How to Fret Your Ukulele

To actually play your ukulele, you need to press down on the strings to produce different notes — a procedure called fretting. When you hold down a string, you make it shorter and therefore higher in pitch. The fret wire (the metal strip that runs vertically across the neck) is there to make sure that the string is exactly the length it needs to be to make the correct note. You hold the string down, it gets stopped by the fret wire, and it can vibrate only in front of that.

Positioning your fretting hand on your ukulele

Start by putting out your fretting hand (your left hand if you’re right-handed) flat in front of you (palm up). Then put the ukulele in your hand so that the nut is pointing right at the bottom of your index finger, as shown in the figure:

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Now bring your thumb around the neck so that it sticks out above the top of the nut. The neck of the uke is now cradled between your index finger and thumb. This position provides good support for the uke and leaves your hand in the perfect position for fretting.

Curl your fingers around so that they arc high over the strings:

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Make sure that your finger doesn’t touch any string other than the one you want to fret. The fret wire does the job of stopping the string, not your finger.

When you’re playing a particularly tricky passage, you can move your thumb to the back of the neck, which frees up your fingers and lets you apply more pressure.

Place your finger just behind the fret, not on top of it. So, for example, to play the second fret you press the string down between the first and second fret wires.

How strongly to fret on your ukulele

Apply just enough pressure to the strings so that they ring clearly. If you press down too hard, you tire out your hand and bend the string out of tune.

Start out by just resting your finger against the string. Don’t press it down at all. Pluck the string with your thumb and you just hear a click. Keep plucking the string and slowly increase the amount of pressure you’re placing on the string with your fretting finger: you start to hear the note get clearer. When you can hear the note clearly, stop. This pressure is how hard you press down the string.

You’re going to need to practice a little before you can fret cleanly. You may hear the string buzzing or just get a dead ‘thunk’. If you find that you’re having a fretting problem, run through the following checklist:

  • Is your finger touching the fret wire? If so, move it back a little.

  • Are you pressing down hard enough? Gently increase the pressure on the string and see whether that improves the situation.

  • Is another finger touching the string? Check that the string is clear of anything touching it other than your fretting finger.

If you still get buzzing sounds no matter what you try, you may have a problem with the ukulele itself, particularly if the problem occurs only on a certain string or at a certain fret.

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