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How to get started playing the uke

Aloha, Welcome to the Wonderful World of the Ukulele!

You’re committed. Decided. You’re going to do it! You’re going be a music maker.  You’ll no longer be the audience.  A passive participant. In only a few hours you’ll be playing tunes and joining a warm, welcoming community of fellow music makers.  A community of every age, every race and every ability. You can and will become a musician.

Immediately, you’re gonna’ knock the socks off your kids, grand-kids, nieces, nephews, friends and foes, with incredible renditions of Wheels on the Bus, or Mary Had a Little Lamb Blues, we won’t even discuss the Ittsy Bittsy Spider.  Three of 50 songs you can play within an hour.  Or you can go country with Achey Breaky Heart and Jambalaya.  Do you want to Rock and Roll?  Try Feeling All right, Let it Be.  Watermelon Man… Ah, But I Digress….


You’re going to learn to make music. And when you do, your life will become fuller.


In this beginner section I will open doors. You choose which ones to  venture into. Songs from the 50ies, 60ies, etc, standards, Hawaiian (why not it’s your ukulele), blues, latin,  etcetera, etcetera, etcetera as the King once said.


Let’s take this step by step.  First you need a ukulele.


1.  There are four main sizes. Each style has advantages and disadvantages.

When you’re ready to purchase a uke give yourself some time. Hug each style:  


Soprano – the smallest            




A ukelele wih the parts pointed out

Tucks Tricks #1


Ask the Shop Owner or Proprietor to make sure EACH ukulele YOU try is in tune. If it’s not in tune, you’re climbing the wrong palm tree.  If it’s covered in paint [lacquer] it may be pretty, but it won’t sound terrific. If the tuning pegs don’t have gears you’ll never be able to keep your ukulele in tune.

You can by a decent ukulele in the $100 range at any music store or on line.  Either way as soon as you have your ukulele hold the fret board level with your eye and see if the strings stay close to the fret board as they travel from the nut of the ukulele to the bridge.  If there is a large gap your ukulele will be very difficult to play.

Please note there are quite a few “ukulele buying guides and videos” on line. Spend some time perusing them. It will be time well spent.

Tuck's Tricks #2

You’ve got your ukulele and you’re ready to play. Let’s do it!


But you can’t play if you’re not in tune.  First you need a tuner. You can purchase a tuner on line or at any music store.  NOTE:  A guitar tuner is the same thing as a ukulele tuner.  Also, there are lots of free tuning  apps available on-line you can put on your cell phone.   

TUNING  - you can't get started if you can't tune your instrument.  Tuckerism #3

The strings of most ukuleles are tuned as follows: G note C note E note and A note. The strings go down from your nose to the floor.  G – C – E – A.  A good mnemonic  (memory device is
Good Children Eat Apples.


WATCH OUT – when you’re getting your instrument in tune,  if you see a little #  or b on your tuner – you’re NOT on the right note.  

Ex:  If you see a G #  (a G with the hashtag), you are in G sharp or higher than the G note you want.  Conversely, if you see a Gb you are in G flat or just below the note you want.


Tuckerism: Start on a  note lower  than the note you’re trying to tune to then tune UP.   This makes the process much simpler.

Ex:  To tune your G  string (the number 4 string,  the one closest to your nose,)  also known as the top string,  turn your peg until you get to F.  Then twist the peg and pluck the string and the tuner will show  F # and then G.   If your tuner goes to “E”,  YOU’RE WINDING THE TUNE PEG THE WRONG WAY!   Remember it’s easiest to start on a lower note and slowly bring the string UP to your desired note.


Tuckerism #122:  Here's a great trick to quickly familiarize yourself with your ukulele and the musical key-board generally:  As you go to sleep gently say these letters ALOUD,  but quietly,


A B C D E F G  

starting at any letter and then in either direction -  Go down the scale   <-  D C B A G F  or -> up the scale  E F G A   ETC.  If you do this religiously, the payoff will be well  worth your effort and the exercise is better for your brain than counting sheep.  If you  chose NOT to  say the notes aloud skip the whole thing.   It just doesn’t work.  


Still having trouble tuning??


Tuckerism: Each tuner is different. Make sure your tuner is on “UKULELE” tuning!  I promise,  tuning gets easier and easier and after awhile your strings will need less and less adjustment.  


Before we go any further let me apologize, in advance, to all you wonderful ‘lefties’ out there.  For the sake of brevity, all subsequent directions are given as if we’re all right handed.




            Lay your LEFT index finger across all four strings of the  5th fret  [the fret with the dot] and point your finger nail toward your nose.  The body of your ukulele will drop naturally to the top of your right leg. 


Tuckerism: Ukuleles' have dots on the 5th, 7th, 10th and 12th frets.  Most ukes have a second set of dots on the top edge, too.  The 2nd set is there so  you don’t have to turn your uke sideways to see where you are.  The dots are guides.  Practice using them.  See the barring section below.    


Now, allow your right forearm to rest across the body of your uke below the bridge. The fingers of your right hand will be above the ukulele where the fret board and the body of your instrument meet.  You are now in the ‘CLASSIC’ ukulele position. 


Don’t allow your right elbow fly around.  You should be able to hold your uke with your forearm.  To check if you’re doing this right, remove your left hand from the fret board.  Did you’re ukulele crash to the ground in splinters?  Then you weren’t holding it tight enough.  Again this becomes  easier with time, but why wait cradling your ukulele is much easier with a STRAP.

uke strap 2.jpeg

Remember to return again and again to the Classic  position especially when you’re trying to learn more difficult chords, strums and arpeggios. There is a reason it’s known as the Classical position.


In this position remember:


Strings again are  4 - 3- 2- 1-   Good Children Eat Apples.  Pluck each string.  Call out their numbers and  then their notes G  C  E  A.    Up & Down.   Ex:  “A is the one string, the bottom string.”  etc…

Do this until the strings and their numbers are automatic.

Tucks Tricks #3


Eventually you will want to play chords up and down the neck of your ukulele.  This means learning how to make barre chords.  Let's start with the fundamental position now and the rest will be much easier as we progress.  Tuck's Bonus:  If you learn the basic barring technique you'll be playing a song in a few minutes.




lay your left index finger across all four strings of the 5th fret.  ON MOST UKULELES theres a MARK on the 5th fret in the middle of the fret board. Make sure the tip of your finger is extending a little bit above the neck.  Now turn your finger toward the sound hole and gently run the THUMB of your right hand down the strings.   G    C   E   A.  What you want to hear is a nice clear note on each string.  IT NEVER HAPPENS THE FIRST TIME YOU TRY IT.   The culprit is your barring finger! It needs to build up some muscle and to find the correct position.  Here’s what to do.  Give your left hand a little shake.  Then


  1. Reapply your left index finger across the 5th fret.

  2. Lay the thumb of your LEFT HAND across the back of the fret board.

  3. Using your thumb and index finger give the neck a squeeze and use your right hand thumb to play the strings again.

Sounds better already, doesn’t it.  Remember to have the tip of your index finger above the fret board and to turn your index finger a bit toward the sound hole.  Once you can barre with ease you can play hundreds of songs in a lot of different keys.  More on this later.  


  1. Assume the classical position. 

  2. With the index finger of your RIGHT HAND stroke down the strings.

  3. Count as you strum:   one   two

  4. Now move the index finger or your left hand and barre the 5th fret. and stroke downward twice counting one two.

  5. Now move your barre up to the 7th fret and stroke downward four times.  

Repeat this. Generate some rhythm and you'll hear La Bamba come out of your ukulele.  


BARRE FINGER EXERCISE  – go up and down your fret board for 2 minutes every time you pick up your uke. Do this for a minute or two.  STOP on each fret and run your RIGHT THUMB up and down the strings.  Eventually,  each string will make a  pure musical tone.  Remember to turn your barring finger toward the sound hole and extend  the tip over the top of the neck.



The no pain, no gain axiom is a myth.  If your fingers hurt,  STOP PLAY. Give your fingers a good shake.  Do the Vulcan Stretch and knuckle Pull.


If you start to play again and your fingers still hurt; STOP PLAYING. Give you fingers and muscles a good rest.




Please check out some of Mike’s tutorial’s – Since I wrote this Uncle Mike is strumming somewhere else,  He was a terrific instructor and patient teacher.


 See you next week, Tuck


Above are the first four chords you’ll learn on your ukulele. Let me explain how to read these diagrams.  If you get confused please go back to the top and study the diagram of your ukulele.

The diagram on the left is a picture of how to make a C chord.  When you’re cradling your ukulele remember the top string is the G string, that’s the one closest to your nose.  You’ve already done some barring so you know the frets on your fret board.  Let’s read the diagram below.

The C at the top of chord diagram tells you this is one example of C chord.  The three 0 0 0 below tells you to play these strings open. That is do not put any of your fingers on those strings. 

The Black Dot tells you to put a finger on the bottom string on the third fret. I can hear you now. “Yeah, Tuck, but which finger should I put there?” Take a quick peek at the top of this section.


The C chord is on the left and on the bottom string, on the third fret you see the number 3.  This tells you place your third finger there.  I can hear you again, “Tuck, which one’s my 3rd finger?”



I     M    R      P

1    2     3      4

Since the thumb is seldom used in chording we’ll use the following as our code. When we get to advanced jazz chording I’ll use “T” to indicate some tricks in how to use the thumb of your left hand.






Looking again at the top diagram you now realize all you have to do is place your RING (3) finger on the bottom string of the third fret and I’m making a C chord.  How cool is that?


Now before we go any further practice placing and then removing  your ring finger from the bottom string, third fret. Make sure the pad of your ring finger presses down just hard enough to make a nice, clear tone.  Make sure thumb is pressed against the rear of the fret board.  DON’T PRESS REAL HARD. YOU DON’T HAVE TO. AND AFTER A WHILE IT HURTS.  Wow, capital letters! That must have been important.  It was.


Now with your RIGHT HAND strum down all four strings. You can use your thumb or index finger, or any finger you want. In fact, use a variety fingers this will get your whole RIGHT HAND involved in the strumming process.  A great way to start.


Try the following as you repeatedly remove and place the ring finger of your LEFT HAND on and off the bottom string:


Close your eyes.  Feel it. Hum the sound.  Do this with each chord as we go forward and I promise the payoffs will be incredible.  THIS PRACTICE WILL JUMP-START YOUR PLAYING!


Now that you have the C chord under your fingers let’s move on to the Am (A minor) chord.


Please read the diagram with me. The Am at the top tells us we’re about to make an Am chord.  There is only one red dot on the diagram, so again we'll only be using one finger.  We will be placing a finger on the  top string, 2nd fret. But which finger?  We return to the top diagram of this section and discover we should put our #2 finger, our middle finger. On the top string second fret.  

Back to the basics. You’ve made the Am chord. Now with your right hand strum down all four strings.  Remember to use a variety of thumb and fingers.  Close your eyes.  Feel it. Hum the sound. 


Transition back and forth from the C chord to the Am chord. Again close your eyes. Hum the sounds you’re making. Do this for a while and try playing this song.


C //     Am //   C //      Am//   C //      Am //        C //   Am //

If you like-a     ukulele  lady,   ukulele lady like-a you


If you’re unfamiliar with the song, check it out on you tube; its fun.  If you know it, simply strum down twice [ / / ] means beats and sing when each chord appears.


Are you having trouble getting that middle finger to do what you want it to?


Let’s go to Paris and visit the Arc-de-Triumph.  Here are 2 easy steps to good left hand chording.


1. Place your thumb in the middle of the neck somewhat opposite of the chord you’re playing.  I wish I could be more specific, but because everyone’s hands are a bit different, so is the position of the thumb and the angle of your fingers. Your thumb is NOT glued on or affixed with a THUMB TACK. It’s back there to help apply pressure when needed as you make chords on the fret board.  A GOOD thumb is in constant flux.  Incidentally, so is your left elbow.


Please place your ukulele aside for a moment.


2. In your mind’s eye picture an arch. Look at your left hand. Make an arch with your fingers. Relax your fingers. You want your fingers to arch over your fret board. Give ‘em a wiggle.  You’ll notice to make a nice, easy arch your LEFT ELBOW is now pointing directly to the floor and your THUMB is ready to be placed on the rear of your fret board.


Now put your ukulele back into your hand. Your fingers will arch over the fret board, the thumb will fall into place naturally, and your elbow, for now will be pointed downward.  

On we go. But this time it’s your turn. Please fill in the blanks.

The F at the top tells us we’re about to make an ___ chord.  The two 0 0’s tells us ___ ___ ___ ___. The dot on the top string, 2nd fret tells us to _____. But should you go to find which finger?

______.  The dot on the 2nd string tells us we should ____.  Which finger should be place on the 2nd string first fret? _____ Hint look carefully at this diagram. 

Now practice moving from the Am chord to the F chord.  You’ll notice all you have to do to make that transition is add your index finger to the 2nd string on the first fret.  Do this for a while.  Hum as you play. Close your eyes. Concentrate on the sound. 

By now you know the drill.  To make this chord all you have to do is drop your middle finger down one string.  Leave your index finger where it is and simply apply your ring finger to the bottom string 2nd fret. 


Tuckerism #33a&b

       a. You don’t have to make this chord in one fell swoop.

           Drop your middle finger first then added the ring finger.  

       b. You do have to tilt your left elbow a bit to easily apply

           your ring finger to the bottom string.


Now practice transitioning from the F chord to the G7 chord. Again once you get the feel, close your eyes. Hum the sounds you’re making.


Are you ready? Let’s make music!  Remember it’s okay to look at your fret board to see if your fingers are in the right position as we move from chord to chord.


You might want to go back to the top of this section and have the picture of all four chords in front of you.


Now do this slowly:


Make a C chord and stroke downward with your index finger eight times.  Counting ALOUD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Now make an Am chord by simply adding your middle finger to the top string 2nd fret.  Stroke downward with your index finger eight times.  Counting ALOUD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Now make a F chord by simply adding your index finger to the second string 1st fret.  Stroke downward with your index finger eight times.  Counting ALOUD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Now make the G7 chord.  Take your time, drop your middle finger one string, leave your index finger in place, left your left elbow a bit and apply your ring finger to the bottom string 2nd fret. Stroke downward with your index finger eight times.  Counting ALOUD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Now return to the C chord and stroking downward count aloud

1 2 3 4 and stop!


Do the above for a while. Turn on your TV; watch a movie and play these chords till you can do it without looking.


“Yeah, Tuck but what now?”


Do the same as above but this time only count 1 2 3 4 before transferring to the next chord.


Example:  C 1 2 3 4  Am 1 2 3 4   F 1 2 3 4   G7 1 2 3 4 back to the C chord.  


Once you can do this comfortably, do the same as above but only count 1 2.  If you’re not counting ALOUD you’re hindering your own progress.


No do the same thing playing the chords in different rotations. 

Play  C  to G7   --- Just playing these two chords and you have repertoire of over fifty songs. Achey Breaky Heart, Jambalaya and 20 or thirty children’s songs. Wheels on the Bus, Itsy Bitsy Spider, The A B C song to name a few.    


Once you mastered the above and combinations of the above you can play hundreds of songs.


Play C Am F and G7:


  • Stand By Me

  • Little Darling

  • 26 Miles Across the Sea

  • Sh-Boom


Play C  G7 F C: 

Bad Moon Rising – Down on the Corner


Play C F G7:

  • Three Little Birds 

  • Sloop John B. &

  • most country and calypso songs


Learning a few more chords and variations of these chord and  you add hundreds of more songs to your repertoire. And that’s what we’re here for.


Get those four chords under your fingers and we'll add some delicious strums and arpeggios (picking).


As James Hill (a ukulele master) said: “Your left hand is what you know. Your right hand is who you are.”


Simply translated we can’t move forward until you can easily move from chord to chord.  Practice as you watch t.v.  NEVER put you ukulele in a case at home.  Leave it out.  Play as least 15 minutes a day.  One hour on Sunday doesn’t cut it.  See you next week.  



How are you doing?  Can you easily  move from a C chord to an Am and then to an F  ---- G7   and back again to C?  Can you easily play the chords in reverse order?

G7 – F – Am – C.   Yeah, but can you do this in the dark? With a blindfold? That’s your goal.    Back in the day, George Formby played the ukulele behind his back, between his legs, and with one hand.  I hate him.  Jealousy is bad trait.


Try the following exercises & please keep in mind:

  1. You’d like each note to be clear.

  2. Your transitions from chord to chord to be smooth.

  3. When you strum down use your thumb, then index finger, then middle, ring, pinky and then all your fingers together.

  4. Always count.   Always count aloud.  Keep the beat.


Remember, other than the G7 chord, all you’re doing is adding one finger at each transition. 

Strum down the  C chord, count aloud 1 2 3 4 added your middle finger to the top string 2nd fret to make the Am chord strum down four times counting aloud 1 2 3 4, added your index finger to the second string 1st fret to make the F chord strum down and count 1 2 3 4 and then drop your middle finger one string, leave your index finger in place [tilt your elbow to the left a bit] and add your ring finger to the bottom string 2nd fret to make your G7 chord. Strum down and count aloud 1 2 3 4  and now return to the C chord again strumming down counting 1 2 3 4 aloud and stop.


A pause here: Sister Mary Berkman, a favorite English teacher, would have flunked me for the above run on sentence.  Here we go:




C    F    G7    C                  8X  


C    Am   F   G7    C          8X - 






C   G7  F  C          8X   How’s your tone and beat. Now add the Am chord. 


C   G7 Am F C    8x 


If you’re and Adele fan, she uses this progression often; so does Lady Antebellum and many more ‘modern’ musicians.


Practice the above with a blindfold.  I’ll be asking  for volunteers next week.


How can I modulate from one key to another?  Again this is simple.

Please commit the following to memory.  We'll use the keys C   &  F.

But remember this formula works for every key.


To modulate from C to F     Play for a while in the key of C. 


Then play a C chord and the five chord of F   which is C7   and play

then play in the Key of F   ---- the formula is:


"What ever key you're playing in--- When you modulate play the 5 Chord

of the key you wnt  to change to. "   


Make a list of 5 chords ---


C to F      play C    C7 then F  --- and you're in the key of F


F to G     play F    D7   then G   this a one step mod, the most common and easiest on the ear.


G to A    play G   E7    then A  -----


This formula is very useful and worth knowing.  Much like the Hawaiian Vamp formula.


Hawaiian Vamp. play the 2 chord   5 chord and them the 1 chord in any key.  


Love to all,
































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