What Level Ukulele Player Are You?
If you are not sure of your current level then visit the Determining Your Level page. It will help you determine where you are in your development.
You might be an intermediate player as far as chords go but a beginner for scales and improvisation. A great strummer but just starting to explore fingerstyle. So one level doesn't fit all players and/or all subjects.
This is where a experienced teacher can really help out. It's sometimes hard to evaluate where you are in your own development. A outside set of ears and eyes can help determine a good course of development, depending on your goals.
Teaching your self can be frustrating at times. One problem with going the self taught route is the glut of information available online. There is no one controlling the flow of information, no one to guide you from the basic foundation skills and knowledge needed to more advance concepts for any particular topic. Patience is paramount with yourself is crucial — there’s nothing in the world that someone hasn’t managed to learn, starting from right from where you are. And, it's probably written down somewhere, either in a books or online.
The Top Fundamental Things for Learning Ukulele
Regardless of the resources you use to learn to play the ukulele, it's important to know what there is to learn and how that affects what you want to do. Whether it's playing in a band, singing and playing or being a singer – songwriter, there are specific things to learn and specific skills to develop. Here's an overview of the ten most fundamental things to learn.
The first thing that almost all ukulele players learn is chords. A chord is played by holding down multiple notes simultaneously on the fingering hand. The opposite hand makes a chord sound by strumming it or finger picking it. There is nothing more fundamental than playing basic chords.
The first 19 chords are the open position chords A, C, D, E, F, G, Am, Cm, Dm, Em, Fm, Gm, A7, B7, C7, D7, E7, F7, G7. Typically, barre chords or movable form chords are learned next. These chords are based on the open position, first chords you learned and have an advantage because they can be moved to different keys. Their disadvantage is that they're harder to play, at least initially.
The ability to play chords and switch them smoothly is the first requirement for playing alone or with a group. It immediately qualifies you for a band in the role of playing background accompaniment. This job is an accompaniment job and does not have the attention given to the Lead guitar player but it is your quickest route to playing in a band or at jam sessions!
Technique is the ability to control your hands individually and in combination. It's primarily a physical skill not a musical skill. The training and development of your hands is a prerequisite and necessary to develop musical skills.
Sports offers a good parallel. Football has physical skills and football skills. Passing, receiving, blocking, running and tackling are football skills. Running through tires, road work, weight lifting, wind sprints and stretching are physical skills. You need both to be successful.
There are many exercises designed to get your hands in shape. Finger independence drills, barres and stretches are just three good ways to develop your hands.
Notes on the Neck
Like their guitar brethren it's unbelievable how weak ukulele players are on knowing the notes on their own instrument!
No other instrument suffers from this same fate. Imagine a piano player not knowing the note names of the keys or a trumpet player not knowing what notes come out if they push specific valve combinations. Yet, an amazingly high percentage of guitar and ukulele players don't know the notes on the neck.
This problem has certainly been created by the guitar world's penchant for tablature and chord picture diagrams, which is also prominent in the ukulele community. Despite this, there is no excuse for the failure on the part of players to learn what is absolutely rudimentary on any other instrument.
The notes on the neck must be not only learned but mastered!
This skill is part of the accompaniment role the ukulele is most used for. All songs, besides having chords, have a strum that is responsible for the “feel” of the song. If you play the wrong strum with a song, something will sound off.
The strum helps keep the tempo steady and propels the music forward.
Strumming captures the most primitive element of music – rhythm. That tendency to tap our feet when we hear music can often be traced to the strumming pattern.
Finger picking is an alternative to strumming. Like strumming, finger picking uses the non-fingering hand and produces sound from chords. Fingerpicking was most common in Folk music but it has certainly made its way into main stream contemporary music through singer – songwriters and country artists. James Taylor is an outstanding finger pick artist who has fused Folk, Country, Rock and Pop music into a seamless original form. His influence has been significant ever since the beginning of the Folk – Rock movement. Jake Shimabukuro and James Hill have seamlessly incorporated fingerpicking with strumming on the ukulele.
Scales are organized streams of notes that can be used to generate melody or improvisation. There are many kinds of scales to learn depending on the musical style you choose. The two most common contemporary scales are the Blues Scale and the Pentatonic Scale. The Blues Scale is used in the darker forms of Blues and in heavier Rock Music. The Pentatonic Scale is used in all things Southern: Southern Rock, brighter Blues, Country music and even Motown.
Beyond these scales, there are many more to learn if the music you play needs them. Santana used the Dorian Scale to great effect while Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits made a living from the Aeolian Scale. Jerry Garcia’s favorite was the Mixolydian Scale.
- QuickStart Scale Fingerings for Ukulele by Curt Sheller
Rhythm is one of the three primary components of music, It encompasses several aspects. On the one hand, rhythm is the duration of a note or a chord. It also includes tempo, the beats per second as measured by a metronome and the stability of the beat. Rhythm, as in tempo, can vary during a song. Some songs maintain a steady tempo from beginning to end. Other songs vary the tempo. Slowing down is called Ritardando and speeding up is called Acclerando. These are intentional musical effects and not the result of a player not being able to keep steady time or rhythm. The ability to “keep time” is one of the most important skills a ukulele player or any musician can develop.
The development of the ear brings your musical insides – out. Music is the only hearing art. As such, the ear acts as the intermediary between your musical ideas and the execution of these ideas. Solfeggio, the Italian art of sight singing has been used for centuries to develop musicianship. Ear training contributes to the ability to play what you hear. There are virtually unlimited applications of ear training from working songs out by ear to improvising to writing. The European tradition of ear training has been far more stringent than that of the United States.
This area is your song list, your repertoire, what you can play from beginning to end. Without a repertoire, you have nothing to play. An audience is certainly not interested in listening to scales, arpeggios or exercises of any kind. They respond to songs no matter what style of music you play. It could original or cover but one way or another, you need to learn songs.
What does it mean to learn a song? The singer songwriter's version of learning a song would be to memorize the chords, the strum or finger pick, the melody, the form, the chords and the lyrics. The jazz guitarist and ukulele player version is to learn the single note melody, the chord changes, the form, the melody and chord version (combining single note melody and chords) and the improvisational structure. Unless you use the lyrics as inspiration for the mood and feel of a song, lyrics are not part of the instrumental process.
Now that you have a sense of what there is to learn, you can focus on how you're going to learn it. Whether it’s formal lessons with a good teacher, self teaching, books, DVDs or online resources, get started! The rewards will far outweigh the effort.