How to Play a Ukulele: A Beginner’s Guide to the Basics

Happy smiling Asian young woman playing Ukulele on the bed.

Island-style Hawaiian riffs and Billy Eilish did wonders for making the ukulele popular. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s a pocket-sized instrument that’s easy to learn, you can take it anywhere, and it sounds great! 

But if you’re here, you already know that. You’re probably already convinced that the ukulele is an awesome instrument, now you just need to know how to play a ukulele. 

It can seem overwhelming at first, but there are only a few simple steps between not knowing how to play and jamming it out. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the basics of ukulele playing. 

The Best Ukulele for You 

All ukuleles are the same…right? Wrong. Once you start playing a ukulele and especially when you start experimenting with different types, you’ll realize just how different they can be. 

You want to find one that’s the right fit for you, including the size and style. The smallest ukulele is called a soprano, and they have a higher tone to match their petite bodies. If you’ve got small hands or you’re a young learner, this is a good choice for you. 

If you’re after something a little larger but still compact and portable, then the concert ukuleles are a good choice. Their sound is deeper and warmer than the soprano. 

Lastly, you have the tenor option. These are the largest size (but still a small and compact instrument) and have a rich, bass-laden tone. These are best for people with larger hands. 

Of course, your budget will influence the exact ukulele that you decide to purchase. But as ukuleles are the most affordable instruments, you should be able to find the perfect one for you without feeling too restricted by budget. 

Check out Island Bazaar ukuleles for a fantastic selection of high-quality ukuleles to get you started. 

Ukulele Basics

If you’re learning to play the ukulele you need to cover some basics. These foundational steps are important for setting you up to become a ukulele-strumming guru.

How to Hold a Ukulele

The most basic first step when learning an instrument is knowing how to properly hold it. If you get this right then you’ll be comfortable, the position will encourage the best sound to emit from your ukulele and there’s no risk of damaging it. 

You should hold the neck of your instrument in your left hand gently enough so that the instrument isn’t under tension but firmly enough that you have a good grip.

The back of the ukulele should sit snugly against you and your right arm should be cradling the instrument. Think of it as a loving cuddle, and you’ve hit the nail on the head. 

To evaluate your position, check that you can comfortably move your left hand up and down the neck of the instrument. You want to be able to reach all of those finger chords. Your right hand should be in a good position to strum comfortably. 

Learning to Strum 

When most people start playing an instrument such as guitar or ukulele they are under the impression that the chord patterns will be the most challenging part. However, as a beginning ukulele player, it will be the strumming patterns that leave you feeling frustrated. 

Strumming chords are the foundation of ukulele playing — the backbone. This is what your right hand does, the way it moves up and down and the sequence that it does it in. 

In the beginning, your right hand and wrist will feel stiff and rigid and will do nothing that you tell them to do. This is normal, within a few hours of practicing your right hand will loosen up and basic strumming patterns will become second nature to you. 

Remember to try to keep your wrist loose and play without a pick, to begin with. Use your thumb or your index finger — or a combination of the two.

Playing Basic Ukulele Chords

There are a few basic chords that feature in every song. In fact, some of your favorite songs only use three or four chords. Ukulele is such a satisfying instrument to learn because if you know a couple of chords you can learn a bunch of new songs without much effort. 

Here are the most basic and common chords and how to play them:

  • C major: Third finger on the first string at the third fret 
  • A minor: Middle finger on the fourth string at the second fret 
  • F major: Index finger on the second string on the first fret and second finger on the fourth string at the second fret 

With these few chords and a basic strumming pattern you already know a couple of awesome songs. 

Quick Tips for Playing the Ukulele 

Playing an instrument is extremely rewarding and always a lot of fun. The ukulele is a wonderful instrument and if you keep practicing, you’ll find a lot of joy in it. Here are some quick tips to help you with your practice:

  • Use your ears to identify patterns 
  • Practice new pieces very slowly and repeat them a lot
  • Find a teacher or friend to help 
  • Do finger exercises to keep your fingers in shape 

When you feel frustrated, keep pushing through! Adopt an “I can, and I will” attitude and nothing will get in the way of your ukulele playing and learning. 

Are You Ready to Play a Ukulele?

Now that you know how to hold it, strum it, and play chords, all you need to do is pick up your ukulele and start playing! Learning to play a ukulele is actually very simple and instantly rewarding, it’s all about taking the first step. Remember, keep the wrist loose and have fun. 

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