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Ukulele Hand Positioning: How to Properly Hold a Ukulele

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 1, 2020 • 2 min read

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Jake Shimabukuro Teaches ʻUkulele

One of the most appealing things about a ukulele is its compact size, which makes it easy to hold. While there are multiple ukulele sizes available—soprano ukulele, tenor ukulele, baritone ukulele, and even bass ukulele—most first time players start off with a concert ukulele. Before you can launch into playing your ukulele, it's important to learn how to hold it.

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Jake Shimabukuro Teaches ʻUkuleleJake Shimabukuro Teaches ʻUkulele

Jake Shimabukuro teaches you how to take your ʻukulele from the shelf to center stage, with techniques for beginners and seasoned players alike.

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How to Properly Hold a Ukulele

Traditionally, most ukulele players use their right hand to strum, while their left hand functions as the fretting hand. Even lefties tend to play the ukulele right-handed, as finding a lefty ukulele can be a challenge. To properly hold your ukulele, follow these steps:

  1. Keep it close to your chest. Hold the body of the ukulele to your chest, with the neck running parallel to the floor. Cradle the weight of the ukulele in your right arm.
  2. Hold the neck in your left hand. Hold it near the top of the neck, but not on the very top, or headstock. Press your thumb against the back of the neck and let your fingers gently curl around the front and over the fretboard. You'll need to generate enough pressure to hold various ukulele chord shapes, so feel free to adjust your left hand position to make fingering as efficient as possible. The order of the strings on your ukulele—from closest to your head to closest to the floor—will be a G string, a C string, an E string, and an A string.
  3. Bend your right arm at the elbow. Your right arm is your strumming arm, so extend the lower part of your arm in a straight line over the ukulele. Allow your right hand fingers to rest gently on the ukulele strings a little bit up the neck from the sound hole. You'll be strumming the ukulele and picking individual notes with your index finger, so it's important to keep your right hand loose and agile.

How to Hold a Ukulele for Left-Handed Playing

To hold the ukulele left-handed, simply flip the ukulele so you’re cradling the body of the ukulele with your left arm and holding the top of the fretboard with your right hand. Take note, however, that you will have to restring your ukulele for proper lefty note access. Standard tuning in descending order is G4, C4, E4, A4.

Although it is possible to purchase a specially-made left-handed ukulele, be prepared to pay a premium for one. Because most parts of the ukulele are essentially the same no matter how you hold the instrument, you may find it more economical to simply re-string a right-handed ukulele. Alternatively, you can simply play the instrument right-handed. While you may initially find strumming to be a bit trickier than righty players do, you'll already have a head start on your left hand technique.

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Want to Pack Some Hawaiian Punch Into Your ‘Uke Skills?

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.

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