Accidental – a flat, sharp or natural.

Alternate tuning – Tuning the ukulele to a different tuning other than standard tuning G-C-E-A.


Bar – same as a measure. A measure is the space on a musical staff between two bar lines. Every measure begins with a strong beat.

Bar lines – the vertical lines on the musical and tab staffs that go from the top line of the staff to the bottom line of the staff. Bar lines are longer than note stems and do not touch any notes.

Barre or bar – using one or more fingers to stop multiple strings on the fretboard. Usually this is done with the index finger.

Barre chord – a chord that contains a barre.

Beat – regularly timed sounds that occur the same distance apart in time in a row. Examples of sounds with a beat are the sound your heart makes, i.e. a heartbeat, or the sound of someone dribbling a basketball.

Blue notes – a note or group of notes that are different than the notes used in Western folk music. Usually in the blues we play the different note near its next door note so our ears can imagine the note that belongs in the African scale. In staff notation, a blue note will have a flat, sharp or natural in front of it.

Blues scale – a group of musical sounds that spaced in the specific way that is used in blues music. The blues scale probably came with African people to the United States. For the blues songs in this book we are playing in the key of C, which is the same as all the white keys on the piano. When we add a black key to the white key scale, the music sounds different. The black key, for example, E flat, added in on top of the white key, such as E, gives the music a bluesy feel. The added black key notes are an attempt to approximate African scales. Western folk music tends to use 8 notes per octave, while African folk music tends to use 5 notes equally spaced per octave. Some of these African scale notes do not exist in Western musical instruments. For example, if you look at a piano keyboard, you can see that there ARE five black keys but the spaces between them are not equal. Thus, when you sing or play a flat note and somebody else is playing a regular note, your ear hears the sound the flat note and the regular note make together as bluesy.

Bridge – transitional music that connects two different parts of a song, such as the verse and the chorus.

Braguinha – a Portuguese fretted string instrument, like a small guitar, that was an ancestor of the ukulele.

Broken chord – a chord played one pitch at a time. On the ukulele one plays a broken chord by plucking one string at a time rather than strumming all the strings together.


Capo: A small clamp that is placed on the ukulele’s neck to change the pitch of the strings.
Cavaquinho – another Portuguese fretted string instrument like the braguinha.
Chord – two or more pitches played at the same time. On the ukulele, chords are usually four pitches played together because the instrument has four strings.
Chord progression – order of chords in a song.

Chord stamp – a symbol or drawing of the ukulele strings with little dots that represent where to place your fingers on the fretboard to make the chord.

Clef – A clef is a musical symbol used to indicate the pitch of the notes written on the staff. It is always shown at the beginning of each line or stave of music. See also treble clef.


Dominant chord – a triad built on the fifth note of the scale.


Etude – a piece of music that is designed to help you learn and practice a new musical skill. In French, etude means study so etudes are sometimes called studies.


Finger numbers – these are applied to the left hand. Finger 1 is the index or “pointer” finger; finger 2 is the middle finger; finger 3 is the ring finger; and finger 4 is the pinky. For playing ukulele, we do not count the thumb because it is behind the neck of the ukulele and not available to stop a string (see “stopping”).

Fingerpick (fingerstyle) – means to pluck the ukulele strings with the fingertips or fingernails as opposed to strumming them.
Finger placement: The positioning of the fingers on the frets and strings to play chords and notes.

First position – means your finger 1 (index finger) is in the first fret, the one closest to the tuning pegs.

Flat – a musical symbol placed in front of musical note. It means to lower the sound slightly, by the amount that musicians call a “half step.” When you look at a blues scale, you can see a little sign that looks like a small letter “b” next to some of the notes. That sign is called is a flat and it lowers the pitch of the note by one-half step.

Fretboard – the long skinny part of the ukulele with metal strips in it. It is usually made of a different color wood than the larger curvy part of the instrument.

Fretting – pushing the strings against the fretboard with the fingers of your left hand so each note you play sounds clear. “Fretting” means the same thing as “stopping.”

Frets – strips of metal that run across the short dimension of the long skinny fretboard. When you push down a string with your finger in between the frets, the string is held very tightly against the fret.


Guitar – a large fretted string instrument. It usually has six or more strings in comparison to the ukulele’s four strings.


Improvisation – Musical improvisation means to make up music as you are playing.


Key – short for “key signature,” which is a group of flats or sharps at the beginning of each line of written music. The key signature matches up to a specific group of sounds that sound good together. These sounds have precise relationships with one another, and a name: “scale.” Usually the name of the key is the same as the name of the chord that starts or ends the song. In most folk and pop music the starting and ending chords are the same.


Lead sheet – a way of writing out a song without using notes on a musical staff to show the pitches of the melody. Instead, the words are written out with chord stamps above them. You have to learn the melody of the song from hearing it sung to be able to use a lead sheet of a song.


Machete – another small guitar-like instrument like the braguinha, cavaquinho, and rajão.

Major – a type of chord. The distances between the pitches of a major chord make it sound happy or bright to most people.

Measure – the space on a musical staff between two bar lines. Every measure begins with a strong beat.

Melody – notes played one at time, one after the other.

Minor – another type of chord. The pitch relationships of a minor chord make it sound dark or sad to most people.

Mode – another word for scale.

Musical improvisation – to make up music as you are playing.


Natural – a musical symbol placed in front of a musical note. It cancels any sharp or flat symbol that would normally apply to that note.

Note – a round symbol that is placed on a line or space of a musical staff. Some notes are circles or ovals; other types of notes are circles or ovals with lines attached. The circle or oval part of the note can be filled in (solid black) or left empty (white). This circle or oval is called the note head. Each note represents one sound. The color (either black or white) of the note head combined with the stem (the vertical line) indicates how long each sound should last. Sometimes the word “note” is used to refer to just the sounds. For example, you might say, “she played a lot of notes in that song.”

Nut – the raised ridge at the top of the ukulele fretboard. It holds the strings slightly away from the fretboard so they can vibrate.


Octave – distance to the same letter note, either higher or lower. You might hear an octave in action when your mom and dad sing the same note and your dad’s voice is lower and your mom’s is higher but they both sound like they are singing the same note. In Western folk music we have eight notes in an octave. “Oct” means “eight.” Two other examples of words that use “oct” to mean eight are octagon and octopus.

Octave transposition – Rewriting a song’s melody so it goes up, rather than down, so ukuleles without a “low G” tuning can play it.

Open string – a string that is played without placing your left hand on any of the frets. So, for example, if you played the A string on its own, you’d be playing the open A string.


Pickup – a pickup means the music begins on a weak beat instead of a strong beat. Almost all music is organized into patterns of strong and weak beats. One very common pattern is strong-weak-weak-weak. Almost all the songs in this book use this pattern. Another common pattern is strong-weak-weak. “Amazing Grace” uses this pattern.

Pitch – whether a sound is high or low. An example of a high sound would be birds tweeting. An example of a low sound would be a thunderstorm.

Pluck – pulling your right (strumming) hand finger against a string firmly and then gradually releasing it so the string vibrates and you hear a nice clear musical sound.


Rajão – a Portuguese fretted string instrument, similar to a small guitar. Braguinha, cavaquinho and machete are other similar instruments.

Rhythm – how sounds make patterns in time. For example, a rainstorm has a different rhythm than a rooster crowing.

Round – a song that can be sung by two groups or two people starting at different times. This way of singing doesn’t work with just any song – the song needs to have been written so that it will sound good when different parts of it are overlapped.


Scale – a ladder of musical notes arranged in a specific pattern, usually with small distances in pitch, all going up or down. The names of some common types of scales in Western music are major, minor, and blues. There are hundreds of types of scales in the world.

Second position – means your finger 1 (index finger) is in the second fret, one fret away from the tuning pegs.

Sharp – a musical symbol placed in front of musical note. It means to raise the sound slightly, by the amount that musicians call a “half step.”

Stopping – pushing a string against the fretboard with a finger of your left hand so that one end of the string rests against a fret. The other end of the string is tied to the bridge below the sound hole. We say the fret is “stopping” the string because the string can’t vibrate where it is being pushed onto the fret. The contact with the fret shortens the amount of the string that is vibrating. Only the part of the string that is in the air and not touching anything is free to vibrate.

Sound hole – round hole in the body of the ukulele.

Spiritual – a song created by African Americans that imparted Christian beliefs and values while also describing the hardships of slavery.

Staff – a musical staff is made of five equally spaced horizontal lines. There are four spaces. Each line and space of the musical staff represents a specific musical pitch. A tab staff is also made of equally spaced horizontal lines but there are four instead of five for the ukulele. See “tab staff.”

Stem – a vertical line attached to the round part of a musical note. The stem helps indicate the rhythm of the note. Note stems are shorter than bar lines and are attached directly to a round note symbol.

String numbers – ukulele strings are numbered from the floor to the ceiling when you are holding the uke in playing position. That means the string closest to your eyes is string 4 with a pitch of G. String 3 has a pitch of C. String 2 has a pitch of E, and string 1 is closest to the floor and has a pitch of A.
Strumming pattern: The rhythm or order in which the strings are strummed while playing a song.

Strum 1 – downward strums with a steady beat. Another way to think of it is down strums with equal time between each strum so that the strums sound evenly spaced in time.

Strum 2 – even down-up strokes played with a steady beat. This means there is an equal amount of time between each down and up strum so they sound evenly spaced in time.

Strum 3 – down-up strokes to a steady beat, but the time after the down stroke is longer than the time after the up stroke. Some well-known songs such as Row, Row, Row Your Boat or Queen’s We are the Champions use a 6/8 time signature. The pattern of beats in 6/8 time is STRONG-weak-weak STRONG-weak-weak. Usually when we strum a song with a 6/8 time signature we use Strum 3. We do a down strum on the STRONG and an up strum on the second weak beat just before the next STRONG. Most listeners will hear this music as having steady beats that are unevenly divided. Your feeling when you play will be long-short long-short. This long-short pattern is the feeling of Strum 3.

Subdominant chord – a triad built on the fourth note of the scale.


Tablature, or tab staff – a staff especially for fretted stringed instruments including the ukulele. Each line represents one string of the ukulele. There are numbers on the tab staff that tell the player which fret to stop the string on.

Tag – a tag is fragment of music that creates a distinct end to a song. In other words, the listener hears the song end without a gradual fade in volume.

Third position – means your finger 1 (index finger) is in the third fret, two frets away from the tuning pegs.

Time signature – the numbers at the beginning of each song on the staff immediately to the right of the clef. It tells you how many beats are in each measure and what the pattern of strong and weak beats is in the song. The 4/4 time signature has the pattern strong-weak-weak-weak. The 3/4 time signature has the pattern strong-weak-weak. The 6/8 time signature has the pattern STRONG-weak-weak STRONG-weak-weak. Every measure begins with a strong beat.

Tonic chord – a triad built on the first note of the scale.

Transpose – to play music originally in one scale in a different scale.

Transposing – playing or singing music starting on a different pitch but keeping the same sound of the melody and chords. When we transpose music, we change what is called the “key.”

Treble clef – A clef is a musical symbol used to indicate the pitch of the notes written on the staff. It is always shown at the beginning of each line or stave of music. The treble clef is also known as the G clef and it indicates that the second line up from the bottom of the staff is G4, the same pitch as the ukulele G string (with standard ukulele tuning.)

Triad – a three note chord. The intervals between each note are thirds.

Triple meter – a time signature with three beats per measure.

Turn around – a passage at the end of a section of music which leads to the next section.
Tuning: The process of adjusting the tension of the strings to match specific pitch, most commonly G-C-E-A.

Tuning pegs – located just beyond the nut. Each string is wound around a tuning peg. You can change the pitch of the string by turning the peg to tighten or loosen the string. Tightening the string makes the pitch go higher (a sound more like birds chirping or a girl’s voice). Loosening the string makes the pitch go down (a sound more like thunderstorm or a man’s voice).


Vamp – a short section of music that is repeated many times.


Work song – a song people sing while working to help them stay together or to express their feelings about their job.


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