How to Play the Ukulele: A Complete Guide


Do you dream of becoming the next Jake Shimabukuro? Jake might have begun his musical journey at the age of four, but the truth is you can start playing an instrument at any age. Not convinced? Then look at T-Model Ford who didn’t even pick up a guitar until he was 58!

So how long does it take to learn how to play the ukulele? Well, that depends on the type of songs you want to play and the level of skill you want to reach. You’ll probably be able to play something very basic within 10 minutes. But if you want to play well then apparently 20 hours is all it takes.

Are you ready to start learning? Then read on for the best ukulele tips that will have you serenading the neighbors with musical bliss in no time!

What Do You Need?

Well, a ukulele of course! But before you rush off to buy a ukulele, here are some tips to help you choose. A ukulele for beginners doesn’t have to be expensive but you should spend between $50 – $100 for your first instrument.

Anything around the $30 mark will result in a badly made ukulele and you won’t enjoy practicing on those at all. They do however make great firewood for your next bonfire.

Ukuleles come in three sizes:

  • Soprano 21″
  • Concert 23″
  • Tenor 26″

The larger a ukulele the bigger the tone will be, so have a play around and see which ones you like the sound of. Sopranos tend to be higher in the trebles, but they do give you the typical “ukulele sound”, whereas the larger sizes will be warmer in tone.

Ukulele players that have larger hands may also feel more comfortable learning on the concert or tenor size instruments.

Setting up Your Ukulele

Whether you have a new ukulele or you’ve found an old one in the attic, it’s important to have it set up by your local music store. You might be lucky and receive a ukulele that you can play straight out of the box, but more often than not, it’s a good idea to get it set up. This is really just making sure that the ukulele is comfortable for you to play on and that it sounds the way it should.

You’ll need to tune your instrument, so if this hasn’t been done yet it’s time to download an app. GuitarTuna on Google Play and the App Store is an excellent tuner that you can download and use for free.

Now that you’re all set, it’s time to start learning.

How to Practice the Ukulele

As with all exercises, you’ll need to start with a warm-up, which is the same for an instrument. This will help you loosen and warm up those finger muscles making it easier for you to practice.

A simple exercise to start with is to shake out both hands and move the wrists up and down. Then open and close your hands making a fist shape several times to really get those fingers and hands warmed up. Cold hands that are stiff make playing incredibly uncomfortable, so if you can’t do any other stretches, make sure you do this one at the very least.

What should you be practicing? To start learning the ukulele, aim to start with the following exercises during each practice session:

  • Beginners should practice playing single strings and pressing down on the fret as part of the warm-up
  • Learn and practice a basic chord then once you’ve mastered one, move on to the next
  • Learn and practice strumming patterns
  • Then practice a few easy ukulele songs like Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” or Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”

A metronome is a useful tool for timing, so you may want to invest in one of those to help you with changing chords, rhythm, and timing.

How Long Should You Practice For?

For some people, it’s possible to start practicing for an hour every day, but this can put a lot of strain on the hands of a beginner player. It’s best to ease your way into it by playing 20 to 30 minutes daily. This will prevent your fingers and hands from getting too sore, which can stop you from practicing the next day.

The key to progressing is through regular practice rather than once a week for one or two hours. Eventually, you’ll form the muscle memory needed to learn the ukulele, and it will help harden the skin on your fingers. You’ll soon find that you can practice for much longer periods.

Fingers Hurting From Playing the Ukulele?

It’s completely normal to feel pain in your fingertips when you first play the ukulele. You may have come across numerous tips and tricks to harden your fingertips from the internet, but there’s really no way around this one. The best way to harden the skin is to practice daily for short periods.

If you continue to play for too long, you may risk developing blisters that end up ripping off. This will unfortunately slow you down. So if your fingertips are feeling a bit sore—put the ukulele down and try again the next day (most likely the pain will have gone by then).

How to Play the Ukulele in One Month

So you’re fiercely determined to do this in a month just like the writer Josh Kauffman, but what does it take? We mentioned the 20-hour theory earlier on, but this does not mean you should sit down and doggedly practice for 20 hours straight.

To learn how to play the ukulele in one month, you’ll want to practice for 45 minutes each day. We’ve not tested this ourselves, but the main takeaway from this is to practice every day (it’s getting repetitive but seriously, do this!) if you want to master the ukulele.

Before you disappear over the rainbow, be sure to check out the rest of our articles in the music section. You’ll find interviews with top music artists plus the latest industry news.




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