BY DANI JOY
Welcome to the series Chord by Chord, a beginner’s guide to the ukulele. In this lesson, I will introduce you to the instrument and give you some things to keep in mind as you proceed through the series.
First things first: posture. As soon as you read that, you probably sat right up! When playing the uke, make sure that you’re sucking in your tummy just a bit, to support your core. Lift your shoulders up, back, and down, so that you can open up the heart center and play from a place of comfort. I really want to help you avoid some of those little aches and pains that can happen in the shoulders from playing the happiest instrument in the world. Also, think about the chair that you’re sitting on. You don’t want to be leaning back, and you don’t want to have your arms restricted. So if your chair has arms, you might think about sitting in one without them.
Your ukulele has several main parts: the body, neck, headstock, and tuning pegs. The fretboard is on the front of the neck, and there are four strings, from the one closest to your chin to that closest to the floor—G (4), C (3), E (2), and A (1). These names are easy to remember with the phrase “goats can eat anything.” You’ll use your left-hand fingers to play chords, and they will be labeled 1 (index), 2 (middle), 3 (ring), and 4 (pinky). To play chords, you’ll be pressing down your fingers on the strings just behind the metal bars, called frets. If you press a finger on the third fret of the A string, you get a high C, and if you then strum all four strings, you get an open C chord—more on that in the next lesson. You’ll need to pay close attention to the positioning of your fingers when forming chords, using the fingertip and not the pillow in the front (fingerprint). Remember that the strength is in the tip.
As for your strumming hand, you have a few options. A lot of people like to begin by using their thumb, and that works just fine. I like to use the back of my index fingernail like a little pick, pressing through the strings like I’m kicking a little soccer ball. Alternatively, you could use a felt pick designed specifically for the uke. Experiment with all of these approaches to find the one that works best for you.
In the next lesson, you’re going to learn your first three chords, the major chords in the key of C major (C, F, and G)—and the harmonic foundation of countless songs.