Most players new to ukulele dive right in and start learning songs. That's a great way to start with one drawback -
Where do I start and what do I play?.
It's easy to see what Chords are required as they're typically listed. Might even have Chord Grids associated with them. The Lyrics, if not an instrumental and the Melody are easy to find if you want to learn to sing or play the melody for that song. However, the Strumming Patterns a.k.a., the style and Rhythm of that style is not typically shown. Plus, nothing is stopping you from playing songs in any style that you would like.
The melody as an instrumental - unless learned by ear - requires being able to Read Music and knowing where those notes are on the Ukulele Fingerboard . And throw into the mix the technique to pull it all off. Then reusing information you learned in one song in the next song and then the next song, the next song, etc...
"Learn the repertoire. It's all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising." - Frank Vignola
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Where to Start: First Pick a Song?
Using songs for learning to play the ukulele is the most common approach to, well, learning to play a song. You thought I'd say learning to play the ukulele.
When first starting to play the ukulele, you most likely pick a song you'd like to play and try to figure it out. Whatever process you used to learn that particular song you start over with the next song you pick. You'll quickly get frustrated and think that you're not learning to play the ukulele, and you would be right. You're merely learning songs and not much about what goes into songs that you can learn to reuse on other songs — other than possibly some of the chords that are common and a few strums. This ends up being a long slow process for learning any instrument — even an instrument with the reputation as easy to learn as the ukulele.
Find Song References and Recording
For Recordings. You have to love the Internet with all the available resources for songs. For recordings Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and services like those are great for previous recorded versions of songs. YouTube is also a great resource for songs. MuseScore , an Open-Source music notation program, one that I use also has a community forum and website for downloading scores that others have created. Here is a MuseScore: List of Available Jazz Standards .
For Leadsheets and Chords of songs the program iReal Pro — Music Book and Backing Tracks also has a community forum where that are hundreds and hundreds of songs posted where the chords have already been input for you.
Right here on LearningUkulele.com that a boat load of leadsheets available for members.
A Song is Like a Recipe
Think of learning a song akin to baking a cake or cooking. I'll use examples of how most people bake a cake? You first select the type of cake you would like to make, and you find a recipe. After reading the ingredients, you gather the ingredients for the cake and if your missing something you run to the store and get what you need. Then you proceed to follow the directions for putting the cake together. In the end, you have a cake. And if you'd like to have another cake or a different cake, you start the whole process over. You don't learn much about baking cakes, substituting ingredients or changing ingredients. You're more of a cake assembler. Over time your pantry contains many ingredients you still have no idea how to use. Well, learning songs by using songs is a lot like that. Over time, you find that you still have to read the recipe, can't change the recipe or substitute ingredients, and you can't bake a cake or play a song without reading recipes.
The Recipe: The Song Ingredients
A song typically contains chords, a melody, and most likely lyrics if not an instrumental only song or instrumental version of a song with lyrics. A song doesn't have all the ingredients listed in an obvious way. It takes a bit of knowledge to figure them out or, intelligently and musically substitute other parts, i.e., the ingredients.
Example: Brown Eyed Girl
Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison is a popular song that is played a lot at ukulele gatherings, festivals and jam sessions. It has relatively few chords and an easy to remember progression. It does have a few memorable licks that really add to the song and should be learned.
Brown Eyed Girl is typically played in the common Key of G . The chords are: G C D or D7 and Em. In the Daily Ukulele (the yellow book), a book very popular with ukulele clubs and at jam sessions. Brown Eyed Girl is in the Key of C and the chords are: C F G or G7 and Am.
It is most commonly played in the key of G with a lot of ukulele groups playing it in the Key of C , as that is the key of the song in the Daily Ukulele book ( the yellow book ).
For a beginning ukulele player they would typically use the following Open Position Chords ( Key of G chords shown ).
Clicking on the chord image will take you to a lot of information I presented in my Chord a Day Series that runs every year with information regarding each chord such as fingering, derived chords, chord spelling, related lessons, etc...
The melody is typically only learned if you are wanting to create an instrumental version or sing the song. For singing the song one learns the lyrics by reading the melody or listening to a recording of the songs over and over.
As the melody and chords are the property of the copyright holder of the song they are not presented here. You should buy a copy of the song or search the Internet for one of the many sites that contain the lyrics of songs.
Accompaniment: Playing the Chords in Time
After finding out what chords are required for the song: The Chord Progression ( download the chord lead sheet for Brown Eyed Girl ).
Then it's off to learning a few strums.
A Strum is the execution of a specific rhythmic pattern, at tempo in a particular style.
Strumming requires a specific set of skills. They are:
- Memorization of Chords
- The Ability to Switch Chords Smoothly and
- The Ability to Choose and Execute a Suitable Rhythmic Strum
- and, Most Importantly Do All Of This In Tempo and in the Rhythmic Style of the Song.
The Four Famous Strums
Start with the Getting Started with Ukulele Strums series.
With these Four Famous Strums you can play this song and thousands of other songs.
Repeat the Process for the Next Song - or Learn How to Remember Songs .
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Just browsing over both books, they look fantastic! I'm a guitarist and uke player for over 25 years and was thinking about writing a ukulele book but you've already written what I think are the best, most comprehensive and thorough books I've ever seen for the instrument. I just might end up buying every book you've written and I'll be giving my highest recommendation for your books to my friends and students. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such great books! — Peter Rhee
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