Help me master the ukulele
May 23, 2009 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Help me unleash the ukulele player within! Looking for online tips and/or details from MeFi uke-players as to how they went about learning to play the instrument.

I just bought my first ukulele and would like a little help with a plan of attack when it comes to getting to grips with it. I've found a lot of information at sites such as ukulelehunt and theuke but, as much fun as I have been having playing along to songs by Beirut, I feel as if I should be looking to learn to play in a more methodical way. Does anybody out there have any suggestions regarding online tutorials or similar things?

I am already a rudimentary guitar player so I know my way around tabs and so on, so I don't want anything too basic, but I feel like I should learn a little about technique in order to get the most out of my uke.

On the other hand, perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps you mastered the uke by picking it up and blasting through a load of tabs for Metallica songs on it. If so, please assure me that this is the best way to go about things.

posted by Del Chimney to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
The most important thing for me was to get out and play with other people. Going to meetups where people share songs and play each others' music definitely pushed me to learn faster.

I don't know if extends to the UK but that's worth a shot. Uke Hunt is good. Have you been to ukulelecosmos?

It couldn't hurt to check out the George Formby Society, if you're into that type of music.
posted by bink at 5:33 PM on May 23, 2009

Screwed up the link. Ukulele Cosmos.
posted by bink at 5:33 PM on May 23, 2009

Hey, thanks for posting this! I just got my first ukulele this week and I'm pretty much in the same boat, except I never played the guitar so I'm totally starting from scratch. I learned how to tune it the other day, though!

I actually got a book that came with a CD to help me learn the basics. It's called "Play Ukulele Today."
posted by sugarfish at 6:26 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Drop a line to jhighmore who did this oh-so-wrong song: Hallelukulelejah, and a certain moderator just got one of these and posted on youtube. You could ask him as well.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:43 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's my little path to ukulele fun:

#1: Picked up a Fluke, from Flea Market Music, because it was (a) adorable, (b) could be tuned, and (c) had a flat bottom so I could just put it down wherever I was when I was done with it -- I figured that would encourage me to pick it up and play it at random times, to speed the learning process;

#2: Started writing songs for SongFight -- the songs didn't always get recorded on the uke (though often they did), but they got written there because I didn't have a lot of time to sit at a piano.

#3: Started writing songs for my kids, and playing them at bedtime -- they're almost four years old now, and so almost every night for almost three years I've played and sung at least a handful of songs.

In short: I bought a decent quality instrument (which I still play today, although I've gone through three sets of strings) and found two very good reasons to pick it up and play it on a regular basis. Kind of the way you pick up and learn any instrument, really, if you're not willing to take lessons and set aside formal practice time.

Also: my favorite chordfinder

Good luck, have fun, don't get hung up on being great, just enjoying yourself.
posted by davejay at 8:17 PM on May 23, 2009

I got pretty decent at the ukulele mainly through two actions: getting a list of tabs for any chord I might conceivably wish to play, and carrying the ukulele around with me everywhere I went. I would frequently play quietly while walking around town, during downtime at work, or while sitting around chatting with friends or family. Since the tuning is pretty simple (in my opinion, anyway ... but, then, I've never been any good at the guitar), the instrument is relatively small, and it can be played quietly enough that just messing around probably won't annoy anyone, I acclimated myself to the ukulele for the most part by bringing it with me everywhere I went. Beyond that, I practice getting better at finger placement through trying to switch back and forth quickly from random selections of chords and whatnot. Oh, right, and pick up a few songs to cover that are decidedly inappropriate for the uke. Like "Holy Diver".
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:27 PM on May 23, 2009

I am big fan of The Guitar Guy because I enjoy old popular and jazz tunes from the 20's and 30's. I find that his arrangements really suit the uke. Some are pretty challenging (lots of quick changes) and make for a nice accompaniment to singing. I never progressed much beyond chords and singing (after 5 years or so of playing) but that's my 2 cents.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:01 PM on May 23, 2009

I started playing the ukulele a few months ago, after having played guitar and a few other stringed instruments for several years. As with learning the other instruments, what's helped me most is just finding songs that I wanted to play and figuring out which songs seem to lend themselves well to the ukulele. Doctor Uke has lots and lots of songs, as well as some other theory material. I'm fond of the version of "I'll See You In My Dreams" that I found there. It's not the same as the Joe Brown version that made me want to learn the song on the ukulele (Merle Travis and Sam Pacetti already made me learn it on the guitar), but it sounds pretty good. Also, here's a chord chart, and another, and another.

Davejay, it's funny you mention the Fluke. I just saw them online for the first time last night. I'm not sure if I'm crazy about the look though. I play a Kay ukulele, and I'm curious what other posters are playing.
posted by 6and12 at 4:49 AM on May 24, 2009

I've got a Fluke. It's surprisingly nice sounding.

I'd like to work on more "uke-ist" chord progressions, all those little fiddly bits that sneak between the main chords, little diminished chords and whatnot. But mostly it's just fun to play around with.
posted by Casuistry at 5:48 AM on May 24, 2009

To address the issue of being methodical: when you work on a song, practice by playing it from beginning to end, and try not to stop when you make mistakes.
posted by Benjamin Nushmutt at 9:14 AM on May 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the tips. I've bookmarked a number of the above links.
posted by Del Chimney at 2:52 AM on May 25, 2009

Lots of good advice here, so I'll just throw in a tip given that you already play guitar: in order to get the most sound of a uke, you have to hold it a lot more loosely. Because the body is so small, it's really easy to stifle the sound if you hold it too tight when you're playing.
posted by primer_dimer at 8:07 AM on May 25, 2009

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