8 Steps To Mastering Your Ukulele Journey

Ukulele Journey
Ukulele Journey

The goal of our Ukulele Journey page is to support your success learning the ukulele.

STEP ONE: BUY THE RIGHT UKULELE FOR YOU.

Simple. Check out our Buying Guide, where we help you find the best ukulele packages for kids, adult beginners, and adults who already play another instrument. 

We really focus on the things that will benefit beginning players — and not a bunch of esoteric stuff about expensive kinds of woods.

STEP TWO: PLAYING IN TUNE IS IMPORTANT. 

This is the first curve in the ukulele journey. Don’t give up. Make sure you do these:

  • Learn to use the tuner that came with the uke
  • The new strings that come installed on your uke need to be stretched. Makers like Kala and Fender have online videos to show you how to stretch ‘em out.

If you can’t find a string stretching lesson, go here: https://www.dummies.com/art-center/music/ukulele/stretching-the-strings-on-a-ukulele/

Need to get a tuner? These Snark tuners have a big, bright easy-to-read display.

Ukulele Journey

STEP THREE: USE WHAT YOU JUST GOT

Your new uke will come with at least a booklet, sometimes even with online lessons. Why not use them to learn the basics? Your ukulele journey can be long if you prepare yourself with a good foundation. 

If your uke didn’t come with a online learning program, there’s some great free beginner’s lessons at Kala’s site:

https://kalabrand.com/pages/learn-to-play

STEP FOUR: CHANGING STRINGS FOR THE FIRST TIME.

The next hill to climb. Strings get worn and dirty after lots of playing. This makes them hard to tune and hard to play. They won’t stay in tune. After several weeks, you’ll need to change them.

But it’s hard out here for a string changer. It’s like a tale of two cities, the bridge at the bottom of the uke, and the tuning post at the top. You’ve got to secure those slippery little strings in both places.

Securing the strings

If you bought a uke with a pull-through bridge, like the Aklot or the Donner, securing the string at the bridge is pretty easy. You just have to tie a knot at the end of the string.

But if your uke has the traditional bridge, you have to do a little more.

Here’s why it’s tricky: You need to thread the narrow strings through the narrow holes in the bridge. Then wind a short end back around and tie a knot in the slippery string.

This video from Cordoba Guitars explains ukulele string changing better than anyone can in words:

Get new strings

You’ll need some new strings. Most ukes come with a spare set. Aquila strings are the gold standard, and are included with some beginner ukes. If not, get them here:

Want to make string changing even easier? Try these Ernie Ball ukulele strings. They have ball ends, so you don’t even have to tie a knot at the bridge.

Aquila color coded strings solve another problem: it’s hard to tell which string is which when they are all clear and so close in size. Great for kids learning to restring their ukes.

Step Five: Learn songs

Learning songs is your ticket into the ukulele community. When you meet another uke player, they’re not gonna ask what chords you know. They want to know what songs you can play.

EARLY RESOURCES FOR SONG LEARNING

Start with whatever booklet came with your uke. Then if you can, move on to a structured online learning program, like those from Kala or Fender.

YouTube is a firehose of information, good and bad. Maybe not the best place to start learning ukulele — but a good place once you know what you are looking for.

GET A SONG BOOK

You know how in Broadway musicals everyone just starts singing the same song, magically knowing all the words. Well, that doesn’t really happen in real life. 

But if you have a song book, then you can say to your new uke friend, let’s play this song. If they don’t know the chords, they can look at your book and play the song with you. So the magic can happen, but you have to be like Harry Potter and bring your own book of spells.

WHAT BOOKS SHOULD YOU GET?

That depends on what you want to play.

The Jumpin’ Jim series is kind of a gold standard. The original Jumpin’ Jim books are great for the classic Hawaiian you want to learn. Jumpin’ Jim created such a strong brand that now even other ukulele authors are published under the imprint. 

Another book series to look at is the Ukulele Play Along series, which come with backing tracks you can play with. These are great for learning and practicing. The books cover a wide range of styles.

MAKE YOUR OWN BOOK

Once you know what songs you want to play, you might want to look online for tabs, short for tablature. Tablature is a system for notating fingering positions for stringed instruments like the ukulele.

But for many popular songs, the tab sites have the lyrics with the chords put above the words, like this:

D7 G                 C          G

My Bonnie lies over the ocean

So of course, you can collect these, print them and put them in a binder — or maybe just download them to your tablet.

USE YOUR EARS

Tab sites can be a great way to get just the songs that you want. But beware, the sites are made from people submitting their own charts and tabs. So not everything is correct. Let’s just say some interpretations of songs are pretty far off.

Still, take a look at tab sites. Once you can tell a song chart has some wrong chords, you have made some real progress on your Ukulele Journey.

https://www.ukulele-tabs.com

Step Six: Playing with Others

Now that you’ve packed your bags with your new ukulele knowledge, it’s time to take a trip. Look for a ukulele club or jam session near you. Local churches or schools may also have opportunities to play.

GET A MUSIC STAND

If you’re going to play with others, you’ll need a way to share song charts and look at them while you play. Members of local uke groups use music stands to make this part easy. 

You don’t need an expensive, bulky stand like you might see in a school music program. In fact, some of the  lower priced ones are lighter and easier to pack and carry. 

Step Seven: Paddle Out Beyond the Strum

OK, so now you’ve learned how to tune, can play a bunch of songs, and can be part of a ukulele group. So what’s next?

LEARNING PICKING PATTERNS, INTROS AND ENDINGS, MELODIES

Here’s an idea — don’t strum at all. Instead, pick notes out of each chord individually, in a pattern. This is a really useful and simple way to get a different sound. This book is a great way to get started.

Another way to stand out is to learn some standard intros and endings. If you play guitar or piano, you are expected to know how to add intros and endings. Well, the ukulele has the same 12 notes that they have (just maybe a bit higher). So you can do it too. 

There’s a lot of strumming in uke groups. Everybody’s strumming away all the time — and singing. But what if your group wants to play an instrumental? Someone has to play the melody — why not you?

www.ukulelemikelynch.com (check the YouTube)

Step Eight: Upgrade your Instrument, and your playing

You’ve done a good job learning ukulele. So you are now playing in tune, have a large repertoire of songs, and are paddling out beyond strumming. Now is the time to say goodbye to the starter uke, and upgrade to a better instrument.

Some basic things to look for:

  • Solid wood top
  • Pickup with onboard EQ
  • Nut and bridge saddle made of bone 

The solid wood top is the most important factor for the uke’s projection and tone. The bone nut and saddle will also improve the uke’s volume.

A quality pickup with onboard volume and EQ will give you some control over your sound if you are playing through an amp or PA system.

Embark on Your Ukulele Journey

Get started with the Ukulele Price Ladder, your guide to understanding uke prices.