Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a better ukulele player and build your skills to the next level?
I’ve asked fellow ukulele players that have expert level playing abilities to share some advice for beginners based off their experiences.
Specifically, I asked this question:
What is your #1 tip for beginner ukulele players to improve their skills?
Here you will find excellent advice and it will behoove you to apply each of these top tips to make progress more effectively in your ukulele playing skills.
No matter what level you are on learning how to play the uke, you will find golden nuggets of practical advice that will help you grow as a ukulele player and improve your skills significantly.
Note: I hand-picked videos to go along with their responses that I thought were relevant to the advice given or simply to give you a closer look at each expert featured here. Plus, they are super fun to watch!
Let’s get started!
1. Brett McQueen // UkuleleTricks.com
The number one reason to play ukulele is to experience the joy of making music. If this is your desire, then, don’t do it alone! This is my number one tip.
When learning something new, there are a lot of mental barriers to get over. No, you’re not too old/young to learn. And no, you don’t need natural musical talent. Simply find a teacher or a friend to help. Join a local ukulele club or group. If there isn’t one, then, start one! Online courses and lessons are a great place to start too. This kind of support encourages you and motivates you. We all need this.
I love having new students learn to play “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” as one of their first songs. It’s an old-timey ukulele classic and a song dear to my heart because it was the first song I learned from my grandfather who taught me. I always have a fun time playing it!
2. Al Wood // UkuleleHunt.com
My number one tip is to practice new pieces incredibly slowly at first. So slowly it’s almost impossible to make a mistake. Only start to increase the tempo when you can play it perfectly every time.
When you learn this way the piece gets embedded in your fingers and you can play without thinking it. The more you play it correctly at a slow tempo the easier it’ll be to play correctly at full speed.
If you start out at full speed you’ll make mistakes. And the more you play those mistakes the more they’ll get embedded in your muscle memory. And once they get embedded it’s very hard to shift them. This way of learning does take more patience but it really pays off in the long run.
3. Dave Ellis // UkuleleGo.com
One thing that I cannot recommend enough is to use your ears. I know it sounds obvious but you’d be amazed how quick we are to bypass our ears when it comes to learning to play a musical instrument. We look for chord boxes, tab, videos and more but one thing we skip is the listening part.
Start with melodies that you know well – Happy Birthday is a great example. Most beginners will be able to work out how to play the melody to Happy Birthday without any instruction using their your ears as a reference. Take it one note at a time, every note you work out is a step forward.
The more you work on this the better your ears will develop. You’ll start to recognise the distance between notes from just sound alone. You can try this with anything – tv themes, nursery rhymes, famous guitar solos and more.
Once you start getting into the pattern of using your ears to learn, it opens you up to endless possibilities. Before long you’ll be able to listen to songs and work them out as you’re listening. You’ll never need to look for song chords, tab, and video tutorials again.
Some examples of good melodies to try and work out are… Happy Birthday, Auld Lang Syne, London Bridge Is Falling Down
4. The Ukulele Teacher // youtube.com/user/TheUkuleleTeacher
Don’t overthink things! There can be a perception that when you’re learning a musical instrument you have to practice for 2 hours a day, everyday, until you become a virtuoso. That’s great and all, but it can take the joy out of it, and means that a lot of people get frustrated and give up way too soon.
Music is meant to be FUN and so is the ukulele! So if you can’t practice for 2 hours a day, practice for 5 minutes here or 10 minutes there whenever YOU feel in the mood for it. The more you enjoy it, the better you’ll get.
Also, play songs that YOU want to learn! Whether that’s Twenty-One Pilots, The Beatles, Guns n’ Roses, classical music… If you’re learning something that you want to play it’ll make the process a lot more enjoyable – and that will encourage you to practice more.
And the more you practice, the better you’ll get – and the better you get, the more fun it’ll be… so everyone’s a winner!
Here’s my favourite song to practice with – the strumming is fun, the chords are fairly straightforward, and it’s a great song to belt out at the top of your lungs (even if, like me, you’re not a great singer!) – Enjoy!
5. Victoria Vox // www.victoriavox.com
In my experience, many beginner ukulele players get caught up on learning how to strum. The problem is that the strumming part is actually the easy part.
No matter what style of music you are into (Pop / Rock / Jazz / Folk / Motown / Oldies) chances are it’s in 4/4 time (4 beats per measure). This is a huge characteristic of “western music”. Even the 6/8 and 12/8 time signatures pulse with 2 or 4 beats. So basically, if you can count to 4, you can strum.
Once a beginner uke player has their strum down (jamming away on the mighty C chord), eventually, it will come time to play a different chord, or two. The trick is to not stumble on your strum and that you are able to change chords as fast as you can blink. Is that too fast?! I can guarantee that it will be, especially for a beginner.
This means you will need to learn a few new chords first and then try incorporating them in a song. It’s all in the muscle memory. Slow the tempo down to a speed that you can effectively make the chord changes without skipping or adding a beat.
6. Will Grove-White // WillGroveWhite.com
I like to add interest to my strumming by playing less notes! My favourite technique is to stop the strings from ringing while still strumming. This way I can create a variety of rhythms just by changing the pressure of my fingers on the strings.
Try with a D7 barre-chord. As you’re strumming even up-and-down strums simply raise your left-hand fingers half off the fretboard (but still resting on the stings). This will create a ‘clack’ sound and stop the notes. Now push them back down to sound the chord. Try pushing down at different times (all the time strumming evenly) to make the chord ring out in different places.
For chords which include open strings you’ll need to lightly rest your spare left hand fingers across the open strings while you gently raise the chord shape off the strings (so they’re just resting on them). It won’t sound a chord, because all the strings are being muted by your fingers, but it’ll create the ‘clack’ sound.
Using your left-hand fingers to stop the strings sounding will hopefully lead you to discover new rhythms that’ll make your playing richer and more varied. The ukulele is a great percussive instrument and including plenty of ‘clacks’ will add variety. There’s so much more to ukulele strumming than a simple up-and-down rhythm.
7. Phil Doleman // phildoleman.co.uk
My #1 tip for beginners to improve their skills is to seek out the patterns in the music they are learning to play. So much music is made up from the same patterns, and it’s easy to miss them and waste time learning the same thing. If you can get to grips with a few patterns in a few different keys, you’ll have loads of new songs under your fingers in no time.
For example, “Twist and Shout” is often played on the uke in the key of C, using the chords C, F and G7. If you also had “La Bamba” (with the chords A, D, and E7) in your songbook, would you spot that it’s essentially the same song in another key?
Try playing both songs in C and A , but also in G (G, C and D7) and D (D, G and A7). Then find other songs you know that use C, F and G7 and do the same with those.
There are many more patterns that are mixed up, recycled and linked together to make new songs (for example, did you know, that “I Wanna Be Like You” from the Jungle Book and “Sweet Georgia Brown” use the same chord patterns, just mixed up?) See how many you can find!
8. Sarah Maisel // www.cheemaisel.com
The best way to improve your playing is to practice and push yourself.
Once you find yourself comfortable with a technique or chord, make yourself uncomfortable again. What do I mean by this? Let’s say you go to a uke jam once a week- you play the same songs in the same keys and have been doing this for a few months.
Instead of doing the same old chords- take one chord a week and move it to another position. For example, instead of 1st position C, play the version of it that looks like Bb but on the 3rd fret (or 2nd position).
The next week you can add a new chord (like G7 in 2nd position). Pushing your comfort zone in playing is the only way to progress; before you know it, you’ll be playing the whole song in another position with ease.
9. Ukulenny // www.ukulenny.com
Besides practicing daily and doing finger exercises to keep your fingers in shape, my #1 tip is to practice all the chord transitions of the songs that you’re working on.
Take Three Little Birds, if you’re jamming in C. The chords are C, F, and G7 (or G). So I would practice with my left hand only, the C and F, back and forth a few times. You don’t even have to strum for this exercise, just focus on the left hand finger movements. Then the C and G7. Then at the end of the piece, the G7 to F.
It’s very important to rehearse your transitions separately from just running the song, so when you are actually playing it, your fingers already know exactly what they have to do to change chords.
10. Lil Rev // www.lilrev.com
My #1 tip for ukulele players to improve their skills is to adopt a “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can attitude.” I often use the analogy of the old kid’s story, the little train that could, because we all have doubts about whether or not we will be successful at new endeavors.
We also make the mistake of comparing ourselves to others, or telling ourselves we’re not good enough because we’re too old, too young, too this and too that. We need to believe, trust and have confidence that with consistency, we’ll get there.
The ukulele is one of the easiest instruments in the world to get started on, then once you know some basic chords, there is a world of possibilities to consider, like moveable chords, melody playing, intermediate strumming, fingerpicking and chord melody to name a few.
How far we want to take it, depends on our willingness to make time for growth. If students of all age, make a commitment to learning and give themselves a reasonable amount of time to achieve some basic goals they’ll inspire themselves to carry on.
11. James Hill // www.theukuleleway.com
My #1 piece of advice for beginners is simple: don’t get stuck in the key of C! There are lots of easy-to-play ukulele chords that will lead you into territory beyond C, F and G7.
Everywhere I go I see people stuck on the “beginner’s plateau” with a handful of chords, a few songs and no idea where to go next. Some people like it there. Others feel stuck. To those who feel stuck I say: SHAKE IT UP! Try something different today. Clawhammer ukulele. Classical ukulele. Jazz ukulele. Campanella ukulele. Blues ukulele. Solo ukulele (i.e. playing melody, harmony and rhythm at the same time). There are tons of ways to keep growing as a musician, you just have to know where to look. Google any of these styles and you’ll find books and resources to help you along.
I even wrote a book to help beginners get “unstuck.” It’s called BOOSTER UKE (www.theukuleleway.com/boosteruke) and it’s just one of many ways to keep moving forward on your ukulele journey.
There is life beyond C, F and G7. Go there!
12. Brad Bordessa // www.liveukulele.com
In my opinion, timing is the most important thing ALL players can practice. Beginners especially need to focus on creating a solid foundation.
Take two beginning ‘ukulele players of the same exact technical skill level. One has great timing, one doesn’t. Who sounds more experienced? Right. The one with better timing, of course. This is why people who aren’t technically great players still create some of the best music – because their groove is solid.
The simplest way to improve your timing is to put down your uke and clap along with a metronome. A metronome is a steady time keeper that creates clicking sounds to go with the beat of a song. Set the metronome to 80 BPM (beats per minute) and clap along with the clicks with the intention of “covering them up.” If you hear the metronome outside of your claps, your timing is off. Correct yourself as needed and continue on. Oftentimes it’s helpful to completely stop, listen to the click, and then jump in fresh.
Once clapping is simple, begin counting “one…two…three…four…” along with the click and claps. This locks you into a steady meter. If your metronome has a strong or different sounding click every 4th time, make sure you start your “one” on it (ONE…two…three…four…). Practice clapping on several different BPMs (40, 60, 80, 100, 120, 140, 160).
Next level: pick a note or strum a chord along with the click.
This simple exercise may seem boring, but it’s a sure-fire way of creating a better internal sense of timing. Just by spending some time clapping along to the click, it will become easier to stay at a steady pace throughout any songs you play.
13. Jenny and Rebecca // ukulele.io
Our #1 tip for a beginning ukulele player is to start with learning to strum with a steady beat. Chords are great, but if you’re playing ukulele without a beat, it’s just nice sounds, not music.
It’s easiest to start with all down strums like this: Down Down Down Down
When you are comfortable with all down strums, using either your index finger or all of the fingers of your right hand, add the up strum, like this: Down Up Down Up, Down Up Down Up
When the up down strumming pattern is comfortable, add a strum with an uneven division of the beat.
Check out our video tutorial on these three strums here: https://youtu.be/2S2v9_aM318
Next, learn some chords. We suggest starting with the following four because they use just one or two fingers. Once you’ve mastered the left hand chord shapes, combine them with your three strumming patterns.
Finally, it’s time to learn a song. It’s best to keep your songs very simple until you’ve mastered strumming with your right hand while changing chords with your left hand. Try a 2-chord song to get started. The easiest 2-chord song we know is “Shoo-Fly Don’t Bother Me.” You can access a lesson here:
So what do you think of these tips? These tips are valuable for beginners and advanced players as well. Remember to take action on what you learned. That’s the only way you will actually improve your ukulele skills. Apply what you learned from your favorite tips and make it part of your routine. Be consistent and you will see a lot of progress without a doubt.
If you found value in the tips and advice in this article share it with your friends.
Have fun and happy strumming!