Surprised myself that I have never done a simple top tips for ukulele beginners post. So, considering I like lists, let's have a go at that.
1. Try to 'Try Before You Buy'.
If you really can, do try to at least visit some kind of music store to have a feel for the ukulele. Play the different scales and listen to their differing tones. Listen to their volume and clarity of tone. Trust your own ears in what you buy! For some though, stores are just too far away, and that is where impartial review sites are just for you! This video will probably help you too.
2. Keep it simple to start with
When you get home with your first ukulele you will probably find the urge to print off a song sheet for your favourite song is hard to resist. The fact that song may have many chords and some complex ones at that is really not going to help you on your way. Keep it simple with some two or three chord songs that you already know well (Nursery Rhymes, simple well known tunes like 'Happy Birthday') and get to grips with them. Learn the basic chord forms and focus some of your practice on repetitive moving from one chord to another. That action will build muscle memory of the most common chord shapes and will pay dividends down the line.
3. Be comfortable.
Work out how you like to hold the ukulele the best. Whether that is sitting or standing is up to you. If you are not comfortable with it, it is going to work against your development as a player. If you really struggle, ignore those who say a strap is the work of the devil - if you play better using a strap, then use a strap! This may help you too.
4. Start to take car of those nails
Fingertips are what it's all about with the ukulele whether strumming or fretting. On the fretting hand, keep the nails short and neat to allow clean fretting on the strings. For the strumming or picking hand don't be afraid to let the nails grow out if you can - they make a great sound. You really only need to grow nails a little on the thumb, first, middle and ring fingers. Don't be shocked that as you practice the nails may wear or get sore. It's normal, and they do improve. If you do have really weak nails, try a false nail that can be fitted at a nail bar for very little money.
5. Learn how the ukulele works
The ukulele is a tool to make music and certain parts of it are designed to be adjusted. The main one that surprises me people don't learn from the start is how to change strings. Changing strings is part of ukulele ownership and you shouldn't be afraid to do it. I hear horror stories of people who have had their strings on for 18 months! NO!
6. Play with other people
One of the great things about the ukulele is how sociable it is. The advantage to playing with others is not just the fun that can be had but that it REALLY will help you develop your playing skills. Find a local club nearby and get over to them. No local clubs? Think about starting one!
7. Be careful with strumming patterns. Rhythm is key
Some people seem unable to even contemplate learning even the most simple songs without a strumming pattern telling them exactly how to strum up and down and when. That really isn't making music. Worse still, if you focus your efforts on that without learning basic rhythm patterns, timing and the ability to change chords in line with those timings, you are not going to progress particularly well. Again, keep it simple, and worry about complex patterns when you are sure you can keep a beat and change between most chords at ease and in time with the beat.
8. A light touch
One of the most common complaints from beginners is the sore fingers they develop on the fretting hand. To a point this is perfectly natural and is a pain you have to go through as you build strength and callouses. But some of the strain comes from a natural tendency when learning to grip the neck of the ukulele like your life depends on it. It really isn't needed. All you need is enough pressure on the strings to engage them cleanly to the frets and nothing more. A lighter touch is hard to get your head around at first, but DO be conscious of it. Playing with a lighter fretting touch is not only easier on finger strain, but allows for faster chord and note changes too.
9. Don't be afraid to record yourself
I know that it's one of those things that may people hate. I mean, some people hate the sound of their own recorded voice, but recording yourself in practice is a great way to review what you did, spot mistakes and give you something to 'better' next time. You don't need a full on TV studio to do it, most laptops have webcams now, or even your mobile phone. Try it, its fun!
The best way to end. The ukulele is supposed to be enjoyable. Make sure you do. If it doesn't move you in some way positive then you are doing it wrong. If you are enjoying it then that will show through in your practice.
Enjoy! What are your favourite tips?
© Barry Maz