Ukulele For Dummies
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One of the best things about playing the ukulele is the community associated with it. Perhaps because the ukulele has been so disparaged in the past, all players are very supportive of each other. A friendly culture surrounds the ukulele that you don’t get with many other instruments.

If you ever need a question answered, some inspiration, or just an encouraging comment, you can find it in the ukulele community.

ukulele festival © jeviredurose /

Most cities around the world have a vibrant ukulele scene with clubs, gigs, and festivals. Even if you’re in the middle of nowhere, you can log on to the internet and get involved.

This article offers you ten ways to get out into this community, meet uke players, make music, and have some fun.

Join a Ukulele Club

The main reason for going to ukulele clubs is because they’re a huge amount of fun, and they’re always very welcoming to new members and accepting of beginners.

Joining up is also a great way to improve your playing. You can pick up tips from other players and get the motivation to learn new songs and brush up your technique.

New ukulele groups are cropping up all the time. No matter where you live, a club is bound to be near you. The easiest way to find a group is to search the internet, using your nearest city plus the word ukulele as your search terms. Most groups have a Facebook page, which makes it easy to contact them and keep up to date with meetings.

If you can’t find a ukulele club near you, start one. You may have to start out small, but before long the word is sure to spread and you’ll have a vibrant group of people attending.

Visit a Ukulele Festival

From Paris to Palm Springs, Melbourne to Helsinki, an international city can’t be “happening” without a ukulele festival.

Festivals come in all shapes and sizes: some are big, some small; some are free, some charge a fee. But they all give you three things:

  • Inspiration: Watching the pros gives you lots of ideas for your own playing and may even inspire you to start writing your own songs.
  • Testing: Ukulele festivals usually have a few ukulele makers and shops showing off their wares, providing a great opportunity to try out lots of ukes, find what you like, and plan your next purchase.
  • Meeting up: Festivals are a magnet for ukulele players and so you have plenty of opportunities to make friends, chat uke, and jam.

Make a Video

Ukulele players such as Meghan Trainor, Dodie Clark and Mxmtoon have gone from making videos in their bedrooms to signing record contracts and touring internationally.

But you don’t have to be a star to record a video and upload it to the internet. Go on to YouTube and you can find loads of beginners playing and singing.

Include the word ukulele in the title of your videos and leave plenty of comments on other ukers’ videos. In this way, you soon find that you have friendly subscribers and lots of encouraging comments.

Play Live

Whether you’re on your own or part of a group, playing live in front of an audience can be a great—scary, but very rewarding—experience.

Playing in front of people is also the fastest way to become a better player. The fear of screwing up gets you practicing harder than you ever have before and removes any complacency.

When you just play for yourself, a tendency can creep in to practice only until you can play a piece through successfully “most of the time." If you’re playing that piece live, however, you need to practice until you can get it right every time.

Good players practice until they play it right. Great players practice until they can’t get it wrong.

You don’t have to dive in at the deep end with performing. Begin by promising to provide the accompaniment for a family Christmas singalong. Starting out playing with other people around you is much less daunting so why not play with your local ukulele group or start up your own band. After you build up your confidence a bit, you can start taking on open mic nights at uke clubs.

Go Online

You can find plenty of ukulele players on social networking sites. Facebook has a huge number of groups for ukulele players from local groups to those campaigning for Tiny Tim’s inclusion in the Ukulele Hall of Fame. Twitter is packed with ukulele players too, including famous ukers such as Amanda Palmer, Jake Shimabukuro, and Ingrid Michaelson. And Reddit has an active ukulele community.

Spread the Uke News

The ukulele boom hasn’t been spread by big TV stars or rock gods; it’s built up by word of mouth, through groups of friends seeing each other play and loving it.

Now that you know the joy of the ukulele, get more people involved. You’ll soon be the local ukulele expert. With the speed that the ukulele is currently spreading, before long you’re bound to have friends, family members, and colleagues looking to you for advice.

Enter a Contest

Ukulele contests are a great way to show off your uke skills, spread your music, and perhaps pick up a prize. The contests are usually sponsored by ukulele makers who offer up their wares to the best video submitted.

Small contests go on all year round. Many ukers themselves start their own mini-contest and challenges.

Although winning is nice, that’s not what the contests are about. Contestants always check out each other’s videos and leave encouraging comments, and so contests are a chance for you to get your music heard and make contact with other players.

Teach Someone Ukulele Skills

Teaching someone else to play is a great way to tone up your ukulele skills. After all, you have to make sure that you’ve got a technique mastered so that you can pass it on effectively.

Don’t worry if you don’t feel like an expert; even as a beginner, you have important information to pass on to other beginners. When you start playing and people see how much fun you’re having, they may well want to join in.

If you want to teach more formally, an increasing number of schools are replacing recorder lessons with ukulele lessons.

Write Your Own Songs

Covering songs you love is the perfect way to get started making music—and it’s always great fun—but writing your own songs (or your own tunes if you’re not a singer) adds a whole new level.

Coming up with your first song can be difficult, but here are a few tricks you can use:

  • Remix: The writers in ABBA used to take the lyrics to another person’s song, write new music to fit those words, and then write new lyrics. This trick is useful because it gives you a starting point to work from. And it means that you already have the arrangement before you start.
  • Repurpose: Steal a chord progression: the Law states that you can’t copyright a chord progression. So, find a progression you like, speed it up, slow it down, change the rhythm and/or change how fast the chords change. “Pretty Green” by The Jam uses chords taken directly from The Beatles’ “Taxman.”
  • Reverse: Take the chords of a song you know, mix them round, and see what you can come up with. Also, try playing songs backwards. John Lennon wrote “Because” to the sound of Yoko Ono playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” backwards.
Of course, you may not need any of these tips, but if great songwriters such as John Lennon, Paul Weller, and Benny and Bjorn used these tricks, no one’s going to blame you for doing the same.

See a Show

An increasing number of ukulele acts are touring. These include big bands like the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, accomplished soloists, like James Hill, Jake Shimabukuro, and indie stars, like Beirut and tUnE-yArDs.

One of the best learning experiences you can have is watching a professional player up close.

You don’t have to visit ukulele-only shows. I find watching all talented musicians hugely inspiring, even if for some baffling reason they choose not to play the ukulele. You can find out a huge amount from players of other instruments. Even if they don’t play a string instrument, you can listen to how they use phrasing, vibrato, and pauses.

More and more ukulele players have taken techniques from other disciplines and brought them to the ukulele. A popular one is the banjo technique of clawhammer picking. Flamenco techniques work great on the ukulele, too. A good example is Jake Shimabukuro’s tune “Let’s Dance," which includes Flamenco strumming techniques, rhythms, and scales.

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