What is the best instrument to learn first?

What is the best instrument to learn first?

What is the best instrument to learn first?

People often ask, “What is the best instrument to learn first?” While this is a good question to consider if you’re new to music, it is a little bit like asking, “What is the best food to eat?”

The Ukulele Sisters play eleven instruments and have taught thousands of beginners. So we definitely qualify as balanced ‘’music eaters’ and ‘chefs’, to stretch a metaphor.

Here are some factors to consider when deciding what is the best instrument for YOU to learn first.

Pick the instrument that inspires you

The best instrument to learn first is the one that inspires YOU. Learning music is fun at first but it’s also a lot of work. Most of the beginners I have taught are surprised at how much work it is to learn an instrument. So you want to pick an instrument to learn first that calls to your heart. There are always challenging spots in learning anything. Picking an instrument you love will help you keep going when things get tough. To sum it up: learn the instrument that you love most first.

A second factor in deciding which instrument you like is your response to its sound. Do you respond to the gentle plucking of a harp or the energizing beat of a skilled drummer at work? Maybe you love the singing, surging legato of romantic piano music? Or does cool smooth saxophone playing make your day? Use your emotions about sound to help you choose an instrument to spend time with.

What’s your goal?

Another consideration is the musical style you’re interested in. If you want to play a particular type of music, learn an instrument that’s central to it. For example, if you want to rock out , learn electric guitar. If you love Scottish Highlands reels, learn bagpipe. If you love Beethoven symphonies, choose violin or cello.

Are you working towards becoming a professional musician? You need to know piano to get a music degree even if you are majoring in another instrument.

Do you just want to have fun and maybe perform sometimes as an amateur? Any of the non-piano instruments could work great for you

Why pick only one instrument?

Learning more than one instrument will dramatically increase your understanding of music. The more you understand about music the easier it will be to learn your chosen instrument.

I’ll talk about this more below, but each instrument focuses on one aspect of music. For example, the drums provide the rhythm or beat to the rest of the band. Rhythm guitar provides the middle of the music and some of the beat. Single line instruments like saxophone usually play melody parts.

group of musical instruments

Here are the best instruments to learn first

OK, so here’s my ranking of the best instruments to learn first along with my reasoning. Remember, everyone will have their own view on this topic and that’s how it should be. I hope reading my ranking will help you make up your mind on which instrument to learn first.

1. Piano

I have played and taught piano for decades so of course I am biased. But lots of other people also think you should learn piano first. Western music is organized by scales which are basically stair steps of sounds. The spaces between each sound are either half steps or whole steps.

Pros:

Great visuals: The half and whole steps are laid out clearly on the piano keyboard. So learning piano can help you understand the structure of all Western music. You can just look at the piano keyboard to see how each pitch is related to another pitch. That’s why all music schools require students in all majors to learn to play the piano at a basic level.

piano keyboard

Make a complete song: It’s easy to play more than one note at a time on the piano. That means you can make a a complete musical texture by yourself on the piano. You can play the tune (what a singer would sing) and the background (what the backup band would play) at the same time. You can’t do that with a single line instrument like the saxophone or trumpet.

Gigantic pitch range: The highest note on the piano is higher than the highest note an orchestra can play. The lowest note is lower than the lowest instruments in the orchestra can play. This means that piano music can have incredible contrasts and drama.

Stays in tune: The piano has thick wire strings under a lot of tension. Pianos are tuned by professional tuners and usually stay in tune at least 6 months. So you don’t have to fiddle around with tuning before you can start playing.

Lots of styles to play: You can play classical, rock, blues, folk, and even popular tunes on the piano.

Sound great from the beginning: Even cats and dogs can get a sound out of the piano – remember Nora the cat? You don’t see a lot of videos about animals playing violin or saxophone.

Cons:

Big: The piano is large – about 6 ½” wide and at least 6” deep if you include space for the bench and someone sitting on it. That’s a lot of space for one instrument especially if you are sharing space with others.

Expensive: Sometimes you can find an old upright piano being given away for free. But, you get what you pay for. An instrument worth playing will cost at least $500-$1000.

Loud: The acoustic piano is quite a bit louder than some of the other options listed below. If you are sharing your space with someone who is working from home, you may have to limit your practicing times. Another option is to get an electronic keyboard. Then you can play with headphones when you need to be quiet. Electronic keyboards are very popular these days. However, an electronic action is not as good for practicing on as an acoustic action. But being able to play more hours makes considering an electronic piano a good idea. And your keyboard can create all kinds of sounds such as harpsichord, organ, and strings.

Takes a long time to master: The piano has 88 keys and three pedals. To play it you need to use all 10 fingers plus your feet at the same time. It can take a long time to get the coordination needed to play it well. By long time, we’re talking 10 or more years of lessons with a skilled teacher.

Not so great for popular music: The piano was most popular in the 1830s through the 1920s. It is perfectly suited for music from those years: classical music and jazz. Playing pop, rock, hip hop and rap on the piano can be tough. It’s pretty hard to play music that was originally played by 3-4 skilled musicians with only one brain.

2. Ukulele

Well of course on a site called ukulele.io we are big fans of ukulele. Here are some of the pros of learning ukulele as your first musical instrument.

Inexpensive: You can get a serviceable instrument to try out for less than $100.

Portable: The Beatles often took ukuleles on tour because they are small and easy to stow and carry. You can even get waterproof carbon fiber ukuleles to take to the beach or campsite.

Small and easy to hold: The ukulele comes in four sizes. Find out how to choose the perfect ukulele size for you here. The first three have the same tuning and the fourth (the baritone) has a different tuning. Even the largest ukulele is quite a bit smaller than a guitar. So, if holding a guitar is a stretch, the ukulele will be a great fit for you. Read more about ukulele sizes here.

Play harmony: Like piano and guitar, you can play complete chords on the guitar. You can even play the melody plus the chords at the same time which is called ‘chord melody’. It’s great to be able to play a complete song by yourself.

Easy to learn without a teacher: Ukulele is very popular right now. So there are many online ukulele tutorial videos, books, and courses. You can check out our offerings here.

Easier than guitar: The ukulele has only 4 strings not 6 or 12 like the guitar. That means that the chord shapes you make with your left hand are simpler and easier to learn.

Great for popular music: Lots of popular songs sound great on ukulele. If you like music that has guitars in it, you will like the ukulele

Happy upbeat sound: Many people associate the ukulele with happy mellow feelings. And who can’t use more of that in their life?

Great for playing with others: Lots of people join ukulele clubs to play in a group with other strummers. There are clubs all over the world. Facebook is a good place to look for a ukulele group.

Or you can improvise or play duets with a friend. Many of our books include the melody written out in ‘tab’ plus chord symbols to make it easy for you to play duets. (Tab is an easy to learn way of writing down music.) One person can play the melody while the other person strums the chords.

Sound good fast: The four strings of the ukulele sound great all by themselves. And that’s before you learn how to play your first chord. It’s not that hard to learn to strum the ukulele, so you can play complete songs within a week or two of starting. In fact, our introductory book teaches you 21 songs in 6 days. They are easy songs of course. But you are creating complete songs with a melody plus an accompaniment all by yourself.

3. Guitar

Pros:

Lots of popular songs to play: The guitar is the main instrument of pop, rock, folk and country music since the 1950s. Which means that it is a great instrument to learn if you want to play any of these styles.

Affordable: You can buy a beginner quality acoustic guitar for around $200. No way could you start on piano or acoustic bass in that price range

Easy to jam with a friend: Like ukulele, you can easily play with a friend. One of you would strum chords and the other can pluck melody notes and/or sing. Just decide what scale you’re playing in and you’re ready to go.

Expressive: You can affect the sound you make by how you strum or pluck the strings with your fingers. It’s a very direct and intimate music making experience.

Acoustic vs. Electric? Again, this depends on what style music you want to play.

Acoustic guitar is generally more affordable to start, and electric guitar is a bit easier to play. The choice is yours and there is no wrong answer.

Cons:

Lots of guitarists: There are a lot more guitarists than any other type of musician. This means that the competition to play in a group is a lot tougher.

Too big: For some folks, the guitar is just physically too big. Or maybe getting your small hand to wrap around the neck and cover six strings is too much of a stretch? In that case, we recommend the ukulele.

Which is better – piano or ukulele/guitar?

It all comes down to what you would like to do with your music. Do you want to learn some of your favorite songs, or play around a fire with some friends? Then I would recommend ukulele or guitar. If you would like to get deeper into music and maybe learn some classical pieces, I would suggest piano.

4. Bass guitar

Affordable: Beginner bass guitars are super affordable. Lessons are cheap and abundant online and elsewhere, and finding sheet music is very easy.

Different from guitar: Bass is a separate instrument from guitar. It is larger than a standard electric or acoustic guitar. It has four strings rather than 6 or 12 and its sounds are lower than the guitar. Because it is low, it usually works with the drums in a band to create a rhythm.

The electric and the acoustic (stand up) bass have the same strings. If you play the acoustic bass, you can really easily learn electric bass or ukulele bass because the fingerings and notes are the same. This also means that acoustic bass students can practice on an electric bass guitar at home! Being able to stash an inexpensive instrument at home will save you money and a lot of schlepping.

Big: The acoustic (stand up) bass is big.  In fact, it is so big you might have to buy a new car to tote your instrument around. But you can get a smaller size bass for younger students. If you go with the acoustic or stand-up bass, it is really big – and expensive. 

Strings are hard to press: to get those low tones, the strings need to be thick. That makes them harder to push down, which can tire out your hand and arm.

Usually in the background: If you like to be in the front playing a solo, you will not like the bass. Most of the time the bass works with the drums and rhythm guitar to create the supporting texture of a song.

5. Violin & Cello

Beautiful singing sound: These two instruments are the main part of any orchestra. They make a beautiful smooth singing sound. Some of the greatest classical music has been written for them. Violin also shows up as a fiddle in bluegrass, country and folk music. Violin even shows up in jazz played by artists like Regina Carter and Stephane Grappeli. There is a wonderful jazz violinist in the HBO series ‘Treme’, along with a lot of brass players.

Available in smaller sizes: It’s easy to get smaller size violins and cellos for children. They are available in ¼, 1/8 and 1/16 sizes. Read more about smaller violins here.

violins and cellos in orchestra

Easy to learn in school settings: Many schools have orchestra programs which offer lessons and loaner instruments to students. One of the Ukulele Sisters has a day job as a middle school orchestra director.

Always a group to join: Orchestras need lots of violins and cellos. So if you become proficient you’ll always be welcome to join a group. There are many amateur orchestras for adult players to join too.

Definitely will need serious lessons: These instruments are not easy to learn. It can take a while before you can make a good sound. You’ll need one on one lessons with a professional teacher.

With the right teacher, the Suzuki method of instruction can be a great option. Read more about the pros and cons of the Suzuki method here. 

Expensive: Even the cost of a starter instrument is on the higher side. Most school orchestra teachers recommend that you rent an instrument from a reputable dealer. You want someone who will handle repairs when needed, and look for a rent-to-buy program. It’s best to work with a business that is located near you so you can bring the instrument in to the shop in person.

Violins and violas are $20-$35/month depending on where your rent. Cellos are double that.

If you get to the point where you need a professional quality instrument, watch out. You could be spending thousands of dollars on just the instrument. The bows that you draw across the strings to make the sound are sold separately and can also be quite expensive.

6. Saxophone & other wind instruments

Wind instruments are a large group of instruments that you play by blowing into a mouthpiece. The flute is an exception – it is played by blowing across a hole. The oldest known musical instrument is a fragment of a bone flute from 60,000 years ago! Other popular wind instruments besides the flute are clarinet and saxophone.

Saxophone is easy to learn and is available in a variety of types and sizes. The alto saxophone is the most suitable for beginners. You can learn more about different kinds of saxophones here.

Easy to learn in school settings: As with orchestras, many schools also have band programs. Playing in the band can be a fun way to learn music and connect with other students in your school. I loved playing flute and piccolo in my high school’s marching band.

Not that many groups for adult wind players to join: Many wind players drop music once they leave school. When they don’t have a way to play with other people anymore it’s not as much fun. This was my experience. I didn’t get chosen for my university’s orchestra and never played flute again. For many years I wished that I had learned cello instead of flute.

There are not so many bands and wind groups for adults to play in because there’s not that much music written for band. Wind instruments like saxophone and clarinet sound great in rock and jazz. But wind instruments like oboe and flute are mostly limited to playing in orchestras. And orchestras usually need only one or two of each type of wind instrument. So you have to be really good to make the cut. The TV series Mozart in the Jungle tells the story of Hadley, an aspiring orchestral oboist.

Many years to master: There are lots of self-taught saxophone and clarinet players out there. But most wind instruments need training and discipline over many years to master. If you have a strong desire to learn one of them you definitely can do it. Just know that you will have to be very organized and identify a good teacher early on in your learning journey.

7. Drums

Fun: Drums are another instrument with a long history. It can be easy to make a sound at the beginning. But once you try to play with both hands and one foot at the same time, things become more challenging. Once you’ve passed this hurdle, you’ll get to a decent level where most rock blues and pop songs are playable. pretty quickly. In fact, choosing to play drums can be the quickest way to get proficient at playing a single instrument

Man playing drum

Lots of opportunities to play: If you get moderately skilled, you’ll have lots of chances to join bands. And it’s a good thing, because very few people have ever written a percussion only song.

Expensive: At first getting your drum kit set up will be expensive. Once you have a basic set up you’ll be OK for a while. Then you can gradually add different drums and cymbals.

Noisy: The drums are loud. Very loud. So many learners train on an electric drum kit to help neighbors keep their sanity.

8. Brass instruments such as trumpet

Easy to learn in school settings: Many school music programs offer lessons and loaner instruments. Playing in the band can be a fun way to learn music and connect with other students in the school.

Fun: Brass is great for the school marching band or orchestra. And it can be a ton of fun to be in the band at school sporting events. I mean, watch those dancing tubas in the Stanford Marching Band! Are they having fun or what! There is even a very famous college football play that included the band members.

However, when you no longer have the support of a school program, it can be difficult to keep your instrument up.

Not that many groups for adult wind players to join: As with wind instruments, there are few adult music groups that need lots of brass players. Adult orchestras only need one or two of each brass instrument, so you have to be good to get chosen to play. You can play jazz and some rock and pop on brass instruments. But brass instruments are not so common in styles besides classical.

So, if you’re learning a brass instrument at school, try to plan on how to continue once you are out of school. A good plan can be to learn a second instrument such as ukulele, piano, or guitar. That way you’ll be able to keep playing music when you leave school.

Very loud: Brass instruments are used when the music needs a loud or piercing sound. Think marching band and army signals. But neighbors most likely will not be enthusiastic about hearing daily brass practice. You can get a practice mute or play with just the mouthpiece some of the time. But you will need regular practice time when you can play your instrument unmuted.

So what is the best instrument to learn first?

Now that you’ve learned about the many options, I hope you’re ready to choose what instrument to learn first. If you are feeling overwhelmed with information and pros and cons – don’t freak out! Choose SOMETHING to get started. Even if you only try it for a month or two, you’ll learn a lot about music. And the knowledge you gain will help you as you move on to a second instrument.

Playing music as an adult is a great way to socialize and express yourself. Working with music will help you develop your creativity and thinking in new ways. In fact, music is often used to help folks rehabilitate from strokes.

So what do you think? Which instrument will you try to learn first? Let us know in the comments.

Are you struggling with strumming?

With our book and course, you’ll become a fluent 3-chord strummer.

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What are the Best Christmas Gifts for Ukulele Players?

What are the Best Christmas Gifts for Ukulele Players?

So, you’re wondering what are the best Christmas gifts for the ukulele player in your life? Here  are 30 ideas  for things your loved one might be excited to find under the tree. We’ve listed the approximate price to make it easy to stay within your budget.

FYI Ukulele Sisters gets a small commission for purchases made through links in this post. The commission doesn’t affect the price you pay.

Practical Ukulele Christmas Gifts

Here are some suggestions to help your loved one be more comfortable and sound better as they make music.

1. Music Stand - $25

A sturdy, high quality music stand is a great place to store music. And it’s a lot more fun to play ukulele if books and music sheets are not falling on the ground all the time.

2. Clip-on Tuner - $15

A clip -on tuner makes it a snap to get a ukulele tuned up and ready to rock out. Snark Tuner is the go-to brand for clip on tuners.

3. Capo - $10

Ukulele capos make it possible to adapt sheet music to different keys. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means. You can learn more about it with our post about using a capo.

4. Ukulele Strap - $10 - 20

Slip into something more comfortable with a ukulele strap. Having a strap to hold up the ukulele makes it much easier to play the ukulele.

There are two kinds. One of them goes over your head and does not require an end button. The advantage is that you don’t need to take your ukulele to the shop to get an end button added. The disadvantage is that you still have to keep a hand on your ukulele to make sure you don’t drop it.

The other kind of strap needs a button installed onto the ukulele. The strap is then attached to the button which means you can use your hands to do something else and not drop your ukulele. The downside is that you might need the help of a music store to get a button added to your ukulele. And some people don’t like how the buttons look.

Oldtime Music has published a nice review of the top 7 ukulele straps. 

5. Chord Chart - $10

A ukulele chord chart to post in your practice space will make it easier to quickly find the chord shape you need at the right moment. We like this laminated ukulele chord chart.

6. Felt Picks $10 - $15

If your ukulele player does not like using their fingers to strum and is worried about damaging their uke, a felt pick could be the answer. This combo pack of a capo and felt picks is a great deal.

7. Humidifier - $15

Ukulele humidifier. Many ukuleles are made of wood, which prefers a modest and constant humidity level. If you live in a dry climate or have a lot of drying indoor heat in the winter, a ukulele humidifier is a MUST. Unless you really like buying ukuleles…

8. Ukulele Stand - $25

Ukulele stand: Having your ukulele out of its case and ready to grab for a quick practice session is makes it much easier to fit music into your daily life. This zebra wood stand is good looking and a good price too. 

9. Wall Mount - $15

A wall mount also makes it easy easy to grab a ukulele, but it also turns your musical instrument collection into a decorative statement.

10. New Strings - $10 - 15

Strings wear out over time and need to be replaced. Having a spare set is a great idea. Aquila is a standard string type that lots of folks use. Be sure you get the set of strings that matches the size of ukulele belonging to your musician.

Soprano strings

Concert strings

Tenor strings

Baritone strings

Fun Ukulele Christmas Gifts

Enough with practicality! What about some playful, fun gifts for ukulele players?

Ukulele Christmas ornament – there are a lot of cute ones out there. We liked the strumming Santa and the blown glass ukulele with flowers.

11. Ukulele Christmas Ornaments - $10 - $15

There are a lot of cute ones out there. We liked the strumming Santa and the blown glass ukulele with flowers.

12. Hawaian Shirt - $35 - $50

13. Lei - $15 - 75

And what is the perfect accessory for your Hawaiian shirt? Why a lei, of course. If you’re going with fresh flowers, your local florist might be able to deliver something or get in touch with the Hawaiian Lei Company

 

14. Ukulele T shirt - $15 - $25

If your loved one isn’t much for collared shirts, how about a Ukulele T shirt? Our favorite is the one with cats found here. There are also fun “ukulele girl” shirts out there.

15. Mug - $15 - $20

If a shirt isn’t in the budget, how about a mug with ukulele chord stamps or fun sayings.

16. Socks - $15 - $20

Ukulele socks are another affordable choice. From colorful to neutral there are a lot of choices.

17. Hat - $15 - $20

If your loved one likes to cover his noggin there are a lot of cute choices available. We liked this neutral one and this more colorful one too.

19. Fun Ukulele Case - $25

Sheet Music is Always a Great Christmas Gift

Of course, we are authors so we are biased. But most players will always be happy to have new tunes to try. Do your best to buy something at the right difficulty level and when in doubt it’s best to get something easier rather than harder. It’s not so fun to get a new book and not be able to play any of the songs in it. 

20. 21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way - $15

by Rebecca Bogart and Jenny Peters. This book is for someone who has never played ukulele before. It covers five basic chords (C, C7, F, G7 and Am) and three fundamental strumming patterns by working through the six days and 40-plus lesson videos.

21 Easy Ukulele Songs for Christmas ukulele book cover

21. 21 Easy Ukulele Songs for Christmas - $15

Also by Rebecca Bogart and Jenny Peters. This book features great sounding yet easy to play versions of classic carols. It’s intended for beginning ukulele players who have learned the C, F, and G7 chords and a few basic strums. Includes a free video course.

22. 21 More Songs in 6 Days - $20

by Rebecca Bogart and Jenny Peters. Your uke lover will learn the most important intermediate ukulele chords, how to fingerpick melodies and accompaniments, and new fancier strumming patterns. Plus, this book has an introduction to blues improvisation and basic music theory. 

23. Learn Easy Ukulele Chord Melody Today! Online course - $100

If your ukulele player has been complaining about wanting more variety in her playing, she might love the gift of our chord melody course. It’s only for sale through Dec. 15, but once purchased can be accessed any time.

25. Hymn Kits - $250

For those who love playing sacred music, our hymn kits will give them lots of tunes and skills for making great arrangements.

26. The Daily Ukulele - $30

by Jim and Liz Beloff. This fabulous book is full of good songs – most of the recent tunes are from the 60s and 70s. There is no lesson information, but if your uke lover knows five chords, they should be able to tackle some of the songs.

27. The Daily Ukulele Leap Year Edition - $35

by Jim Beloff. More fabulous songs from Jim. This second volume has more modern tunes by groups such as Black Keys and Green Day.

28. Easy Songs for Ukulele - $10

29. Fiddle Tunes for Ukulele - $15

Also by Lil’ Rev. Great little guide to old time familiar tunes arranged for ukulele.

30. Disney Hits for Ukulele - $15

23 songs included. This book is for someone who’s played for at least a couple years.

We hope you’ve found some gift ideas that will work for you in this post. Do you have a great idea we didn’t mention? Let us know about it in the comments below. Thanks for reading and happy holidays!

You want to fill your home with Christmas cheer! You know a few chords and strumming patterns. And you’d like to play the melodies too.

Look no further. Our Christmas book offers all this and more!

Get your copy now!

Do different strumming patterns get you confused on the ukulele?

Do different strumming patterns get you confused on the ukulele?

Do you get confused when you try to figure out how to strum a song on the ukulele?

Is a sheet of lyrics and chords confusing to you? Is sheet music confusing? Do you know your chord shapes, but not what to do with them?

If you are feeling confused about strumming patterns, don’t worry! This is really normal. We all get confused when we’re first trying to figure out which pattern goes best with a song.

When I was first learning the “island strum,” I was also teaching General Music to 3rd, 4th and, 5th-grade students. There were 45 students in my class and some of them were definitely more interested in looking cool than in learning how to play the ukulele. It took me 8 months to master the “island strum, because I was teaching and disciplining at the same time.  I knew I had it when I could sing “Over the Rainbow,” strum the ukulele, change the chords at the right time AND discipline the kids who were acting out! It takes time for strumming to become that automatic!

In this article, I will give you 5 “go-to” strumming patterns that you can use when learning a song. Then I will give you some ideas on how to go about learning a new song and feeling confident with strumming.

 

Strum #1: All down strums on the beat

When you first start learning a song, start with all down strums like this:

 

Strum #2: Even strumming of down-up, down-up on every beat

 
When you get good at this pattern, add the up strums like this:

 

Strum #3: Uneven strumming of down-up, down-up on every beat

Sometimes you need to divide the beat unevenly, so the down is longer than the up. You can say the rhyme “Jack and Jill went up the hill” to get the sense of this beat. Here’s what this strumming pattern looks like:

There are two other “go-to” strums that I use which I will describe next. With all strumming patterns, you keep a down and up motion going all the time. The down movement is on the beat and the up movement is off the beat. You make some of the beats and some of the off beats silent to create the different strumming patterns.

Boom-Ditty Strum-Down, Down-up, Down, Down-up

The first pattern is Down, Down-up, Down, Down-up. It is sometimes called the “boom ditty” strum and looks like this.

The Island Strum: Down, Down-up, Up-Down-Up

The other common strum I use is sometimes called the “island strum.” It goes Down, Down-up, Up-Down-Up. It is quite syncopated because you don’t play on Beat 3, one of the strongest beats of the measure. Because you play on the off-beat of the third beat, the strum has a fun kind of feeling. It works for lots of songs. I’ve included two videos below where I teach this strumming pattern in the songs “Over the Rainbow,” and “Five Foot Two.” By watching these two lesson videos you will get the sense of this strumming pattern and how to practice it. The strum looks like this:

Here are two videos for learning “The Island Strum.” The first video has me going back and forth with Rebecca so that you can practice the pattern on each chord change of the song. It is the one that really breaks the strumming pattern down.

 

Learning the intro to “Over the Rainbow”

Five Foot Two is a great song to learn “the island strum”

You can get the sheet music to “Five Foot Two” with the strumming pattern written out in our book Easy Ukulele Songs: Five with Five Chords. 

 

So, you’re pretty good at 3-chord songs now. You can do simple strumming patterns. You may even know some other chords. You’d like to take your playing to the next level.

Where do you go from here?

Get your Book now

Varying Strumming Patterns Within a Song

When you change the strumming patterns within a song, it makes the song more interesting. Check out this video of “Red River Valley” where I change strumming patterns each verse. I will teach you how to do each pattern within the video.

 

Red River Valley – a different strum for each verse!

Three other ideas for practicing strumming pattens:

  1. Check out an app called Strum Machine that helps you hear the beat of your songs and play along.
  2. There are also ukulele play-along videos that help you to get the feeling for strumming. Here is a link to Stay With Me, a beautiful song with only three chords.
  3. If you’re trying to figure out how fast to strum, look at another article I wrote about strumming.

So, I hope you find these ideas helpful and have fun.

Happy Strumming!

Great Lakes Ukulele Gathering with Little Rev

Great Lakes Ukulele Gathering with Little Rev

I just got back from the Great Lakes Ukulele Gathering that was held in Milwaukee, WI yesterday. We were at Anondyne Coffee Roasting Company which was a fun venue for this event.

There were ukulele workshops all day, including an early bird sessions about Ukulele Jug Bands, Ukeing the Beatles, Intro to Fingerpicking, Hawaiian strumming and a great sing-along. At the end was a wonderful concert with MC Petey Mack, The Ukulele Kings, Lanialoha Lee, The Sheboygan Hokum Boys w/Lil Rev and Steven Kanahe Espaniola.

 

Jenny Peters during RAGBRAI 2019
Here’s me with Kevin Mason, a luthier from Illinois.
I had fun with all the workshops. Here’s a short clip of the Ukulele Jug Band mini-session.

 

There were a lot of beautiful ukuleles for sale.
Jenny Peters making music on RAGRBRAI 2019
 

 

Here’s a clip from the concert at the end of the day..

I had fun and learned some new tricks at the Great Lakes Ukulele Gathering. I also saw old friends and met some new people. It was really fun singing and strumming together. Ukulele Festivals are a great way to do this!

Have you taken your ukulele or other instrument with you on your travels? Have you had fun experiences making music with fellow travelers?  I’d love to hear about it – leave me a comment below! 

Do you want to sound convincing on folk songs? You know basic chords and strumming patterns. And you’re interested in folk music. You’d like to take it to the next level.

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How to Read Ukulele Tabs

How to Read Ukulele Tabs

Want to know how to read ukulele tabs? Read on for an explanation of how ukulele tab works.

Each line of the tab staff represents a string on the ukulele. The sounds that are higher in pitch are closer to the top of the page just as they are on the standard music staff. However, the unfortunate result is that standard tab notation places the lines upside down from how they are arranged on the ukulele.

So:

  • The top line of the tab staff is the A string (the string closest to the floor when you’re playing).
  • The line below that is the E string.
  • The line below that is the C string.
  • The bottom line of the tab is the G string, which is the string closest to the ceiling when you are playing.

Lines of tab staff are upside down in comparison to the ukulele strings.

The numbers on the lines of the tab staff tell you which fret to stop with a left-hand finger.

Numbers on the Tab Staff

Stopping (also called fretting) a string means to use a left-hand finger and push down firmly so that the string contacts the fret. Your finger goes between the frets, not on a fret.

For example, a 5 means to put one of your left-hand fingers in the fifth fret and push down on the string as you pluck it with your right hand. A 7 means to stop the string in the 7th fret and pluck it with your right hand. A 4 means to stop the string in the fourth fret and pluck it with your right hand. A 0 means to pluck a string with your right hand without using your left hand at all. We call an unstopped string an open string.

The previous image shows a person fretting the A string. Usually we use finger 1 on the first fret, finger 2 on the second fret, finger 3 on the third fret, and finger 4 on the fourth fret. Having your fingers in this arrangement is referred to as first position.

For practice reading tab, try playing the sounds shown in the parts of the image. Reading from right to left:

  1. Start with finger 4 in the fourth fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
  2. Then use finger 3 in the third fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
  3. Next use finger 2 in the second fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
  4. Next use finger 1 in the first fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
  5. Finally, pluck the open A string 4 times.

Playing the C Major Scale in Tab Notation

We recommend practicing the C major scale while reading the tab notation as the next step to learning how to read ukulele tabs. It will help your brain link the look of the tab staff to the muscular patterns needed to play certain notes. Since most melodies are made from fragments of scales, learning this eye-hand coordination will make it a lot easier for you to read tab melodies.

Putting it Together: How to Read Ukulele Tabs Using a Melody

Here’s an excerpt from a song, “Lovely Evening.” To read the tab, first look at which string line the number is on. Then use your left hand to stop that string in the fret that matches the number shown. Remember that 0 means an open string. We’ve labeled the lines to make it easier to see which line goes with which string.

  • First note: don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the C string with your right hand.
  • Second note: stop the C string in the second fret.
  • Third note: don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the E string with your right hand.
  • Fourth note: don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the C string with your right hand.
  • Fifth note: stop the E string in the first fret.

Now that you’ve worked your way through the scale and a brief melody, you know a lot more about how to read ukulele tabs.

Do you want to sound convincing on folk songs? You know basic chords and strumming patterns. And you’re interested in folk music. You’d like to take it to the next level.

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You can get more practice with how to read ukulele tabs with these other posts…

How to Choose a Strumming Pattern – Learning 5 Basic Patterns

How to Choose a Strumming Pattern – Learning 5 Basic Patterns

Here are some tips on how to choose a strumming pattern. So, there you are trying to learn a ukulele song. And you think, what strumming pattern should I use?

Tips on How to Choose a Strumming Pattern

How do I choose a strumming pattern? That’s a really good question with many steps. You will need to determine if the song is in duple or triple meter. You will also need to decide if the rhythms are swung or straight. This post will deal with basic go-to strums in 4/4 time, both swung and straight. 

It’s also a great idea to listen to a recording of the song to get an idea of what the accompanying instruments are doing. Ask yourself the following questions: 

Duple or Triple Meter

Is the song in duple meter or triple meter? (This means, does it feel like a waltz, or does it feel like a march and/or something you can walk to?) If you have sheet music you can look at the time signature at the beginning to answer this question. (4/4 and 2/4 are examples of duple meter. ¾ is an example of triple meter.) The reason you want to know the meter is that it will help you to know when to change chords. Chords tend to change on the first or third beat of a 4/4 measure and on the first beat of a ¾ measure. You will eventually accent (play slightly louder) on the first beat of each measure, so understanding the meter of the song helps you to learn the song and choose a strumming pattern. Also, strumming patterns for triple meter are quite different than for duple meter.

Straight or Swung Rhythm?

Is the rhythm of the song “straight” or “swung”? Straight subdivisions of the beat sound like this “ap-ple, ap-ple, ap-ple, ap-ple” Swung subdivisions sound like this: “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.” A straight song will use even down-up strums. A swung song will uneven down-up strums. The down strum will be slightly longer than the up strum for swung music.

Whether the song is swung or straight will only matter on your up strums, because your down strums are all on the beat. The beat is steady, like your heart beat.  Like your heart beat, the beat in music is steady. The beat can go faster or slower, but will do that gradually depending on what you are doing. If you are sleeping, your heart beat is slow. If you are running, your heart beat is fast. Whatever rhythm you put within a beat can be fast or slow, but it will relate to that steady beat or pulse of the music.

Three Basic Strumming Patterns:

In this video, I’m going to teach you the three basic strumming patterns from which more complicated strums can be built.

Jenny’s Go-To Strum for Folk Music

For more folksy types of music, my go-to strum is: 

If you want to have a more rhythmic feel, you might add chunking on beats 2 and 4. Watch the video below to get a better idea. Follow along with your ukulele so you can practice learning this strumming pattern. I give lots of practice opportunities within the video and have a metronome going to help keep a steady beat. 

 

Jenny’s Go-To Strum for Everything Else

My go-to strum for almost everything else is:

You hear this strum EVERYWHERE! Watch the video below as I teach Rebecca this strum in the opening of “Over the Rainbow.” This strum takes some time to learn, but once you have it, you can use it almost everywhere. I have heard this strum referred to as “The Camp Strum” or “the Island Strum.”  It also sounds good with chunking.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on learning 5 basic strumming patterns in duple time. Let me know what you think in the comments below. 

If you want to play the latest hits, you need to learn essential skills first. 21 MORE Songs in 6 Days will teach you these skills.

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