This is a post about how to practice the ukulele.
It’s especially aimed at beginners. Right at the start, if you get a few basic skills locked in, you’ll make much faster progress.
This isn’t about how to practice ukulele technique. That’s a whole other topic. Apart from to say – practicing ukulele should not be boring, or painful.
Also, don’t worry about perfection, until you’re practicing for a high-profile performance (like a TED talk, or a TV show). The ukulele is a very forgiving instrument.
Full disclosure: I’m something of an expert in how NOT to practice.
When I was a violin student I hated practicing. I was terrible at it. I didn’t particularly like the music I was playing, and I especially hated practicing scales and studies.
It was boring and lonely and it wasn’t any fun.
I actually think it’s morally wrong to expect young musicians to play in a state of boredom for long periods. (Or any musicians, for that matter.)
The purpose of practice
When you learn to play ukulele – or any other musical instrument – you do need to practice.
That’s because you won’t get anything right the first time. Or the second time.
Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers says people have to do something at least 10,000 times to achieve mastery.
I think with the ukulele it’s a lot quicker – more like 100. But the principle is similar.
You can make good progress on the ukulele with quite small amounts of practice, as long as it’s fairly regular.
Five to 10 minutes, three times a week is okay. If you practice daily it’s even better.
You definitely don’t have to practice for hours and hours.
What about weekly practice? (haha)
Here’s another disclosure. When my friends and I first started playing the ukulele, we didn’t do any practice from one week to the next.
This is what happened: for the first few weeks we had to re-learn everything each time. We did gradually get better anyway.
If you sign up for a weekly class and don’t manage to do any playing in between, that’s okay. Please don’t give up. But you’ll probably notice that other people are zooming ahead.
You’ll get a lot more out of the lessons – and get to the fun faster – if you do a bit of practice.
Steps to practice – Stage 1
When you first start playing the ukulele, for the first couple of weeks, the most important things to practice are chord shapes, strums and counting the beat.
Yes, all three are equally important!
1. Playing chords
Practice the chord shapes for three basic chords – C, F and G. Don’t worry about learning other chords right now.
When you shift between chords, you don’t need to take your hand completely off the fretboard. Have a look at the fingering of the chords and work out the easiest and quickest way to get from one to the other, and then back again.
2. Basic strums
Practice two basic strums – Down Down and Down Up. Here’s my Youtube video showing how to play these strums.
For the first two or three weeks, don’t confuse your brain with other strums. When your hands are used to playing chord shapes and simple strums, then you can go on to more fancy strums.
3. Counting the beat
Practice changing the chords regularly. Count 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 and then change chord.
Some people find a metronome is helpful for this. There are online metronomes – here’s one: www.metronomeonline.com
Or you can buy a metronome from a music shop or online – e.g. something like this one.
Some metronomes double as tuners. If you’re a beginner I don’t recommend one of these. Keep it simple.
Steps to practice – Stage 2
As soon as you have mastered three chord shapes and two strums, and can play these to a regular beat, then you can play more songs.
Here are a couple of songs which use these chords and these strums.
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
You can also start learning more chords, when you find them in songs.
Every time you learn a new chord, practice changing between the new chord and the other chords you already know.
At this stage you will also be learning some new strums. I suggest learning one strum at a time, or your hands (and your brain) will get confused.
Look at the chords and make sure you can play the shapes. Check the chord sequence and make sure you can get between the chords in time. Practice by counting 1234 and then changing chord. (NB this is just initial practice. When you play the song the count might be different.)
Next steps with practice
Click this link to get to my next post where I discuss more about how to practice a song.
Because that’s where the fun really kicks in!
And here’s my post about how to get into the habit of practicing regularly.
Hi, I’m Alice
I’ve been in love with the ukulele since my mother, Sue, taught me three chords when I was six.
I teach ukulele to people all over the world via Zoom and Skype. If you happen to live in Hamilton, New Zealand, I also teach group ukulele classes.
You can find out about my group classes by clicking here.
Click this link to book online ukulele lessons with me. $US160 for six half-hour lessons.
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