The History of the Ukulele: All Your Questions Answered

 

history of the ukulele

The ukulele is a unique instrument that is loved all over the globe for its simplicity and cheerful sound. However, many people incorrectly assume that the ukulele had its origin in Hawaii.

Although the state plays an important role in the development of the ukulele’s image, the initial version of the ukulele was surprisingly not developed in Hawaii. Keep reading to find out where the ukulele originated, and more interesting facts about its unique history.

The Unique History of the Ukulele

When and Where Did the Ukulele Originate?

The history of the ukulele begins in Madeira, a very small mountainous island in the Atlantic Ocean, located southeast of Portugal. The island began attracting tourists in the early 1800s, and these new visitors enjoyed a wide range of music. They especially enjoyed tunes created by an instrument known as the machête, a smaller version of the guitar.

The machête was the precursor to the modern-day ukulele we know and love today! A Portuguese immigrant named Joao Fernandez brought this guitar-like instrument to Hawaii by  in 1879. The Portuguese referred to the machête as the “braginho,” however, the natives later renamed it to the “ukulele.”

When the Portuguese immigrants arrived in Hawaii and began playing the “braginho” in the streets, the townspeople naturally loved its sound. Its popularity rose quickly on the Hawaiian Islands and soon became Hawaii’s musical image.

Who Created the First Ukulele?

Three woodworkers from Portugal were key in the advancement of the ukulele. These three woodworkers and former cabinet makers – Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias, and Jose do Espirito Santo – found a new way to make money on Oahu as they settled into their homes.

The three craftsmen quickly saw a market in selling guitars, machêtes, and other stringed instruments. One by one, they each opened up their own shop and boasted their ability to make machêtes.

Although the exact moment of the creation of the ukulele is unclear, we know that these three woodworkers had a hand in the production, proliferation, and dispersion of the instrument.

The modern-day ukulele appears to be a combination of the machête and another Portuguese instrument called the rajão. The rajão is a five-stringed instrument, but its top four strings are in the order of the ukulele’s strings: G-C-E-A.

How Did the Ukulele Get so Popular?

Portuguese immigrants, including Joao Fernandez and the three craftsmen, certainly helped fuel the ukulele’s popularity. But the instrument’s expansion was largely due to its promotion by Hawaii’s last king, David Kalakaua who reigned from 1874-1891.

The ukulele often played a major role in royal events. The king also encouraged local people to learn how to play the ukulele, and even decided to learn it himself!

The Ukulele Travels Across the Globe

Jonah Kumalae, a Hawaiian ukulele manufacturer and musician, brought the ukulele to San Francisco in 1915 for the Pan Pacific International Exhibition. The ukulele’s introduction at the exhibition caught the world’s attention, and thus the first “ukulele craze” began.

One of the ukulele’s three original craftsmen, Manuel Nunes, passed on his legacy to his son who started a ukulele factory in Los Angeles, California. Throughout the 1920s the ukulele began to successfully make its way across the globe, from Canada to Japan, thanks to a variety of musicians.

SEE ALSO: 3 Big Benefits of Taking Ukulele Lessons

Which Famous Musicians Play the Ukulele?

Undeniably, one of the most famous ukulele musicians is George Formby from the UK. Formby was a multi-talented actor, singer, musician, and comedian. His most famous song titled “Leaning on a Lamp Post” was inducted into the Ukulele Hall of Fame in 2014.


Jake Shimabukuro, another famous ukulele musician, first held a ukulele in his hands at the age of 4. Jake credits many musicians in Hawaii for influencing his music. He came to fame by accident when someone posted one of his songs on YouTube!

You may also recognize a few of these names: Eric Clapton, Elvis Presley, Jack Johnson, Cyndi Lauper, Paul McCartney, and P!nk. These musicians have all incorporated the ukulele into their music.

From its humble origins on a Portuguese island, the ukulele continues to grow in popularity. We hope you enjoyed learning about the diverse history of this unique instrument. If you’re interested in learning how to play, check out the online ukulele classes at TakeLessons Live and find out why so many people love the uke!

Guest post by Colleen Kinsey, Editor in Chief at Coustii. Colleen enjoys teaching ukulele and guitar skills online, and her uke has traveled with her around the world!

hawaiian ukulele songs

Strum Patterns You’ll Need to Play Hawaiian Ukulele Songs

hawaiian ukulele songs

Get your uke and start strumming! Music teacher Christopher S. shares how to play five common ukulele strumming patterns

In order to play any stringed instrument, such as the guitar, mandolin, or ukulele, you have to learn how to strum it. Strumming is an essential part to playing the ukulele, which gives it that true Hawaiian-Island sound.

In this article, I will discuss the different types of strum patterns used when learning to play Hawaiian ukulele songs and also the positioning of the hand to achieve these different strum patterns.

There are many different ways to start learning basic strumming on the ukulele. You will also see that, by looking at other ukulele players, everybody has their own style. Eventually, with proper practice, you will take suggestions and patterns and develop your own techniques and styles, as well.

To get you started, here are my suggestions to begin learning the common techniques and practices of strumming the ukulele.

Strumming Technique

First, start off with a simple chord (for example, a C chord), and practice your strumming technique with just that chord. The most common and traditional way of strumming the ukulele is by using your index finger. With your right hand just over the sound hole of the instrument, strum down with the index finger, hitting the strings with your nail. When you strum up, just bring your index finger back up into the palm of your hand, and the strings will make contact with the flesh of your finger.

Another popular strumming method is to put your thumb and index finger together to form a semi-two-sided pick. That way you strum down with the nail of your index finger and up with the nail of your thumb.

In any case, it is always important to strum with your wrist and not your whole hand when strumming. Using your entire hand and arm to strum can get tiring quickly and you will loose control much more easily.

Basic Strum Patterns

Now that you have the basics in strumming technique, let’s take a look at some basic strum patterns which you can use to play your favorite Hawaiian ukulele songs!

To help notate these patterns, I will use a “D” indicating a down strum and a “U” indicating an up strum. A “-” means that there is a pause or a missed strum.

The most common time in all music is the 4/4 (“four-four”) time signature. This means that, in one bar of music, you can count “1, 2, 3, 4,” and it fits right into one complete strum pattern.

Pattern One

This first pattern is a very common one and is very easy to do once you have the feel for it. My suggestion to learning this pattern is to try to play it slow. Do it once, and then stop the strings, and then do it again the same way. Once you feel comfortable with the finger motion, try repeating it but keeping it at a slow tempo. Lastly, play it at a faster tempo so that it sounds like music! This pattern is very common and can even be used in the song “Hey Ya!” by Outkast.

Strumming Pattern 1: D – D U – U D –

Pattern Two

This second pattern is very similar to strumming pattern 1, although it has another “up” strum at the end to really connect the repetitions. This makes it seem a little harder; however, once you start using it, it may seem even more natural to do. You can use this pattern in the song “High Hopes” by Paolo Nutini.

Strumming Pattern 2: D – D U – U D U

Pattern Three

This next strumming pattern is a really straight-forward one and is very easy to do. You can play this pattern in the song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys, and you will instantly hear it.

Strumming Pattern 3: D – D U D U D U

Pattern Four

Now, lets look at what is known as “Half-Bar Patterns.” Just like the name implies, these are patterns which only make up two beats of the 4/4 (“four-four”) measure. These patterns are good to use on songs where the chords change quickly. This pattern can be used to play the “Sesame Street” theme song. Of course, like all patterns, this one gets repeated, so make sure you practice changing chords on every repeat.

Strumming Pattern 4: D – D U

Pattern Five

This last pattern will use a new technique. When reading strumming notation, you may see an “x.” This is to indicate that you make a percussive sound, rather than a harmonic sound, when you strum. To do this, you simply relax the left-hand fingers, so they are touching the strings but not applying pressure. Then, when you strum with the right hand, you get a kind of “chink” sound. This next pattern uses that “chink” sound which you can hear in a song like “Betrayed by Bones” by Hellogoodbye.

Strumming Pattern 5: D U x U

Knowing basic strumming patterns is a great first step to learning how to play Hawaiian ukulele songs. Be sure to spend some time practicing the patterns above to change up your practice and improve your technique. These patterns can be applied to other genres, as well.

Lastly, be sure to work with a ukulele instructor to really fine tune your uke-playing skills! A teacher can show you what you are doing well, or need to improve on, and will make your ukulele practice more effective and enjoyable.

Photo by aaron gilson

Christopher S.Post Author: Christopher S.
Christopher S. teaches online ukulele, guitar, and bass guitar lessons. He lived abroad in Seville, Spain for two years, where he studied classical and flamenco guitar. He is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Guitar Performance, and has been teaching students since 2004. Learn more about Christopher here!

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Top 10 Essential Easy Ukulele Songs for Beginners

Top 10 Essential Easy Ukulele Songs for Beginners

Top 10 Essential Easy Ukulele Songs for BeginnersLooking for easy ukulele songs for beginners? You can’t go wrong with any of the tunes on this list by ukulele teacher Willy M.! Although each of these hits are easy uke songs for beginners, they might require you to learn a new chord or two. If you need help with

10 Easy Ukulele Songs for Beginners

Learning to play the ukulele comes with a whole catalog of fun songs. To help you out on your budding career as a ukulele player, here are the top 10 essential easy uke songs to play. Keep scrolling for videos of each.

  • I Make My Own Sunshine – Alyssa Bonagura
  • Riptide – Vance Joy
  • Mele Kalikimaka – Robert Alex Anderson
  • Tears In Heaven – Eric Clapton
  • Upside Down – Jack Johnson
  • Tonight You Belong to Me – Prudence and Patience
  • Hey Soul Sister – Train
  • I’m Yours – Jason Mraz
  • I Do/Falling For You – Colbie Caillat
  • Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

10. Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

In 1993, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole brought us his interpretation of two classic songs that have been inscribed into the American consciousness – “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World.”

This track was featured on Iz’s album Facing Future, and since has gone on to be a staple in many movies. It was featured in Meet Joe Black, Finding Forester, 50 First Dates, Son of the Mask, and several other popular movies. Fun fact: the album Facing Future holds the record for the bestselling album by a Hawaiian national to date.

There are eight chords in this song, but they are not particularly difficult chords to play: C, G, F, Am – typical chords for the key of C, with E7, D, Dm7, and Em thrown into the mix for fun. I chose this song as #10 since it will probably require the most work, but it will definitely be appreciated by your audience.

9. I Do/Falling For You – Colbie Caillat

Next up on this list of easy ukulele songs is a combo of “I Do” and “Falling for You” by Colbie Caillat. Both Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz were at the head of the modern ukulele movement. Caillat has many songs that are great for the ukulele. I recommend learning both of these songs and playing them as a medley.

“Falling for You” isn’t necessarily a ukulele song, but it works great with “I Do.” “Falling for You” is in the key of D using D, A, Em, and G. “I Do” is in the key of G and uses the chords G, D, C, D7, Em, Am, B7, and Cm. The Cm might give you a bit of a challenge, but if you can tackle “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World,” I know you can handle this song as well!

8. I’m Yours – Jason Mraz

I probably wouldn’t be writing articles about the ukulele if you hadn’t heard the song “I’m Yours.” The fact is, Jason Mraz took a simple ukulele line and married it to a tremendously catchy tune giving us this song that once is in your head, it just won’t go away. The cool thing for you budding uke players out there, is that it’s a really simple song to play, from the basic lead intro to the shuffling strumming pattern.

This song uses chords known as the “oldies progression” because they are common to a lot of popular songs from the 50s. These chords are really just C, Am, F, and G. Jason also throws in a D for the turnaround section to build a bit more tension. Give yourself a few hours of practice and you’ll have this song in the bag.

7. Hey Soul Sister – Train

After Jason and Colbie hit the charts, 90s wonder band Train came back with a Jason Mraz sounding groove entitled “Hey Soul Sister.” The song is very similar in structure to “I’m Yours.” Now I’m not saying Train copied Jason Mraz, well, maybe I am. I think the legal term is “heavily influenced by. ”

If you check out the chord structure, “Hey Soul Sister” is basically the same song as “I’m Yours,” but with different lyrics and a different pattern to the chorus. Essentially, if you can learn “I’m Yours” and transpose it to the key of G, you’ll have this song down. In G, the chord progression will be G, Em, C, and D.

6. Upside Down – Jack Johnson

One of my all time favorite songs to play is “Upside Down” by Jack Johnson from the movie Curious George. “Upside Down” only has 5 chords (E, F#m, A, B, and G#m), and the lead lick is very simple to play.

I personally like to play this song in the key of G (G, Am, C, D, and Bm). Like I suggested for Colbie’s songs, feel free to segue some of Jack’s songs together to create a good medley!

5. Tonight You Belong to Me – Prudence and Patience

At some point in your ukulele career you are going to be asked to play this song, made popular by Steve Martin’s rendition in the movie The Jerk. This is a fun little song, originally done by a girl band called “Prudence and Patience.”

If you have a coronet player to play with you, it’s even more fun! This is one of the most basic ukulele songs too, using only the chords A, D, G, and E with a Dm and an Eb thrown in for good measure. Have fun with this sweet, romantic tune!

4. Tears In Heaven – Eric Clapton

A song that you probably didn’t expect to see on this list is “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton. This beautiful song, which was written after he tragically lost his son Conner, is one that has brought tears and healing to countless people after their own losses. It is definitely a great song to have in your repertoire.

It’s not a very difficult song to play, but the bridge might take some extra attention. The main chords in the song are A, E, F#m, and D with a C#m thrown in. But in the bridge Clapton goes into the key of G for a minute, throwing in the G and C as well.

It might sound like a bit of a challenge, but it will be worth it to learn this meaningful tune.

3. Mele Kalikimaka – Robert Alex Anderson

When you play the ukulele, you won’t always be playing around a campfire or on the beach. Sometime you will be asked to play holiday music, and “Mele Kalikimaka” is one easy uke song you should have in your songbook.

“Mele Kalikimaka” was popularized by Bing Crosby but unlike most crooner songs, this one is pretty simple to play. G, D7, E, C, A7, and Am should get you through most of the song. It’s immediately recognizable and if you can croon a bit, you’ll really wow your audience!

2. Riptide – Vance Joy

I found this little gem on YouTube one day. The original song sounds to me like someone playing a classical guitar with a capo. However, this young lady does a killer rendition on the ukulele.

This fun ukulele song only has Am, G, and C chords, so even the most brand new uke players should be able to handle it.

1. I Make My Own Sunshine – Alyssa Bonagura

The final song I want to include on this list of easy uke songs for beginners is one of my favorite good time songs – “I Make My Own Sunshine” by Alyssa Bonagura. This song features the ukulele and is infectiously catchy!

The uke chords are simple: G, D, Em, and C. I think Alyssa tunes down a half step in the original song, but you’ll be fine using these chords! Did you notice the oldies progression keeps cropping up again and again on this list?

Well, there you have it – the top 10 easy ukulele songs every beginner should learn. Practicing these songs until you master them is an excellent way to challenge yourself to get better at the ukulele. Need some extra help advancing your skills? Search for a ukulele teacher today and you’ll be playing all of these songs in no time!

Willy M

Author: Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston, NC. He is 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 80’s. Learn more about Willy here!

 

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easy ukulele songs for beginners

Flower Power: 4 Easy Ukulele Songs from the 60s

easy ukulele songs for beginners

Ready for a time warp? Ukulele teacher Willy M. has five classic tunes from the 60s that are perfect for your ukulele!

There was something about the music of the 1960s that has remained popular year after year. The nice thing about this for the beginning ukulele player is that 60s songs make great tunes to learn on the ukulele, simply because they’re relatively easy to play. Here are five easy ukulele songs for beginners that come from the swinging 60s.

1. “Up Around the Bend”

The first song I want to point out to you is the classic Credence Clearwater Revival song written by John Fogarty called “Up Around the Bend.” This fun little tune has a verse chorus structure, so there are only two parts of the song to learn. The verse couldn’t be easier – there’s only two simple chords, the D chord and the A chord. You can also make the A chord an A7 when you are transitioning back to the D chord; but really it is as easy as just playing the D for a line, and then the A for a line.

In the chorus the song adds some depth by adding the G chord, but both lines of the chorus are simply a G chord to a D chord, and then finally ending on the A chord.

2. “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”

What 1960s collection of songs would be complete without including something from the late great Otis Redding? “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” was the last song Redding recorded before his tragic death in a plane crash at the tender age of 26 years old. Though his life was short, the gospel-turned-R&B singer left a brilliant catalog of hits, and in my opinion, this is one of his finest. “Dock of the Bay” is a great song for the ukulele, and it will challenge you to move out of your three chord frame of mind.

Unlike “Up around the Bend,” “Dock of the Bay” has three parts that you’ll have to learn, and several chords. However, all of the chords are simple chords that you can barre across the fret board to create. If you’re having trouble, you can tune your ukulele to Open G tuning to make it even easier, tuning it G B D G.

This song is in the key of G, but typical to a lot of 50s and 60s gospel music, it includes a few borrowed chords: A, E, B and F. To a new player, it will almost seem as if Otis couldn’t decide if he wanted to be in the key of G, C or A. But, what he’s really doing is borrowing chords from other keys to make the song sound more restless. It works well, and this song has remained popular ever since it was recorded.

Make sure you watch for the only F chord in the song when you get to the bridge. It provides the tension needed to get back to the more simple verse structure.

3. “Brown Eyed Girl”

“Brown Eyed Girl” is a very interesting, yet incredibly simple song to play. I can’t really call it a verse chorus type structure, because it’s really just a long verse with a repeated ending at the end of each verse. It has a refrain, but it’s more like a bridge that sets up the verse again. Regardless of the complexity of the song structure, it is really easy to play and learn.

“Brown Eyed Girl” is another song in the key of G with only the G, C and D chords, chords you probably already know as a beginning ukulele player. So, tackling this song should be second nature. And, once you get all your friends joining in on the la, ti, da’s at the end, you’ll feel like the master campfire ukulele player!

4. “Love Me Do”

No anthology of the 1960s would be complete without two bands who dominated the early 60s Billboard charts with catchy, easy to play love songs: The Beatles and The Beach Boys. So, to conclude our little foray into these 1960s easy ukulele songs for beginners, we are going to look at a couple of these bands’ songs. First, let’s take a look at The Beatles. “Love Me Do” is one of the easier songs The Beatles wrote. It is also in the key of G, with only the three main chords G, C and D for the bulk of the song. The Beatles get a little tricky and throw in that F chord to give it some spice on the bridge, but now that you’ve mastered “Dock of the Bay,” you know how to play it and can throw it into this song as well.

You need to be a little careful when you attempt to play these types of Beatles songs, though, because when it comes to doing the little head shake thing, people have been known to get whiplash! Just kidding. Next time you’re sitting at your next backyard barbecue, throw in a little Beatles, and you’ll have everyone singing in no time! See the chords and lyrics here.

I hope you have a great time as you give these easy ukulele songs for beginners a try at your next luau or 60s dance – or whatever fun party you’re going to have this summer! These five easy ukulele songs are sure to get your friends doing the mashed potato or surfer’s stomp in no time!

Learn more ukulele songs and techniques by studying with a private ukulele instructor. Find your ukulele teacher now!

Willy M

Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston Salem, NC. He is 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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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 taking ukulele lessons is how to tune a ukulele. Ukulele tuning is a must if you want it to sound good.

In this article we’ll provide a step-by-step guide on tuning a ukulele for beginners. Tuning can be difficult, but with this guide, you’ll become a master at tuning your ukulele before you know it.

This guide will teach you how to tune a ukulele to standard tuning, as well as how to tune various types of ukuleles including tenor, soprano, and bass ukuleles. You’ll learn how to tune a ukulele by ear and to itself, and you’ll also learn about uke tuners and tuning apps.

If you’re looking for something specific, you can jump around throughout the guide here:


How to Tune a Ukulele

If you know nothing about tuning a stringed instrument, 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 you can apply the same principles to tuning a ukulele.

Standard Ukulele Tuning

The ukulele is typically tuned to the notes G, C, E, and A. This has been the “standard” since the advent of the internet. Before the internet, you could find people who tune their ukulele to A, D, F#, B or even fiddle tunings like A, D, A, D or G, C, D, G.

Ukulele Tuning for Beginners

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.

Ukulele tuning with a piano

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.

Tune Ukulele with a Korg Tuner

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 reason, I advise all of my students 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. 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 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.

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.

Standard and alternative tuning for different types of ukuleles


Alternate Tunings

You can create a few 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 in the comments section below! Here’s a refresher on basic ukulele chords.


Ukulele Tuning Apps

There are a lot of good ukulele tuning apps out there. Here are a few I recommend checking out:

iPhone

Free Chromatic Tuner Ukulele Tuning app

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.


Tuner Lite app for Uke Tuning

Tuner Lite

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


Android

Fine Chromatic Tuner for Ukulele Tuning

Fine Chromatic Tuner

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


Chord! app for Ukulele Tuning

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 best for you and keep practicing! Try practicing with these 10 easy ukulele songs.

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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easy ukulele songs

How to Play 10 Songs on the Ukulele Using 4 Simple Chords

4 basic ukulele chords to play easy ukulele songsLearn the 4 simple ukulele chords, and practice them with these 10 songs. The ukulele is a beginner-friendly, fun little instrument that you’re never too young or old to try out. A few extra bonuses- it’s affordable, portable, and there are many easy ukulele chords.

If you don’t already own a uke, you can start by choosing among the three most common ukulele sizes for your first instrument: the soprano, concert, or tenor. They all use the same tuning, but the main difference is in body size (tenor is the largest). You should be able to purchase a starter uke for between $50 and $100. Avoid ukes under $50, as they often pose tuning challenges and don’t have good sound quality.

Keep reading to learn 10 easy uke songs that you can start playing today, even if you’re a beginner!

How to Play 10 Easy Ukulele Songs with the 4 Easiest Chords

Step 1: Tune Up and Learn 4 Basic Ukulele Chords

Standard ukulele tuning is G-C-E-A, which lends itself nicely to the key of G. To play the songs in this blog post, all you’ll need to do is learn the fingerings of four chords and get comfortable transitioning between them. The four basic ukulele chords are: G major, C major, D major, and E minor (Em). Once you familiarize yourself with them, you can play any one of the easy uke songs here, including hits from Bob Dylan, Adele, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Learn the Chord Shapes and a Simple Down-Strum Pattern

Below you’ll find chord diagrams for these easy ukulele chords. Finger them carefully, making sure you’re sounding all the notes clearly. Adjust your fingers as needed if you hear muted or muddy notes or chords. Before you attempt to play any of these songs, first practice each chord with a down strum, using your right hand thumb.

basic ukulele chords for beginners

Simple chords all beginners should learn

These easy ukulele songs are all in the time signature known as 4/4, meaning there are four beats in every measure, and each one of those beats is a quarter note. So, to prepare for learning these songs, play each chord four times. Start with the G chord, playing several measures of four consecutive down strums at a slow tempo. Then move on to the C chord, then back to the G chord, and then the D chord. Try tapping your foot as you play the chords, strumming each chord for four counts.

Optional Rhythmic Strumming Pattern

Once you have that simple down strum and foot-tapping working, you can try this more interesting strumming pattern consisting of:

Down, Down-Up-Down, Down-Up-Down, Down-Up-Down, Down-Up-Down, Down-Up-Down, Down-Up

This pattern is fairly easy, though it might look harder than it is. Just break it down to an independent down strum to start off with, followed by 5 groups of Down-Up-Down, ending with Down-Up. You can either use your thumb or a felt pick. Please note: the down stroke (down strum) symbol most commonly used is: Π and the up stroke (up strum) symbol most commonly used is: ∨.

Step 2: Pick an Easy Ukulele Song!

Once you’re comfortable moving from chord to chord, you’re ready to try playing one or more of the easy ukulele songs listed below. The order of the chords in these 10 songs are as follows. Here are 10 more easy ukulele practice songs for beginners.

1. “Blowin’ In The Wind” – Bob Dylan

Verses: G, C, G, G, C, D, G, C, G, G, C, D and
“The answer my friend” refrains: C, D, G, Em, C, D, G

2. “Brown Eyed Girl” – Van Morrison

Verses: G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D, C, D, G, Em, C, D, G
“Do you remember when we used to sing: ”sha-la-la-la-la-la-la” refrains: D, G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D, C, D, G, Em, C, D, G

3. “22” – Taylor Swift

G, D, C, D

4. “I Won’t Back Down” – Tom Petty

Verses: Em, D, G, Em, D, G, Em D, C, Em, D, G
Choruses: C, D, C, D, C, D, Em,, D, G, Em, D, G

5. “Someone Like You” – Adele

Verses, Choruses and Bridge: G, D, Em, C
Pre-chorus: D, C, D, C, D

6. “Your Mama Don’t Dance” – Loggins & Messina

Verses: G, C, G, C, G, D, C, G
Bridge: C, C, C, C, D, C, G

7. “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Verses: G to D (for verses),
Choruses: C, D, G, Em, D C, D, G, Em, D——C, D, G, Em, D—–C, D, G

8. “Bring It On Home” – classic blues song recorded by countless artists

G, D, G, C, G, D, G, C, G, D

9. “This Magic Moment” – Jay And The Americans, Lou Reed, etc.

Verses: G, Em, C, D
Pre-chorus: Em, C, G, D
Choruses: G, Em, C, G, Em, G, Em

10. “Tougher Than The Rest” – Bruce Springsteen

Verses: G, C, D, C, G, D (for verses),
Bridge: Em, C, G, C, D, G, Em, C, G, C, G, D, G

It helps to listen to these songs as you’re learning and play along so you can hear where the chord changes happen. You can also look them up on a site like Ultimate Guitar which shows where the chord changes occur relative to the lyrics of the song.

Need some extra help mastering these ukulele chords and songs? Try taking online or in-person lessons with an experienced ukulele teacher to take your skills to the next level. Search for a ukulele teacher today!

Jeff S

Jeff S. teaches ukulele and guitar lessons in Perth Amboy, NJ. He is both a songwriter and performer, and has taught music business and songwriting at various universities and music schools. Learn more about Jeff S here!

 

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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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7 Hawaiian Ukulele Songs for Beginners

7 Hawaiian Ukulele Songs for Beginners

7 Hawaiian Ukulele Songs for BeginnersLearn some authentic Hawaiian ukulele songs with this guide on ukulele for beginners from teacher Christopher S.

When you think of the ukulele, what do you think of? My first thought is “Hawaii.” When you think of Hawaiian music, what do you think of? Naturally your answer might be Hula dancing or Elvis Presley and all the Hawaiian songs he recorded. The point is, if you want to learn how to play the ukulele it is a good idea to know what is and how to play some authentic Hawaiian ukulele songs.

I myself knew very little about the music of Hawaii before I began playing the ukulele. However, I have been teaching ukulele for a few years now and I wish to share some of the beautiful songs I have learned along the way. Here, I have compiled a list of seven awesome easy Hawaiian songs that anyone can play on the ukulele.

All of these songs are very popular and have strong connections with Hawaii. I have included their histories, tips on how to play them, and videos of the songs. However, if you want to look up how to play the songs you can find all of them at Ukulele-Tabs.com.

I hope you enjoy listening and reading about the stories of these beautiful songs as much as I do! In the spirit of Hawaii, “Aloha!”

1. “Blue Hawaii” – Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger

To begin our Hawaiian adventure we will begin with the “king.” Yes, Elvis Presley knew what was good music. He loved Hawaiian songs and recorded many for his film from 1961, Blue Hawaii. However, the song actually dates back to 1937.

The song is a bit difficult to play on the ukulele because it uses chords from G# major. However, my trick to playing this song the “easy way” is simply take off all the sharps from the chords and voila, you will easily have a beautiful song with four simple chords.

 2. “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

This song is a classic and a staple in any ukulele players repertoire. It is a two-song medley which was made infamous by the Hawaiian native, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. This particular version became so popular that it has been licensed 111 times to punctuate movies, television dramas, commercials and even websites.

The song utilizes many chords but they are all simple and, with some practice, easy for a novice ukulele player to pick up.

3. “Aloha Oe” – Queen Liliuokalani

Stepping away from the Hollywood influence, lets look at some lesser known, but very traditional Hawaiian music. This song dates back to 1878 and is by the Queen of Hawaii at the time. It is said to be Hawaii’s most famous composition.

The song has a beautiful story. The Queen composed it after witnessing a lingering embrace between a woman in her entourage and a man at the Edwin Boyd Ranch in Maunawili. Because of the songs lyrics, it has become synonymous with “goodbye,” however the queen herself reportedly insisted that it was a love song. She said, “It’s a poem about love and passion, man and woman. It’s much, much more than just goodbye.”

The song is very simple to play only using 3 chords.

4. “Hiilawe”

This song is an ancient hula standard about a love affair at a Big Island waterfall. The composer and date are unknown however the artist Gabby Pahinui transformed it into an anthem for slack guitar players. Pahinui is known as a “folk hero” of the Hawaiian Renaissance. This is another easy song to play which any ukulele player can strum to!

5. “Hawaii ’78” – Mickey Ioane

This is melancholy song written in 1978. It was written in response to Hawaiian demonstrators clashing with the National Guard at Hilo Airport over land issues, and resort development which was crowding the islands oceanfronts. The song is a slow song and uses only 4 repeating chords.

6. “Waimanalo Blues” – Liko Martin and Thor Wold

This is a fun tune composed in 1974. It was originally called “Nanakuli Blues.” It later became a political protest about the development taking place all around Hawaii. The song is a simple form which uses a nice flat-7 chord in the turnaround. Listen to “Waimanalo Blues”.

7. “Palehua” – Amy Hanaialii Giliom and William Kahailii

This last song is a beautiful piece written in 1998. The song was inspired, composed and recorded right in Palehua. It is an easy song to play using mainly just two chords.

All the information about these songs was taken from the article “50 Greatest Songs of Hawaii” written by Ronna Bolante and Michael Keany and more on them can be found here.

If you are interested in other beautiful songs from these islands I recommend visiting HUAPALA.

Learn more ukulele songs by taking private lessons with a ukulele instructor. Search for your ukulele teacher today!

ChristopherS.Christopher S. teaches bass guitar, guitar, and composition in Jamaica Plain, MA. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Humboldt State University and is currently atttending New England Conservatory for his Master of Music degree. Christopher has been teaching students since 2004. Learn more about Christopher S. here!

 

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3 Easy Ukulele Songs Kids Can Play With Just 2 Chords

3 Easy Ukulele Songs Kids Can Play With Just 2 Chords

3 Easy Ukulele Songs Kids Can Play With Just 2 ChordsAre you ready to learn how to play the ukulele? Try these fun, 2 chord songs from music teacher Teresa Y. to get started.

The ukulele is one of the easiest instruments for students of all ages to pick up and play. Make fast progress and get hooked on the ukulele with these simple 2 chord songs in the key of C. Even kids will be able to play these 3 easy ukulele songs!

Easy Ukulele Songs with 2 Chords

Chord diagrams for C and G7 are all that you need to get started. Here’s a guide to understand these diagrams: 1=left hand index finger, 2=middle finger, 3=ring finger. Voila! For now, make simple down strokes, or “strums”, on the beat using your right index fingernail or thumb pad, whichever feels better. Don’t forget to tune your ukulele to make these chords sound great!

2-Easy-Ukulele-Chords-for-Kids

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

First up, this super-simple version of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat only requires one switch from C to G7 and back to C. Bonus: it has a positive, peaceful message. So sweet and light, but actually deeply wise! The slashes after chord names show you where to strum.

ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT

C        /       /             /

Row, row, row your boat

/           /              /            /

Gently down the stream.

/            /            /            /

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

G7      /        C        /

Life is but a dream.

One Big Tip for Fast Success

If you’re a beginner, start with just the C chord. Pat the beat on the body of the instrument when it’s time for the G7 chord. Kids like the percussive move, and it teaches them to do something different for a certain number of beats and then get back to C. After C sounds good (press harder until it does), add G7 to the mix. Here’s another song you can play:

London Bridge is Falling Down

Next up, “London Bridge is Falling Down.” Its quicker tempo and multiple verses reinforce successful strumming and chord changes. G7 shows up regularly this time, so get ready for some extra practice. Remember that learning an instrument isn’t something you can “cram” for. It’s all about repetition, which makes the magic of skills development happen. Thus the importance of creating an environment in which regular playing time, even just 15 minutes at a time, is satisfying and fun.

LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN

C           /              /         /

London Bridge is falling down,

G7       /         C       /

falling down, falling down,

C           /              /         /

London Bridge is falling down,

G7     /      C        /

my    fair  lady.

Build it up with silver and gold…

Gold and silver I have none…

Build it up with needles and pins…

Pins and needles bend and break…

Etc. There are countless versions and verses.

Three Blind Mice

Three Blind Mice is another perennial favorite. Its carving-knife drama is memorable and even scandalous to 21st century kids. Remember you can always go back to patting the instrument for a bit when transitions are challenging. If you’re singing along, your purposeful and expectant pause for the next chord will prompt you to go for it.

 THREE BLIND MICE

C        /        /        /

Three blind mice,       

/         /        /        /

three blind mice,

G7     /             C      /

see  how they run,      

G7     /              C     /

see   how they run.

C         G7         C           /

They all ran after the farmer’s wife,

C               G7              C           /

who cut off their tails with a carving knife.

C           G7              C                  /

Did ever you see such a sight in your life

C      G7     /        /

as three blind mice. 

(There are lots of variations on the next-to-the-last line. Did you ever see… You never did see… Choose the one you like best.)

So there you have it – 3 easy ukulele songs that will get you making music fast. Now that you’ve got these easy ukulele songs down, find some more tunes to play on the uke in this ultimate list of ukulele songs.

Want to expand your skills even more? Look for a ukulele instructor near you, or online, to start adding more chords to your repertoire.

 Teresa YPost Author: Teresa Y. teaches many subjects, including ukulele, singing, piano, and beginning drums in Northridge, CA. A multi-instrumentalist from a young age, she enjoys working with students of all ages. Learn more about Teresa here!

 

 

 

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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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