Starting with the Ukulele – A short guide for beginners

Starting with the Ukulele – A short guide for beginners

Today we’ll be talking about a small instrument that from its very first notes evokes peaceful landscapes, exotic beaches and positive vibrations. We’re talking about the ukulele, which is a very good option for people who want to start with their first stringed instrument, some of its great features are that it is very simple to play and also its affordability.

The Origins of the Ukulele

While the ukulele is a uniquely Hawaiian instrument, its roots are in the Portuguese braguinha. The braguinha is a stringed instrument smaller than a guitar whose tuning is very similar to the first four strings of a guitar. By 1850, sugar plantations had become a major economic force in Hawaii, and the plantations needed more workers. Many waves of immigrants came to the islands, including a large number of Portuguese who brought their branguinhas with them. The Ukulele comes in 5 different styles or variation that differ in size (which also influences and varies the sound of each), however the three most popular ones are are the Soprano, Concert and Tenor ukuleles.

ukeleles tamaño

Soprano Ukulele

The Soprano ukulele is the most common one, its sound transports us to the beaches of Hawaii. The soprano ukulele size is probably what most people picture when they think of the ukulele. It is the most common size and it fits the mid-range category and emits a warmer tone and fuller sound.

Harley Benton Hawaii Koa Soprano Ukulele

Concert Ukulele

The Concert ukulele is the big brother of the Soprano Ukulele, with a scale length of around 38,5cm. The extra length allows for more frets with wider spacing between them. It’s the perfect Ukulele for players with bigger and wider hands and also for intermediate player who want to have a bigger sound.

Concert Ukulele Harley BentonHarley Benton UK-10S Concerto Ukulele

Tenor Ukulele

The Tenor ukulele is once again a bit bigger than the previously mentioned types. It has a scale length of about 43cm, which makes it a little easier to play. The bass is much for prominent in this type of ukulele and it may sometimes fit external pickups to amplify its sound.

Luna Guitars Ukulele High Tide Koa TenorLuna Guitars Ukulele High Tide Koa Tenor

Other Models

Besides the instruments above we can also find mixed models, which are generally instruments that are in between a ukulele and a guitar or banjo. Some of the most common mixed models are the Baritone Ukulele and the Bass Ukulele

Banjo UkuleleHarley Benton BJU-10 Banjo Ukulele

Woods and Materials

The material from which the instrument is constructed also affects the sound of it. The most typically used wood types for ukuleles are koa, a wood type from Hawaii that offers a warm, soft tone.
Caoba, which features a sound quite similar to koa except with a more pungent quality to it, and  spruce pinewood type which has a more upbeat and penetrating sound.

As with any wood instrument, it is fundamental that we store it in a place where there’s low humidity and average temperatures without wide temperature fluctuations, otherwise the wood will bend and damage itself.

Ukulele String Types

These days, the most commonly used strings for ukulele are actually not made of Nlyon but instead are made from a type of plastic which has a higher density with more high tones and a more distinct, clear sound. You can also find other types of strings such as artificial gut (Nylgut) , titanium or steel depending on the sound you prefer.

Ukulele Strings
Aquila Corde Ukulele Nylgut Strings

How to Amplify your Ukulele

If you wish to amplify your ukulele in order to play live, the easiest is to use or add a passive piezo type pick up. These exist in many types including some that can be stuck on in seconds. However it is almost always better to buy an instrument that already has a pick up pre-installed, in other words a semi-acoustic ukulele.

Alternative Tunings

A great thing about the ukulele is that open tunings are used a lot, in other words usually you will be playing all the strings in order to get a chord. The most commonly used tuning is GCEA although it is also possible to find other recommended tunings depending on the type op ukulele, some examples would be ADF#B for the Soprano types or CAC#F# for the Tenors.

Now that you have a basic understanding of ukulele’s, you can start to choose one. Play close attention to the sound, the shape, the quality and the price. Above all the look at which one is best suited to your playing needs. Aloha!

Author’s gravatar
Vincent started frequenting music shops at age eight. Picking up the Bass and Guitar followed not long after, as did bands. His love for music, from Sixties Pop and Soul to AnarchoPunk and Death Metal has only deepened with the years. He still regularly plays at Jam sessions, from Berlin to Cambodia.


    Thanks Vince – I really enjoyed reading the article and get a new Uke now 🙂

    Hey Mick, hope you enjoy the Uke, they really are great little instruments than anyone can learn to play. Much easier to play than guitar or bass but suitable for advanced stuff too. Kind regards, Vincent

    Great article! I did notice one typo I think about tuning, where it says ADF#H 🙂

    I have my own uke site, feel free to check it out:

    Thanks a lot Chuck! Yes, H is used in German music notation. It’s the equivalent of B. Changed it. Have a nice day.

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