How To Play The Ukulele (Basics)

1 Conversation

Welcome To The Ukulele

So you want to learn the ukulele, ok. Now you're either sat here with a ukulele on your lap or nearby, or you're thinking of getting one. So let's dive right in.

Ukulele Parts

  • Body: is the main part of your ukulele (or uke) made up of the:

    • Soundboard: the top section this is often where the best wood of your uke will be used as the sound is made here

    • Sides: give your ukulele its depth

    • Back: well like the sides its there for making the structure

  • The Neck: your strings run up the neck and fretboard is placed on here too

  • Fretboard: is a bit of wood with the frets on it where the notes are made

  • Head: where your strings end and your tuners are located

  • Tuners: does exactly what it said on the tin. Tunes the strings, one tuner for one string

  • Bridge and Nut: these stop the strings from buzzing or clunking when you strum them open

Buying Your Ukulele

Here if you have a ukulele already you are allowed to skip this bit or read it for your next ukulele.

So for your first ukulele you can get a pretty basic one it's nice to have a little cheap one to start with. But there are something's to avoid:

  • V shaped ones(these while look good, sound rubbish and just are awkward)

  • Ones with 6 or 8 strings, no they aren't guitars(while they sound great they are hard for beginners to use

  • Cheap friction tuners, the ones out the back of the neck(they hardly ever stay in tune and are hard to get there in the first place when cheap, so stick to geared ones to start with, ones out the side)

So you've seen what to avoid so we shall focus on what you can get.


  • Koa: traditional wood that ukuleles were first made of, from Hawaii

  • Nato: a nice value wood sounds good and is well priced

  • Mahogany: fair density and produces some nice sounds

  • Maple: decent density, nice look and resistance

  • Redwood: nice and resistant

  • Spruce: nice sounds and medium priced

  • Plywood: cheapest of the cheaps from this doesn't sound great but again its very cheap can get ukes from £15 with this wood
  • Plastic: yes I know it's not a wood but ukuleles are made from it, it gives you a nice cheap entry level ukulele

The choice is yours to what you prefer each wood makes a different tone and is down to personal preference really.


  • Sopranino: this is the smallest of the uke family overall length around 40cm and very diddy indeed

  • Soprano: the original ukulele sized produces nice sweet sound and a decent size (around 60-70cm)

  • Concert: slightly bigger than the soprano, but is a bit louder and few more frets too

  • Tenor: the next size up slightly deeper tone and more frets again and bigger again

  • Baritone: the size before you start buying guitars, gives a sound almost like one, and to be noted: it has a different tuning method so different chord patterns

Getting Started

Tuning Up

Unfortunately tuning is incredibly hard to explain like this, so I can suggest a few things for you. First there's the electronic tuner method these can be quite cheap you just clip them onto the head stock and it will tell you on the device or in the manual so you know which way to twist the tuners to get them tuned right, you can get them online or in stores, another way is you tube they have a wide selection of videos on how to tune it, here are just 2:Quick Tuning Video and More In Depth Tuning.

Strumming is obviously essential. So how do you strum? Well there are several ways. You can either do a slight pinching method but with part of your finger poking out, or the other common way is to just point your index finger down from the rest of the hand and strum with that. The main factor you must have is a relaxed strumming as i rigid one is a)hard to play with, and b) it isn't a nice sound when played. It is also a good idea to try and strum from the elbow so the wrist doesn't tire as quick.

As you strum you want your nail to hit the strings on the down strum and on the up strum the skin on the underside of the tip of your finger, you don't want to dig to deep into the strings or it will sound awful so be careful.
You can often find songs use precise strumming patterns these can include the normal down up down up or could be the calypso strum down down up(long) up down up down
Making Chords

Chords. Again another essential, without knowing chords you can't make any songs appear really, to learn chords you get chord diagrams. Chord diagrams show you how to position your hand onto the frets for each chord. The top line will often show the top end of the fretboard, each vertical line is a string on the ukulele, each horizontal line is a fret, and every dot is where a finger should go. The only time isn't the top of the fretboard is when you see for example a 4fr on the right of the diagram, this shows you that you must start the chord from the 4th fret instead of the top.
For essential chords try this:Chord Shapes. Also it is a good idea to practice the simple chord progression of C-F-G-C as this gives you a good feel for chord changing.

To change chords effectively you need to have a good grip on the neck, for a good grip make a L shape out of the fretting hand and rest the neck in the section between the thumb and index finger, then curl your fingers over the neck above the strings (make sure the thumb doesn't hit the strings you won't need it). Now you have the grip you need to work out which fingers to use for your chord shapes, a good method is for the chords that need one finger is to use the finger that is closest e.g. C is first string 3rd fret the ring finger falls closest so use that and for chords like Am the index is closest so use that. As most chords need more than 1 finger so a good tactic is the index finger takes the position of the highest fretting point and you fall down in that order so your little finger takes lowest point e.g Em needs 1st string 2nd fret, 2nd string 3rd fret, 3rd string 4th fret, your index takes first position then middle then ring finger.
Chords In Songs

Ok so you have learnt how to strum and how to make chords so we can have a go at a simple song, for ease we will use What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor. So in a song you often see the lines in the song and above it the chords, and where the chords are above the words and where they are above the words lets you know when to change to that chord. So to have a go follow the link:What Do We Do With A Drunken Sailor. When playing the song start of slow and try and find a nice strumming pattern, up down up down is a nice one to start with but you can change it to what feels right, when you get to a chord change you need to make it sound natural, so start slow and build up speed, remember there are words so only play as quick as you would sing it. As well as slowing down practice a bit at a time, then add it all together.

Now you've seen and hopefully had a go at that you can see better what I mean for each bit on how the chord diagrams work and how it's shown in a song.

Tabs And Finger Picking

After having a look at strumming there is another basic skill to possess.

When finger picking you get it layed out like this to you:





As you see each string has its own line, but they are produced with the bottom string (if your right handed) at the top so you need to bear that in mind. You often play when picking as a left hander (so right hand on frets and left on the strings). As you pick the thumb and top 3 fingers get a string each, thumb top string, index 2nd, middle 3rd, and ring finger 4th string. On the actual tab of a song (what the song is written on) you will see a number on the string e.g. 0, 6, 14, 3, these numbers correspond to a fret so 0 is open with no fret pressed and if you have E|----3 you press down on the 3rd fret on the E string and pluck. So as you play your left hand shouldn't move and the right hand will move for fretting. Have a practice with: London Bridge Is Falling Down. When picking again start slow, really slow then build up and feel for the rhythm that matches the song and progress up.

Sometimes you will see a tab that looks like this:






This means you strum that part so in this case you would strum a C chord, often you will see the actual chord your supposed to play above the tab so you won't have to work it out yourself and take time.


Now you have seen the basics. You are ready to go into the world of the ukulele...

But before you go, let me provide you with some sites to use as you travel this world:
  1. Ukulele Hunt
  2. Ukulele Underground
  3. Ukulele Tabs


How realistic is it for someone to teach themselves, armed only with some books, a Uke, and the internet?

You can grasp basics pretty quickly, strumming and basic chords can come along quickly, fingerpicking takes a bit longer, and be prepared to put quite a few hours in when you start getting into harder stuff.

How long will it take to learn the basics, on average, for people with different musical backgrounds and experiences?

If you come from different musical backgrounds don't worry again basics come quickly, I spent years learning the piano before moving to the uke so you can get there.

Are there many local clubs to join? Is getting some tuition possible/worth it?

If there are clubs depends on where you live but there are many online communites to join if there are none around. Tuition maybe an idea if books and online fails you.

Are there different considerations for the left hander?

Well as a lefty I play as a right handed person no issues, but you can just try playing the chords upside down if your right hand is on the frets or nthe normal way up if you flip the strings.

Good Luck

Means what I just said

Bookmark on your Personal Space



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Written and Edited by


External Links

Not Panicking Ltd is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more