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?

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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. 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! 
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:

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

  • For the first note, don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the C-string with your right hand.
  • For the second, stop the C-string in the second fret.
  • For the third note, don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the E-string with your right hand.
  • For the fourth note, don’t do anything with your left hand and pluck the C-string with your right hand.
  • For the 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.

 

Play along to carefully selected folk songs on ukulele! Includes favorites such as Happy Birthday, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and Shenandoah.

 

Buy From Amazon Link

 

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

Beginning Ukulele Book Reviews

Beginning Ukulele Book Reviews

Beginning Ukulele Books Reviews for 7 popular books

7 Beginner Ukulele BooksSo, you want to learn how to play the ukulele. Where do you start? How do you get the basics under your belt so you can choose the music you want to play and eventually teach yourself? If you are wondering about these questions then collection of beginning ukulele book reviews is for you.

We take a close look at 7 popular ways to begin your ukulele journey. We’ll give you a lot of information about what’s in each book, and explain who each of these methods is best for.

There is a lot to learn in music. In some ways learning music is like learning a language with a whole new alphabet, grammar, vocabulary and sounds. You also need to know what skills you must master in order to progress in music such as how to practice. Finally, you also have to learn how to tune your instrument and take care of it.

What to Expect in a beginning Ukulele Book

Each author of a “how to play ukulele” book writes with a certain type of beginner in mind. The pace of the book and what comes first depends on the type of beginner the author is imagining. Authors might be writing for a person with little or no music background, or they might imagine a person who already plays several instruments and is adding ukulele to their bag of tricks. They might write their book for someone who reads music well or for someone who does not. They might also question if a beginning player wants to learn to read music or whether this skill is really necessary for a ukulele player.

You, the learner, want to find a book that fits your learning style and background, and teaches you the ukulele skills you would like to know, such as singing and strumming chords, fingerpicking melodies, reading ukulele tablature, and/or standard music notation. You also want to find an approach that you will enjoy with music that you want to play and/or sing.

In these beginning ukulele book reviews I’ll describe how various method books approach the best way to learn all of this material.

Music Basics when beginning ukulele

Learning tends to progress faster if you master one small thing at a time. But even the simplest music contains three main elements, which are

  1. melody (the tune, what someone would sing)
  2. harmony (the chords)
  3. rhythm (the beat)

For the best results, it seems as if the author of a beginning music book would need to decide which of the three to focus on first. However, the choice ends up being pretty straight forward.  All music has some sort of rhythm, otherwise, it sounds random. Therefore our hypothetical author needs to cover rhythm first.

In terms of ukulele music, strumming chords cover two elements – harmony and rhythm. Fingerpicking melodies one note at a time also covers two elements – melody and rhythm.

What Criteria Did We Use in These 7 beginning Ukulele Book reviews?

We will answer the following questions for each book in our beginning ukulele book reviews: 

  • How does it teach chords?
  • How does it teach reading melodies?
  • How quickly does the book progress?
  • Are there a lot of pictures that help the learner?
  • Are there online lessons or a video course? Are there audio tracks?
  • Who is this book best suited for?

How Do We Write Down Music in a beginning ukulele book?

In order to communicate how a song goes in a book, there needs to be some way of writing down sounds.

With that being said, on ukulele and other fretted stringed instruments such as guitar, there are shortcuts that are unique to these instruments. For example, songwriters will often write only lyrics and chord letter symbols to express a song. In fact, John Lennon and Paul McCartney worked this way. They felt that if they could not remember the melody the next day, then it must not have been a very good melody and did not deserve to be a song.

However, most of us are not as talented as they were, so we use a variety of symbols to write down the details of how a song goes:

  • Chord stamps (symbols) to show where to put our fingers on the ukulele to create the desired chord.Examples of chord stamps are shown below. chord symbols
  • Standard 5 line music staff to show the rise and fall of the melody. The standard music staff is a widely accepted way of showing pitch in music. It can take quite a lot of time to master.example of music notation
  • Ukulele tablature is sometimes used instead of or in addition to the standard music staff to show the melody. Tab can be helpful for beginners because it shows you where to put your left-hand fingers on your ukulele in order to play the pitches of the song. Tab is a lot simpler to learn to read than standard music notation, and once you get the idea of it you can improve quickly. example of ukulele tab staff
  • Standard rhythmic notation to show how fast or slow notes or strums should be in relation to each other. music notes no staff
  • Tempo markings to show how fast the song should go. Sometimes the speed of the music is described with a word (“Moderate”) and sometimes it is shown with a number which is called the metronome marking. The metronome marking below is saying there should be 158 beats per minute.

And here they are! The 7 beginning ukulele book reviews

Each of these books is intended for a different type of ukulele beginner. We have ordered our beginning ukulele book reviews from easiest to hardest.

  1. 21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way
  2. Ukulele For All
  3. Alfred’s Basic Ukulele Method
  4. Hal Leonard-Ukulele Book 1
  5. Essential Elements for Ukulele
  6. Ukulele Primer by Bert Casey
  7. Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Tips and Tunes

1. 21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way

This method has a lot of written introductory material and is encouraging to the learner. There are online videos to teach the songs and all the concepts presented.

This method begins with one-chord songs and simple strumming patterns. The authors delay the changing of chords until students can sing and strum a steady beat at the same time. When two-chord songs are introduced, there are thirteen two-chord songs, so students can really get the hang of the change from F to C7.

The reading of melodies using ukulele tablature is taught alongside the singing and strumming of songs for some (but not all) of the songs. There are visuals that show how the alignment of the ukulele strings relates to the horizontal alignment of the lines on the tab staff.

Chords presented in this method are C, A Minor, F, C7 and G7. 21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn

Ukulele the Easy Way is the first book of a series which includes: Easy Ukulele Songs: Five with Five Chords, 21 Easy

Ukulele Songs for Christmas, 21 MORE Easy Ukulele Songs: Learn Intermediate Ukulele the Easy Way, and 21 Easy Ukulele Folk Songs.

These books teach the chords with both an upright and sideways presentation of the chord symbol. This visualization of the chord stamps is unique to this method.

While the upright presentation is the standard way for showing chord stamps, the sideways presentation is how the strings and fingers look when you are actually holding your ukulele. There is also a picture of a hand making the chord shape for each chord taught.

There is both a musical terms glossary and a chord glossary in each book. Strumming patterns remain simple with only four basic strums covered.

This book is best for someone who is new to playing an instrument, and who does not read music. Its progression is slow and steady. There are online video lessons for each song and for the concepts (including tuning) presented in the book.

There is also a YouTube channel that teaches a lot of the information in the books.

2. Ukulele For All

This book starts with singing and strumming each song. There are four introductory pages that present how to hold the ukulele, how to put fingers on the strings to make chords, how to strum and how to read tab.

Ukulele for All also teaches chord stamps by presenting the diagram sideways and with a picture of a person’s hand.

The teaching of tab reading is also unique in that it shows how the horizontal strings of the ukulele relate to the lines of the tab staff. Students are easily able to visualize where to put their fingers on the strings of the ukulele.

The book starts with one-chord songs and has a chapter for each of three beginning chords (C, A Minor, and F.) Songs that change chords are delayed until the fourth chapter.

Tab notation is taught alongside the singing of melodies and strumming of chords. Strumming patterns are kept simple throughout the book. Finger-picking of accompaniments is presented in Chapter 8. Students are also encouraged to sing rounds to create harmonies within a one chord song.

There is also a chapter on the 12-Bar blues where students are encouraged to improvise their own solos over a bass line.

The book comes with proprietary software that includes video lessons for each song and for the concepts (including tuning) presented in the book. The software also includes audio for the songs that can be slowed down for practicing. Students can also record themselves and submit recordings to their teacher.

The book is intended for either classroom use or for private instruction. If a student prefers melodies, the student can work on that. If a student likes to sing and strum chords, the student can work on that, since both versions are presented with each song. There is a Teachers’ Edition of the book available with detailed suggestions on how to work with groups of students at different levels.

Chords presented in this method are C, A Minor, F, C7 and G7.

This book is best for someone who is new to playing an instrument, and who does not read music. Its progression is slow and steady. It includes video lessons.

3.  Alfred’s Basic Ukulele Method

This method book claims to be the most popular standard ukulele method and upon looking through it, I can see why. There are 8 introductory pages showing the parts of the ukulele, how to hold the ukulele, how to strum and how to place your left-hand fingers on the strings to make chords.

Strumming and singing songs is delayed 16 pages until the basic reading of single notes on the tab staff is solid for the student. There is a tab staff underneath the standard musical notation to help you find the melody notes more easily.

The pictures are large and well-spaced. The presentation on tab reading has good visuals.

The first song with chord changes is “Good Night Ladies.” This song uses two chords F and C7 which is an easy 2 chord pattern. The book progresses slowly and steadily, eventually teaching the student seven chords (C, F, C7, G, D7, and G7.)

Strumming patterns are introduced independently of reading melodies and progress from basic to more complicated. The strumming patterns remain pretty simple.

The book ends with “Over the Rainbow” in a slightly simplified version using the chords that have been taught in this book.

This book is best for someone who is new to playing an instrument, and who does not read music. Its progression is slow and steady, and it includes both a DVD and online video lessons.

4. Hal Leonard Ukulele Book 1

This book by Lil’ Rev is a solid beginning ukulele method. It starts with reading tab melodies. When chords are introduced, several pages in, the student learns C, F, and G7 all at once. There is a little bit of time to learn basic strumming patterns before applying chords to a song, but the first song uses all three chords. From there, new chords are introduced fairly quickly.

Chords taught in this book are: C, F, G7, E Minor, D7, G, Bb, A Minor, B7, D Minor,  A7 and A.

There are lots of wonderful pictures on how to hold the ukulele and how to strum. Lil’ Rev teaches some really cool strumming techniques, such as tremolo, single roll stroke, finger and thumb strum and the index finger strum. He explains these techniques well with pictures, arrows and counting.

The book is nicely laid out and there is a basic chord glossary at the end. There are no audio or video lessons that I could find, but Lil’ Rev has a website and YouTube channel where he teaches a lot of the strumming techniques he uses in this book. He has workshops and YouTube videos and is a great teacher! (I’m planning on learning some of these techniques now that I’ve been playing for many years.)

When I was first learning ukulele I worked through this book. I didn’t have trouble with the left-hand chord changes, but found the many different strumming patterns difficult. This book might be best for someone with fretted instrument background such as the guitar or mandolin.

5. Essential Elements for the Ukulele

Marty Gross does a great job of teaching the ukulele in this book. Students learn to read music well. They learn the following chords: C, G7, F, Am, D7 (Hawaiian style) C7, Bb, Dm, F7, A7, Em, E7 and G#+. There is even a section on movable barre chords!

From my point of view, this book progresses quickly. Students are expected to read notes rather than the tab staff. Also, the first two chord song uses C to G7. G7 is a three finger chord and is hard for a lot of beginning players to master.

The songs in this book are pretty awesome, for example: The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Octopus’s Garden, La Bamba, The Rainbow Connection and Marianne. There are audio demonstration tracks on an audio CD, which is probably helpful because not all the songs have suggested strumming patterns printed. There is a strumming chart and a chord glossary at the end of the book

This book would work well in a private lesson setting or with older students in a small group setting. It would also work well with someone who has played many other instruments before.

The book comes with an audio CD.

6. Ukulele Primer For Beginners: Book and DVD

Bert Casey does a great job at teaching singing and strumming the ukulele. The book is nicely laid out. There are great pictures showing how to hold your ukulele, how to strum and how to place your left-hand fingers on the strings. He has a unique way of showing the songs by having two staves: one for the melody line and one for the strumming pattern. This is really helpful when the strumming patterns get more complicated and don’t easily match up with the rhythm of the  melody.

The book comes with a DVD. There is also access to online video lessons.

This book assumes you will either know the songs, watch the videos to learn them or that you can read music so you can “hear” the songs in your head before you add the strumming pattern. There is no tab for the melodies.

There are many strumming patterns presented and they move sequentially from easier to more complicated. The patterns are easy to read and understand. When the book gets to more complicated patterns, there is a good base upon which to build. Bert shows the student a lot of muted strums, a technique called “chunking.” His presentation is clear, so it is easy to figure out how to go about learning this technique. In my experience, a student can sound quite polished when they learn these kinds of strumming patterns. I will probably go back and practice all of these and the patterns in Lil’ Rev’s book to add to my own repertoire of strumming techniques.

Finally, there is great information in the appendix on how the guitar relates to the ukulele, some music theory, a chord library and a strumming pattern library.

This book is probably best for someone who has background on other fretted string instruments such as guitar. The opening material is going to be difficult if you are a complete ukulele beginner. The strumming patterns, while cool, are going to be difficult to coordinate with the songs until you have more experience singing and strumming.

The book does come with both a DVD and online videos. The online videos are good with close-ups on the player’s hands so you can see and hear what to do.

7. Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Tips and Tunes

This was the book I used to teach myself the ukulele. It is recommended by Dr. Uke. The book is nicely laid out and is small, so it can easily fit into a ukulele case. It has a folksy feeling.

As with all of Jim Beloff’s materials, it gets right into playing the songs after only a couple of pages of introductory material. He covers a lot of music theory in two pages, which a beginner might or might not understand depending on their background.

The first song uses a C to the G7 chord progression, which can be a difficult one for many beginners. There is no tab for the songs, so the author assumes you can read music to figure out how the melodies sound. Tab can be helpful for beginners because it shows you where to put your left-hand fingers on your ukulele in order to get the pitch of the song.  The strumming patterns are shown above the notes, so it is not too difficult to figure out how to do them.

The book progresses through many key signatures and teaches you the following chords: C, G7,Cmaj7, C6, C7, Am, F, G#7, D7, Gdim, Gmaj7, Em7, A7, Edim, Em, etc. (This book had more chords than any of the others I reviewed.) Jim does give you the option of leaving chords out by putting them in parentheses. This was helpful because I found keeping the flow of the singing, strumming and so many chord changes difficult as a beginner. Also, there are no video lessons.

I was able to learn a lot with this book, but I did not become a fluent strummer until I worked with simpler material. This book is probably best for someone with a lot of music background, but not necessarily fretted string instruments.

I have played piano and violin most of my life, so I found the left-hand coordination and music theory in this book straight-forward. I found the right hand strumming more difficult at first. I play about 10 stringed instruments in my job as an orchestra teacher and I find that the right hand’s job (bowing, strumming, picking) differs more from instrument to instrument than the left hand’s does.

I needed to work more with the kinds of things Bert Casey and Lil’ Rev teach before I became fluent with my ukulele skills. I also knew that my students who are new to instruments generally would need a slower and more gradual approach which is why I wrote my books the way I did.

summing up the 7 beginning ukulele book reviews

All of these ukulele books have their strengths. They are all well thought out and sequential. The best course of action for you, the ukulele beginner, is to discover what kind of learner you are. Then choose the beginning ukulele book that suit you best after reading our beginning ukulele book reviews.

Of course I am biased, but I think if you are a complete beginner with music your best bet would be to buy one of my books, either 21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way or Ukulele for All.  Alfred’s Basic Ukulele Method would also work well for you.

If you have experience with guitar, you might prefer one of the more difficult books such as Essential Elements, Bert Casey’s Ukulele Primer, or Jumpin’ Jim’s Ukulele Tips and Tunes.

Here are links to purchase each of the books on Amazon. (full disclosure: I’m paid a small commission when you click these links  but it does not affect the price you pay.)

In my own musical journey, I have often worked through several books at once to work on different kinds of skills. I hope after reading these beginning ukulele book reviews that you will be able to find the book or books that work best for you!

Happy Strumming!