UKULELE BEGINNERS - On Jamming, Busking and Performing

4 Oct 2011

UKULELE BEGINNERS - On Jamming, Busking and Performing

So you have bought your first ukulele, and you are (but of course) having lots of fun with it. Then this post pops up on Got A Ukulele and you are horrified.  Playing in public? To an audience? I couldn't possibly!

The fact is though, that once you are over the initial hump of getting used to some basic chords and strums, the singular best way to improve your playing an confidence is to play with or for other people. A reception to the music you make really is the best way you can judge your abilities and improve on them.  Now, before you continue in a total panic, I'm not suggesting you should be booking yourself in for a residency at Caesars Palace, but there are many options available to you that I would urge you to try.


Not everybody lives in an area with easy access to lots of other people who play the ukulele, and it may be that you are just not able to get out and about to perform in public, but the video, and by that I mean uploading a recording of yourself to something like YouTube is a superb and easy way of getting feedback on your performances. Not only can others look at your work, but the very act of watching and listening to yourself back in a recording is a sure fire way to improving your skills. The first time you do it you may find it impossible and unbearable to listen to yourself - that's normal. Have faith in yourself though and give it a try.  Then give some serious thought to putting a video or two up on the internet for others to see. You may get some nasty words, but ignore them, as on the whole you find real constructive criticism.  The Ukulele Underground Forum is a great place to alert people to your videos and seek feedback. Listen to your reviewers and take on board the tips they give you to improve your work.   Perhaps the most famous  success story of performing in this way is the wonderful Julia Nunes who started out performing on YouTube and is now a gigging and recording musician who has played with the likes of Ben Folds. My good pal Rae Carter may well be heading in the same direction. He's had tens of thousands of video views now, is regularly gigging and just got a recording contract!

rae carter perfoming with ukulele


Playing with other like minded players is a brilliant way to improve your playing and confidence, and being a group activity you are sure to help each other out, or give each other ideas as to new songs to practice. You can do this as informally as you like, perhaps just with friends in your living room or garden, or perhaps ask at your local pub or club if they would mind you playing in their premises, thus potentially enticing others to join in. I play this way with friends all the time and its huge fun. We play in a local pub an on occasion have ended up with quite an audience singing along with us.

If you want to do it more formally there are a huge range of clubs and societies out there who will welcome you with open arms and you will find quite a listing HERE. Who knows, playing with a club informally this way could get you noticed, as has happened with the great guys at UkeJam, in Godalming in the UK. They havent been playing as a club for all that long, but in the last few months have played both the Guildford Festival, and supported Hayseed Dixie at a recent show!

balham ukulele society


Perhaps this is one for when you are little more seasoned with your playing and have a few good songs under your belt, but this form of playing, in the town centre or park near to you is both a daunting and extremely rewarding experience. You can do this with friends or solo, but having done this myself can vouch for the fact that the more "unusual" aspect that the ukulele carries (than say, the guitar) will likely draw some people to watch you. The plus side, of course, is that if you are any good you could go home at the end of the day with a bit of money in your pocket!  Please, please though, check first with your local bye-laws as to whether you need a licence to busk in your area!


Open Mics are events, usually put on at local pubs, bars or clubs, where anyone can turn up and book a slot to take to the stage and perform a song or two in front of an audience. You are unlikely to get paid, and you may not even get listened to, but this is a real step into proper performing where you have to stand on your own two feet and get your style and sound out there to the general public. Bear in mind, with a small instrument like a ukulele that you almost certainly will need to consider some form of amplification both for your instrument and your voice if you dont want to get lost in the hubbub of the audience.

Beyond that, the sky is the limit  really. If you really dont like the idea of playing in public, I'd still urge you to try to play with good friends or at least record yourself and listen to it back. It's without a doubt one of the best ways to progress your playing.  Whatever you choose, you are going to be nervous and unsure when you first give it a try, but that will pass with more experience, and with more experience comes better playing and more fun. It's all good!

Best of luck!


  1. Phew! That's a lot to think about. I've been playing for a little over a year and I don't think I've done much public playing beyond around the campfire with my buddies. Maybe I'll make a video, then at least I won't be humiliated to my face ;)

  2. Rob, you are on the right track. Playing round a campfire is brilliant practice, dont rush into performing, just play with other people ASAP!


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