People are constantly asking me for easy material to get them started on playing instrumental ukulele. The Little Book of 10 Melodies for Ukulele is a collection of simple, well known melodies arranged for ukulele with high g C E A tuning. While the booklet is not a tutor the pieces are designed for students who are either beginners or new to playing fingerstyle arrangements. Each piece is in both tab and notation with optional chord accompaniments where appropriate. There is a section on how to read tab to get you started. While I recommend using this booklet with the guidance of a teacher, it can also be used as a teach yourself method. In the last couple of years I have used this material with beginner ukulele groups of all ages and in beginner workshops. The material has proved both popular and useful. I’ve decided to publish the collection as part of The Little Book of…Series to help people get started on their classical ukulele journey. In this tutorial I will give an overview of the content and offer some advice on how to use the booklet. Click the blue link to see the Table of Contents.
When you start learning a musical instrument there are a lot of things to consider. Here are some of the basics:
- Posture – how do I hold my ukulele?
- Technique – left hand position and how to press down the notes / right hand position and how to pluck the strings.
- Open Strings – g C E A
- Fingerboard layout – what are the notes?
- Notation – how to read music? (Or should I stick to learning tab?)
- Tab – how does tab work? (But shouldn’t I be learning how to read notation?)
- Rhythm – what are the rhythmic symbols?
If it’s already beginning to feel like overload before you’ve even played a note, don’t worry, this is normal. It’s going to take time and practise to feel comfortable and confident. The important thing is not to get too bogged down with the technicalities but to get playing – this is the basic premise behind the booklet. I haven’t included explanations on how to read the notation but there is a two page explanation of how to read the tab. This will enable you to start playing the pieces straight away.
There’s always a lot of discussion on social media and in ukulele forums about how to hold the instrument. I’d recommend looking at a number of videos on YouTube to see how different people hold their ukes and decide what best appeals to you. I use a strap with 2 buttons – one on the end and one under the heel. I like my hands and arms to be free to move around the instrument and the strap enables me to do this. The uke feels secure and I can play standing up or sitting down.
Left Hand Technique Tips
Have a look at the photo at the top of the page. Notice how my thumb is straight behind the fingerboard (in line with the frets) and my fingers are curled. Note also the gap between the fingers and the fingerboard. This hand position is actually something that we use constantly in our everyday lives. Try picking up a glass. Your hand will naturally assume the most comfortable, strong and fluid position. Put down the glass but maintain the hand shape. Now move the hand into position with the thumb behind the neck of the ukulele. Refer again to the picture at the top if necessary. You may find that once you try pressing down on a string the hand shape collapses. It will take time for your fingers to strengthen and feel natural. The important thing is that you have a visual picture of what your are aiming to achieve. Every time you feel your hand collapsing or doing weird things stop and redo the ‘holding a glass’ exercise. When pressing down to create a note make sure your fingertip lands as close to the fret as possible without landing on it. If you land on the fret (the metal strip) you’ll get a dull, muffled sound. If you land too far from the fret you’ll get a buzz. Make sure you use the fingertip. When you release the note don’t lift your fingers too far away from the fingerboard. Try to keep them hovering as close as possible so they are ready to drop onto the next note. This will help to maintain the hand shape and fluency. You want your fingers to do the work while your hand and thumb maintain the structure.
Right Hand Technique Tips
This is a big topic worthy of several blogs. For the purposes of these pieces I am going to keep it simple. As these pieces are all single melodic lines I am going to suggest using the thumb and index finger. Having said that, if you have a teacher then this is something you can pick their brains about as there are several possibilities to explore. If you’re self learning and want to learn more about right hand arpeggio technique then I recommend my ebook The Art of Arpeggios. This booklet is dedicated to the right hand only and will introduce you to different picking patterns. Moving on from that you could try Daniel Ward’s Ukulele Mediations.
Open strings just means you are not engaging any left hand fingers. On a standard re-entrant tuned uke they are g C E A. The top string is A. This is because it is the highest string. It is also called string 1.
Understanding the fingerboard is really important. The booklet includes a colour coded fingerboard diagram up to the 7th fret. There is also a detailed explanation of the relevance of tones and semitones which is applied to diatonic and chromatic scales on the fingerboard.
All of the pieces in the booklet are in tab and notation. How to read notation is beyond the scope of the book.
I have included a 2 page detailed explanation on how to read tab. This will be your most immediate option for playing the tunes.
While I haven’t included details about how to count I have chosen well known tunes which you will already be able to hear in your head. Most of the pieces have chord charts written above the stave. If you play in a group then get a couple of people to strum the main beats while the rest play the melody. Frere Jaques on page 9 also works as a round with 2 bar entries.
Photos copyright Josie Elias 2018