Monday, April 1, 2013

How to learn to play the guitar

So you think you want to delve into the world of Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, maybe even.... the great Albert Lee!
Here's how!!!!!

Step 1: Learn to play a ukulele.


Screeeeech. What?  I know, I know, this sounds like redirection humor. It’s like that old joke:
How do you get down from an elephant? (You don’t. You get down from a duck.)
But I’m serious. The uke is a great “gateway instrument” for learning guitar. Why?
  • One of the most important skills for guitar playing is coordinated hand strength. The ukulele gets your hands about halfway there, all the while being easier to hold and play.
  • Entry level, decent-sounding ukuleles are affordable for just about everyone. 
  • You can learn hundreds of songs if you know how to play just a few really easy chords.  Thus your efforts are quickly rewarded.
  • The ukulele is sort of like a soprano 4-string guitar. The reason for this might be too technical to explain if you don’t understand stringed instruments, but trust me or ask in comments and I’ll explain.
  • The ukulele makes a happy sound, which in turn makes you smile. For me, learning to play the uke helped me through a very trying time in my life. Even if you decide not to play the guitar, your uke will provide mood enhancement for the rest of your life.

The guitar is nice, but playing the ukulele is a musical mecca in its own right. Tiny Tim probably put the uke on the map, elevated it to infamy, you might say ;-). However, it has since been adopted by some extraordinarily proficient musicians (and here).

Eddie Vedder got me started.

Yes, MISTER Pearl Jam created a whole album called Ukulele Songs and included this, one of the sweetest, most romantic songs I’ve ever heard.

“I’m falling harder than I ever have before. I’m falling fast while hoping I’ll land in your arms.”


(Alternate link for when the embedded video doesn't appear. Curse you, Blogger! ;-))

Eddie made the uke cool, a hipster’s instrument. However, even though I’m PROUDLY and defiantly NOT cool, this song hooked me into playing. And as it turns out, Longing to Belong is not only a beautiful song, it is also very playable for a dedicated ukulele beginner. Which I am.

Another thing: I think we uke players have a warrior's mentality. Ukes are often considered toys and uke players are VASTLY under-rated. Thus we band together. I have found that even the most skilled ukulele players are some of the nicest, most information-sharing people on the planet. This is not an instrument for huge egos, which is really refreshing.

Are you snared in to the wonders of this tiny little soprano-pitched 2/3-guitar yet? 

If so, here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Buy a Uke. I got my starter Uke at Costco (no affil). It is very pretty, nice sounding and has Cadillac Aquila strings (which is important for sound quality). Ukes come in many sizes, from ultra-small super-soprano to much bigger baritone and bass. However, the in-between Concert size like my Costco uke is preferred by many players and is the one I would recommend.  Some people balk at buying musical instruments at Big Box stores, so another source that people tend to recommend  is Uke Republic (I have no experience with them).  They "set up" almost all of the instruments that leave their store, so I suspect you have a good chance of getting a very playable uke from them.  Other internet sources are available too.

Step 2: Buy or borrow one of these books, preferably the one on the right.  Note: I'm not trying to insult your intelligence at all!  The Dummies books are my favorites when learning new things.  Also, visit Ukulele Hunt, the web site written by the Dummies book author.  It has many songs and tutorials categorized by difficulty.

Step 3: Join Ukulele Underground. I heart, heart, heart them. A very nice youngster named Aldrine Guerrero has created some phenomenal beginner ukulele lessons. In addition, you’ll find a forum full of wonderful people who don't mind letting me you whine about my your uke playing, about B-flat problems, etc. They UNDERSTAND rather than ridicule. Incredible.

Step 4: Buy either “Daily Ukulele” or “Daily Ukulele Leap Year Edition” by Jim Beloff. Or buy both books like I did. It’s one thing to do drills and scales. It’s another to actually learn the ukulele by playing songs. These books have some incredibly good, easy, fun old songs that are perfect for camp fire, etc. 

Step 5: Search YouTube for its wealth of fun tutorials, so many more videos than I can possibly list here.  You'll also find a wealth of inspiring, riveting amateur uke performers.

Step 6:  Do one thing I haven't done yet, join a song circle.  They look like fun!.

.....And then, once you have some experience with your uke, but are feeling starved for a little bass sound (which a uke typically DOESN'T have) THEN buy a guitar.  You'll have a head start on the guitar because you played the uke first.

....oh, and be prepared for instrument acquisition syndrome to hit ;-).

Enjoy. Feel free to let me know how your uke playing is going.

Leaving you with a few of my favorites:

From "A Concert for George (Harrison)"

IZ.  You may not recognize him, but you'll recognize this song immediately.  This is a lovely video, shows a whole legion of people spreading his ashes after his death.  RIP, IZ, your voice will live on with us forever.

And my fave.  The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. A lot of people playing Dolphin Ukes (the candy colored ones.)  They call this the 1018 part Ode to Joy ;-).

Mahalo for reading.


  1. That was wonderful. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Oh thank you! You've made my day!

  3. This is excellent. As a frustrated guitarist who has turned to the uke, you have really captured this instrument. It should be the instrument that all young children start with. It is relatively easy, fun, portable, cheap, and produces sounds that just make people smile. Thank you for this.

  4. Learning to play the guitar might truly be difficult for other people, especially those with shorter fingers. The idea of playing the ukulele before delving on the guitar sounds like a great idea. Ukuleles are smaller; hence, easier to hold and play. It has fewer strings that made playing chords easier. As you said, playing the ukulele uplifts the spirit. Think of how many spirits you have uplifted today after sharing the easier path to learn how to play the guitar. :) Thank you for sharing this idea!
    Patti @ Avila Music School

    1. Thank you for writing! I'm glad you liked my idea. Ukuleles definitely create a low barrier to entry into music. And if we never get past playing the uke, we've already accomplished music on an instrument that is rich, deep and wonderful in its own right.