Ukuleles are the perfect festival instrument. Light and portable, easy to play, and they look amazing!
This post is to help people who want to play the ukulele but don’t know where to start – I have included the best ukulele for beginners as well as accessories and books that I found useful.
The ukulele has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, and this has been supported by festivals. It’s easy to pick up and play, and is just the right size for children as well as adults. It’s a very sociable instrument as it’s easy to play along with other people and great for a campfire singalong.
I started learning guitar as a teenager because I had all this angst and passion inside me and I needed a release. I’ve never managed to get particularly good at it, but the joy of a guitar is that you only need to learn a few chords and you can play and sing your heart out. However, the guitar is too big and heavy to take everywhere, especially at festivals where you might have to carry your stuff from the car park.
I started playing the ukulele after being in a ukulele band at Wood Festival and then again at Starry Skies, in 2015. Everyone brought their ukuleles along, a songsheet was circulated with the chords and we all just joined in. It was such great fun that I wanted to continue. Ukuleles have all the benefits of playing guitar in an itty-bitty package. From watching me, my daughter has started to learn and has even performed in the kids’ field!
Buying your first ukulele
After some research, I decided to buy a Makala Dolphin in ‘Redburst’ colour. At £35-45 it’s one of the best ukulele for beginners in the mid-price range. It has a really good sound (in my opinion as good as many of the £100+ instruments I’ve heard) and best of all it has a dolphin on it! They comes in many different colours, either plain or ‘burst’ (darker at the edges).
I also bought some Aquila strings, as the strings that come with the Makala aren’t that good. When I restrung the uke with the new strings the sound was noticeably better, more resonant.
If you want to start with the original strings they also play well enough if you’re learning. When you restring it’s always worth keeping the other strings as spares. They do snap eventually, although in 3 years I haven’t lost a string yet.
There are cheaper options if you don’t want to spend that much at first. The Mahalo is £20, plays fine (and sounds even better if you restring it with quality strings), and is a good option especially if you’re buying for a younger child.
It comes in some fantastic colours – including a yellow happy face – but unfortunately you will pay more for the design. It’s a personal choice, but I feel with an instrument it’s better to pay extra for the better sound. If you are more interested in how it looks (and the Mahalo is still a great sounding instrument) there are some really funky ones out there!
Most ukuleles come with a fabric drawstring bag, which doesn’t give it any protection at all, so if you’re going to carry it around festivals it’s worth getting a bag. I bought a Martin Smith padded bag for my daughter’s ukulele; it has a carry strap and handy pockets for spare strings or a tuner (more on these later).
Books on Ukulele for Beginners
There are many great ukulele websites, so you don’t need to buy music if you don’t want to. But I wanted to take my ukulele to festivals so I decided to get a few books. Here are my favourite books teaching ukulele for beginners.
Disney Hits for Ukulele got my children into playing. It has most of the really great disney songs in it. Some are easier to play than others which also makes it good for new learners.
The book contains 23 disney songs including The Bare Necessities, Cruella De Vil, Do You Want to Build a Snowman?, He’s a Tramp, I See the Light, Kiss the Girl, Lava, Let It Go, Once upon a Dream, So This Is Love (The Cinderella Waltz), Under the Sea, When She Loved Me and A Whole New World.
The Ukulele Playlists are my favourite ukulele books, as they allow you to play lots of classic rock and pop music ranging from the 50s right up to now. I own the Red book and Blue book (chosen because they have more of my favourite songs in) and play them all the time. However there’s also the Yellow book, the White book, the Green book, the Black (rock) book, the Pop hits book… it depends on which songs you want to play.
The Blue Book contains such fun-to-play songs as Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, Back For Good, Creep, Daydream Believer, Don’t Get Me Wrong, 500 Miles, Hit The Road Jack, Hotel California and I Wanna Be Like You.
I recommend Ukulele from the Beginning for complete beginners to give you the basics of how to start playing. This book includes how to tune and how to read the chords and music. It then introduces chords one at a time through nursery rhymes. For me, it was a bit too basic. If you have some prior music knowledge you should go for something more advanced. However my daughters have found it very helpful to start playing and learning chords.
My husband bought me a clip on guitar tuner as a birthday present! With this you don’t have to have a musical ear to tune it. It let’s you know when you have the right note.
It’s easy to set up. Set it to ‘C’ (which is the ukulele setting, you can also use it to tune guitars, violins and bass). When you sound the string it shows whether the note is too low or high so you can adjust it.
I was confused about the ‘frequency tone’ setting but I found out you should to set it to 440Hz. This is the standard tuning for ‘A’, which is slightly different in other countries. If you’re playing with other people it’s good to tune them the same, although the difference is very small. If you’re not playing with anyone else this doesn’t matter!
There are also a few phone apps that do the same job, if you already have your phone with you.
As with everything there are tons of websites with tutorials, videos, and song sheets to print out. Uketabs.com is good for song sheets, and uke4u.com has videos with the chords to play along. Please do share your favourites with us in the comments!