Buyers Guide: Ukulele Basics

Buyers Guide – Ukulele Basics

Ukuleles are a great instrument to learn, both in their own right and as a gateway to learning the guitar. Check out our new video in which George our resident ukulele expert at our Blackpool store shows us some of the basics:

Easy To Play

As George covers in the video, ukuleles can be incredibly simple to play. It’s even possible to play tunes using only one finger! The recognisable tune played by George is called In The Summertime by 70’s British rock band Mungo Jerry, which was later covered by the rap artist Shaggy in the 90’s. Originally a Hawaiian instrument that is still popular to this day, many Hawaiian pieces of music written for the ukulele heavily feature 6th chords and 7th chords as well as major chords which are very easy to play. Because a ukulele is tuned to a C6 chord, simply playing all open strings gives us this chord, whilst fretting one finger across all four strings at the same fret gives us different 6th chords depending on the fret. To play a 7th chord, use the same shape but with the addition of your second finger on the next fret on the A string (nearest string to the floor). And finally to play a major chord, change the second finger for the 3rd finger on the A string. So with the 1st finger across the 2nd fret, these would be the chords D6, D7 & D or D major.  Use these easy chord shapes up and down the neck, and you’ll be playing lots of ukulele songs in no time! You might also want to check out some of our tuition books for more one finger chords and easy songs.

Ukulele Tuning

The most common tuning for Ukuleles these days is to tune each string to a different note in the chord C6. All this means is that starting from the string nearest to the ceiling, the strings are tuned in the order:

G | C | E | A

This can easily be remembered with the mnemonic  “George Can Eat Apples”.  You may notice that unlike the tuning for other stringed instruments such as guitars, the tuning of the strings on a ukulele doesn’t follow the conventional ascending order. This is because the G string is tuned an octave higher than you might assume, which is known as a type of reentrant tuning, which is also used on 5 string banjos. This tuning means that all four of the strings fall within the fourth octave on a piano’s keyboard, with the C string being tuned to middle C. As such you may also see the tuning written like this:

G4 | C4 | E4 | A4

This can be helpful when using electronic tuners that utilise numbers as well as the note letter so that you know you are tuning to the right pitch. Too low and the strings may seem too sloppy, whilst too high might mean that the strings will break!

Types of Ukulele

As George mentions, there are different types or sizes of ukulele with the general rule being that the larger the size of the ukulele, the deeper and richer the tone of the instrument is.  The most common type of ukulele is the Soprano ukulele, which is the smallest and therefore ideal for children and beginners. Next up is the Concert ukulele which has a larger body but also more frets, allowing for additional higher notes as well as a slightly richer tone. Following these are the Tenor and Baritone ukuleles which each have larger bodies that are getting closer to the size and tone of a classical guitar.  Because of this, it is not uncommon for a Tenor ukulele to be tuned with a low G string, whilst Baritone ukuleles are normally tuned to the highest 4 strings of a guitar, which is as follows:

D3 | G3 | B3 | E4

A very similar instrument to ukuleles is the Banjolele or Banjo-Ukulele, which as the name suggests is a cross between a ukulele and a banjo. Shown by George at the beginning of the video, a Banjolele has the body and bridge of a banjo and the nylon strings, neck and headstock of a ukulele. This instrument is played in exactly the same way as a ukulele, with the strings placed in the same tuning as a standard or soprano ukulele. Often confused for ukuleles due their similar register of sound, banjoleles are synonymous with the Lancastrian  comedian and musician George Formby who most famously performed light hearted comedic songs with the instrument during World War II.  Many of the original songs he performed are now seen as British standards on both banjolele and ukulele.

We Can Teach you To Play

Due to their similarities and shared playing techniques, our guitar teachers at each of our 8 Rimmers Music Schools across the North West are also able to teach you the ukulele. For small children, it can be a good idea for them to start off playing the ukulele before taking up the guitar, because the size of the instrument makes them much more comfortable to play with small hands!

For information on ukulele lessons, purchasing ukuleles for education or any other ukulele queries, feel free to contact us on 01772 62211 or email enquiries@rimmersmusic.co.uk

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13 Comments

  • Glenn says:

    Me again! bit confused about your latest article. Should I have gotten Keith one of these Ukulele’s first? I don’t want him to struggle with the guitar if he should have started on this ‘gateway’ instrument first.

    Also, it’s his birthday next week.

    -Glenn

    • Christian Redfearn says:

      Hi Glenn
      Sorry for the confusion, the acoustic you bought Keith will be brilliant for him to start learning on. We mentioned ukulele sometimes being used as a gateway instrument to playing the guitar because due to it’s small size and soft nylon strings, it can often be used as an introduction for very young children. As long as Keith can reach the strings to play the guitar and is encouraged to keep practising, then we’re sure he’ll pick it up quickly! If you have any concerns, give our enquiries team a call on 01772 622111 or email enquiries@rimmersmusic.co.uk

  • Glenn says:

    Ah okay – I should have read your reply sooner, I’ve gone and bought the Ukulele now. I’ll see how it gets on with this one first then. Can you recommend any Gateway instruments for the Ukulele?

    • Christian Redfearn says:

      If your grandson is completely new to the guitar then starting him on ukulele could be a good idea, particularly if he is quite young! A ukulele can be quite easy to pick up as a lot can be played with only one finger, and the strings are similar to the nylon strings on an classical acoustic guitar which are softer and less off putting for beginners. As far as stringed instruments go, a ukulele is probably as easy as it gets for beginners. If you need any music or ukulele instruction, take a look at our ukulele tuition http://www.rimmersmusic.co.uk/music-books-c140/ukulele-banjo-mandolin-books-c144

  • Glenn says:

    Thanks Cristian, He is young but he does have all his fingers so he may be a bit advanced for this Ukulele if it’s aimed toward children with disabilities, playing an instrument with only one finger must be very difficult, it’s really nice that you supply instruments to fit that criteria.

    I’ll still heed your advice and see how he gets on with the ukulele anyway.

    -Glenn

    • Christian Redfearn says:

      There are a number of chord shapes on the ukulele which only need one or two fingers to play, making it very easy for any absolute beginners to start playing. Whilst ukuleles aren’t particularly aimed at children with physical disabilities, that certainly is one potential application.
      Like any musical instrument, there is always something new to learn on a ukulele, so I’m sure Keith will stay interested well past his birthday!

  • Glenn says:

    Hi Cristian, Did you have a nice bank holiday break? Unfortunately I did not. Keith was really upset with the Ukulele, I’m certainly in the bad books now with that side of the family! My daughter was really upset when I mentioned the disability angle as she thought I was making another political statement about the Invictus Games, I would never do something like that at my grandsons birthday party.

    Keith said he was looking forward to having a guitar like the one Jake Owen plays, who I believe is a country guitarist? if you could help me find a guitar similar to the one he plays that would help me alot.

    -Glenn

    • Christian Redfearn says:

      Hi Glenn
      We’re very sorry to hear that! As mentioned, only needing to use one or two fingers to play the ukulele makes it a very easy instrument for all children to progress quickly on, they’re not generally aimed at children with disabilities in particular.
      After some research, Jake Owen plays a very expensive brand of guitars called McPherson which have a distinctive look, but aren’t normally stocked anywhere outside of the US. We have a wide range of acoustic guitars available which to an absolute beginner will all sound very similar to Jake Owen’s. So long as the acoustic guitar you’ve bought previously from is the usual block colour of light yellow or natural wood, then I am sure Keith will greatly appreciate it. To check that it is the right colour, take a look at the majority of these steel string acoustic guitars: http://www.rimmersmusic.co.uk/guitars-c1/acoustic-guitars-c11#c12:c586:t98:t1084:sort3
      I would advice calling into our nearest store to check with the staff in person, or call our enquiries team on 01772 62211 to double check you have the right guitar. I hope that helps!

  • Glenn says:

    Thank you Cristian, I better double check with the family first before I make another mistake. This Jake Owen guitar looks similar to the un-electric one that I bought first? I wont need an amp for this will I? I still have hold of Jack’s lead anyway incase I do.

    -Glenn

    • Christian Redfearn says:

      Hi Glenn
      Without seeing the exact model of acoustic guitar you bought, it will look broadly similar and certainly sound as such to a beginner once they’ve gotten to grasp with the basics. As an acoustic guitar, you won’t need an amp or jack lead. As said if you’re unsure, I’d pay a visit to our store staff to use their expertise to set your mind at ease.

  • Glenn says:

    Cristian I am in a right pickle. I’ve bought the Jake Owen non-electric guitar but now my daughter is saying he’s after Jack Owens guitar not Jake Owen. I looked up this Jack Owen and it says he plays in an act called Cannibals Corpse!!! is this an appropriate act for an 11 year old to be listening to? I’ve not listened to them but do you think the non-electric guitar would be suitable?

    Sorry for the confusion

    -Glenn

    • Christian Redfearn says:

      Hi Glenn
      If it is the same Jack Owen, then he plays in a number of “extreme” metal bands. It’s totally up to the parents’ discretion whether their music is appropriate for Keith, in the same way a 12, 15 or 18 rated film would be.
      In terms of the guitar, I’m afraid the acoustic guitar you currently have might not be suitable. If he really wants to play a guitar that looks similar, then one of the “V” shaped electric guitars we have online here might be more suitable: http://www.rimmersmusic.co.uk/guitars-c1/electric-guitars-c14/extreme-t1163
      As an electric guitar, you would need an amplifier and jack lead to play. As such, a starter packs with a black guitar and everything else you might need would also be appropriate: http://www.rimmersmusic.co.uk/guitars-c1/guitar-bass-packages-c401/electric-guitar-packages-c588/black-t1
      I would advise double checking with Keith or his mother again to make sure you’re buying the right thing. I’d also highly recommend speaking to our store staff or our enquiries team on 01772 622111 so that you are 100% sure you’re buying the right thing.

  • Thanks a lottt!! for all your advice. It has been really helpful in getting me playing. I have started up a beginners class and everyone enjoying the strumming patterns, Wish I had started playing years ago

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