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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