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How to Practice Ukulele in 7 Steps
Whether you're a ukulele beginner or a pro, a good ukulele practice routine should be effective, challenging, and fun. No matter your level of ambition, you can use this practice schedule to master a wide range of ukulele skills.
- Start with stretching. Before you even warm-up, stretch the fingers on both hands. Extend your left arm out in front of you with your palm facing out, and straighten your elbow. Your fingers should point straight toward the ceiling. Use your right hand to gently pull the tip of your index finger back toward you for a good stretch. Hold the stretched position for 10 to 20 seconds, then repeat with your middle finger, ring finger, pinkie, and thumb. Switch and the fingers on your right hand.
- Warm up with single-string exercises. Start by playing the first string (the A string) as an open string. Then, use your index finger to press the string down on the first fret and pluck the string again. Repeat, first with your middle finger on the second fret, next with your ring finger on the third fret, and finally with your ring finger and pinkie on the fourth fret. You've just played a chromatic line. Now, play the chromatic line in reverse. Practice this over and over with a metronome, gradually speeding up over time. Repeat the same pattern on the second string (E string), third string (C string), and fourth string (G string).
- Work on strumming patterns. Choose a single chord shape to hold with your left hand. With that ukulele chord in place, cycle through strumming techniques. The key patterns to work on are: down-up-down-up, down-down-up, down-up-down, and down-down-up-up. You can practice these strumming patterns with both your fingers and a pick.
- Learn fingerpicking patterns. In addition to strumming, the best ukulele players are masters of fingerpicking. Much like a banjo player or acoustic guitarist, a good ukulele player can hold chord shapes with their left hand and pick individual notes with their right hand, providing rhythmic momentum and variety. Begin with simple arpeggios, playing each note of a chord in rising and descending order.
- Practice chord changes with a metronome. Create a chord progression that includes a mix of major chords and minor chords, then work in dominant seventh chords, diminished chords, and augmented chords. The idea isn't to create beautiful music but rather to challenge yourself to improve your fretting and transitions. Set the metronome to a reasonable speed, and start by playing one chord for every four metronome clicks. Cycle through the progression until it feels comfortable, then double your speed by changing chords after two clicks. If you really want to push your ukulele strumming skills, change chords on every click.
- Play a few songs. You've now reached the point in your practice time where you can play through complete songs. You might work on songs you already know or tackle a new song from the very beginning. You can follow chord charts from ukulele songbooks, or you can play along to recordings and try to learn the songs by ear. Playing new songs can help you master the fingering of common chords, introduce you to new chords, and improve your strumming patterns.
- Work on a new ukulele song of your own. If you want to create original music, conclude your practice session with some songwriting. The best songs borrow ideas from established music and interject something new, whether it’s melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, or structural.
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Grab a MasterClass All-Access Pass, stretch out those fingers, and get your strum on with a little help from the Jimi Hendrix of ‘ukulele, Jake Shimabukuro. With some pointers from this Billboard chart topper, you’ll be an expert on chords, tremolo, vibrato, and more in no time.