How To Play Ukulele – A Guide For Ukulele Beginner

If you love portable, versatile stringed instruments, the ukulele might just be the option for you. And if you want to learn how to play the ukulele, the good news is that there are plenty of high-quality online courses and lesson programs that can let you learn from the comfort of home.

In this article, we'll take you through some simple steps to learn to play, but we'll place a special emphasis on learning to play online.

How to Play Ukulele: Where Do You Start?

1. Choose The Right Uke For You

This may seem like an overly obvious first step, but before you get into learning ukulele chords and playing songs, you need to choose your uke. We included this section because ukuleles come in a few different sizes. Anyone will do to learn on, but if you don't yet have your own ukulele, you might want to consider each type and choose the one that sounds best to you.

There are many different ukulele sizes, but here are the four most common ones:

  • Soprano -- This is a small-bodied, highly portable uke with a higher-pitched sound. The sound of the soprano ukulele is the one that most people think of when they imagine a ukulele.
  • Concert -- This one is between the size of the soprano and the tenor. The longer scale length gives it a fuller sound, but it's still small enough that someone with small hands can play it.
  • Tenor -- This ukulele is a bit bigger than the concert, but its relatively high string tension makes it a great option for fingerpicking. The tenor uke has a full, rich sound, and it tends to be easier to play if you have larger hands.
  • Baritone -- The baritone ukulele is the longest-scale uke of the common types. This one isn't as popular as the others, largely because its larger size can make it a little unwieldy.

One other thing to consider when choosing a ukulele is whether you want an acoustic or electric uke. Most new players play an acoustic, and if you want to play traditional ukulele music, an acoustic uke will have the classic sound you're looking for.

Electric ukuleles aren't all that common, and you'll need to also get an amp or headphone amp if you want to really hear what you're playing. However, if you want to branch out into non-traditional music, an electric ukulele might be a good choice. With an electric ukulele, you can also experiment with playing with effects pedals.

Need some more guidance for choosing your first ukulele? Check out this helpful buying guide video -- it covers sizes, brands, tones, and prices.

2. Think About Your Goals As A Player

You might be venturing into playing the ukulele without a clear picture of what your goals are. That's perfectly fine -- learning an instrument is a process, and you don't need to have an idea of everything you want to do before you start.

However, as you start to play, it can be helpful to consider your goals as a player. Setting goals helps you hold yourself accountable, and it can also help you measure your progress. Before you start or as you continue to learn, here are some things to ask yourself:

  • What genre do you want to play? On a uke, you can play just about every genre you can play on a guitar. You don't have to have a genre focus, but if there's a specific genre you want to play, it might be worthwhile to find a genre-specific course.
  • How much do you want to learn? Some players are content to be able to strum songs they love. Others want to be able to improvise, and some want to learn to play the lead. Many courses offer some part of each of these options. If you want to progress to advanced levels, you may want to find a site or program that still offers plenty of options for more experienced players.
  • How much time do you have to practice? You don't have to dedicate an hour a day to practice -- in fact, just practicing regularly for a short amount of time can give you great results. Still, it's a good idea to think about how much time you have to dedicate to playing. Some courses work best when you have a lot of time to practice on your own, while others build practice time into the lesson itself.

While you're considering your goals, make sure to check out this helpful video featuring tips for the new ukulele player!

3. Try Out Free Resources

As you likely know, learning an instrument online tends to be much less expensive than taking lessons in person. However, if you're on a tight budget or simply want to try out a free lesson program before committing to spending money, you can learn to play with some of the many free resources available.

One free site that we really like is Live Ukulele. This website is free, but it has an impressive collection of video lessons and helpful articles. It's also a great site for those who are new to the uke --you can read articles on choosing the right ukulele for you, picking the right accessories and strings, and more.

However, Live Ukulele still has something for even the advanced ukulele player. As soon as you get on the site, you can choose from ukulele lessons for the beginner, the intermediate player, and the advanced player. You can learn everything from easy chords to techniques for playing the lead. You may find that a more structured course or program is ultimately the best choice for you, but we think this is one of the better free options out there.

If you want to get a sense of what these lessons are like, check out this sample lesson taught by Brad Bordessa, the founder of Live Ukulele.

4. Consider Non-Structured Courses

Some players do best with an online music course that follows a set of structured lessons. However, for some ukulele players, learning is easier when they can be self-guided.

If this describes you, you might enjoy learning more if you get to learn chords and songs individually. One site / course that lets you do this is Ukulele Buddy. This attractively-designed website features chord diagrams of common ukulele chords, and it also has a regularly-updated set of video tutorials on how to play popular songs. We especially like that it has a built-in tuner -- you can tune your uke by playing it into your computer, phone, or tablet microphone.

On Ukulele Buddy, you can also access tabs and scales. We do think that those wanting to play more seriously might want to consider a program that does more to integrate the knowledge of music theory with your playing. However, if you're eager to get started and be able to play songs quickly, we think this is a great (and free) place to start.

If you want to learn a little more about Ukulele Buddy and see if it's right for you, check out this helpful video review.

5. See If Guided Lessons Are Right For You

We've already talked some about the benefits of self-guided lessons. And while this approach can certainly help you learn to play the ukulele, we also think there's something to be said for taking a course.

Having a knowledgeable instructor guide you through the basics can be helpful -- these instructors can also warn you about potential pitfalls that many new players fall into.

If you think a guided course can help you learn to play, we think that Fender Play offers a great, beginner-friendly uke course. From helping you learn to hold your first ukulele to guiding you through strumming, chords, and songs, Fender Play can help introduce you to playing.

One thing we especially like about Fender Play's video lessons is the fact that you get to play along with your instructor. Right after the lesson, you can practice what you just played with tablature and an optional metronome. Fender Play also lets you dial in a genre focus for playing the ukulele. You can choose a genre focus, and the site will teach you the skills that you need to sound great.

One thing to keep in mind about this particular site is that it doesn't offer a whole lot for advanced players. However, for only $7.99 per month, it gives you the opportunity to begin playing the ukulele with confidence. If you want to see what a Fender Play ukulele lesson looks like, check out this video lesson on how to play Shakira's "Try Everything."

6. Don't Forget About Music Theory

If you have any experience studying music theory, you may have found it a little tedious. Many players do. However, knowing at least some theory is important if you want to be a good player. Theory helps you understand why songs work the way they do, and it can give you a better idea of how the fretboard works.

Many online courses do a decent job of teaching theory that can be easily and practically applied to your playing. However, if you find that theory is helping you learn to play, you might want to do some additional theory study on your own.

The same can be said about reading sheet music -- you may decide you want to play using tablature instead of traditional notation. If you do want to learn to read sheet music, there are plenty of free online resources, like Data Dragon, that can help you master it.

If you're curious about how learning music theory can help improve your playing, check out this video introducing music theory for the Ukulele.

7. Consider One-On-One Instruction

Once you get your first ukulele, you'll probably be eager to start playing right away. Especially at the beginning of your ukulele journey, the support of a one-on-one instructor can help develop your playing and stop any bad habits before they become ingrained. However, private lessons, even online ones, can sometimes be expensive.

If you want to take an online course and still have the benefit of one-on-one lessons, we think that Ukulele Underground is a great place to start. This site's lessons are taught by instructor Aldrine Guerrero, and subscribers get two 15-minute lessons per month. You also can join a weekly coaching conference for more feedback.

In between lessons, you can develop your playing with hundreds of video tutorials. These tutorials will take you through chord shapes, picking patterns, and more. You can take special Improvement System courses, too -- these are designed to help you sharpen certain skills. For instance, you can work on solo improvisation, or you can pick a course that helps you memorize basic chords. Ukulele Underground is also fairly affordable -- you can purchase a monthly membership for under $20 per month or pay just under $160 for a full year.

If you want to see what Ukulele Underground is all about, check out this sample ukulele lesson -- this is designed to be the first lesson for brand new uke players.

If you find that a different course suits you, don't be discouraged -- many online music lessons have the option of purchasing a lesson with the instructor. Even doing this occasionally can help your playing along.

Notable Online Ukulele Courses

Final Thoughts

Learning how to play the ukulele can be challenging, but the effort you put forth will reward you -- soon, you'll be able to play your favorite songs, improvise, and even write songs of your own if you wish. Hopefully you found our list helpful. As you begin learning to play, you'll want to make sure that you choose the learning path that's right for you. Please let us know what you think in the comments, and don't forget to share if you found our list useful!

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