The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Ukuleles
Playing the ukulele at a party or in the street is a great way to have some fun and even make some money along the way. This four-string instrument is gaining more popularity as we speak.
This article intends to be the ultimate beginner’s guide for Ukuleles, answering every question you have in order to get started playing.
The ukulele is commonly used in wide range of genres, especially in music styles that rely on more acoustic sounds. From bluegrass and Latin music, to African genres and wide range of world music, you can include this instrument in many different bands.
Apart from that, it’s a small instrument which can be played in a pretty simple way.
Those two features are two main reasons that many guitar players are giving advantage to it over the guitar when it comes to informal gigs and parties. However, if you’ve never played the ukulele, you might need some time to get familiar with this handy instrument. So, the purpose of this text is to present the ukulele to people who would like to start playing it.
- Ukulele strings
- The Main Types of Ukulele
- Plucking vs. Finger-picking
- The 5 Best Ukulele Reviews
- 1) Hricane Concert Ukulele UKS-1
- 2) Lohanu Concert Ukulele Bundle
- 3) Kailua 4-String Soprano Ukulele
- 4) Donner Soprano Ukulele Spruce DUS-3 Bundle
- 5) Kala MK-B Baritone Ukulele
- From the Braguinha to the Ukulele
The ukulele – or simply the “uke” – is a string instrument that belongs to the family of lute instruments. There are usually four strings on a ukulele, which are made either form nylon or from gut.
You can apply two tuning patterns on this instrument. The first one is the so-called C-tuning, where the order of the strings is G-C-E-A. Here you can see how to tune such a ukulele.
The other tuning type is D-tuning, where you raise the pitch one tone higher than in C-tuning. That way, your strings will be tuned as A-D-F#-B. Learn how to tune the ukulele that way with this tutorial.
When you’re making a budget plan for buying the ukulele, add a tuner to that cart. This little gadget will be extremely helpful until you master tuning without the tuner.
The Main Types of Ukulele
Today the ukulele comes in seven different versions. Some of them have long tradition, while some others have been introduced in the last couple of years.
The standard ukulele model is the soprano ukulele. If you want to start in a traditional way, this is the best choice for beginners. It’s usually 53 cm (21”) long, with the scale length of 33 cm (13”). The soprano ukulele is usually tuned to the C-tuning pattern, but you can also apply D-tuning to it. It’s also the second-smallest version of the ukulele.
The smallest type of ukulele is sopranino, also known as the pocket ukulele. This instrument is 41 cm (16”) long and it has the scale length of 28 cm (11”). The sopranino delivers the highest pitch, so its strings are tuned as D-G-B-E.
When the ukulele became a common instrument for gigs and concerts in the 1920s, the soprano ukulele wasn’t loud enough for such occasions. That’s when the concert (alto, super soprano) ukulele come on stage. This model is 58 cm (23”) long and comes with the scale length of 38 cm (15”). It has a deeper tone and it’s a bit louder than the standard ukulele.
The tenor ukulele (taro patch) was created in order to resonate an even starker and deeper tone than the concert model. The length of this model is 66 cm (26”). The scale length delivered by this model is 43 cm (17”).
The baritone ukulele that looks like a tenor guitar brought an even more morose sound and tonal depth. It was first made in the 1940s. This model is 74 cm (29”) long and its scale length is 48 cm (19”).
The contrabass and bass models were invented in the 2010s, as more experimental forms of the ukulele.
The bass ukulele is 76 cm (30”) long and has the scale length of 51 cm (20”).
Finally, the contrabass ukulele is 81 cm (32”) long, with the scale length of 53 cm (21”), which makes it the deepest ukulele type, with the most serious tone color.
Beginners should start with the standard ukulele, but if you realize that you’re making fast progress, don’t be afraid to try other versions of this instrument. It will make the entire ukulele experience more playful and colorful, tone-wise.
Plucking vs. Finger-picking
As for the playing style, you can either strum it with a plectrum or play it with your fingers. Although the ukulele is more often played only with fingers, sometimes you’ll find playing with a pick more convenient.
You might want to get your uke sound louder or strum in a more condensed way. In that case, playing it with a softer pick would be more convenient. Also, using a thumb pick will help you combine the pick and fingers. In this video you can practice playing the ukulele both with your fingers and the picks.
When it comes to strumming patterns and chords, beginners should learn bit by bit. Since many great pop and rock songs can be played with only three chords, you’ll need to learn at least three chords at the beginning. As for the strumming patterns, you should stick to simple rhythm. Again, listening and learning by doing is the best way to master these techniques, so check out this ukulele lesson to get into strumming and chords.
The 5 Best Ukulele Reviews
If you’re planning to start playing a ukulele, you’ll see that there are many different versions of each type of the ukulele out there. That’s why I’ve prepared a short guide on some popular ukuleles, to help you make up your mind and choose your first ukulele.
1) Hricane Concert Ukulele UKS-1
Hricane is one of the most praised manufacturers of ukuleles. This time we’re going to talk about their Hricane Concert Ukulele UKS-1 model.
You can get this ukulele in three different sizes: 21”, 23” and 26”. The size you’re going to fit will mostly depend on your height and your weight, as well as the size of your hands. Also, the 26”-model has bigger frets, which makes it easier for players to finger the fretboard. If possible, first try each of these three variations and find the one that suits you.
The body of the Hricane Concert UKS-1 ukulele is made of sapele wood. The same material is used for the neck, as well.
The fingerboard is made of rosewood. This combination enables players to produce an ample sound and gives them a cozy feeling when playing this instrument.
The distance between the strings and the fingerboard is optimal, so even beginners should be able to play this ukulele in a clear way.
When talking about the playing comfort, you should know that this instrument is equipped with four carbon nylon strings. Combined with the sapele body, it generates deep, rich and powerful tones with great resonance.
Here you can see how to get familiar with the instrument and start playing your Hricane Concert Ukulele UKS-1.
2) Lohanu Concert Ukulele Bundle
Another well-known producer of ukuleles, Lohanu makes a wide range of ukulele models and accessories related to them.
The next ukulele I’m going to present in this guide is the Lohanu Concert Ukulele Bundle.
First, let’s say a few words about the instrument and then we’re going to move onto the entire package.
The Lohanu Concert Ukulele
This 24”-ukulele is a great choice for people who are planning to produce their first tones on a ukulele. The concert size provides a comfortable playing position while generating a bright, resonate sound.
The body of this Lohanu ukulele is made of sapele and mahogany, while rosewood is used for the fingerboard. The entire instrument is covered with laminate, which is a great advantage when it comes to shipping and temperature variations.
Further, the Lohanu Concert Ukulele comes with the top-notch Aquila strings already fixed on it. You won’t have to bother with string installation, but you can just tune the instrument and make it play.
On the negative side, the laminated body does dampen the sound a bit, so your Lohanu uke might sound a bit dark. Still, the quality of the tone it delivers surpasses many low- and mid-priced ukuleles, putting it closer to high-quality products.
The Lohanu bundle
A ukulele beginner will waste a lot of time trying to find the accessories they’ll need to play and maintain their uke properly. That’s why the bundle option offered by Lohanu can save a lot of your time.
As for these extras, you’ll get a tuner, a strap and a few picks in the package, together with a small pick holder that’s attached to the back of the body. Although you might want to play your ukulele with picks at the beginning, fingerpicking is a more natural technique for playing the ukulele, so try both tactics.
Also, the gig bag is included in the price of the bundle.
In this video you can learn how to start using your Lohanu bundle and make the most of first steps on this practical uke.
Obviously, the Lohanu Concert Ukulele isn’t an instrument for music pros, but it can come in very handy for amateurs who are just learning how to play the ukulele.
3) Kailua 4-String Soprano Ukulele
The Kailua Soprano Ukulele is a great choice for the new kids on the block who would like to play a mid-class uke with remarkable sound quality and a handy body.
The body is made of first-class mahogany wood. This exquisite wood will produce a profound and resonating sound.
This Kailua model carries some special design features. A beautifully decorated rosette embellishes the space around the sound hole, which gives the entire body a special vintage look. Also, the headstock is embellished with pearl-like tuners, enriching the entire instrument with a unique Hawaiian image.
Since it’s a 21-inch long soprano model, the Kailua Soprano Ukulele has a compact shape, which makes it a perfect choice for inexperienced ukulele players.
Although you get a nylon case with this ukulele, it’s not the right protection for bad weather conditions. That’s why you should get a real gig bag for your Kailua Soprano Ukulele, to protect it properly from day one.
4) Donner Soprano Ukulele Spruce DUS-3 Bundle
Another ukulele package, the Donner Soprano Ukulele Spruce DUS-3 represents a great value for money for new ukulele players.
One of the most popular manufacturers, Donner provides top-notch craftsmanship and smooth playing experience.
The back and sides of the body of this ukulele are made of mahogany, while the top board is made of spruce wood. This combo delivers a steady, bright sound with fine resonance.
The fingerboard and bridge are made of rosewood. All these elements make playing this uke a gentle and comfortable experience.
The Donner Soprano Ukulele Spruce DUS-3 has chrome-covered tuners, similar to the ones you can see on guitars. In turn, they ensure durable tuning.
Since ukuleles are usually associated with Hawaii, the Donner guitar craftspeople have enriched this model with a Sun symbol. It gives the space around the sound hole a special summer look. Also, there are painted clouds on the fingerboard.
Finally, apart from the ukulele, this Donner bundle contains a clap-on tuner, a ukulele bag, a set of carbon nylon strings and a ukulele strap. In a nutshell, you’ll have everything you need for your initial ukulele experience.
5) Kala MK-B Baritone Ukulele
Guitar players sometimes find the transition from the guitar to a ukulele a bit difficult. You can bridge that gap by getting the ukulele that’s played in a guitar-friendly way, so to say. If you’re looking for such a uke, the Kala MK-B Baritone Ukulele might be a perfect fit for you.
What makes this instrument similar to the guitar is the order of strings: E-B-G-D, from high to low. That’s the exact order of the first four strings on a regularly tuned guitar. So, if you can play the guitar, you only need to adjust the playing style a bit to be able to play the Kala MK-B Baritone Ukulele.
The body of this instrument is made of mahogany, while the fingerboard is made of walnut wood. Also, the finish is done with satin, which adds to the already warm sound of this uke.
The color of the body is extremely attractive, since it’s somewhere between the color of chocolate and burgundy. As such, it looks like a meticulously crafted cello or violin.
The entire instrument is 30.5 inches long, so this ukulele is quite a bulky instrument, compared with soprano or concert models. But that’s why your MK-B Baritone will generate a rich, bright sound that can cover a wide range of playing occasions.
Although the Kala MK-B Baritone Ukulele isn’t an instrument for professional concerts, it’s a great choice for beginner to intermediate players, especially if they play the guitar, as well.
When buying it in a bundle, you get a richly padded bag and a tuner with it.
This tutorial will help you get through the initial playing phase of this Kala uke, so have a look at it.
That concludes my recommended list of the best ukuleles to get your hands on. Now, let’s learn a bit more about the Ukulele:
From the Braguinha to the Ukulele
People often think that the ukulele is originally a Hawaiian instrument. This is mainly so due to the Hawaiian music, which owes its easily recognizable sound to the ukulele.
Although this instrument became globally popular thanks to Hawaii, this volcanic archipelago isn’t the homeland of the ukulele.
Interestingly enough, the ukulele as we know today did originate from an island. In the early 1800s, a four-string, guitar-shaped instrument was played on the Portuguese island of Madeira, situated in the Atlantic Ocean. The local people called it machete. The other name for the ukulele of that time was braguinha. As its name tells us, it originated from Braga, a town on the Portugal mainland.
If you look at the map, you’ll see that the distance between Madeira and Hawaii is about 12,707 km. So, how did the braguinha manage to get to Hawaii, given the transportation possibilities of the 19th century?
Simply put, the braguinha became the ukulele as a result of some historical-economic conditions. In the middle of the 19th century, Madeira was struck by a string of natural catastrophes, which led to famine and poverty. Many inhabitants of this Atlantic island tried to try their luck in other parts of the world.
A group of Madeirans made a huge step and decided to go to the archipelago of Hawaii and work on sugar plantations. One of the travelers to Hawaii was the braguinha. Since some of the workers from Madeira were woodworkers, they didn’t only bring this instrument with them, but they also brought the craft of producing it.
Finally, the braguinha was named the ukulele by the local Hawaiian people. The word ukulele was already in use before it was attached to this instrument. The Hawaiians used it for a jumping flea. Allegedly, the playing style where fingers jump all over the body of the instrument resembled to the behavior of the jumping flea and that’s how the ukulele got its name.
This article has given you an insight into the tonal basics of the ukulele, its main types and the playing techniques, as well as its development. Now it’s up to you to find the right model for your needs and start playing your very own ukulele.
Use the tutorials and videos included in this text to make this beginning easier for you.
Like every instrument, it’s strongly recommended to practice the ukulele every day. That’s the best way to make steady progress and start playing your favorite songs.
So this was our beginners guide for Ukulele, add a comment below with any questions.