How long it takes you to learn ukulele depends on your goals as a musician. Ukulele teacher Willy M. shares his advice for beginners getting started…
Many people want to know how long it takes to learn to play the ukulele. The answer for that is simple:
That grabbed your attention, didn’t it? Well, it takes more than a couple of minutes to learn to play, but it doesn’t take very long to learn the basics about how to get started playing the ukulele. The thing is, it’s less about time and more about your commitment. If you’re wondering how long does it take to learn the ukulele, perhaps you should be asking yourself, how much time and effort am I willing to dedicate to this instrument? Just like learning any skill, you must commit to exploring and practicing it. You might be able to learn a song overnight, but it will take longer to know this instrument inside and out.
With that said, is it hard to play the ukulele? Let’s just say it’s not the most difficult instrument out there to master. In fact, when it’s boiled down to its simplest form, there really are only two things you need to learn to play the ukulele: chord formation and strumming. If you can form simple chords, and you can strum, you can start playing songs you like to sing!
What’s the Hardest Part of Learning to Play Ukulele?
So, how hard is it to play the ukulele? It can depend. The hardest thing I find with new students is that they have a hard time narrowing down what they want to learn how to play. Sometimes, a student will come to me and say something like, “I want to learn how to play ‘Flake’ by Jack Johnson on the ukulele.” It’s pretty easy to figure out how to teach them.
But more often than not a student comes to me and says, “I want to learn how to play the ukulele.” “Great,” I say. “What do you want to learn to play?” “I don’t know.”
That doesn’t help me much as a teacher. It’s helpful for me to know why you decided to play ukulele instead of, say, the tuba, or saxophone, or mandolin, or something like that. What is it about the ukulele that grabbed your attention? Are you drawn to the instrument’s sounds? Or are you eager to learn specific ukulele songs? If I know that, or know the particular song you like, then it helps me narrow down what I should be teaching you.
How a Music Teacher Can Help You Learn to Play Ukulele
Ok, so you’ve narrowed down why you want to play the ukulele or specific songs you want to learn. Now you probably want to know, how fast can you learn to play the ukulele?
First and foremost, there’s no reason to race the clock. No one is timing you! It’s important to realize that learning to play this whimsical instrument isn’t just about the time it takes you to master your first song. It’s about enjoying the journey along the way! You’ll want to take your time, learning exercises and practicing techniques to build your skillset. Once you have a strong foundation, you can tackle nearly any ukulele song under the sun.
Different musicians stress different techniques when they play. Is strumming the thing that really perked your ears when you wanted to learn how to play the uke, or was it perhaps a fingerstyle player? What about chord forms? Is the player that inspires you someone who uses simple chords, complex chord voicings or are they more of a lead player?
These are things that help me as a music teacher determine what success means for you. If I can figure out what you will consider “playing the ukulele,” then it will help me get you to the point where you are “playing” the ukulele. After all, you shouldn’t have to spend weeks focusing on classical songs when all you really want to do is jam out to your favorite contemporary tunes.
Some people can take years of music lessons, only to be disappointed that they never could play what they wanted to play. I started out that way. I had years of music lessons with a teacher that only taught me what she wanted me to play. I never got to play anything I wanted, so I gave up.
Years later, I took it back up again, and really excelled at music. But by that point I had found a teacher that really helped me play what I wanted to play. That made all the difference for me,
as I received customized lessons tailored to my preferences and interests.
When taking in-person or online ukulele lessons speak up and be vocal about your musical goals and dreams. Remember, your music teacher isn’t a mind reader. This is your opportunity to map out a game plan together to help you play what you actually want to play. The more your teacher understands your intention, the closer (and faster!) you’ll arrive there.
Commit Yourself to Practice
No matter how simple the song you want to learn, it’s going to require you to put in some practice time. Sure, your music teacher might be able to teach you the tune in just a few minutes, but it’s up to you to set aside time to practice until perfection. And if you want to continue to get better, that means you’ll have to dedicate even more time to practice your exercises, chord formations, strums, and more.
So how long to learn the ukulele did I say? There’s a big difference between knowing a few songs on the ukulele and actually knowing your way around the instrument. My advice is to worry less about the time on the clock and more about getting familiar with this enchanting instrument. The more you understand and get to know the ukulele, the quicker you’ll pick up new songs and techniques along the way.
The Bottom Line
So to answer the question “how long does it take to play the ukulele,” it depends on your definition of playing and your dedication to learning. Do you want to sit around the campfire and strum a few songs? Or do you want to be the next Eric Clapton of the ukulele? Strumming a few songs doesn’t take much time. Becoming Eric Clapton, that’s going to take a little time and a lot of practice! At the end of the day, just remember, learning to play the ukulele isn’t a race. Take your time and just have fun with it!
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.
Photo by aaron gilson