The ukulele first became popular in the United States in the early 20th Century after its debut at the Panama Pacific Stateside Exhibition in San Francisco. Hawaiian music charmed the nation, and its breezy sound permeated every genre of music from jazz to pop. The name translates to “jumping flea” in Hawaiian, and reflects the way your fingers jump from fret to fret. It is very easy to learn, and many children start out on ukulele before moving on to other stringed instruments. The ubiquitous ukulele now takes a starring role, in weddings, television commercials, and indie rock shows. Just try to pick up a uke and strum a few chords. It’s impossible not to smile.
Hawaii Music Supply
This is the best YouTube channel for ukulele tutorials. There are scads of videos available to watch and learn, the sound is great, and some sort of hint usually pops up in the corner, like a chord diagram, or which finger goes where. Everything you’d probably want to know is here, from how to hold your ukulele, to beginner chords. There are factory tours and advanced lessons, as well. Check out the video on pick harmonics, it will add tons of personality to your playing.
Part of the greater EZ Folk which features news, blogs, music, and tutorials on banjo, guitar, and harmonica, this is a good place to get started. There’s even a place to shop for ukuleles if you haven’t gotten that far. The brands offered here are top notch: Lanikai, Martin, and Fender, to name a few. These are real instruments that won’t fall out of tune like the souvenir pieces you generally encounter in thrift stores. While a couple of the links are broken, this site is still tops for its step-by-step guide on strumming and reading music. The lessons become more advanced as you move toward developing technique. While the songs you can play along with are basic (think “Oh, Susanna!”), the finger picking guide may inspire you to get down and create some of your own tunes. For that, EZ Folk also features some encouraging and perhaps helpful advice on how to go about practicing and moving fearlessly into songwriting. Finally, once you become a master ukester, you can join EZ Folk’s community of artists. There you can post photos, videos, and news and chat with other members
Pineapple Pete’s Ukulele School
Pineapple Pete’s home page features a lovely clickable tuner: dots labeled G, C, E, A, and ?, the latter will navigate you to a bit on tuning with or without a tuner. Good beginner tutorials include a clunky, strum-along rhythm practice for “jug-band” (4/4) and waltz (3/4). Lessons are categorized as beginner, basic, advanced, and extreme. Even the advanced lessons start simply enough, and in no time you’ll be picking out melodies and you’ll understand how it works.
OK Factory Mitaka
This site is translated from Japanese and contains a few grammatical errors, but they’re easy to overlook, and might make you smile. The site is cute, but cluttered. Regardless, the benefits are many: first, you learn the good points and bad points of playing the ukulele. Then how to shop for your first uke. After an anatomy lesson, where the parts of the ukulele are labeled, you move to tuning. After learning three chords, you will be able to play a wide range of songs, including “Tahua Huwai,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” How’s that for a repertoire? The next group of tips, “Playing the Ukulele Live” is pretty darn good advice: “if you are a poor player, just back up and fade away.” All told, this site will be heartening for the beginner, as you learn to play through mistakes and sing louder. There is also a complete chord chart that will allow you to transpose nearly any tune you like. All you need is a little patience.
The opening video of the instructor positively wailing on the homepage will either have you inspired or discouraged, depending on your temperament. Allow me to warn you, there are lots of links to ads on the page that will take you to guitar sites and places to buy people’s stuff. Click them and you will be annoyed. Scroll down and read about the ukulele, or stick with the left-hand menu for free lessons, videos, tabs, and how to restring. Cool feature: improve your playing without theory.
This is a good intermediate site. Ukulele Underground features several free videos with fingering charts, strumming tutorials, and more. There are lots of videos that will teach you to play popular songs on the ukulele. The theme song for “The Office” is a particularly good one to get under your fingers. You’ll have to join to see all this site has to offer. Membership ranges from $15 to $30/month or $120/year with the option to “tip the UU guys.”
Play the Ukulele
Not the most elegant site, but who needs elegance when you’ve posted ukulele versions of Lady Gaga songs?! This site unfairly claims that it will help you play the ukulele like Jake Shimabukuro. That, friends, will take you years of practice: he is a master shredder. However, there are plenty of good videos here that will get you started, and lots of celebrities jamming the uke to keep you inspired.