Juke N' the Uke Fundamentals with Mark Nelson
By Chris Loeffler |
Found out how a ukulele can help you add new musical colors —
The Ukulele has enjoyed quite a resurgence over the last ten years, and has taken the place of the mandolin as the instrument guitar players pick up to add new colors to their sound.
When compared to the six strings and 12-24 frets of a standard guitar, an ukulele seems like a pretty simple instrument...and it can be, but taking a few minutes to understand how it is similar and different can pay dividends. So, here’s a guitarist’s cheat to the Uke.
An uke is usually tuned: GCEA (G closest to your face, A closest to the floor). Does this sound vaguely familiar? Hint… put a capo on the fifth fret of your four highest strings and you’re in standard uke tuning (other than the G being an octave higher on a uke)!
How to Hold the Ukulele
The ukulele is played and held very similarly to guitar. Unlike guitars, however, it's very common for a ukulele not to have strap buttons and be played using solely the fretting hand to keep the instrument in balance; the downward pressure of your right forearm on the soundboard pushes the body into your chest. In its resting state, your fretting hand should see your thumb behind the neck and fingers parallel to the frets.
Introduction to Chords
Much like the guitar’s standard tuning revolves around chord shapes (C-A-G-E-D), the ukulele has similar patterns that can be plucked from the fretboard. Mark Nelson, a renowned uke instructor who spent years in Hawaii learning uke and slack-key guitar, recommends starting with “C”, “F”, and “G7” as guitar-friendly fingerings and chord forms.
C Major F Major G 7
While most players will intuitively know which fingers to use in each chord based on muscle memory from their guitar-playing days, here’s a quick walkthrough for those who could use a little help.
C Major- Hold C with your 3rd finger on the 3rd fret on the 1st string, and leave the bottom three strings open.
F Major- Hold F with your index finger on the 1st fret, 2nd string and your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 4th string, leaving the 1st and 3rd strings open.
G7- Place your index on the 1st fret of the 2nd string, middle finger on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string, and your ring finger on the 2nd fret of the 1st string.
As with guitar, there are many different ways to approach strumming the uke. Many uke players rely solely on down strokes with their index finger by curling the rest of their fingers into their palm and brushing down across the strings, with a rolling wrist movement.
Players looking for more speed and variety utilize both down and up strokes to their strumming, which follows the same hand motion but adds a pluck to the upstroke.
Chose a Song and Play!
With the simple three chords you’ve learned, you can now play through some songs because Western music is dominated by songs written with I, IV, V chords. A few famous examples of songs using C Major, F Major, and G7 include CCR’s “Down on the Corner,” The Beatles’ “Love Me Do,” Hank William’s “Jambalaya,” and the Hawaiian classic “Island Style."
This is Just the Beginning
One of the aspects people find most attractive about the ukulele is how accessible it is, but beyond that easy entrance there is a deep pool of technique and theory to be explored for those willing to seek it. While traditionalist players like Don Ho and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole will always be the go-to image of what ukulele music is, players bringing fresh ideas to the instrument like
and Kris Fushigami challenge what an ukulele can do, and fuse traditional ukulele music with other music genres for exciting new directions.
Whether it be a brief dalliance or a regular way to explore music apart from the guitar, taking on the uke as a second (or third) instrument adds to your musical vocabulary and is a heck of a lot easier to lug around! -HC-
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.