Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Being in the ukulele business for over a decade has taught me many things. Many of them amazing, like learning that the first ukulele was made in 1879 and that George Harrison, the guitarist for The Beatles was an avid fan and player. And in this time I’ve also learned many not so good things. That the E chord is infamously difficult to play (from experience) and that there are many more challenges that new ukulele players face. It always bring me joy guiding the curious to their first ukulele. To see their faces light up when they play their first C chord.
The idea of playing the ukulele... on the beach... the trade winds wafting the scents of coconut and pineapple into the air... as the sun sets in the distance, setting the sky on fire in highlighter colors! AHHHHH!!!
Then it comes.
Reality smacks them awake! Doubt begins to rise. “Can I really do this?” The messages and emails of disillusionment follow. They tell me, ”Keli’i, I thought you said this was going to be easy!” Your right! I did......here.
But I never said that there wouldn’t be any challenges to overcome. And these challenges can be discouraging. It’s OKAY! It’s normal to feel discouraged when you’re just starting out. Just find comfort knowing that your not alone! To prove that you are not alone, see if you’re experiencing these 3 common challenges.
Chances are playing the simplest chords is a struggle for you. You swear you have a grand command over you hands, you’ve used them you whole life, but now they seem that they are working against you. You practice chord formations and your fingers resemble tree branches in winter. Don’t ‘fret’ (see what I did there), everyone who’s ever played a stringed instrument has dealt with sore hands.
Learning chords requires a whole new set of muscles which are underutilized. They lack in strength and dexterity. Just as an athletes train their bodies in the gym, so ukulele players must train their hands. This makes sense right?
The best thing you can do when first learning to play ukulele is to commit to repetition, drills and regular practice. Over time your hands will adapt to holding complex chord formations with ease. With consistent practice, as little as half an hour a day, you can achieve this! If you want to know which chords to learn first, and see their chord formations click here.
And for those of you with arthritis be sure to check with your doctor first before playing. Be encouraged to know that many with arthritis are able to play the ukulele. It may take more time and practice, even modifying your playing style, but it is highly achievable. Don‘t give up! And don’t forget to have fun!
If you don’t know what burning fingertips are, you haven’t played long enough. When you do, you will have burning fingertips (unless you work in construction, arts and crafts, or live in the bush). Burning fingertips are caused by the constant pressure of the ukulele strings against the virgin skin on the pads of your fingertips. This pain is completely normal and will go away with continued practice. Why does it go away? One word... calluses! It takes the pads of your fingers a couple weeks of consistent, regular practice to build calluses up. But here is a warning, if you stop playing you will lose your calluses and will have to regrow them back.
The ability to play your ukulele in time will make or break your playing. It is one of the most common frustrations for ukulele players of all styles, especially beginners. When you are just starting out, it will come as a surprise to learn that you may have an issue with tempo and timing. This can be a huge challenge to overcome when you sadly discover this!
Far too often the focus is on what notes to play, rather than WHEN to play these notes. I equate it to a singer having a beautiful voice but not being able to stay in tune. We’ve all heard this and cringed! Playing the right notes and playing them at the right time are synergistic and of equal importance.
In order to overcome this challenge you need to invest time practicing on your rhythm. To do this you wont actually need your ukulele. Check out this YouTube video and absorb this lesson! It’s less than 10 minutes long but will be clapping and singing your way to mastering rhythm. Check out Saher’s lesson here.
There you have it! 3 challenges new ukulele players face. Personally for me I struggled with all 3. But no cliff hanger here I overcame them. With consistent practice and training you too can overcome these challenges as well. Now go grab your ukulele and...