Ukulele Tips for Beginners – 14 Experts Share Common Mistakes

by | Oct 13, 2023 | Beginners | 0 comments

Finding the most useful ukulele tips for beginners is controversial. Every time I asked around, I got different answers because learning is clearly a subjective endeavor. So I decided that knowing what the common mistakes were could be a useful way of breaking that endless cycle of trial-and-error that beginners make. I figured that avoiding mistakes would accelerate and simplify my learning.

Our expert marketer Minuca Elena reached out to 14 musicians around the globe and asked them the simple question:

What are the most common mistakes beginners make when learning to play the ukulele?

I summarized the key takeaways and what I found to be useful tips, but read on to see what each expert says in their own words.

Key Insights and Tips

Here’s what our 14 experts have to say about the common mistakes beginners make when learning to play the ukulele, as well as some tips that can up skill your playing:

  • Focus on learning a few basic chords first rather than many chords quickly. Mastering C, Am, F and G and you can play thousands of songs.
  • Don’t restart a song from the beginning when you make a mistake. Isolate and practice tricky sections slowly, then incorporate that into the full song.
  • Give equal importance to rhythm and the strumming hand as you do to fretting chords. Use a metronome and start slow.
  • Don’t overthink it. Have fun, know your learning goals, find an enjoyable teacher, and learn songs you like. Remember it’s a journey.
  • Practice consistently in short regular sessions rather than long occasional ones. Commit to lifelong learning.
  • Learn proper posture, hand placement and holding of the instrument to avoid discomfort. Use a strap if needed.
  • Maintain proper tuning and listen to the proper sound. An out-of-tune uke can hinder learning.
  • Get a protective case to avoid damage, especially when traveling. Handle the uke with care.

Steve Kaiser – The Music Room

Oftentimes, beginning ukulele students will try to learn a lot of chords within a short period of time.  An alternative approach is to learn a few chords, which can then be used to play many songs.

A good place to start is for the student to learn C and Am. Each chord uses only one finger! Oftentimes, the student will be able to fluently transition between these chords in the first lesson.  That being said, a student can learn a two-chord song on day one of their studies!

In terms of goals, the student should strive to learn C, Am, F, and G within the first one to three months of development.  With these chords learned, they will have the facility to play thousands of contemporary and classic songs!

Eddie Perez – Musician Authority

A common mistake I often see with ukulele beginners is restarting the entire piece whenever they make a mistake.

This leads to spending less time on challenging parts and missing out on mastering the rest of the song. It also creates a habit of rushing through the easier parts after repeated restarts.

To tackle this, focus on isolating the tricky sections, practicing a bit before and after for context. Gradually work through these parts at around 50% speed before incorporating them into the whole song. Using a metronome is essential for consistent timing.

My approach involves spotting tough spots in a new song, concentrating on them by starting slow and gradually speeding up. Recording and reviewing your playbacks is crucial for self-improvement. Slow practice paves the way for speed, and purposeful practice differs from casual playing. Treat learning as a skill, and you’ll soon become your own effective teacher.

Cliff Hillis

I’m not a fancy ukulele player by any stretch.

This may sound silly, but when I first picked up a uke I started trying to learn chords and didn’t realize that the tuning is simply the top four strings of a guitar, only in a different register.

Everything changed after I realized that, ha! For someone who is learning ukulele as their first instrument, I’d say start off learning a handful of basic chords rather than trying to study a complicated tab for a song.

Start simple and build from there. You can do quite a bit with a handful of major and minor chords.

Bulat Nasibullin

Here is my list of most common mistakes when learning to play the Ukulele:

 

  1. Not focusing enough on the rhythm hand. The Ukelele can be a very interesting instrument rhythmically just like guitar. Beginners tend to focus only on the fret hand to get the fingers right for the chords and neglect the rhythm part of the equation. A lot of the most famous Ukulele led songs such as Somewhere over the rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, the rhythm part is just as important as the chords themselves.
  2. Not learning theory. Music theory is boring! Having taught kids music for a number of years this is the most consistent thing I hear. The Ukulele is complicated music theory wise because the strings are not tuned like other string instruments. The strings are not tuned lowest to highest as you go down them such as a guitar or a violin, the first string is a high G then C-E-A, so the second highest sounding string is the first one of the four. If you don’t understand at least a little bit of theory about how chords are structured it can get very confusing.
  3. Finally, I’m going to throw in here all the common things that people do wrong when learning ANY musical instrument including Ukulele:
  • not practicing consistently (5 mins every day is better that 35 minutes in 1 day)
  • expecting too much too fast, you have to give it 1 year at least just like any other instrument
  • trying to learn things that are more advance at the beginning, everyone wants to play a beautiful piece right away but you have to start with the boring, simple stuff first.

Evan Oxhorn – Stock Music Musician

When it comes to learning how to play Ukulele, the most common mistake beginners make is to overthink it! Learning an instrument should be fun, and by focusing too much on the technical details, you run the risk of giving up before you get good.

To make sure that you’re having fun, there’s a few things I recommend doing.

First, know why you want to learn ukulele. Is it to be able to accompany yourself singing? Do you want to add a new instrument to your repertoire? Whatever it is, keep the goal in mind when you’re practicing so you can stay focused on it when things get challenging.

Second, find a teacher you enjoy learning with. Maybe it’s an in-person teacher, or maybe it’s a YouTube channel, or someone on Tik Tok. It doesn’t matter who, so long as the person makes learning fun and enjoyable. If your teacher doesn’t feel like a good fit, you should try to find a new one.

Finally, learn to play songs you enjoy! Practicing scales and chords is really important and will make learning songs easier, but don’t forget to break up all the technical learning with some time spent playing songs you love.

David Andrew Wiebe – Music Entrepreneur HQ

One of the biggest mistakes beginners make in learning any instrument, including the ukulele, is not practicing enough. Now, over-practicing can have its drawbacks and can even lead to injury.

But most beginners are not practicing anywhere near enough to be worried about that. The learning curve is quite shallow when you’re first getting started, and you’d be amazed at how quickly you can improve on your instrument if you simply put in the time.

From finger exercises and scales to simple melodies, I have seen some students take their playing to surprising heights in just a few lessons. If you’re not passionate about your craft, do everything in your power to become passionate about it!

Surround yourself with ukulele magazines, books, videos, and more. The best students are those who are committed to being lifelong learners.

 

Luca Diadul

The ukulele is a wonderful instrument. More accessible and less expensive than a guitar, yet able to play all the same songs. It’s a great way to kick off your musical journey!

Of course, you might run into some pitfalls along the way. Here are three common mistakes beginners make when first playing and how to avoid them.

  1. Holding the instrument incorrectly

Not only can holding a ukulele incorrectly lead to a worse sound and a more difficult playing experience, but it can also be painful and uncomfortable.

To avoid this, make sure the body of the instrument rests against your chest, held comfortably in place by the forearm of your dominant hand (your strumming hand). Support the neck of the ukulele between the thumb and fingers on your other hand, your wrist in line with your arm, and the neck elevated above the palm. Try to avoid wrapping your thumb over the top of the fret board, instead positioning it squarely against the back of the neck. This will give you more flexibility to reach and play chords while also helping to keep your wrist straight and pain-free.

If you still find yourself really struggling to hold the ukulele comfortably, consider getting a strap! The strap will do the work for you and you can focus on playing the most beautiful renditions of your favorite songs.

  1. Inconsistent rhythm and strumming

It’s easy to focus on chords and melody when first playing any instrument, but rhythm is just as important to practice. Many beginners struggle with maintaining a consistent and steady strumming rhythm, which can lead to an uneven or choppy sound.

The best way to practice your rhythm is with a metronome. Start slowly – slower than you think you need to – and count along in your head or out loud to the beat as you strum. When you’re comfortable with the slow speed, gradually increase the tempo until you are comfortably able to play the song at the original speed. Not only will your playing sound better, you’ll also be able to fit in seamlessly when playing with other musicians!

  1. Giving up too early

The first time I picked up a guitar I was about 10 years old, but I didn’t start playing seriously until almost 15 years later, despite a regular interest in the instrument. What was the hold up?

I was intimidated. It was uncomfortable to play the strings, and I was worried that it would take too long to develop callouses on my fingers. The fretboard and chord combinations were unfamiliar and overwhelming. I couldn’t do this!

Except I absolutely could. With a little bit of dedicated practice, these initially daunting ukulele obstacles will quickly disappear. It’s important to remember that learning any instrument is a process that takes time and patience. Set realistic goals for yourself, celebrate small victories, and don’t be too hard on yourself when you encounter difficulties. Seek inspiration from your favorite songs or players, and consider finding a supportive community or taking lessons to stay motivated. The key is to persevere and keep practicing regularly. With dedication, you’ll see improvements over time and find great satisfaction and fun in your ukulele playing!

Marcy Marxer – Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer

Being a beginning ukulele player is fun and exciting. It can be so exciting that some players might forget to look through the chords and chord patterns before the song starts. This can cause surprises. Shall we call them “accidentals?”

It helps to take the time to look over a song before playing to see if there are any areas that could use a refresh. Sometimes, familiar chords in an unfamiliar order can cause a stumble. For instance, changing from an Em to a B7 feels totally different from changing from Em to A7. Surprise!

I also suggest using a metronome for practice and starting at a slow tempo. Feel that groove! Then, move the tempo up a little at a time. A steady tempo played slowly sounds better than a fast tempo with stumbles. Enjoy!

Alissa Musto

I think one of the biggest mistakes people make when learning to play the ukulele is not bothering to learn music theory and instead just memorizing chords by their shape.

The chords on the ukulele are different from guitar chords and sometimes more “advanced” jazz chords are actually easier to play on ukulele than a basic triad, plus they add nice color and variety to a song.

I think people also tend to strum too hard on the strings and because the frets are smaller then on a guitar, end up holding down multiple at the same time by accident.

 

Marc Gallagher

Learning to play the ukulele is an exciting journey, yet beginners often encounter some common mistakes that can impede their progress. One prevalent error is neglecting proper tuning. Failing to tune the ukulele correctly can result in an unpleasant sound, which can be discouraging.

Another common issue is incorrect posture and hand placement. Beginners may not realise the importance of maintaining a relaxed yet stable posture and holding the ukulele correctly. Poor posture and hand positioning can lead to discomfort and limited mobility while playing.

Strumming technique is fundamental in ukulele playing, and beginners often struggle with inconsistent strumming patterns and timing. Developing strumming skills and rhythm is crucial for playing songs fluently.

Many beginners rush into playing songs without mastering basic chords first. Learning and transitioning between chords smoothly is essential for playing songs fluently and without interruptions.

Finger strength and dexterity are crucial for fretting chords accurately. Beginners sometimes skip finger exercises and chord changes, hindering their ability to play smoothly.

Impatience can also be a significant obstacle. Learning any instrument takes time and patience, and beginners may become frustrated when they don’t see immediate progress, which can lead to a loss of motivation.

Lastly, ignoring music theory is a mistake. Understanding even basic music theory concepts can greatly enhance a beginner’s ability to learn and compose songs.

Awareness of these common mistakes can help beginners take proactive steps to avoid them, making their ukulele learning journey more enjoyable and successful. Regular practice and seeking guidance from experienced players or instructors can also aid in overcoming these challenges.

Ellia Bisker – Charming Disaster

Beginner ukulele players don’t always realize that it’s important to keep your instrument in tune – it trains your ear to hear what it’s supposed to sound like, and it’s much more pleasant for the people around you while you’re learning! A clip-on electronic tuner is an indispensable tool for this purpose and they’re pretty inexpensive.

Other common beginner mistakes are avoiding some of the basic chords that are a bit more challenging – the open E is a particular culprit, and it’s too bad because you really want that one in your chord vocabulary.

But the biggest mistake in my opinion is trying to learn to play as a technical exercise, without playing along with songs.

Whether they’re recordings or songs you’re singing yourself, they give you a rhythmic structure, and being able to play along even in a simple way provides the positive feedback and motivation that you really need as a beginner.

You don’t need more than three chords for most pop songs, and then a whole world opens up.

Ramiro Somosierra – Gear Aficionado

Although it’s a rewarding experience, learning to play the ukulele is not without its difficulties. Many basic errors that beginners make that impede their advancement are frequently made by them.

Neglecting proper finger and hand placement, which makes it harder to build chords and produce clear notes, is one key error.

An out-of-tune ukulele can prevent the development of a good ear for music. Ignoring correct tuning is another problem.

Additionally, a lot of novices speed through song learning, leaving little time for the development of muscle memory and technique. Impatience can impede advancement. The development of skills is also hampered by inconsistent practice. Establishing a consistent practice schedule is crucial.

Last but not least, avoiding tutorials and advice might result in misunderstandings and undesirable habits. Avoiding these blunders and approaching your learning with care and attention will help you become a better ukulele player.

Andy Fraser – Guitar Inside Out

One of the most common errors is neglecting proper tuning. Many beginners underestimate the importance of tuning their ukulele before playing. A slightly off-tuned instrument simply won’t sound right. This in turn to can slow progress and because it sounds ‘off’ discourage proper practice.

Regularly checking and adjusting the tuning is key to sounding right when you play and enjoying your practice.

Focusing solely on playing songs without developing proper technique is another common pitfall. Beginners might rush into strumming without mastering things like basic finger placement and chord transitions. It’s understandable – we all want to play our favorite songs.

But it’s important and will ultimately be beneficial to dedicate time to learning proper hand positioning, fingerpicking techniques and chord changes. Building up a strong foundation in technique will lead to quicker progress.

Consistency is key when learning any instrument, not just ukulele. Some beginners underestimate the importance of consistent practice.. Making progress requires regular practice sessions, even if they’re short. Skipping or missing practice will mean much slower development and could lead to frustration.

It’s easy to get annoyed and feel like you’re not as good as you feel you should be. You can avoid this by creating a practice routine that suits your schedule and sticking to it. If you do you’ll see steady improvement over time.

Emily Hurd

My biggest mistakes when I started playing the ukulele were easy to avoid. First, I should’ve learned the right fingering on the chords, just to smooth my transitions and play less awkwardly.

Second, I wish I had learned how to hold the instrument properly: fretting on the uke is actually pretty easy if you’re not trying to hold it like a guitar.

Third, I wish I had bought an instrument case for it right away. Just because a ukulele is small and relatively sturdy doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be handled carefully. I broke two nice ukuleles in my early years just through mishandling on tour.

Key Takeaways

In summary, our 14 experts had much to say across a variety of topics when it came to giving us some ukulele tips for beginners. The most common advice? Focus on fundamentals like consistent practice, proper technique, quality teaching, reasonable goals and patience to effectively learn the ukulele.

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