Whether you’re 5 or 95, it’s never too early or too late to learn how to play the ukulele. It’s incredibly fun, relatively easy, and guaranteed to bring joy to you and those around you.

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Learn to Play the Ukulele

The ukulele is perfect for beginners. It’s small, lightweight, and easy to handle. The nylon strings won’t hurt your fingers, and the fact that there are only four of them means chord shapes are a breeze to memorize. 

Many beginner musicians start with ukulele, aiming to eventually learn to play guitar. They find ukulele easier than guitar, but most of the skills and playing techniques can eventually be transferred over, making ukulele the perfect stepping stone. 

When it comes to learning how to play the ukulele, you have a few options: 

Ukulele Lessons 

Taking private lessons with a qualified instructor is one of the best options for learning any instrument. They’ll make sure you master the basic techniques, avoid picking up bad habits, and move forward at an appropriate pace. They’ll also give you real-time feedback and correct any mistakes. 

One of the biggest reasons why beginners like to hire a private instructor is for the accountability aspect of it—even when the going gets tough and you feel like giving up, your teacher will expect you to show up and push through. 

Online Ukulele Classes

Another ideal option is taking online classes. It’s much more affordable and accessible, since you don’t have to travel anywhere and can learn on your own time. The instructors are just as skilled and knowledgeable and often provide detailed lessons, common mistakes to avoid, and ukulele practice assignments. 

Online students also love the fact that they can pause the lesson at any point, rewind it, and repeat sections as many times as they need to. 

Teach Yourself

Another option for learning the ukulele is to teach yourself. There are countless resources available out there—video tutorials, chord diagrams, books, and articles full of ukulele tips for beginners. The ukulele is fairly easy to pick up, so even if you’re never played it before, you can learn a simple song in a matter of minutes. 

ukulele and laptop
Ukulele is one of the easiest instruments to play. 

Getting Started

Let’s briefly go over how to get started with playing the ukulele. If you’re still not sure whether or not you’d like to learn how to play, this will give you a better idea of what to expect. 

Or maybe you already have one in hand—if so, these tips may be all you need to start playing your first song.  

How to Hold the Ukulele

The ukulele is incredibly light and easy to hold. You can use a strap if you’d like, but you really don’t need one. Simply cradle the round part of the instrument with your right arm and press it against your chest. Support the neck of the ukulele with your left hand. 

Tuning the Ukulele 

Standard ukulele tuning is G-C-E-A, with A being the string closest to the floor. Use a clip on tuner or an app on your phone to tune your ukulele as accurately as possible. 

Ukuleles tend to go out of tune fairly quickly, so make sure to check the tuning and make adjustments before you start playing, as well as a few times during your session. 

Playing Chords

In order to play songs on the ukulele, you’ll need to learn a few chords—even just a few will be enough to play your first song. 

To play a chord, keep the thumb of your left hand in the back of the ukulele’s neck, while placing one or more of the other fingers on the frets (the spaces between the vertical bars on the ukulele’s neck). Use the very tips of your fingers—you’ll need to arch them a little bit. 

To start, practice pressing down on the strings with different fingers and in various places along the fretboard. At the same time, try plucking the strings with your right hand—they should produce a clean, resonant sound without any dullness or buzzing. 

Next, it’s time to learn actual chords. You can do this by looking up chord diagrams, which are widely available online and in books. To read a chord diagram, imagine that you’re looking at the ukulele in a vertical position, with the neck pointing up. From left to right, the four strings are G-C-E-A. 

Each diagram will have circles indicating which string you should press down and on which fret. Some diagrams will also show which finger you should use. The example below shows that in order to play chord C, you need to press down on string A, on the third fret, with your third finger (your fingers are numbered 1-4, starting with the index finger). 

many playing c chord
Skillshare instructor Daniel Heslop demonstrates how to play the C chord on the ukulele in his class Ukulele Chords.

Once you know how to read chord diagrams, you can play any song in a matter of minutes. Simply look up the chords to the song, and if you notice any chords you don’t know, use a chord diagram to learn them (or refresh your memory). 

Ukulele Techniques

Ukulele Strumming

There are two types of strumming: downward and upward. To strum downward, you can use the fleshy part of your thumb or the back of your other fingers. To strum upward, you can use the opposite—the back side of your thumb or the fleshy part of your fingers. 

Alternating between downward and upward strums creates a strumming pattern, and there are dozens of these out there. They’re often indicated on ukulele tab music, but you can also learn them by ear by listening to and playing along with your favorite songs. 

man playing uke
Skillshare instructor Jacob Lamb demonstrates a ukulele strumming pattern in his class How to Play Ukulele: Beginner Masterclass.

Ukulele Fingerpicking

You can strum ukulele songs, but you can also try fingerpicking. This involves gently plucking the strings one at a time, while holding down the chord with your left hand. To try it, start by picking each string one at a time, first going down and then coming back up—this is one of the most popular fingerpicking patterns.

Like strumming patterns, there are countless different ukulele picking patterns out there, so be sure to experiment and try them all out. 

Using a Ukulele Capo

If you’ve never heard of a capo, it’s a little device that clamps onto a ukulele or guitar (or any other instrument in the lute family) to change the pitch of the strings. It’s incredibly handy for switching to a new key on the go. If you’re a singer or you accompany a singer, a ukulele capo will be your life saver! 

Practice, Practice, Practice! 

We’ve gone over the basics of how to learn ukulele, and now, it’s time to practice! The best way to do this is by learning to play your favorite songs—it’s fun, it doesn’t feel at all like work, and it will leave you with an impressive repertoire you can show off to your family and friends. 

Learn to Play the Ukulele

How to Play Ukulele: Beginner Masterclass