Sunday, December 9, 2018

Ukulele for Enjoyment, for Everyone (Tips for Aspiring Beginners from an Actual Beginner)

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*and a big generous hug of thanks goes out to you if you make a purchase through my links*

**I have enjoyed sharing bits of my #dailyukulele goal on my Instagram account (@ordinarylovely , in case we're not already connected there!) and I've gotten several messages about good "starter" ukuleles and which books we use, etc...   This post came out of those questions, annnnnnd, it's just in time for last minute Christmas gift ordering.  I seriously think the gift of music in the home is a perfect one for you, your kiddos, and relatives!** 

Last November we got a ukulele.  I figured it would be easy to pick up since I have a bit of a music background.  My primary instrument is the cello, so I picked up the ukulele, another four stringed instrument, ready to play my heart out, and was utterly flummoxed.  I couldn't figure it out.  I put it down in frustration until this past Spring.  Ukulele is supposed to be the instrument that anyone can play and I was determined to finally figure it out!

I figured it out.  And the ukulele has brought a lot of enjoyment to our our family.  I highly recommend it as an instrument for a family who would like to get some more music into their home quickly without having to rent or purchase expensive instruments or even pay for lessons.  I decided to hop on this old blog to share some of what I've learned over the past several months in the hope that you'll be inspired to start a new musical tradition in your family <3  


We have 4 different brands of ukulele now, 3 of which were bought off of Amazon, without hearing or playing them first.  I'm happy to share what I've found so that you too can feel confident about buying a musical instrument "sound unheard" as well. 

There are different sizes of ukulele, but the most common are the soprano size (the small ones, usually 21" longs) and concert size (usually 23" long).  We have both.  The soprano instruments are easier for the little kids to use because the frets on the neck are smaller. My husband prefers the concert size because the frets are a bit bigger and fit his fingers more comfortably.  The body of the concert ukulele is also a bit bigger and may feel less awkward for an adult.  I like both and do not have a preference based on size.  I enjoy playing both sizes and often switch back and forth.  

In my experience, at least as far as our Amazon purchases are concerned, the quality of the sound is definitely linked to the price.  A cheap "toy" ukulele is difficult to tune and often sounds "tinny."  (I have not heard a nice-sounding $20 ukuele.  Maybe they exist, but I haven't heard one.)  The more expensive ukuleles have a lovely richer, warmer tone.  This is not to say you have to spend a fortune to get a good ukulele.  I recommend any of the 3 ukuleles that we've purchased from Amazon (as well as the fourth one we have which was a gift purchased at a local music shop).  Here are the links as well as a video in which I play each instrument back-to-back to help you understand the difference in sound between the soprano and concert size instruments, as well as the price/quality relationship.  I'm including this audio-visual comparison because it's something that I wish I had been able to find when I was first shopping around.  I hope it's helpful to you and of course, please let me know if you have any questions regarding any of the instruments.

(The Tom Concert ukulele bundle here was a gift my siblings and I purchased for my dad one year.  I do not have it to demonstrate in the video, but it's also a great instrument with a bright sound.)


The first thing to learn is how to tune your ukulele.  My first attempt at tuning one made me give up in frustration because it wasn't like tuning the other four-stringed instruments I was used to (violin, cello, etc...)  It wasn't until I watched a YouTube tutorial that I realized the strings weren't tuned in ascending fifths, but in their own wacky ukulele pattern.  Many ukulele "bundles" include a clip-on auto tuner, but if you end up buying an instrument that doesn't include one, I definitely recommend spending a few extra bucks to get one!  Here's one ;) 

Finally, I can't recommend the learn-to-play-ukulele books from Jenny Peters and Rebecca Bogart highly enough.  They are easy to read, easy to understand.  The visuals for the chords used in each song are fabulous.  Their method starts you out playing songs with one chord and then they add more chords as you progress.  You progress quickly!  So you feel like you're playing "real" music in short order :) They also instruct in various strumming patterns and how to read ukulele TABs.  I'll link here to all the books they have available.  We have all of them and use them the most of any books.  If they ever publish any more you bet I'll be all over them.  The bottom line is - get these books and don't bother with other intro methods!!  

Finally, I have humbled myself immensely by posting this next video... but here are a few songs played from the the Christmas book linked to above.  I just want to illustrate what a relative "beginner" can play using the ukulele sisters' books.  I play and sing imperfectly, but I sure do enjoy myself :)  And it's really in keeping with my point that anyone can pick up a ukulele and the books I mentioned and play "real" music in the home!

Once you begin playing through other song books, you might want to consider adding a chord chart to your collection.  It's nice to have a quick easy reference on how to play something when a new or unusual chord shows up in your music.

Don't forget, please let me know if there are other ukulele-related questions I can answer for you!  It's a wonderful instrument to share with the whole family, kids and adults alike.  In fact, I'm willing to guarantee that playing your ukulele for just 30 minutes a day will boost your mood and add years to your life.  Years of enjoyment, at least!  Play on!  And when you do, share about it on Instagram by tagging me @ordinarylovely and #dailyukulele :)   

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