Having played the guitar for 30 years, I’ve recently decided to spread my musical wings and pick up a Ukulele. Getting started was tough at first, as with any new instrument, but I soon got my four-string mojo working once I started adding apps and websites into my (quite random) learning structure.
Now, I’m not saying the following apps and guides will turn you into a ukulele champion, but they’ll certainly put you on course to gaining enough familiarity with the instrument to be confident playing it.
Get Tuned Up
Before you start playing, you’ll need to ensure that your ukulele is in tune. A mistake that many make is to assume that the four-stringed instrument — often shaped like a guitar — is tuned in the same way, skipping the bass strings to leave the baritone tuning of D G B E. While this is an option (you can tune it any way you want, after all!) the overwhelming majority of ukulele music that you’ll find online is in the instrument’s standard tuning, G C E A.
If you don’t have a piano or tuning forks to hand (and many of you won’t) then the best bet for tuning your ukulele is an app.
This video should help, from Ukulele Underground on YouTube.
For Android, I recommend Ukulele Tuner Free, an ad-supported tuner that supports the standard tuning along with many others (such as baritone).
Meanwhile, iOS users might look at the Guitar Tuna app, which covers ukulele, bass and guitar tunings (as well as mandolin, balalaika and many other string instruments).
Don’t have a mobile device to hand right now? This YouTube video is remarkably popular:
And if you prefer something more dedicated, a physical guitar tuner can be employed for ukulele tunings.
Learn Some Chords
With your ukulele tuned, it’s time to start thinking about learning to play some chords. With this knowledge, you’ll then be able to proceed to playing songs later.
Chords are two or more strings played simultaneously, usually with one or more strings fingered. They might be a little tricky at first, but in most cases, there are alternative ways of fingering the chords. Basically, you might use fewer fingers, or place them at different points on the ukulele’s neck.
To get the chords you need to start playing, you might visit a dedicated ukulele website, such as ukuchords.com. Here, you’ll find a great list of chords to view on the site, and even a PDF guide to download. Make sure you have a PDF reader installed first!
For a more portable approach, you won’t be surprised to learn mobile apps can help. Ukulele Chords is a no-nonsense, clear app that demonstrates exactly where you need to place your fingers for any chord you can think of.
Start Learning Tunes
You’ve got the chords sorted, and you’ve probably even been hitting a few individual strings and making up some licks. Now is the time to learn some tunes.
If you’re confident — perhaps you know other instruments — then you might try a website like Ukulele-Tabs.com (free registration required), where you can find a collection of tabs ranked by difficulty.
Meanwhile, you can start slowly, too, using apps such as iUke on iOS [No longer available] and Real Ukulele Free for Android, both of which guide you gently through the basics of learning and playing a song.
Practice and Practice
As you become more familiar with the uke, you’ll need to hone your ability. This might mean memorizing chords, or improving your strumming. You could perhaps also need help with your chord changing speed.
The best way to do any of this is to spend time with the ukulele, perhaps while playing along to a song you want to learn. Time and effort are the most important at this stage, but if you’re looking for extra help, you should consider some YouTube video channels (and remember to subscribe, as it helps the owners generate revenue).
Cynthia Lin has a massive collection of ukulele videos, covering everything from beginner’s stuff like strumming and chord changes, to blues. She sometimes performs live on YouTube and does live chats.
This guy, John Atkins, is great, offering lessons for all levels of play. Covering golden oldies and modern tracks, when he’s not teaching, you’ll find celebrity guests and customization ideas, not to mention performance videos. Lots of fun, with videos for dedicated topics such as tuning and strumming and muting, to get you started.
Take Your Ukulele Love Further
The thing about ukes is that they’re so damned cute, you almost fall in love with them. Here’s me with mine:
With such a wide collection of designs and finishes, you might find yourself becoming really obsessed with this little four-string wonder. Sadly, there’s no Rocksmith-style game for ukulele like there is for guitar, but you might consider one or two podcasts for your regular audio enjoyment. Before you download them, though, make sure you have a good podcast manager.
OokTown — Launched in 2011, this is a great little podcast, a sort of audio love letter to the ukulele. Host Stuart chats with guests about playing and loving the ukulele. It’s a great show, don’t miss it!
The Ukulele Review — There’s more technical information in this podcast, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it, as the hosts keep things clear and concise. Listen out for side-by-side comparisons of different ukuleles.
You might go even further, and join up with other ukulele players in your area. Ukulele events take place all around the world, and you can find out more about those taking place near you by running a search on Facebook. But whatever you do, don’t let this kid put you off.
Do you play the ukulele? Are you new to it, or an old hand? Have you found some resources you think we missed (there are many ukulele resources on the web)?
Share them in the comments!