The ukulele, affectionately known as a uke to some musicians, is one of the most enjoyable instruments to pick up and strum. It could be the diminutive size, the breezy rhythms that can flow out of it, or the fact that you can take it anywhere, but musicians of all ages and skill levels seem to have a special place in their heart for the mighty ukulele.
Whether you just received a new ukulele as a present or you and your ukulele are old friends who need to get better acquainted, here are some tips to improve your ukulele game and get the most out of the pocket-sized instrument.
1. Learn when and how to restring your ukulele
If your uke has been sitting in a case for a while, it may be time to look out for red flags that indicate your ukulele needs new strings. Run your fingers along the ukulele strings and feel for any nicks or grooves caused by the frets. This could be a sign of impending breakage. Honestly, today’s strings are so durable that waiting around for them break may take a long time, so a helpful tip is to listen for when your ukulele is starting to sound dull and lifeless. If you are noticing that your uke has lost some of its splendor, changing the strings is one of the quickest and easiest ways to up your ukulele game right away.
Photo by Samuel Ramos
If you are changing your strings for the first time and need some guidance, check out this helpful guide by LiveUkulele.com. It walks you through each part of the process including how to attach your strings to the bridge, secure the strings to the headstock and pre-stretch your strings for the best end result.
2. Keep your ukulele in tune and balanced with helpful upgrades
Nothing is more discouraging to a ukulele player than the sound of an out of tune instrument. The soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone ukuleles each have their own standard tuning. While it is likely that you already have a tuner and understand how to tune your ukulele, one overlooked aspect of the instrument that is vital to tuning is the tuning peg itself.
Only recently have manufacturers started to consider the more refined needs of ukuleles when compares to guitars and created tuning pegs that provide precision tuning with lightweight designs that fit the smaller frames of ukuleles. The Ratio Tune-a-lele for ukulele is the world’s lightest geared tuners built especially for ukuleles with a gear turn ratio of 6:1, which gives you responsive tuning experiences without messing with the balance of your ukulele. It is a simple upgrade to your standard ukulele that can go long way.
3. Pay attention to where and how to store your ukulele
Store your ukulele somewhere that has a relatively stable temperature, so keep it far away from radiators, direct sunlight and the trunk of your car!
If you have a wood ukulele you will need to pay extra attention to the humidity and may want to invest in a hard-shell case and a Humiditrak to track the humidity in your ukulele's case. Your ukulele will be happiest if it is kept at 45-60% humidity.
The Humiditrak is pictured above
4. Give your ukulele a thorough cleaning
Making regular cleaning a habit is another small tweak in your ukulele routine that can yield big results. Using microfiber cloths regularly on the body and fingerboard can prevent the build-up of dirt and dust on your instrument. If you want to take your cleaning routine to the next level, you can use super-fine grade wire wool and lemon oil on the fretboard the next time you change your strings.
Here’s a helpful video illustrating the best way to clean your ukulele.
5. Learn how to check the balance of your uke
Finding the ideal weight or balance between the headstock and body of your uke is key to having a comfortable playing experience. The most common issue we see with balance is a headstock or neck that is too heavy and out of balance with the rest of the instrument. One way to know if this is an issue for you is to pay attention to whether the headstock tends to fall as you transition between chords, making it difficult to find a comfortable playing position, especially while standing.
An easy way to check for balance is by resting the ukulele in your hand to see if it sits level.
While there is no exact calculation to finding the right balance, ensuring that your uke integrates quality components is a good start. For example, making sure that your tuning pegs are not adding extra weight to the headstock by using products from manufacturers that prioritize balance along with function will go a long way.
6. Make learning new strumming and fingering patterns fun
So far, all of these tips have focused on the care and maintenance of your ukulele, but the true joy of owning a ukulele is playing it. If you are looking for ways to take your ukulele musicianship to the next level, follow your joy. Learn the chords to your favorite songs and then start to make them your own! Using your favorite songs to practice strumming patterns and fingering exercises can help make practice fun.
Photo by Toa Heftiba
Sites like UkeTabs make it easy to find the chord progressions to popular songs and even provide chord diagrams. YouTube also gives you access to a wide range of ukulele channels for different skill levels. Here’s a list of the ukulele tutorial channels to get you started.
7. Record yourself and listen back to it
When you’re starting to feel confident in your new skills, record yourself and listen back. While it may be cringe-worthy at first, you’ll learn a lot about where you need to improve and you may even come away with a new appreciation for your skills. All smartphones on the market today offer a simple audio recorder built in, so don’t feel like you need to invest too much into your audio recording equipment when you’re just starting out!
While these tips will help you get the most out of your uke, don’t forget that the most important thing is spending time playing and enjoying your favorite mini stringed instrument.
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