I preface these remarks with the confession that I can’t read music and I’m not a ukulele virtuoso – I just love watching people play the instrument for the first time. From guitar greats to grannies and granddads the look of astonished joy and they strum their first chords is universal.
My first experiences with music were disheartening – I was told by piano, violin and singing teachers I wasn’t musical. Mostly what they meant was that I couldn’t read music and I’m here to tell you, I’m not alone in that – lots of musicians can’t.
Playing Music By Ear:
I would love to be able read music but then, most of my friends and peers who do, would love to be able to hear a tune once and make a reasonable pass at playing it, as I can. Listening too and then mimicking what you’ve heard is, and has always been, a perfectly valid way of learning to play. Of course it has its limitations – which is why my teachers were so desperate to get me read – but learning music by ear and/or from chord charts does work. So, whatever age you are, it’s worth giving music a try and the ukulele’s a wonderful way to start.
Playing Music By Yer (Here):
This is what Welsh people will say if they like what you’re playing. More often than not, when you’re learning to play they’ll be pointing to the distant hills and saying “Play your music by there!” As inoffensive the uke is, you would be wise to find somewhere private to get through the first part of learning to play thus avoiding giving (or receiving) offence.
Buying A Ukulele:
- Buy it from a reputable music shop – you can’t buy a real car from a toyshop, the same thing goes for musical instruments!
- Buy the best instrument you can afford – it’s easier and more pleasurable to play a good instrument.
- Things to ask the music shop staff:
- Ask them to tune your ukulele (it won’t stay in tune but it’s a good start and does assist you to find a good instrument).
- Ask them to test the ukulele’s action – the store will know what that means (too high or too low both create problems).
- Have them check the intonation (a badly measured fretboard or high action will mean the instrument never plays in tune.
- Add an electronic tuner to your shopping list – a chromatic guitar tuner that clips onto the head of the ukulele seems to work best. The tuner will help keep you and your dog sane! (out of tune ukuleles sound Yuk!!).
- Ask the music shop assistant to show you how to use the tuner.
- If you’re buying a ukulele for your children, buy two ukuleles – one for you and one for them – and get them (the children) to ‘teach’ you how to play. They’ll learn much quicker and have a lot more fun if you appear to be the one having difficulty learning and get them to explain it to you.
My Ukulele won’t stay in tune!
Tune your ukulele regularly – even the best stringed instruments go out of tune often, as tuning is affected by temperature, humidity and how hard you strum.
My Ukulele still won’t stay in tune!!
- Check that the instrument is holding together – sometimes going out of tune means a glue line has given up. Tuning up at such a time would be disastrous!
- New strings take a while to settle in. Stretch them and retune until the notes hold firm
My Ukulele still still won’t stay in tune!!!
- Check that the strings are not slipping around the tuning pegs as you tighten them.
- Check that you have the correct thickness of strings – a music shop can help you there. Strings that are too thin are difficult to keep in tune.
- Check that you have a ukulele and not one of those bits of kindling with strings attached sometimes called a ukulele. If you have the latter, save yourself a lot of pain, light the barbie with it and go and buy a real one from a music shop!
I can’t get the rhythm right
- Deaden the sound by gently pressing your non-strumming fingers across all four strings – don’t press too hard or you’ll get notes playing – now practice your strums while watching TV or riding your exercise bike – caution, not recommended whilst pedalling down the street!
- Strum along in this way to the song you’re trying to learn or for that matter any song.
Strumming hurts my fingers
- Give it a rest for a while to give your fingers chance to heal.
- Use your nails to strum rather than the fleshy parts of your fingers.
- Buy a felt pick for a couple of dollars from a music shop.
Still can’t get the rhythm right
Time to seek help from a guitar teacher.
The Ukulele’s in tune but the chords still sound dreadful
Check your finger positions are correct and you are not stretching a string by accident.
Some of strings sound dead when I strum them
- Check that you are pressing the strings gently down onto the frets with just your fingertips.
- Make sure that your fingers are only touching the strings they are supposed to touch.
- Relax your hand whilst playing – don’t press too hard.
- Don’t play too long especially when you are first start learning to play.
- Take regular rest breaks during practice.
- Check your hand position.
My hand hurts!
Listen to Michael Jackson on ABC Radio’s Ask the Experts discussing ukuleles, how to buy a good ukulele and some useful hints about ukulele playing.