In the last few weeks I have been tutoring and helping out a handful of brand new ukulele players. On the whole I meet them separately, and I noticed that they seemed to have the same problems, gripes and worries as each other. Not at all surprising, and in all cases, perfectly normal.
So, if you are a new player reading this, or thinking about starting out - what can you expect, and what is normal?
1. My fingers are sore!
No way around this I am afraid unless you already have hardened finger tips from playing another stringed instrument. Those strings are thin, and they do dig in to beginners fingers. In the best case, this can just cause soreness, but in the worst, blisters. I am afraid this is something that you have to go through. You need to build some callouses in the tips. Once you have done that, you shouldn't encounter the problems again if you keep playing. As my friends progressed they also talked of hand cramps and aches. This is also perfectly normal as you are trying to force your fingers into positions and shapes that were unnatural prior to playing the uke. Again, practice will ease these woes.
I blogged about before about these subjects, and you can read my thoughts on sore fingers HERE. I also gave some tips on finger stretching exercises to help with cramps HERE.
2. My uke keeps going out of tune
Also very common, and with a new set of strings, even on a several hundred dollar instrument, they will stretch and need re-tuning. You can give them a bit of a manual stretch to help get new strings on their way, but generally, regular playing and re-tuning over a week or two will get them to hold. If you are still struggling, you may need to tighten those tuners!
3. I downloaded the chords to "INSERT SUPER DIFFICULT SONG HERE" and I am really struggling with it.
So, so tempting. You have your new instrument and you want to learn your favourite song. Trouble is, your favourite song is full of exotic chords, numerous changes and difficult timing. If you are learning, I always suggest that your first point of call for songs to learn are Nursery Rhymes. Why? Because we all know lots of nursery rhymes, and chances are we know the words and the tune pretty good too. They are also usually simple tunes that use 2 or 3 common chords only. Practice a bunch of these and you will do wonders for your strumming, chord changes, and chord recognition without needing to worry about anything complex. You will soon progress, and then, in time, you can move on to your personal favourites.
You can find a selection of very easy nursery rhyme lyrics with chords on my song page HERE
4. I am trying to play along with a tune, and I cant get the strumming rhythm right.
Also very normal and common if you are new to music. Again, the key is to keep it simple, and try not to be too jazzy or play to quick while you are learning - simple, slow down and up in time with the beat of the music is fine to get you playing. There is an article HERE that runs through various strumming styles, from the simple to the more complex. Stick to the simple for the time being!
5. My ukulele is buzzing
With cheaper instruments this is, sadly, quite a common complaint and in many cases it is simply down to the setup of the instrument rather than being an incurable fault. Run through my step by step check list on THIS PAGE to try to track down the cause. You would be amazed how many beginner ukes I have looked at where the issue was solved on either point 1 or 2.
6. How much do I need to practice
See -HERE. To add to that - if you can, play with other people - your skills will develop at a far faster rate than playing alone. Plus, the ukulele is a happy sociable instrument - it deserves to be played with others!
So there you go - the most common questions I get asked. There are many more, but equally, most of them are also normal. If you are starting out, I am sure some of the above will mean something to you. Dont give up, keep strumming!