Helpful Hints

Welcome to the Helpful Hints page!

Check regularly for ideas about learning, practicing, playing, and creating. I’ll be posting my own tips as well as videos and links to some favourite ukulele sites. I welcome comments about your own experiences, and things you’d like to see at future workshops or on this site.

Happy playing!

If you are a brand new ultra beginner, the sooner you memorize the basics like your finger numbers  (Index finger – #1; Middle finger – #2;  Ring finger – #3;  Pinky – #4)  and string names and numbers  (G – #4, C – #3, E – #2, A – #1) , the faster you’ll progress.

Those strings just BEG to want to be numbered from the top – BUT THEY”RE NOT! It’s perfectly natural to head straight for the top G-string when someone says “The 1st string…”, everyone does it….it’s on top…but get rid of that notion quickly.
The strings are numbered from the BOTTOM UP. That’s the way it is. Get used to it.

How you hold your uke is SO important. I’ve repeatedly watched my students find themselves in contorted, unnatural positions. I think because this instrument is so small, it can seem like a weightless little bird, slightly out of your control.. like a floating feather. The operative words are comfort and stability. When seated, it should rest on your lap comfortably. When standing, try one foot on a stool or chair. (Or use a strap) . You want to cradle your uke firmly but gently, so as not to smother. Think ‘baby’.

Sorry Ladies, but you’ve got to keep your fingernails short! I can’t stress how important this is. Sexy manicures will defeat your progress. No getting around this.

When just learning to chord, be aware that if you press too hard on the strings, you can push them sideways and sound off key. Pressing too lightly can result in a dull sound, no ‘ring’.  The pressure should be firm but not overbearing Think ‘Mother’.

Be aware that your chording hand never feels tight or cramped or clenched or stiff – no curled up ‘claw fingers’ or arched bent wrists.

Different chords demand slightly different hand angles. Don’t get stuck thinking you can only hold your hand in ONE position.

Check your thumb position. Should it be more visible along the side of the neck, sticking up slightly, or does this chord need support pressure at the back of the neck, directly behind the chord you are forming?

Generally, the first digit of your thumb will be sticking up at the side of your fretboard, supporting, balancing. But, for a barre chord, your thumb will have to be right behind the chord, exerting equal pressure at the back of the uke’s neck.

When tuning, start loose and tighten up. You will achieve better precision this way.

If it isn’t sounding right and you’ve checked the proper fingering for your chord, CHECK YOUR TUNING. If you’re even slightly out of tune, no matter how well your fingers are positioned, it will sound bad. Brand new ukuleles will need constant re-tuning at first. Inexpensive ukuleles will need constant re-tuning always.

When practicing a new song, although tempted to marvel at the sweet sounds you are making, try not to ‘linger’ at the risk of not getting your next chord. Always look ahead. As soon as you’ve formed one chord, be mentally and physically preparing for the next one. What does that chord look like? How will my fingers be positioned? This helps to avoid that defeating feeling of clumsiness when you consistently ‘miss’ or can’t get your next chord properly positioned on time.

Practice slowly and stay in rhythm. Tap your foot.  Use a metronome on a low tempo, and stick to the beat. If your having trouble, go slower. But STAY in RHYTHM.
If you don’t own a metronome,  here’s a good one:

If there is a sequence of 2 or 3 chords that consistently snags you, practice going over those few chords, over and over. See it as a little package unto itself. GO SLOWLY.  Think ‘turtle’. Don’t strum unless your fingers are placed neatly and securely. When you master a challenging section, you’ll feel like a million bucks…much better than constantly having to stop and fix it because you’re going too fast.

MEMORIZE the chords we learn at each class.  They are your foundation for 1000s of songs. Play two or three in sequence, over and over, saying the names out loud. Your goal is to KNOW these chords, without looking at your chart. The sooner you free yourself from being a prisoner to your chord sheet, the more confident and creative you’ll feel. Try to learn your chords by taking a mental picture of your fingers on the fretboard while saying the chord name out loud. MEMORIZE.

When practicing a new song, work on small sections….a couple lines at a time, over and over, then move to the next couple lines. Don’t do the whole song until you have perfected each small section.

If you’re having trouble with the concept of ‘rhythm’ in your strumming, try this:
– Put on a song you love  (maybe something you’ld like to learn on the uke)

– Lay your chording fingers down flat across all four strings to mute them
– Close your eyes and get into the feel of the song
– Try counting along  – is it ‘1-2-3-4’?    Or is it ‘1 -2 -3’?
– Tap your foot. Get your friend to play the bongos.
– Let your strumming arm go with the flow. (You’ll only hear a muted ‘chunking’ sound)
– Don’t be timid, don’t hold back, enjoy yourself
– Go fast or slow, whatever feels natural and flowing, with no pauses or stops

Strumming is all about rhythm and consistency, not speed or volume. Your goal is for FLUID and SMOOTH motion. If your finger is catching on the strings, you’re trying too hard. Ease up. Think ‘smooooooth’. Strumming technique is very personal and you will likely need time to find your niche. Be Patient.

General strumming rule: Your index fingernail always faces the floor and the pad of your finger faces up. If you allow yourself to strum with the side of your finger, you will soon be saying ‘Ouch’.

For many beginners, strumming can be daunting at first, often feeling awkward and unnatural. Strumming technique is very personal and you will likely need time to find your niche. Be Patient. Experiment. Watch good players on Youtube, watch videos that zoom in close-up.

Your strumming hand should always be slightly relaxed – but not ‘limp fish’ – no flopping on top of the uke’s body – but gliding, smoothly – you are IN CONTROL.





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