Learn to Play the Ukulele

My ukulele. Photo by Ariane Coffin.
My ukulele. Photo by Ariane Coffin.

It all started with a Facebook status. Fellow Geekmom Sarah proclaimed “I want to play the Ukulele!!!!” I had never even considered playing the ukulele before then, but upon reading that statement I realized that I, too, wanted to play the ukulele with a surge of excitement worthy of four exclamation points. Three would simply not do!

I immediately assumed a ukulele would be prohibitively expensive, as most musical instruments are. You know what they say when you assume things, right? Indeed I was wrong, a quick search revealed that you can buy a decent ukulele for $30-$50. It’s not pocket change, but it’s not a huge commitment either.

With the cost being not too much of an issue, I started really considering it. Was this going to be another short-lived attempt at a new hobby that will come and go? Lack of follow through does tend to be a problem of mine. However, being a saxophone player, playing music is an important part of my life and I figured the ukulele would be the perfect little instrument to play when I get five minutes here and there. No complicated set up or clean up required, unlike wind instruments.

Well, I went for it.

It’s been about two months since I bought my ukulele, and I love it! I’m able to play it a little bit almost every day. I sit my 4-month-old in front of me on the couch while I play and she loves to listen to the music. My 3-year-old is showing interest in strumming along, the ukulele is the perfect size for her little hands.

Want to know what resources I’ve used? Here’s how I got started.

The Ukulele

I knew nothing about ukuleles so I blindly searched “ukulele” in Amazon and bought the most popular, well-rated one that came with quality strings, namely a Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano Ukulele. It cost me around $50. There were cheaper models that were also well reviewed, but comments often mentioned that the cheaper strings should be upgraded for a better sound. I didn’t want to sacrifice the time to figure out how to replace strings, so I purchased the upgraded model.

Note that there are different size ukuleles. They are, from smaller to larger: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. I picked up a soprano, it being the more common size. I’m happy with it, but men (or people with larger hands) often prefer a larger ukulele as it gives them more room to play.

Across the board, reviewers suggested buying a ukulele tuner, so I purchased the Snark SN-6 Ukulele Tuner. I’m very glad I did! It’s a $10 gadget that makes tuning a breeze. The strings varied wildly from one tuning to the next at the beginning, but now they’ve settled into a place where only minor adjustments are needed.

The Online Resources

Upon delivery of my ukulele and tuner, the first thing I needed to figure out was how to use them! Luckily I remembered that former-Geekmom Kris Brodessa’s son, Brad, was an accomplished ukulele player. His website, Live ‘Ukulele, is an amazingly thorough resource. You can always count on geeks to be thorough if nothing else, isn’t that the best? The fact that he has video tutorials on how to play songs from Super Mario Brothers isn’t bad either!

Another excellent website is Ukulele Underground. Their video tutorials of various popular songs include 3 panes: the guy playing the song on the ukulele, the lyrics and chords, and a schema of the strings and frets you need to press to achieve the chords.

Last But Not Least, Ask Around!

Ask around on your social media outlets, ask your friends, ask your co-workers: Do you know anyone who plays the ukulele? I asked around at work, hoping I could find some uke’ players willing to start a lunch ukulele group with me. Lo and behold, there was already a lunch ukulele group at my office. I had no idea! So now I join them for lunch every Friday and we play along to some You Tube videos together. The better players help us beginners progress along and we all have fun!

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Ariane is a programmer married to another programmer. Together they have two little girls who don't stand a chance against their nerdy lineage. Ariane can also be found writing about STEM travel at Geekling's Guide to the Galaxy.