Frequently Asked Questions
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Ukulele playing questions
I can't quite figure out how to strum for each different song. I seem to be having trouble figuring out rhythm.
- Check out an app called Strum Machine that helps you hear the beat of your songs and play along.
- 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.
So, I hope these ideas help and have fun.
How do I learn to strum better?
Here are some steps that you can take in learning a strumming pattern to a song. You can also check out this YouTube video where Jenny teaches Rebecca how to learn some basic strums on the ukulele.
Learning strumming takes time and practice, so if you get stuck, go through all the below as you learn the song.
- First, speak the lyrics in rhythm. Strum once on each of the chord changes that are in the song to get a sense of how the chords and lyrics go together.
- Now sing the words in rhythm. Continue strumming as you did before.
- Now add all down strums as you speak the lyrics.
- Now keep the down strums, but sing the lyrics.
- Now practice your strumming pattern slowly with no chord changes. You might mute the left hand ukulele strings so you don’t hear pitches. Speak the lyrics.
- Now practice your strumming pattern slowly with no chord changes. You might mute the left hand ukulele strings so you don’t hear pitches. Sing the lyrics.
- Speak the words, add the chord changes and keep the strumming pattern.
- Sing the lyrics, add the chord changes and keep the strumming pattern.
How do I learn to read melody tab?
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.
- 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.
Numbers on the Tab Staff
The numbers on the lines of the tab staff tell you which fret to stop with a left-hand finger. 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 with your left hand 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:
- Start with finger 4 in the fourth fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
- Then use finger 3 in the third fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
- Next use finger 2 in the second fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
- Next use finger 1 in the first fret and pluck the A string 4 times.
- 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 getting comfortable with reading and playing tab. 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: Reading a Melody in Tab
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.
We hope this brief introduction to reading tab has helped you get started!
Many of our books include melody tab for each song so that you can play the melody on your ukulele in addition to singing the melody while you strum the chords. We also include some tab for playing plucked chord accompaniments.
How do I get my fingers to stop hurting?
When you first start a stringed instrument, your left hand finger tips will hurt until you develop callouses. You may also find your right hand finger tips hurting too.
Practice in small increments, say 10 minutes at a time, to gradually develop thicker skin on your finger tips. You’ll master all the skills necessary to play music much faster by working in small daily increments, rather than trying to learn everything all at once.
I was wondering if you keep your nails on your left hand cut short and your right hand a little longer?
The idea of keeping the nails longer on the right hand and shorter on the left is something many string players (especially classical guitarists) do all the time. Even violinists tend to to keep the left hand’s nails short because it is essential to have short nails on the left hand.
Does the quality of the ukulele affect just the sound or would it also affect the ease of playing?
The quality of the ukulele makes a big difference in the sound. My suggestion to you is to try out ukuleles music stores near you to find ones that you like. Then, when you can afford it, or when someone wants to give you a nice gift, you can upgrade to a nicer instrument.
The less expensive instruments are often not even really in tune to themselves which means they don’t sound as good as a better quality instrument.
I find that students with higher quality instruments tend to improve faster – possibly because it is just more fun to play a nicer sounding instrument!
In terms of ease of playing, I recently upgraded from a pretty good ukulele to a much higher quality instrument. It sounds a lot better and is much easier to play than my previous ukulele.
What are good songs to play in a music speech therapy class for stroke patients?
Since I am not a speech therapist, I am not really qualified to answer your question in a lot of detail. Here are a few thoughts that might help you. I think songs that are familiar to the people you are working with are often the best ones for speech therapy, particularly for stroke survivors and the elderly. I’ve seen many YouTube videos pointing to the power of music to bring joy and speech back to people who have lost it.
I would choose songs from the decades when these people were in their teens and early twenties. I would also choose “nursery rhyme” type songs because they are songs people of all ages know from their childhoods. Finally, if you are working with people who have religious backgrounds, our new hymnbook will be very popular because it uses a lot of older hymns for which people will recognize both the tunes and words.
Can you teach a class on how to do a chuck or perhaps you have a video on that?
I'm confused about how to place my left hand fingers on the fretboard.
Here’s a quick video to clear up where to put your fingers on the fretboard.
Can I use a guitar pick to strum my ukulele?
I'm left-handed. Should I 'flip' my ukulele so I can play it left-handed?
I’m left handed. Do you have any sheet music with left handed configurations?
Do you play your uke left-handed? If so, here our blog post about that. https://ukulele.io/left-handers-right-handed-music-world/.
Basically, you can bite the bullet and fret with your left hand and strum with your right. Or you can restring your ukulele and fret with your right and strum with your left.
If you decide to restring your ukulele, then you need a left-handed ukulele chord chart. Here is one from Pinterest. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/640988959433888597/
Most people find that after working with this chart, they can do the flip in their mind. They can read the right-handed (finger chords with your left hand) chart easily. It’s a mental flip that reverses what right handed players do.
I have trouble holding and playing chords for long with my left hand so can’t spend much time playing my uke.
I’m sorry you’re experiencing pain when you play. That is no fun! : (
Here are some suggestions that might help relieve stress on your hands. You may find you don’t have to put as much pressure on your fingertips if you try these various ideas.
Use a strap. It’s easier to finger chords if you don’t have to also hold the ukulele.
Hold the chord shape as lightly as possible. Look at the placement of your left thumb. Make sure it’s opposite the middle rather than the index finger. You can also try moving your thumb around. You’re looking for a position where you don’t have to push the strings down very hard to make the chord sound.
Put your fingers as close to the frets as possible. The fret should stop the string, not the fingers.
What brand concert ukulele should I upgrade to? I have an inexpensive one now.
I would recommend upgrading to a tenor ukulele, rather than another concert. You could then put a low G string on the tenor and leave the concert with high G tuning. Then, you have two different instruments for different kinds of music.
The low G works well for sing and strum, and chord melody. The high G works well for a jazzier music and clawhammer playing. I enjoy all my different ukuleles.
I haven't needed to replace strings yet but is there a string per pitch (ex. G, C, E, A) or are they all the same and it doesn't make any difference where you put them?
Yes, there is one string per pitch and they are all a little different. The higher-pitched ones are thinner than the lower-pitched ones. When you buy a set of ukulele strings, each string will be labeled with its name. You also have to buy strings for the size of ukulele you have: soprano, concert or tenor. Finally, if you want a Low G tuned ukulele, you have to buy a Low G string.
Why the third finger is recommended for the C chord vs. the pinky? It seems really easy to use the top three fingers for other chords and then put the pinky on the C chord location.
Some teachers do recommend the pinky for the C chord because it is easier to change to the G 7 that way. But many chords can follow the C chord, so I’ve always taught it using the ring finger. That way I memorize chord shapes and the ability to switch between these shapes.
I do sometimes use the first finger or the 2nd for the C chord. It depends on what I’m doing next with my left hand.
When you have more experience, you may also vary your fingerings based on the situation. But as a beginner it is best to choose one fingering and stick with that.
Do you think it is better for our 6 year old granddaughter to learn to play left-handed? Or should we encourage her to use a left-handed approach to make it easier for her to start and learn?
I would encourage a 6-year old to try playing her ukulele right-handed first. Her brain is much more flexible now. The left-hand string technique will from one instrument to another. What you learn on ukulele will apply to any other stringed instrument she might play. And many other instruments come right-handed only.
I usually have children try the right-handed way for two weeks to see if they can get used to it. If not, I switch them to left-handed.
We have more information about this topic in our blog post article: Left-Handers in a Right-Handed Music World
I found you playing a song in two different ways with quite different chords but (I think) the same key. I started to compare the versions and to cherry-pick the chords what I like and/or found easier. I ended up playing half of each version. Why do such different versions of a song both work?
The reason such different chords work is rather complicated, but it’s true that they do.
The simplest way to explain it is to say that older songs are using jazzier chords. These chords have 4 or 5 chord tones rather than the usual 3 chord tones we have in simpler music. Since you’re not playing the entire chord on ukulele, you pick the three notes that are easiest for you to play.
A bass or piano would be providing the other notes, so you don’t need to play those notes. That’s why such different chords work.
You can learn more about music theory for ukulele in our book 21 MORE Songs in 6 Days.
I want to switch from High G to Low G tuning. Can I use the string I already have?
Nope, that won’t work. You’ll need to put a new Low G string onto your ukulele. If you try to make your current High G string sound an octave lower, it will be too loose to sound like anything at all. Even if you cannot leave your home, you can order a Low G string to be delivered to you. Good luck!
I am not able to hold the ukulele very stable when changing chords and noticed you have a neck strap. Can I ask what kind of neck strap you use or if you have suggestions for a good neck strap?Goes Here
There are (at least) two different kinds of ukulele neck straps.
There are the ones that are “hands-free” and connect in two spots on your ukulele. For this kind of strap, you need to have a luthier put a button at the end of your ukulele. You connect one end of the strap to that button and the other end you tie behind the nut on your ukulele’s head-stock. If you teach ukulele or use ukulele in a classroom setting, the hands-free is easiest. It allows you to use your hands for something else without setting your ukulele down.
The other kind of strap goes over your head and connects to the soundhole of the ukulele. You do not need to put a button on your ukulele to use this kind of strap.
Here are a couple of blog post articles we’ve written about ukulele straps.
I want to learn how to fingerpick the intro to "Hotel California" but I don't understand fingerpicking patterns or how to read them. Do you have any very basic beginner lessons on this?
What songs are in your books?
"21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way"
Are You Sleeping?
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Three Blind Mice
Have You Seen the Ghost of John?
Hey, Ho, Nobody Home
Ah, Poor Bird
Chatter With the Angels
A Ram Sam Sam
Shoo, Fly, Don’t Bother Me (in keys of F & C)
Hush, Little Baby (in keys of F & C)
Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow (in keys of F & C)
C, then G7 Etude
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
Polly Wolly Doodle
This Land Is Your Land (Simple Version & Complex Version)
For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow
Oh, When the Saints
I’ve Been Working on the Railroad
Red River Valley
"Five with Five Chords: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way"
Five Foot Two
"21 More Easy Ukulele Songs: Learn Intermediate Ukulele the Easy Way"
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
Oh When the Saints
Shave and a Haircut
New Chords Blues
Too Much to Do Blues
On Top of Old Smokey
Bicycle Built for Two
When Johnny Comes Marching Home
The House of the Rising Sun
The Lazy Sailor
Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Michael Row the Boat Ashore
The Erie Canal
Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey
You Are My Sunshine
"Ukulele For All"
Wake Up You Sleepyhead!
Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Three Blind Mice
Ah, Poor Bird
Hey, Ho Nobody Home
A Ram, Sam, Sam
Shoo! Fly! Don’t Bother Me
I Have a Little Dreidel
Hush Little Baby
Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow
Polly Wolly Doodle
Beale Street Blues
Over the River and Through the Wood
When the Saints Go Marching In
I’ve Been Working on the Railroad
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow
Home on the Range
"21 Easy Ukulele Songs for Christmas"
I Saw Three Ships
Oh Come Little Children
Good King Wenceslas
Up on the Housetop
Away in a Manger
Over the River and Through the Wood
Joy to the World
Jolly Old St. Nicholas
Deck the Halls
Auld Lang Syne
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
We Three Kings
What Child Is This
O Come All Ye Faithful
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
The Twelve Days of Christmas
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
"21 Easy Ukulele Folk Songs"
Lil’ Liza jane
Go Tell Aunt Rhody
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Worried Man Blues
St. Louis Blues
Down by the Riverside
Sometimes I Fell Like a Motherless Child
All Through the Night
The Ash Grove
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Turkey in the Straw
My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
Sweet Betsy from Pike
"21 Easy Ukulele Hymns" (Coming out in April 2020)
What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Church in the Wildwood
Shall We Gather at the RIver?
Nearer My God to Thee
Jesus Loves Me
Give Me that Old Time Religion
Blest Be the Tie that Binds
How Great Thou Art
Rock of Ages
I Come to the Garden Alone
For the Beauty of the Earth
Be Thou My Vision
Prayer of Thanksgiving
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee
Fairest Lord Jesus
This Little Light of Mine
Be Still My Soul-Finlandia
A Mighty Fortress is Our God
About our books and email list
Why are your songs so old? I would love to see a book that includes more current songs.
We cannot do books with any songs that are not in the Public Domain. Basically, that means that any song written after 1924 is off limits to books such as ours. Getting the rights to make arrangements of songs written after 1924 is really difficult and also very expensive!
I am confused about the fingering instructions in "21 Songs in 6 Days". On page 18, you say to always use finger 1 on string 1, finger 2 on string 2, etc. Yet, immediately after that, you say to use your third finger on string 4 to make a C major chord.
You ask a good question. The reason there is a conflict is because one idea about fingering has to do with playing melodies, and the other has to do with playing chords.
When playing melodies, you usually put the first finger in fret 1, the second finger in fret 2, the third finger in fret 3, especially when playing melodies (or one note at a time.) This helps you to internalize where the notes are on your ukulele. It also helps to develop muscle memory.
However, when you’re playing chords, it’s a different story. You put the fingers into the chord shapes that are shown by the dots. So, your third finger is in the third fret of the first string to play the C Chord. Then your third finger slides back to the second fret to make the G7 chord shape.
I made a little video to explain this better. I hope it helps.
I signed up for your email list and got my three songs. Will I get more songs or just advertising?
After you get your three free songs, you’ll get a bi-weekly email with a piece of music and a link to a YouTube video lesson. We’ll also let you know about new products that might interest you. If you don’t want the emails, you can unsubscribe at any time.
I got your book 21 songs in 6 days but when I started to read it I was disappointed to learn you don’t teach baritone ukuleles.
- You can put a capo on the 5th fret of your baritone ukulele and teach yourself to play using the techniques in our book.
- You can return the book and try a beginning baritone ukulele book instead. Most of the ones available will have more difficult material than our book does.
- You can restring your baritone ukulele with tenor ukulele strings and use our book to learn how to play. Here is a thread from the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum that talks about restring a baritone ukuele with tenor strings. You might want to have someone who’s experienced with changing strings on a ukulele do this for you. Someone at a local music store or ukulele club might be able to help you.
I play the baritone ukulele. How can I follow the melody in your books?
Would it be possible for me to use your books and videos to teach my class online?
If you buy one of our books and use it to teach students remotely, that is fine with us. We would like you give us credit and only use a small number of songs, up to 5 from a given book. If you plan on using more songs than that, please have each student buy their own book.
We would also like you to mention to your students that they can buy our books if they want to learn ukulele on their own. Our books come with free online courses.
If you are using Ukulele For All, that is not one of our self-published books. You will need to reach out to the publisher, Kjos Music, for permission to use that book.
Your account at ukulele.io
How do I sign up for the video lessons that come with my book?
We have an entire page on how to access your free video course.
There is also a section in the back of your book called “How to Access Your Free Video Course at ukulele.io.” Use the table of contents to help you find it. You’ll need the secret registration link from this section to set up your account.
I have purchased two books but I can only access the online videos for one book. How do I access the online videos for the other book?
If you purchase two or more books in the series, please remember to register for each book. Here’s how.
At the back of each book in the section called “How to Access Your Free Video Course at ukulele.io“, there is a private registration link provided. Each book has a different private registration link. After you enter your email address at this link, you’ll get an email with a 100% off coupon that you can use in our shop to get your free course.
The first time that you register, you’ll receive an email with your username and password. After that when you register (i.e. for your second, third, etc. book), you’ll no longer receive an email because you can continue to use your same login username and password.
How do I reset or change my password?
You can change your password using the “Forget?” link on the login page: https://ukulele.io/members/sign-in-to-access-online-video-lessons/
When you click the “Lost your password?” link, you’ll be asked to enter your email address. You’ll get a a password reset email. Please click the link in the email. You’ll be taken to a web page where you can enter your new password.
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