How to teach yourself the ukulele

26 May 2015

By Sam

Loads of us have always dreamed of playing in a band, or having our own Youtube channel. Learning the guitar is one of people’s top new year’s resolutions (right after stopping smoking, losing weight and getting out of debt).

The problem with the guitar, however, is that it’s complicated. Big and unwieldy, it’s heavy to hold, takes up too much space in your bedroom, and even hurts your fingers with its harsh metal strings. Plus, it’s got SIX strings, and that’s far too many to keep track of at one go.

We recommend you give up on the guitar, and leave it as a cool decoration. Try the ukulele instead. Small, portable and cheap, the ukulele is taking the UK by storm. Plus, it’s impossible not to fall in love with someone with the music and joy of Hawaii pouring from their fingertips.

Step one: procure your instrument

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There are a million and one different places to buy them – even cheap shops like Home Bargains and Wilkinsons are now likely to stock them, usually for not much more than a tenner – around the price of an album. Bright pink or blue (if you want to remind someone you’re a girl or a boy) or more sensible wood colours, they’re certainly easy to get your hands on. They almost certainly won’t be top quality instruments, but given the chances that you’re the next Amanda Palmer, it’ll probably do! If you want something higher quality, websites like the Southern Ukulele Store sell great models for talented players.

Step two: finding your way around the uke

first steps

So, the first time you get your hands on your instrument (ahem), you’ll see it’s tiny – about the length of your forearm, and with only four strings. If my maths serves me correctly, that means that it’s approximately 67% as difficult as the guitar, and I’ll take those odds! With a plinky sound, the great news is that even if you strum all strings without putting your fingers on the fretboard (the long bit with lines on), it’s already a chord. An Am7, to be precise. Try it. Sounds good, doesn’t it? After a quick glance at some other chords on a website such as this one, you’ll see that you can play a handful of chords with only one finger on the fretboard. You know what they say – three chords and the truth is all you need to make a song (well, according to the Ramones and Johnny Cash, anyway). Chances are that you can get three chords down within about half an hour of owning the instrument. Fame and fortune, here you come!

Step three: your first song

uke players

Now you’ve got a handful of chords, you can start to put them together. There are heaps of ways to get to the song stage. Most traditionally, you could buy a book – there might even be one in your local library. Most uke books have the chord shapes at the top, to remind you how they’re formed, and then the lyrics and where to play the chords on the rest of the page. This is the best technique for the luddites amongst you, but for everyone else, the easiest way is probably Youtube, where there are hundreds of tutorials, such as this lovely one for Hozier’s ‘Take Me to Church’ (NB – the singing is less lovely, but you can hopefully do a better job!). A good tutorial will take you through the song in a step-by-step way – this one starts out by showing you how all the chords look and sound. The video also has the benefit of allowing you to pause as often as you need, which, admittedly, might be quite a lot at the start. You can then play along, and lather-rinse-repeat as needed… Once you get more confident, there are hundreds of websites that show you the chords and lyrics of songs, so you can widen your repertoire.

So there you have it. If you go on to be an international superstar, please let it be known to the world that b**p was your first step on the path to greatness! Otherwise, we hope this article gives you inspiration for how to dodge boredom during your half term hols.


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