric guitars; they don’t make much sound unless they’re plugged in, and they’re usually made with steel strings and magnetic pickups, giving you a metallic sound.

Electro-Acoustic Ukulele

An electro-acoustic ukulele is similar to a standard acoustic ukulele, but it has a pre-installed pickup, so you can plug it into an amplifier. It usually has nylon strings, like acoustic ukuleles, so it has a more traditional sound.

Banjo Ukulele

types of ukuleles

Image Courtesy Ukulele Guide

Another variety of ukulele is the banjo ukulele, or banjolele.  Instead of the traditional body of a ukulele, the banjolele is made with a small drum head on the body. The banjolele has the twang of a banjo with the light-heartedness of the ukulele.


Ukulele Brands

There are several ukulele manufacturers, and when you’re shopping for a ukulele, you should be familiar with some of the most popular brands. Let’s look at some of the most well-known brands.

Kala Ukulele

types of ukuleles

Image courtesy Kala Brand Music co

Kala is only 10 years young, but they make a wide variety of ukuleles. You can find ukuleles priced under $100, and up to several hundred dollars.

The budget ukuleles sound nice for their value and with their higher-end ukuleles, you can definitely hear the difference in the production value. They also make every size and most varieties of ukuleles.

Lanikai Ukulele

lanikai

Image courtesy Lanikai Ukuleles

 

Lanikai is a part of Hohner, a well-known, trustworthy instrument maker from Germany. In the beginning, Lanikai was only known for making cheap, introductory ukuleles. In recent years, however, they have stepped up their production value with some great sounding ukes.

If you’ve ever heard the band Beirut, then you’ve heard a Lanikai tenor ukulele in action. They also make every size and most varieties of ukulele.

Mahalo Ukulele

types of ukuleles

Image courtesy amazon

 

Mahalo ukuleles are known for their unique designs. You can get ukuleles with smiley faces, some shaped like surf boards, some shaped like Flying V electric guitars, and other quirky designs. If you prefer something more traditional, you can still find this with Mahalo.

Most of Mahalo’s ukuleles are priced for a budget, with a great sound for the price. If you’re looking for something with higher production value, you can also find a few models with Mahalo.

Makala Ukulele

makala ukulele

Image courtesy Kala Brand Music Co.

Makala ukuleles are a subsidiary of Kala. At Makala, they pride themselves on making great sounding, budget-priced ukuleles. While there is a wide variety of designs, there’s a limited amount of sizes; most Makala ukuleles are soprano sized.

Makala ukuleles sound great for their value; they’re my favorite brand of introductory ukulele.

Kamaka Ukulele

kamaka

Image courtesy Kamaka Hawaii

Kamaka ukuleles sound magical, but if you want to buy one, be prepared to spend at least several hundred dollars for a new one. They come in a variety of sizes, but most are made in traditional styles (no banjoleles here).


As you can see, ukuleles come in several different shapes and sizes. With a little knowledge and research, you can find the right ukulele for you. I hope this helps you make sense of all the choices that are out there waiting for you!

Which type of ukulele do you use? What do you like about it? Let us know in the comments below! 

Willy MPost Author: Michael L.
Michael teaches ukulele, guitar, drums, and music theory in Austin, TX. He studied music theory and vocal performance at the Florence University of the Arts in Italy. In addition to private lessons, Michael teaches music to special education students in Austin public schools and foster children with Kids in a New GrooveLearn more about Michael here!

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strumming patterns

7 Ukulele Strumming Patterns for Beginners

ukulele strumming patterns

No matter where you are in  your ukulele lessons, learning different ukulele strumming patterns will help you improve your technique and your sound. Here, ukulele instructor Willy M. goes over some basic strumming and fingerpicking patterns…

Welcome to picking on the ukulele with Willy. In this lesson, we will learn how to insult, berate, sting and verbally abuse your ukulele! Just kidding! We’re going to talk about ukulele strumming patterns. We’ll also cover picking techniques and strumming basics that will help you make beautiful music with your ukulele.

Ukulele Strumming Techniques

One of the first things that people ask with any stringed instrument is: “How do I strum?” This seems like a simple question until you’re actually holding the ukulele in your hands and wondering: “Should I use my thumb? My fingers? Should I use a pick?”

These are important questions, but once you find the answers, you’re hit with even more questions like: “Do I strum fast, or slow, up or down, or down and then up?” Or, “am I supposed to strum only down or only up?” “What about finger picking? How does that work?”

To eliminate confusion, let’s take a look at some of these questions. First, let’s tackle basic strumming technique, then we’ll delve into different ukulele strumming patterns you can try on your own.

Playing the Ukulele With a Pick

I’m a fingerpicker. I started out on the guitar, and then moved to the mandolin and ukulele after learning a lot of my technique on the guitar. So I apply guitar principles to the ukulele. These techniques are actually very helpful, and can keep you from developing bad habits that can hurt your wrists and fingers.

First of all, if you decide to use a pick, you should learn how to hold a pick correctly. Make sure that you don’t hold it too tightly. Your pick should be held firmly between the thumb and the first finger, and your hand should not be cramped up (you don’t need to have a death grip on the pick). In fact, proper technique is to hold the pick with a firmness that you or a friend could gently tug the pick from your fingers, but not so loosely that you will drop the pick when you play.

Now, what type of pick should you use? That all depends on the sound you want to hear. I recommend going to your local music store and purchasing six types of picks. First, buy the thinnest type of pick that they have. Then, buy the thickest one, and then the one in between. Then see if they have a felt pick (if they don’t, they can probably order one for you). You may also want to pick up a set of banjo picks (either metal, plastic, or both). Then after you pay, take a quarter or dime from the change, and add that to your pick collection. Brian May, lead guitarist from the rock band Queen, used an English Pence with a milled edge to get interesting sounds out of the strings.

Give all of these picks a try, and see which ones work for you. This collection of picks should give you plenty to experiment with, and will help you figure out if you like using picks, or if you’d rather do without them and use your fingers.

Fingerpicking

If you’re going to use your fingers, I recommend keeping the fingernails on your fretting hand trimmed. If you want, you can let the ones on your picking hand grow a little longer, or use acrylic nails (like James Taylor and Phil Keaggy). I keep both of my hands trimmed short when I play, and use the pads of my fingers. Try some different things and see what works for you!

When you finger pick, keep your hands loose, and try not to allow yourself to get stressed out as you play. I know that learning something new requires a lot of concentration, but you don’t want to get in the habit of playing stressed; you will experience pain, discomfort, and in extreme cases, develop problems like carpal tunnel syndrome and ulna nerve damage.


 

Ukulele Strumming Patterns

Once you break it down and think about it, ukulele strumming isn’t that difficult. You have down strums, up strums, and palm-muting techniques. If you apply these three principles, you get a wide variety of rhythmic variation that you can use to play songs.

The key to being a good rhythm player is to learn to strum in time to the music. Practice slowly at first, and then speed up as you get better. Also, try strumming in ways that you think accentuate the beat of the song. Ask yourself: “is what I’m strumming adding to or taking away from the drum section in this song?” If there are no drums, ask yourself: “is my strumming rhythmic and steady, and does it fill in where the drums are missing?”

Palm muting is a fun exercise to practice when you’re strumming. Place the bottom part of your hand across all the strings, lightly. Roll your hand and use your pick to strum across the strings. You should hear a “plunky” sound. This is a common guitar technique that’s used by the Cars and other ’80s rock bands. It sounds very interesting on the ukulele; it gives it a “pizzicato” sound.

Here are some ukulele strumming patterns to help you get started:

Down – Up – Down – Up




down up down up

 

This simple pattern is the most basic, and can be strummed to whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, or even eighth and 16th notes. Just consider that each type of note you strum to will either make it sound slower or faster.

When you strum a whole note, you will count to four before you strum the next up whole note. If you’re using eighth notes, you will strum eight times in each measure.

 

 

Down – Down – Up

down down up

This pattern allows you to rest on the last beat of a four-count measure. Or you can play it as a waltz-time kind of feel.

 

 

Down – Down – Up – Up

down down up up

 

This is another popular, easy pattern.

 

 

Down – Up – Down

down up down

 

This is also called a triplet pattern. Triplets are clever devices that allow you to cram three notes into the space of two!

If you’re repeating this pattern, it will go like this: D – U – D, D – U – D, etc.

 

 

Up – Up – Up – Up


up up up up

 

This pattern gives you a bright, jumpy sound.

 

 

Down – Down – Down – Down

ukulele strumming patterns

This pattern is the opposite of the last one, and it has a more authoritative beat.

 

 

Down – Up – Up

down up up

 

This can be another triplet pattern, or three beats and a rest.

Keep trying various combinations until you find some that work for you.


 

Ukulele Picking Patterns

Finally, let’s look at ukulele fingerpicking patterns. With these patterns, you don’t need a pick. You can use one if you’d like, but most people throw out the pick and use just their fingers.
Now which fingers should you use? Well, you have four strings, so you probably won’t need your pinky. This leaves you the option to finger pick with your thumb by itself, your thumb and forefinger, your thumb, your forefinger and middle finger, or your thumb, forefinger, middle, and ring fingers.

I personally tend to finger pick with just my thumb and first finger, though occasionally, I will throw in a banjo roll with my first three fingers. You need to try what works for you, but here are a few patterns that you can experiment with to see what feels comfortable.

For these patterns, you should know how to do some basic rolls on the ukulele.

Forward Roll

Place your fingers over the strings (lightly). Use your thumb to control the G and C strings. Use your thumb to alternately pick the G and C.

Use your index finger to control the E string, and use your middle finger for the A string. The pattern goes like this: thumb – index- middle.

Backwards Roll

This is the forward roll in reverse: middle – index – thumb.

For these picking patterns, I will give you the strings and you can try the different fingerpicking methods. You might want to practice these patterns by holding down a chord that you’re familiar with and then picking along.

G, C, E, G, C, E

This is basically a forward banjo roll.

G, G, C, E, A

This is a modification of the forward banjo roll.

C, E, G, A

A four-string variation of a Travis-style roll.

C, C, E, G, C

Another type of Travis roll.

C, C, E, G, A

This is basically a forward roll.

C, C, E, G, A, E, C

A forward-backwards roll.

A, E, C, G

A backwards roll.

A, A, E, C, G, C

Another backwards roll, but ends on the tonic.

G, A, C, A, E, A

Similar to the picking in the classical Spanish song Malagueña.”

G, A, C, A, C, A, G

This is another variation of the previous pattern.

You can also try these fingerpicking patterns with just your thumb and first finger, or your thumb and middle finger. Then, try them again with your thumb, first finger, and middle finger. Then, try them all again with your thumb, first finger, middle finger, and ring finger.
So there you have it; a bunch of rolls, patterns, fingerings, strums, and rhythms that should help you get started strumming the ukulele!

Willy MPost Author: Willy M.
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston Salem, NC. He’s the author of the Dead Man’s Tuning series of mandolin songbooks, and is a former member of the American Federation of Musicians. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80s. Learn more about Willy here!

Photo courtesy WFIU Public Radio

If you need some more help with strumming patterns, make sure to ask your ukulele teacher!

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how to tune a ukulele

How to Tune a Ukulele: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

how to tune a ukulele

One of the first things you need to learn when you’re taking ukulele lessons is how to tune a ukulele. After all, if you want your instrument to sound good, you have to keep it in tune! No matter where you are in your lessons, ukulele teacher Willy M. is here to help. Here’s everything you need to know about how to tune a ukulele…

This month we’re going to provide a step-by-step guide on how to tune a ukulele. Tuning an instrument can be a very difficult thing for beginners, but with this guide, you will become a master at tuning your ukulele.

In this article, you will learn how to tune a ukulele to standard tuning; how to tune various types of ukuleles including tenor, soprano, and even bass ukuleles. You will learn how to tune a ukulele by ear and to itself, and you’ll also learn about tuners and tuning apps.

If you’re looking for something specific, you can jump around to what you’re looking for here:

 


 

How to Tune a Ukulele for Beginners

If you know nothing about tuning a stringed instrument, I want you to check out this video on how to tune a guitar from world famous guitarist and songwriter James Taylor. This video covers a lot of details about tuning in general, and will help you when you apply the same principles to tuning the ukulele.

Standard Tuning

The ukulele is typically tuned to the notes G, C, E, and A, but this has really only become “standard” since the advent of the internet. Before the internet, you might find people who would teach you to tune to A, D, F#, B or even fiddle tunings like A, D, A, D or G, D, G, D or A, D, E, A or even G C D G.

How to Tune a Ukulele With a Piano

Today, most of the books and videos you will find use G4, C4, E4, A4 as the standard ukulele tuning. The fours behind the letters represent the octave that you will find on the piano.

So if you happen to have a keyboard or a piano, C4 is known as middle C. If you tune your ukulele to match middle C, then the E above middle C, and the A above middle C, and then tune the first string to the G above middle C, you will be in what is known as standard ukulele tuning.

Here’s a good illustration of how to tune a ukulele with a piano from The Uke website.

Image courtesy The Uke

How to Tune a Ukulele With a Tuner

So what do you do if you don’t have a piano? Well, you will need to get yourself a chromatic tuner. I use a Korg chromatic tuner, and I love it! I have tried a lot of other tuners, but the Korg is my favorite.

Korg CA-40 Electronic Chromatic Tuner – Image Courtesy Musician’s Friend

 

You can purchase several brands of tuners for a reasonable price at places like Musician’s Friend and Sweetwater. You will find that there are different types of tuners, and not all tuners are chromatic. Which leads us to our next topic, what exactly does chromatic mean?

If a tuner is chromatic, it enables you to tune to all of the notes. Guitar tuners are not chromatic. They’re calibrated to only pick up the notes that are used on the guitar in standard tuning. Which means they can tune E, A, D, G, B and E, but it’s hard to tune to C or F# or Bb, or any of the remaining notes that aren’t covered by a regular guitar tuner.

For this reasons, I advise all of my students (of any instrument really) to buy chromatic tuners instead of standard guitar tuners.

How to Tune a Ukulele by Ear

If you get a used or vintage ukulele, you probably won’t have a tuner, but instead you might get some really old books or brochures and something called a pitch pipe. A pitch pipe is a neat mini harmonica that plays one note at a time when you blow into it. In some cases, you may have a pitch pipe that wasn’t designed for your instrument, so you have to know how to tune one string to the pitch pipe, and the other strings to the first string.

This can be a bit of a challenge, but I’m going to walk you through it. First, you need a reference note. Typically your reference note is middle C. When you blow on the pitch pipe, or play the note on the piano, you hear middle C. Then, you must twist the tuner on your ukulele until it matches. If you twist counter clockwise on the first two strings, you will tighten the string, and make it go up in pitch. So if you start on B, and twist counter-clockwise, you will be somewhere between B and C. If you keep twisting, you will finally get to C. But don’t twist too far, or you will overshoot C and end up on C# or somewhere between C and C#.

Likewise, if you twist clockwise, you will go down in pitch. So if you are on B again, and you twist clockwise, you will end up on Bb, or somewhere between B and Bb.

So when you match middle C on your pitch pipe to middle C on your ukulele, you’re ready to start tuning your ukulele to the notes on the fretboard on the C string. Now think about it for a minute: You have your ukulele tuned to middle C, and now you need to get an E sound, so you can try to tune the next string to that E. If you count up from C, you will eventually get to the E. The first fret is C#, the second fret up from there is D. Then the third fret is D#, and then finally the fourth fret is the E you’re looking for.

So if you hold down the fourth fret, you will hear an E that you can tune the next string to. Now remember, when you get to tuning that E string, you’re on the opposite side of the neck, so twist in the opposite direction than you did before. Twisting clockwise will tighten the string and make it go up in pitch. Twisting counter-clockwise makes the string loosen or go down in pitch.

Now that you have your E, count up until you find the G (which is before the A string) and tune it. The first fret on the E string will be F, the second fret F#, and the third will be the G.

Once you get the G string tuned (which seems like you’re going forward and backward on the ukulele, but that’s OK), count up to the A note. The first fret is G# and the second fret is A. Now you can tune to that pitch, and you’ll be all in tune.

A final note on tuning: Once you think you get your instrument in tune, your strings will probably have stretched a bit. Sometimes, depending on your strings, the humidity, the types of tuners you have, and the type of wood your ukulele is made of, your ukulele will not be in tune immediately after you tune it. So you have to go back through the whole process two or three times to fine tune your ukulele. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to play!


 

How to Tune Different Types of Ukuleles

Now you might have one of several types of ukuleles. They’re not all the same. Here is a chart that covers the various types of ukuleles and the notes of their standard tuning.

 

how to tune a ukulele


 

Alternate Tunings

I’m kind of an alternate tuning freak. I think I only have one instrument in standard tuning! You can create some fun alternate tunings by tuning each string up or down two steps. I find that if you try tuning more than two steps, you will break strings. So if standard tuning is G, C, E, A, then try tuning the G to a G# or an A, and make chords out of the open tuning. What goes with G#? The E chord would work. So you could tune your C down to a B, leave the E alone, and keep the A or tune it to a G# as well. You could try Open C tuning and tune your top A down to a G. Or try C7 tuning, and tune the A to a Bb.

There are so many different types of tunings that you can try. If you find an alternate tuning you like, let us know so we can try it, too!


 

Ukulele Tuning Apps

There are a lot of good tuning apps out there: here are a few I recommend checking out:

iPhone

how to tune a ukulele

 

Free Chromatic Tuner

This free app works for both standard tuning and alternate tuning. You can download Free Chromatic Tuner from the iTunes app store.

 

 


 

 

how to tune a ukulele

 

Tuner Lite

Tuner lite turns your smartphone into a chromatic tuner and pitch pipe.

 

 

 


 

 

Android

 

how to tune a ukulele

Fine Chromatic Tuner

Fine Chromatic Tuner uses the built-in mic on your phone to help you get your uke in tune.

 

 

 


 

how to tune a ukulele

 

Chord!

You can download Chord! for both iPhone and Android. There’s a free and paid version, and the app allows you to find multiple tunings for lots of different stringed instruments, as well as chords, scales, and other useful information.

 

 


 

Now you know several ways to get your uke in tune. Ukulele tuning may seem difficult at first,  but find the method that works for you and keep practicing! And remember, you can always tune a ukulele, but you can’t tune a fish!

Have you learned any cool tricks that help you tune your ukulele? Share them with us in the comments below! 

 

Willy MPost Author: Willy M.
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston Salem, NC. He’s the author of the Dead Man’s Tuning series of mandolin songbooks, and is a former member of the American Federation of Musicians. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80s. Learn more about Willy here!

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6 Things to Consider Before Buying a Musical Instrument

Here’s What to Know Before Buying an Instrument

6 Things to Consider Before Buying a Musical Instrument

Thinking about buying a new instrument? It’s a big decision, as an instrument is truly an investment — especially if you’re spending several hundred dollars (or more, for higher-end brands and models) on it.

Before making your purchase, you’ll want to do some research. But where do you start? With so many brands out there, how do you know which ones are worth the money? What do you really need to ensure years of playing and practicing?

We came across a great article over on Donna Schwartz’s blog that we think hits the nail on the head for what to consider before handing over your cash — whether you’re looking at new or used musical instruments.

Donna writes:

Whether you are a beginner, hobbyist or pro, here are 5 questions to ask yourself when trying out different musical instruments:

  1. Does the sound of this instrument match my concept of how I want to sound?
  2. Is the instrument free-blowing enough to allow me to get my “perfect sound”? (Or maybe I want a little resistance on this trumpet to help out with high notes?)
  3. Is it easy enough to play in all registers of the instrument comfortably?
  4. Can I control the intonation in all registers of the instrument?
  5. Are the keys placed in such a way that I can perform rapid passages comfortably?

The above 5 questions are important and vary for every performer. This next question though is absolutely necessary for every musician that wants to perform at their best for a long time.

When you are comparing a few different brands and have found some you really like, before you pull out the credit card, it is crucial to ask this question:

If my instrument breaks, do you have the parts to fix it, and if not, can you get the parts?

Donna continues to point out that an instrument like the saxophone has more than 600 moving parts — so if you end up with an instrument with sub-standard parts that can’t be replaced… you may be out of luck if it breaks. Moral of the story? Do your research. Ask questions. Get help from your music teacher, and have him or her try out instruments with you. Make an informed decision!

You can read the article in full here.

For even more tips, we also like this article from the Tampa Bay Music Academy blog. As part of their steps for buying an instrument, they offer some additional pointers regarding instrument quality:

Instrument quality can generally be assessed using three categories: student quality, intermediate quality, or professional quality.

Your 5th grader doesn’t need a professional quality instrument yet, but should you go the cheap route with a student model or shell out a few more bucks for the intermediate? Ultimately, that depends on your goals for your student.

Is this a “try it and see if you like it” endeavor, or have you and your child committed to this instrument for the long haul? Student quality instruments are usually made of cheaper materials and won’t produce as nice a sound, but they are good for students who don’t know if they will stick with it or not. They’re also good starter instruments if money is tight.

If your child (and you) have committed to playing this instrument throughout middle and high school, however, go ahead and invest in the better quality option if possible.

Continue reading the article here.

And finally, if you’re opting for the used musical instruments route, Get-Tuned.com has a great article on how to evaluate a used instrument.

Readers, how have your experiences been buying new or used instruments? What other tips would you add? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Image by Vincent Diamante

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How to Play Ukulele Like Taylor Swift

How to Play Ukulele Like Taylor Swift | 3 Easy Ukulele Songs

How to Play Ukulele Like Taylor Swift

If you’ve ever dreamed of being like Taylor Swift, today’s your lucky day! In this article, teacher Willy M. will show you how to play ukulele like Taylor Swift, and channel your inner rock star…

Taylor Swift has rapidly risen to stardom with catchy songs that are very simple in their structure. Her songs have a way of boring into the listener’s head and lodging in there for days on end. Today, we’re going to learn how to play ukulele using a few of Taylor Swift songs.

Whether you’re a ukulele beginner or a seasoned player, you’ll have fun playing these songs. So kick back, relax, grab your uke, and let’s learn to play these fun little numbers!

1. “Mean”

Taylor’s songs are not extremely difficult to play. In fact, the first song, “Mean”, is made up of only a couple chords. The song “Mean” does not have ukulele in the recording, but it translates quite nicely when I play it. Mean is in the key of D and the main chords are D, G, A, and Bm.

It opens with a duet between the banjo and the mandolin, but both instruments are sparse in their picking arrangement, emphasizing the “boom-chunk-chunk” country rhythm of the song. The rhythm is like a swung triplet, where the first beat is slightly emphasized more than the second two beats.

For beginner ukulele players, a triplet is when you have three beats where you should only have two. For instance, let’s say you have space for two eighth notes, but you cram three into that spot. So instead of “1 and,” you get “1 trip-let.”

I play this rhythm in “Mean” by striking the bottom strings of the ukulele slightly harder, and then playing a down strum and an up strum in quick succession on all four strings of the ukulele.

Bonus: Play It on Mandolin

What’s great about a song like “Mean” is that, if you get used to playing it on the ukulele, it’s relatively simple to transfer over to the mandolin tuned in Open D (a.k.a. Dead Man’s Tuning). The original mandolin tuning for the song is in Standard Mandolin, but the open tuning of Dead Man’s Tuning gives the mandolin more of a ukulele quality. Thus, by learning it on one instrument, it opens up doors to other similar instruments, which will make you a more well-rounded musician!

“Mean” also gives you a chance to practice some ukulele finger-picking patterns. One pattern that I find particularly useful for the intro is picking the second string, followed by the fourth, and then the third in that swung triplet pattern.


2. “Fearless”

Another great Taylor Swift song for the ukulele is “Fearless.” If I’m not mistaken (according to what I can tell from the video), Taylor plays this song on a nylon-stringed guitar with a capo on the third fret. Luckily, the nylon strings of the ukulele work well for this song, too.

Again, this isn’t a song that’s structurally complex. The chords are D, A, Em, and G (these are great chords for the mandolin in Dead Man’s Tuning) – although, the third fret has a capo, making the chords sound like F, Bb, C, and Gm.

When I watch Taylor play “Fearless” in the video, she employs a straight 16th note rhythm on the guitar – it goes like this: 1 – e – & a, 2 – e – & a, 3 – e – & a, 4 – e – & a. She never seems to deviate from this rhythm for the duration of the verse.

When she gets to the chorus, I do notice that she slightly emphasizes the fourth beat when strumming. Check out the video below and you can see this rhythm in action. Other than the slight emphasis on the fourth beat, however, the rhythm of the chorus is exactly the same as the verse.

(Song begins at 00:56)

 

When I play “Fearless,” I like to tune the ukulele out of standard and play it in D4, A4, D4, and F#4 tuning. This puts the open strings as a D chord, the fifth fret as a G chord, and the seventh fret as an A chord. By holding down the 2nd string 2nd fret, you get a type of Bm chord which you can substitute for the Em in the song.

Or, you could tune the ukulele (depending on the type of uke you have) to F, C, F, A, and play it without a capo in the same manner. I found that when I tried this, my uke stayed in tune better when I tuned it to open D and put a capo on it, but you may have a better ukulele than I do!


 3. “Fifteen”

Here’s another mandolin-driven song that’s in the key of G, but it still translates great to the ukulele. The rhythms have a lot of starts and stops, but the majority of it is easy to play. It’s more complex than the previous two songs, but regardless, anyone can play it.

I count the rhythm as 1 –e – & a, 2 – 3 – & a, 3 &, 4. Or, four 16th notes, four 16th notes, two eighth notes, and a quarter note. As a slight variation, that last quarter note could be an eighth note and a eighth rest. That distinctive rhythm repeats on both the verse and the chorus.

If you want to learn it on the ukulele, I would recommend trying it in standard ukulele tuning. If you want to switch over to the mandolin at some point and play it like the recording sounds, you can still keep your mandolin tuned like the other two songs. This is because open D tuning works great in the key of G.

In the video, I noticed that Taylor emphasizes her fourth strum like she does in “Fearless” – it seems to be her trademark strumming style.

 

When Taylor gets to the end of the chorus, she does a little flatpicking on the upper notes. You can mimic this on your ukulele by switching from the main strumming pattern to emphasize some of the notes of the chords.

Finally, when she gets to the bridge, she abandons the 16th rhythm for a staccato chop; 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, where all of the beats get equal emphasis.

So that’s it, uke players! I showed you three Taylor Swift songs that are fun to play on the ukulele. I want to remind you, if you’re having trouble with any of them, TakeLessons has a whole bunch of great teachers that can help you learn how to play ukulele.

Keep playing, and I will see you next time with some more info on how to be a better uke player!

Do you know any other Taylor Swift songs that would sound great on the ukulele? Comment below telling us which songs and why!

Willy MPost Author: Willy M.
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston Salem, NC. He’s the author of the Dead Man’s Tuning series of mandolin songbooks, and is a former member of the American Federation of Musicians. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80s. Learn more about Willy here!

Photo by Larry Darling

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