I’m not sure if I feel comfortable giving advice on learning to play the ukulele. After all, there are lots of other people much more qualified to teach ukulele. However, I can pass along some of the things I’ve learned from the masters, such as James Hill and Hal Brolund. The latter rolls through southern Ontario a couple of times a year offering workshops. If you have the chance to attend a workshop run by either of these two, do it!
If you’re picking up a ukulele for the first time, read on. Many beginners seem to worry most about learning the chords. And sure, that’s important. But that will happen over time. The first priority when learning ukulele is rhythm. That is, keeping a steady beat while strumming. I’ve seen beginners play like this: They strum four beats, then pause while they change the chord, and then strum another four beats. When playing together with others, even if that pause is very short, it can still be disruptive for the group.
The point is this: When strumming on a ukulele, maintain the beat. Even if it takes a beat to fully establish your left hand fingers in their proper chord position, don’t let up on that beat.
Next, count out: One and two and three and four and one and two and three and four, and so on. Strum as before, but on the “and”, strum your finger up across the strings. You’re now doing both down-strokes and up-strokes. Again, practice this for a while to develop a smooth rhythm.
Next, you can try some more complicated rhythms. While strumming your hand down on the count and up on the “and”, try omitting a strum. That is, keep your hand moving down and up in rhythm, but at certain points in the strumming pattern, your finger misses the strings. Here are some possible strumming patterns to practice. Skip the strums marked by parentheses.
- down (up) down up (down) up down up repeat.
- down up (down) up down up down up repeat.
- down (up) (down) up (down) up down up repeat.
Yeah, I know you’re itching to practice those chord changes. The point of practicing your strumming is to make it second nature. Playing ukulele involves coordination between one hand strumming and the other making chord changes. The more you practice your strumming, the more natural the movement becomes. Once that becomes second nature, you can then better concentrate on the chords. Heck, even Manitoba Hal’s recommended practice regimen for beginners includes five minutes of just this kind of strumming!