Top Ten Tips for Ukulele Beginners

18 Apr 2015

Top Ten Tips for Ukulele Beginners

The Got A Ukulele top 10 tips for ukulele beginners.

My best ideas for new musical instrument players! (remember - you will find many more ukulele beginners tips here!)

Ukulele beginners tips

1. Tune before every session.

This seems obvious, but you would be amazed at how many videos you see where people have not tuned their uke before playing. Before ANY play session you should check your tuning - and often check it through a session too. Uke strings do stretch, even older ones, but especially new ones and the tuning can go out with play. Playing anything on a ukulele that is not in tune is a pointless disaster that is going to sound bad.

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 care 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!

10. 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?


  1. Hi Barry,

    I can't believe you hadn't done this already either :-)

    Some other ideas for other Beginner Top Tips:

    1) Buy a clip-on tuner - and use it often!

    BAD: "But I tuned it before I came out of the house two hours ago!"
    GOOD: "Let me just check if it's in tune!"

    Unless you have already developed a good ear for what in-tune and out-of-tune sound like, using the tuner will help you to develop that "good ear". I can hear now if my uke is out of tune but I still cannot tell just from listening which string is "out" and it often is just one string that needs a tweak.

    2) Don't leave your uke lying around on the floor or on a chair or sofa!
    You or somebody else will eventually stand on it or sit on it!

    3) Get a bag or case to keep your uke safe, put a microfibre cloth in it and give the uke a quick wipe down the strings every now and again. Jammy strings are disgusting and do nothing to improve the sound!

    4) DO get a strap! (adding to Barry's Top Tip number 3, "Be comfortable")
    If you have got a strap, you can wear your uke around the house and practice all the time! Sling it over behind your back if it gets in the way - this also prevents crumbs falling into the sound hole :-)

    5) If you find a song that you like but it is hard to sing and/or play in that key, or it only has guitar chord grids, you can use a quick automatic "transposer". I have bookmarked some here:


    The only one of your tips that I would quibble with is Number 2. I definitely agree about keeping it simple but . . . nursery rhymes!!!

    Starting adults on nursery rhymes might be the very reason that so many people seem to end up in ukulele la-la land, where you are only permitted to use the ukulele for "happy songs".

    There are LOADS of simplified songs on the internet . . . I started putting links to individual websites in here but there are just so many sites it was starting to get ridiculous. is a great start but there is a lot to be said for finding songsheets where someone has tried to create an easy version that "works" on the ukulele, especially a "high G" tuning, as straight translation from guitar does not always work out quite right.

    I try to remember to bookmark free ukulele songbooks, usually from ukulele clubs, when I come across them:

    Some of them might have got into this list if they are collections of individual songsheets rather than whole songbooks - and I know that there will be many more than this on the internet:
    If there only seem to be complicated arrangements around, here are some good tips, from Guido Heistek on "Ukulele in the dark", on how to substitute easier chords to make a song more playable :-)


    Best wishes and thank you for all the hard work you put into this blog!
    Liz Panton

  2. I always suggest nursery rhymes for a very logical reason. If you think about it most people know the lyrics, the melody and the tempo with their eyes closed. That leaves you totally free to concentrate on the ukulele playing! But any well known simple songs will do.

  3. Barry, regarding changing strings. Any recommendations as to how often? Is it based on a time schedule, usage, sound, ?

  4. Depends on the player and how much play. If I'm playing a particular uke regularly I can change mine every 2-3 months. When they feel or sound worn basically.

  5. Good article Barry. Checking your tuning and checking your tuning before you start a tune - a simple (My Dog has Fleas often suffices), is something all musicians should do regardless of instrument or skill experience level. In Choosing songs to learn as a beginner I would amplify your suggestions to include songs you learned from your grand parents or at camp. These are songs most everybody know. One final suggestion: If you sing and play together, (and you should), keep the uke accompaniment simple. Simplify the chords if you must. If you wish to play a "fancy" melody line, take an instrumental break and do so. trying to sing and play melody at the same time is very very difficult.

  6. Recording sucks but it's very helpful. Recordings don't lie.

    For basic but high quality sound I really do recomment getting a samson go mic. I bought one of these some years back for a skype mic but testing it against other mics it really does hold its own for low end studio work.

  7. I'll take issue with #1. Someone who's a raw beginner to anything strings truly has no clue whatsoever about how to compare the instruments and likely will pick based on what they see because that's all they know (and end up with some Luna or the cheapest possible uke because they frankly don't know).

    Best case is to know someone who plays who can help suggest a solid first purchase, or bite the bullet and buy a flea or fluke which always has excellent intonation and playability, although the friction tuners might be a tad frustrating at first.

  8. Not if they go to a reputable store like the only ones I list on Got A Ukulele they won't!


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