Adding scales to your repertoire is a great way to enhance your practice sessions, improve your finger strength and coordination, and work your way toward better melody and solo playing. Here you will learn two scales for ukulele: The C major scale and a similar sounding cousin, the G mixolydian scale.
Learning the C Major Scale
Typically, C major is the first scale we all learn. All the white keys of the piano form the C major scale, and it’s the foundation of a lot of beginning music that we play on the uke. Playing C major on ukulele, however, is not as easy as banging away on the white keys of the piano. We have to “map out” the notes so that they fit on the fretboard, and work on memorizing the patterns from there. The nice thing about the uke is there are only 3 strings to memorize (vs. 6 strings on a guitar!)
I actually like learning this scale backward, internalizing the notes of each string starting with the A string (0-2-3). Then we can move to the E String (0-1-3) and the C String (0-2). When you’re ready, you can play the whole scale, moving from left to right in the tab notation below, or from C string, to E string, to A string.
You can try different rhythms to vary up your practice, such as 2x per note, 4x per note, or my personal favorite, “motorcycle-stop-stop.” I stole that from my string orchestra class.
Then, I like to play around with these notes and “explore the space” to get a feeling for what each string’s pattern is. Once you feel comfortable, you can expand your play to include the whole scale.
Try improvising over the chords of “Stand By Me” (C Am F G7), or any of your favorite songs in C Major.
Graduating to the G Mixolydian Scale
We can expand our C major capabilities by learning a different configuration known as the G mixolydian scale. The technical term for this is actually a “mode,” meaning it’s the same notes as C major (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C), starting on a different note (G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G). Learning this mode allows us to do the same improvisation exercise with the higher notes.
Practice these two scales on their own, moving forward and backward, and continue to improvise and play around with your favorite backing tracks and songs in C.
Happy practicing! Uke on!
Lenny San Jose, AKA Ukulenny, is a musician and educator based in Oakland, CA. You can find him on Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram under the handle @ukulenny.
Ukulele Basics – Learning and Practicing includes lessons from some of the top names of the uke-teaching world including Jim Beloff, Heidi Swedberg, Sarah Maisel, Craig Chee, Jim D’Ville and Cathy Fink. These top teachers share important tips on everything from optimal practice habits to tuning with your ears and reading music.
If you learned something new here, will you leave us a tip? We're asking you to give just $2 (or whatever you can afford) to support this site.