The ukulele is a carefree instrument. There really are no strict rules when you play the uke. There is no one specific way to strum. Nobody cares how you hold your uke, whether or not you use a strap, or if you finger a chord differently than everyone else. You can even choose how you tune your uke—with the classic GCEA tuning, or with the traditional Hawaiian low-G tuning. There’s even a different way to tune it if you want to play authentic 1920s jazz on your uke: ADF#B—and you need to know that I am completely baffled by this notion.
You can take your uke with you anywhere. You can use it to play old time music, Hawaiian tunes or a little AC/DC . You can plug in and amplify, or you can go acoustic. You can strum, or you can pick a melody. In short, part of the appeal of the ukulele is the obvious lack of rules.
EVEN THOUGH THERE ARE NO RULES, GO AHEAD AND BREAK THE RULES
For folks who don’t care to follow the rules, living comes pretty easily. This guy is a genius ukulele player—and I’m pretty sure he’s probably a rampant rule-breaker when he’s not sitting at home making videos of himself playing Ramones songs on his ukulele.
One of most surprising things about the ukulele is how a few simple chords can give a well-known pop song a completely different spin. Check out The Dresden Doll’s cooler than cool Amanda Palmer giving Radiohead’s CREEP a spin on her ukulele:
PICKING OR STRUMMING
No one says there’s just one way to strum your ukulele on any given song. And nobody says you absolutely have to learn how to pick a melody. I’ve been a die-hard strummer for two years. Getting a pretty good strumming pattern down can takes hours of strumming behind closed doors, swearing that your right hand refuses to cooperate with anything your brain tells it to do. Eventually, you’ll realize that you don’t sound half bad, and you can haul that strum out in the open and play a song or two without fear. Lately, I’ve lately been experimenting with some alternative picking and strumming styles, and I've learned that a great place to pick up new tricks is Ukulele Underground’s online ukulele lessons: http://ukuleleunderground.com
RULES FOR RULE BREAKERS
I suppose it sounds like a contradiction to say that, even in a world where there are no strict rules that need to be followed, there are rules that need to be followed. Perhaps I might do better to call these so-called rules mere “suggestions.” In any case, I am not talking about style here: You are responsible to define your own uking style. What I am talking about is your work as a ukulele spokesperson. You need to be sure that you behave in a way that is becoming to a ukulele player. If you play the uke, you are an ambassador of good things; it’s your job to make sure that you are tending to your entire personal ukulele playing needs while at the same time enlightening the masses. So, here I’ve outlined a few suggestions that should help you on your musical way.
PLAYING THE UKULELE DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU ARE WEIRD
Don’t show up at a ukulele meet up and tell everyone how eccentric you are because you have taken up playing ukulele. In a situation like this, you are surrounded by ukulele players who most likely consider themselves, by varying degrees, to be musicians. Most likely, they’re all pretty tired of their instrument of choice being referred to as a toy, a novelty, or “eccentric.” If you want to be eccentric, take up the didgeridoo. Likewise, don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed as odd because you happen to play the uke. Your non-ukulele friends may think you eccentric, but it’s your job to set them straight. Point out that Beatles George Harrison and Paul McCartney played ukulele. And if those two are too old school for your chums, you can always drag out Jack Johnson.
TAKE YOUR UKULELE EVERYWHERE YOU GO
You never know when the urge to play might overtake you. Heaven knows, you don’t want to be caught ukeless in a traffic jam or at a spontaneous office sing-along. You can practice one-handed, too: run though your finger-picking and strumming patterns while waiting in carline or at the bank drive through. If you are quiet enough, you can even practice strumming while you are watching T.V.
TAKE THE UKE OUT OF ITS CASE
The more you play it, the better your uke will sound. Some folks say that ukuleles have to be played steadily for a year or so before the sound “opens up.” And, if your uke is sitting out in the open, you’re more likely to grab it at odd moments and fiddle around with it. The more you fiddle, the better you get.
GET OUT AND PLAY WITH PEOPLE
I’ve said it once and I will say it again. Your ukulele will be happier and you will be riding a ukulele high for days every time you make room in your schedule to attend a meet up or jam session or even a ukulele conference. Ukuleles are social instruments.
You are really in luck right now, because there are plenty of opportunities to get together with other ukers.
First, there’s that marvelous Sam Ash ukulele group, otherwise known as Indianapolis Ukulele Fans. They get together at the Sam Ash store in Castleton on the first Saturday of every month, from 10 AM to 12 PM. The next meeting is this Saturday, August 7th. All skill levels are welcome. You really should think about going, even if you think you’re too shy to play in front of people. I’m pretty sure you’ll make some new friends and learn a thing or two.
Then, there’s the Blue Stone Folk School Ukulele Society. The next meeting will take place at the Judge Stone House, 107 South 8th Street in Noblesville on Thursday, August 12, from 7-9 PM. This is a great group that every uker should think about attending.
If that isn’t enough to get you all uked up, I’ve just received word that the Blue Stone Folk School’s Geoff Davis will be teaching a Beginning and Intermediate Ukulele Workshop, Wednesday evenings, August 18- September 22 from 7-8:30 PM. The cost is $60, or $15 per week. If you live in Indianapolis area and have wanted to learn how to play the ukulele, this is a golden opportunity. I advise you not to miss it. Here’s the link that will tell you everything you need to know: