How to Play Ukulele
Learn how to play ukulele with our step-by-step guide for beginners. Get started playing basic chords and understanding strumming patterns with Fender.
By Ben Nemeroff
Small, portable, relatively inexpensive, and fun to play, the ukulele is a great instrument for beginners to pick up and deepen their love of music. If you’re thinking of learning to play ukulele, there’s no time like the present!
Like any lifelong journey, you’ll want to know what to expect along the way. In this guide, you’ll get tips for choosing the right type of ukulele, tips for tuning and strumming your instrument, and some easy chords and songs to get you started.
“My advice for someone just learning the ukulele would be to have fun with it and not take anything too seriously.”
In This Guide
• Can I Teach Myself to Play Ukulele?
• Why Play Ukulele?
• Choosing a Ukulele That’s Right for You
• How to Hold a Ukulele
• How to Tune a Ukulele
• Ukulele Strumming Patterns
• How to Play Ukulele Chords
• How to Play Beginner Ukulele Scales
• Learn a Song on the Ukulele
Why Play Ukulele?
Looking for a good way to enhance your musical repertoire? Look no further than the ukulele. There’s a reason it’s been a favorite instrument of a wide range of artists, from George Harrison to Elvis to Taylor Swift. In the “Why you Should Play Ukulele” episode of Fender Play LIVE, expert uke player Abe Lagrimas Jr. breaks down some of the surprising techniques and songs you can play on the ukulele!
Whether you’ve never picked up an instrument before or if you’ve played one or more instruments for years, there are plenty of reasons to learn to play ukulele:
• It’s fun and easy to learn. Think of ukulele as a “fun-sized” instrument. Its portable size makes it easier for younger players and people with smaller hands to learn to play. Better yet, the ukulele comes in multiple sizes, ranging from the tiny soprano ukulele to the slightly larger tenor uke, giving players more options to find the right fit.
• It’s budget-friendly. You can buy a new ukulele for just $100 -- and sometimes less!
• Ukulele skills translate to guitar. While the ukulele’s strings are structured slightly differently (more on that later!), many of the chords and skills you learn on ukulele can later be applied to guitar.
• You’ll be in good company. When you learn to play ukulele, you’ll find yourself among the ranks of many others who enjoy its fun, carefree sound. From Billie Eillish to Grace VanderWaal, there are a number of musicians who are skilled ukulele players. Artists like Jake Shimabukuro and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole are renowned for their prowess and have taken ukulele to new heights. Additionally, musicians like Taylor Swift and guitar wizard Pete Townshend of The Who have been known to pick up the uke and strum a few chords.
Can I Teach Myself to Play Ukulele?
While you can certainly teach yourself to play ukulele, sometimes it helps to get a little help from experts to level up your skills. On this page, you’ll find tips for playing ukulele, tried-and-true techniques used by long-time musicians, and more information to help you play better faster.
Want video lessons that delve deeper and show you how to play ukulele? Check out Fender Play and get bite-sized lessons from world-class instructors -- whenever and wherever you want to learn more. Fender Play offers self-paced lessons for ukulele beginners, allowing you to track your progress, build upon the skills you learn, and put those skills into practice by playing chords and songs on ukulele.
“There’s something about the ukulele that just makes you smile. It makes you let your guard down. It brings out the child in all of us.”
Choosing a Ukulele That’s Right for You
Choosing a ukulele can feel a little overwhelming. There are so many sizes and styles to choose from, not to mention that each one has its own tone. To help you narrow the field, here are a few tips to keep in mind when choosing a ukulele.
Size & Tone: Ukuleles come in a variety of sizes -- and each one has its own distinctive tone:
• Soprano: This is the smallest size of ukuleles. Soprano ukuleles have a higher, lilting tone compared to their larger cousins. Their small size and frets that are spaced closer together makes them ideal for young learners or players with small hands.
• Concert: Larger than a soprano ukulele, but still compact in size, concert-sized ukuleles have more frets and a warmer, deeper tone than their soprano counterparts.
• Tenor: The largest of the most common size of ukuleles, tenor ukuleles have a rich tone and are suited for players with larger hands. The neck is a little wider and heavier than both the Soprano and Concert ukuleles, giving it more of a bass-laden tone than the concert and soprano sized ukuleles.
Budget: Overall, ukuleles are one of the most affordable instruments, offering a lifetime of learning and playing enjoyment for a relatively low cost -- ranging between $70 to $300. Depending on what stage you’re at in your ukulele journey, there are a variety of ukuleles to meet your budget while still giving you an instrument you’ll cherish for years to come.
• Under $100: Our colorful Venice Soprano Ukulele delivers a lighthearted sound in a compact body for budget-conscious beginners. Available in six different colors and with 4-in-line Tele headstock, the Venice Soprano Ukulele captures the eye and ear at $69.99.
• Under $225: With a solid ovangkol top and natural finish, the Rincon Tenor Ukulele offers a rich, deep tone that can be amplified thanks to its built-in Fishman Kula preamp.
• Under $300: The concert-sized Billie Eilish Signature Ukulele is a striking matte black instrument emblazoned with the superstar’s “blohsh™” symbol. As versatile as it is tone-rich, it also includes a Fishman Kula preamp to give you the option to plug in or play acoustic.
These are just a few options that ukulele players can look to as they start playing. To deepen your understanding of the qualities of different ukuleles and get a closer look at different models, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Ukulele and then explore our interactive gear guide, FindYour.Fender.com, matches you with the perfect model by learning about your sound & style. You’ll be well on your way to finding the right ukulele for you.
How to Hold a Ukulele
Before you strum your first chords, learning to hold your ukulele properly can help you get the best sound from your instrument and ensures you won’t damage your instrument.
Start by holding your instrument with its back snug against you, nestling the body of your instrument with your right arm. Gently but firmly, hold the neck of your ukulele in the crook of your left hand, resting it comfortably in the webbing between your thumb and index finger.
From this position, you can comfortably move your left hand up and down the neck of your ukulele to finger chords and your right hand is in the perfect position to strum those chords and make them ring out.
How to Tune a Ukulele
One of the most distinctive features of a ukulele is the way its strings are tuned:
• G = The fourth string
• C = The third string (lowest tone)
• E = The second string
• A = The first string (and highest-tone string)
While the six strings of a guitar are tuned in descending order, the lowest-toned string on a ukulele is actually its third string.
To get your ukulele in tune, you can use Fenders free online ukulele tuner to make sure you’re in perfect pitch. You can also download the Fender Tune app for iOS and Android to tune your ukulele on-the-go!
Ukulele Strumming Patterns
Strumming chords is the backbone of learning to play ukulele. Strumming patterns involve different ways of playing up or down strokes on your ukulele.
Some songs may call for you to play all of your chords using just heavier downward strokes in a steady rhythm. Others may require you to play ukulele chords in an alternating pattern, playing an upward stroke followed by a downward stroke. You might also stumble across a song that calls for an irregular strumming pattern, playing chords in a “down-down-up-down” pattern.
The more you play and practice strumming chords on your ukulele, you’ll hear the subtle differences between what a chord sounds like when strummed in a downward motion versus an upward one. In time, you’ll start to strum chords instinctively, knowing whether you like the sound of alternating strum patterns or more irregular strum patterns based on the feel you want to create when playing a song.
Signup for Fender Play to view our collection of the most popular ukulele strumming patterns.
“I think the ukulele brings a different feeling to every song… It inspires a different kind of writing.”
Beginners Tips for Ukulele Strumming
Not sure where to start? Here are a few strumming tips for beginner ukulele players just starting out:
• Strum without a pick: The most common way to strum your ukulele is with either your thumb, your index finger, or a combination of the two -- like you’re holding an invisible pick. You can also strum using the pads and nails of all four of your fingers.
• Strumming with a pick: If you do use a pick to strum your ukulele, it’s best to use a felt pick that won’t damage nylon ukulele strings. Holding your pick lightly and at an angle can help create a more fluid, less rigid sound when strumming chords.
• Keep your wrist loose: It’s all in the wrist! While having a gentle grip on your pick can create a more pleasing tone when you strum a chord, keeping your wrist loose can also make chords sound better and less choppy. By keeping your wrist loose, you’ll be able to more easily transition between chords and minimize the risk of wrist pain after playing for a while.
How to Play Ukulele Chords
Chords are a combination of three or more notes that are played together to create a pleasing harmony. Chords are the foundation of playing songs on a ukulele or any other stringed instrument.
To start learning ukulele chords, beginners can look to chord charts to show them where to place their fingers on specific frets to make their strings sing. Ukulele chord charts offer players a visual representation of the four strings and their corresponding frets on your instrument.
In addition to showing your strings (in order: G, C, E, A), ukulele chord charts often have symbols to show you just where to place your fingers in order to play a chord properly:
• O - A circle above the string means to play that string in an open position
• X - An “x” above the strings means you won’t play that string or mute it when playing
• 1 = Index finger
• 2 = Middle finger
• 3 = Ring finger
• 4 = Pinky finger
There are so many different chords and variations. However, there are a few ukulele chords that are not only easy, but figure prominently in some of your favorite songs. Some of the most common and easy chords beginners can learn to play on ukulele include:
• Am (A minor)
These chords are a great starting point for players who are new to ukulele. However, you can explore even more ukulele chords with our Ukulele Chord Guide.
“Basically, the rules of ukulele, like, if you know three chords, you know every song. Ever. You can play any song. It’s so simple… The first chords I learned were C, G, and F. And from then on, I knew, like 20 songs. It shows you how simple songs are.”
How to Play Beginner Ukulele Scales
A ukulele scale is an organized sequence of notes. There are 8 notes in every scale. This string of 8 notes is called an octave. Every scale starts and ends with the same note, also known as the “root note.” The last note of the scale is also the root note of that scale, however, it’s an octave higher than that same first note. Every scale ascends in a prescribed series of half and whole steps, leading up to the 8th note.
For example, take a look at the C Major scale -- one of the easiest scales to play and one that you’ll hear in a ton of different songs. Part of what makes the C Major Scale easy for beginners to learn is because there are no sharps or flats:
• 1st Note (Root Note): C
• 2nd Note: D
• 3rd Note: E
• 4th Note: F
• 5th Note: G
• 6th Note: A
• 7th Note: B
• 8th Note (Root note, one octave higher): C
Get a free trial of Fender Play and learn to play the C Major scale on ukulele and hear it for yourself.
Learning scales can help build finger strength and dexterity, as well as help you develop an ear for music. Learning scales can help you learn melodies and riffs later on, when you start to play -- or write -- your own music.
One of the easiest ways for beginners to learn scales is to use a ukulele scale chart. When reading these ukulele scale diagrams, you’ll see notes represented by dots. These dots show you which note you’ll play on a specific fret and string. If you see a dot with a note above the string, that means that you will play that string in an open position -- with no fingers on any frets.
Learn a Song on the Ukulele
Playing songs and putting your knowledge of chords and notes into practice is one of the most rewarding parts of learning to play ukulele. Learning songs that you love not only inspires you to develop your musical knowledge and ear, but it allows you to progress further, applying what you’ve learned on your musical journey and applying it to new songs you learn.
For beginners just starting to play ukulele, and easy -- and fun -- song to learn is “Lava” from the Disney animated short film of the same name. The song is made up of three easy-to-play chords: C, F, and G7.
This cheerful love song nods to the ukulele’s Hawaiian roots. It’s impossible not to smile while learning to play “Lava.” Just take it slow and practice your chord transitions, smoothly maneuvering from one chord to the next and focusing on placing your fingers correctly before picking up the speed of your strumming.
Learn to play “Lava” on ukulele: Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fze1OWeOuU&feature=youtu.be
Once you’ve mastered playing “Lava,” check out 10 more easy songs to learn to play on ukulele to continue on your journey!
“I think the best part of writing a song is finding a chord. I can hear the chord in my head. It’s so satisfying when I finally find it.”
Check out Fender Play Ukulele Lessons
Learning to play an instrument can be a fun and rewarding adventure -- and the ukulele is a great instrument for beginners to start with! Sign up for a free trial of Fender Play and unlock new chords, skills, and songs to learn and play on ukulele.