Learning Ukulele: The Basics
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
So, you took the leap of faith and bought your very own ukulele! Congrats! Learning to play can be daunting at first, but you’ll soon find that ukulele is an instrument for everyone that can be picked up very quickly. We’ll walk you through the basics, so you’ll be well on your way in no time at all.
Holding your instrument:
If you’re right handed, you’ll hold your ukulele so that your left hand sits under the neck to fret, and your right arm comes over the top of the body of the instrument to strum. It’s best to hold the instrument at a slight incline, with the tuning pegs of the instrument pointing upward and the body resting on your lap. It is also best to hold the back of the instrument snuggly, but not too tightly, against your chest or upper stomach.
If you’re left-handed, you’ll want to reverse this, but please note that you will also need a left-handed instrument. If you try to play a right-handed ukulele left-handed, the chords will all be upside down.
The first thing you’ll need to do is tune your instrument. You can find a tuner at your local music store, or download one of the many available free tuner apps. There are a few things you’ll want to make sure of before starting the tuning process. First is that your tuner is set to 440hz. Second, that your tuner is set to either ‘chromatic’ or ‘ukulele’ mode.
The four ukulele strings are tuned to the following notes, starting from the string closest to your face (the 4th string), and progressing to the string furthest from your face (the 1st string):
G, C, E, A
If the tuner is pointing to the left of the note on your tuner, it means the note is flat (sometimes shown with the b symbol). This means you need to turn the tuning peg counter clockwise. If the tuner is pointing to the right side, it means it is sharp (sometimes shown with the # symbol). This means you need to turn the tuning peg clockwise.
Once you have all of the strings in tune, you’re ready to learn some basic chords! The four most basic chords are C, Am, F, and G. These are usually illustrated using chord charts that look like this:
There are several things you need to know in order to interpret these charts:
The vertical lines represent the strings of your ukulele. The top of the chart runs towards the tuning pegs, and the bottom of the chart runs toward the body of the instrument. The strings run in the same order you tuned them. From left to right; G, C, E, A.
The horizontal lines represent the metal frets in the neck of your ukulele. In order to form these chords, you will place your fingers on the strings in between the metal frets and apply pressure.
The circles above the vertical string lines indicate strings that are played open. For these chords, all strings are played. Sometimes, you might see an x above a string if you are not meant to play it.
The dots on the vertical string lines, between the horizontal fret lines, represent your fingers. The number inside the dot indicates which finger you play the note with. 1 means index finger, 2 is middle finger, 3 is ring finger, and 4 is pinky.
So, for the C chord, you would place your ring finger on the 3rd fret of the A string.
For A minor, you would place your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the G string.
For F, you would leave the same finger at the 2nd fret on the G string, and also place your index finger at the first fret of the E string.
Try to figure out G on your own based on this system!
To strum your ukulele, either use a felt pick from your local music store, or use your thumb. Either way, you want to apply a very small amount of pressure to the strings starting from the side of the ukulele nearest your face, lightly brushing away from yourself and through the four strings. Most beginners have a tendency to strum too hard. The goal is to be delicate, so experiment with different angles and amounts of force and use your ear to determine what sounds best.