The Simple Guide How to Sing and Play the Ukulele

at the same time

Do you struggle with singing and playing the Ukulele at the same time? It’s a common issue but this simple guide will teach you how to sing and play the ukulele at the same time.

a woman playing the ukulele in a field with the title how to sing and play the ukulele at the same time

When I first started learning the guitar, as a teenager, I really wanted to learn to sing and play my guitar at the same time. Like many teenage boy dreams, I imagined that I could serenade some attractive young lady or be “cool”. Of course, neither of those things happened, well I do occasionally sing a song for my partner and perform, but I get great enjoyment from singing and playing at the same time.

If you are starting out then I suspect you are having some issue with singing and playing along at the same time. While I can’t give you any specific singing tips (honestly, my voice isn’t that great). I can give you this simple guide how to sing and play the ukulele at the same time.

The two things holding you back

Before we get into the actual tips and how to sing and play the ukulele at the same time, let’s look at the things which are holding you back. Once you know the issues you can work out what will help you combat them best. Your two issues are probably

  • Confidence
  • Multitasking

Confidence is actually one of the biggest issues, if you don’t think you can do it, you probably won’t do it. And worse than that, you probably won’t try or push yourself to sing and play at the same time. Also a lack of confidence in what you are playing will cause you to have to think and second guess yourself, stopping yourself from playing.

Multitasking is the other big issue and as you can guess, it feeds in to confidence and vice versa. If you can’t multi task, you feel less confident, if you feel less confident, it’s harder to multitask.

The problem with singing AND playing at the same time, when you are starting out, is you really need to focus on playing. When you are learning a new skill it requires so much more concentration than an old skill. Just watch a baby trying to walk or someone knitting. When they start out they have to really intensely concentrate on the task, giving it their full attention. But once you have experience and develop muscle memory, you don’t even have to look when you are doing it and can speak at the same time.

You may have some other issues with singing and playing but I’m willing to bet that these are your biggest issues.

8 Tricks to help you Sing and play the ukulele

8 tricks to help you sing and play the ukulele at the same time black and white image

Sing along to the song without playing

The first strategy you should employ is to get more familiar with singing the song. The will help at least that part of your multitasking become second nature. It may feel a bit awkward at first but that will help you much more later on.

Hum as you strum

When you hum, you can focus only on the melody and not the lyrics. This reduces the mental load when you try and sing and play. It also means that if you forget the words, you can keep on humming along.

Tap as you sing

To help you keep your rhythm and to get more used to doing two things at once, try tapping your foot as you sing along. Tapping is really easy to do, help you practice your rhythm for strumming and is a lot easier than thinking about chords as you play.

Air strum as you sing

Slightly more difficult than just tapping but much more practical. Try “Air strumming” as you sing. Again you don’t need to think about just the chords but you can focus on the rhythm and getting the lyrics nailed.

a guy playing air guitar with headphones on. wearing a white t-shirt

Practice the chord changes

One of the parts when people most easily trip up as beginners are chord changes. Moving from one chord to another chord takes a lot of concentration to make sure that your fingers are moving to the right place. Practice changing between chords so that you can change chords without thinking and focus on the words you are singing.

Sing just the easy bits

Once your growing in confidence, try singing the easiest bits and getting comfortable with them. Maybe there is a section which only requires you to play one chord for an extended period. Just sing that bit and work on that. As you get more confident, move on to more difficult parts.

Start with an easy song

Guess, what. Easier songs are much easier to play and sing at the same time than more difficult songs. If there are only a few basic chords and infrequent chord changes, you’ll do a lot better than if there are lots of complicated chords which frequently change.

[Need some easy songs to play? Get 22 ukulele songs for Kids for free when you join our newsletter.]

Cover of 22 ukulele songs for Kids

Play till it becomes second nature

When you can play a song back to front, upside down, without looking and with one hand tied behind your back (ok, maybe that last one is going a bit too far) then singing a long will be a lot easier than when you first come across a song and you don’t really know how it goes. Keep practicing and it will become much easier to sing along to.

Play and sing slowly

Honestly, even baring all the other tips in mind, this is probably the best thing you can do to help you play and sing at the same time. At some point you’re going to have to just give it a go and to be honest, it will probably be pretty difficult. However, it will get easier and you will speed up. Honestly, I recommend that you just start giving it ago. Slowly work line by line and build up.

All the other tips will help you with your multitasking but you’re going to have to push yourself at some point. Don’t wait too long.

Do you struggle to play and sing at the same time? What do you find difficult about it?

You probably don’t know it but I’ve been a bit of an Elvis Costello fan for a while. I’m really not sure why but I love his songs so Elvis plus Ukulele equals real awesomeness.

a picture of a ukulele with the caption ukulele player problems: when people say you aren't a real muscian because you play the ukulele

Ever had someone tell you that the ukulele isn’t a real instrument. They have no idea what they’re talking about. Yes it is annoying when people say you aren’t a real musician because you play the ukulele but we all know the truth. Ukulele players are real musicians.

Learn to Play: Buy the World a Coke

I'd like to buy the world a coke main

Warren buffet is a well known Ukulele fan as well as one of the best investors ever, if not the best (but seriously, the ukulele fan thing is much more important.

So for cokes 100 year anniversary he made a little advert for them.

Ignoring the irony of the out of tune ukulele and singing the line “in perfect harmony” I thought it might be cool to make a little image with the chords and words for this song (after all it’s not that difficult). The issue is…there have been a few versions of the song.

The song was originally written for the classic coke advert “hilltop” advert (see below) with the line “I’d like to buy the world a coke and keep it company”.

However, since then many alternative versions have been recorded as regular singles. As you might expect including the line “buy the world a coke” in a pop single is kind of selling out. Here is a link to some different versions from over the years including the lyrics to the original.

However, these versions have also been versions recorded in different keys which make the chords of Warren Buffets version not accurate for every version…but that’s just the way things are in music. So I decided to use the chords from Warren’s version and some of the lyrics from the Hilltop version. It seemed to make the most sense. You can adapt the key (if you know a bit about music theory) or use the lyrics from other versions if you like. But I hope you enjoy it (just make sure you tune your ukulele).

Buy the world a coke chords ukulele

 

Enjoy this song? Join our newsletter to get a free copy of 22 ukulele songs for kids and more free resources. 

How to Master the Tricky E Chord

6 Alternative ways to play the E Major Chord on the Ukulele

There aren’t many more annoying chords to learn when you start out than the E Major chord. Sure some random jazz chord will test your finger dexterity more than the humble E but you won’t come across it nearly half as much. Luckily there are a few tricks to get round the E chords inherit difficulties so you can play it more easily.

How to Master the Tricky E Chord

What is the E chord and What makes it so difficult?

The E major chord played 4442The standard (or at least most common in tutorial books) way to play the E chord (see shape below) can be played in two different ways, each with its own challenges. The first is using four fingers spread across two frets and with three all right next to each other. The causes cramping between the fingers and can be difficult to get good pressure on each string, especially with a thinner necked ukulele. It can also take a while to get four fingers in place and slow down your transitions from other chords.

The second involves barring the strings on the fourth fret except the A string which you press down at the second fret. This requires flexible fingers to put the right pressure on three strings and not mute the A string. Either of these methods will take time and practice to really get right (more so than many other beginner chords)

Luckily, there are some alternative ways to play the E major chord which you may find quicker to change to and easier to get a good sound from with your ukulele. I suggest you experiment and find the most comfortable with you.

Alternative ways to play the E chord

4447

This is my personal favorite alternative but it has its own difficulties. In this case you barre across the strings at the fourth fret using your index or middle finger (as you wish) and then fret the A string on the seventh fret. This is the same as one of the D chord variant shapes. I find it easier to change to and more likely for all the strings to resound well and not be muted. However, if you are not good at barre chords then this will still be difficult for you to play and isn’t ideal for beginners.

E Major 4447

1402

One of the most popular alternatives is the 1402 variant. It doesn’t require any barring and is very similar to the more well known E7 chord. It requires a bit of a stretch with your fingers and you need to be careful not to mute the open C string but other than that, it is a good alternative. Personally, I don’t use this option too much as I find it takes me more time to set my fingers up correctly.

The Emajor chord played 1402

4402

A quite rare alternative is to play 4402, this is similar to the regular version of E but with an open E string. This means your four strings are playing B-E-E-B in effect playing just two notes but with four strings and usually ever so slightly out of tune from each other. It makes a cool drone like effect.

This is also easier on the fingers with less cramping up as you only have two fingers on the fourth fret.

The E major chord played 4402

x442

In this method you simply do not play the G String on your Ukulele but still keep the typical shape on the other strings. This has the advantage of using few fingers, saving you time when applying them to the fret board and reducing the likelihood of one being incorrectly placed, and causes less cramping on the fret board. However, it can be tricky to not play the high g string especially when you start out (a way round this is to “mute” the string by placing a finger or thumb gently on it with not enough pressure to fret it, but enough to stop it vibrating.)

The E major chord played x442

9877

The “A” chord shape can also be used to create an E chord much higher on the neck. This can be done by barring the neck at the Seventh fret or by using individual fingers for each of the strings. This version of E will sound much brighter and higher than other mentioned methods because all the notes are higher.

The E major chord played 9877

Using E7

In some cases using a 7th chord will work as a replacement for the major chord (and likewise with using a minor 7th instead of a minor chord) however this is not a universal truth and it will affect the mood for certain. The fingering of the 7th is much easier than the conventional E major chord and is worth trying.

The downsides of alternative methods of playing

Of course, there are downsides of these alternative methods of playing the E chord as alluded to above. The open E string can cause some dissonance with the C string at the fourth fret if they are slightly out of tune from each other. This can cause a nice effect but sometimes it just sounds wrong. Playing 4447 introduces a higher note in the chord which changes the character of the chord and can make it sound brighter than a standard E chord. And finally some of these chords are more difficult to change to from other different chords.

However, when all is said and done, there is no harm in trying out some variants and seeing which option you find the best and easiest to use.

What chords do you find difficult to play and have you found any shortcuts?

Thanks to everyone who tuned in live for the first Uke University live workshop on 5 exercises to improve your ukulele playing. I was shaking with nerves as I’ve never actually played the Ukulele online before. I’ve performed in gigs and open mic nights and get stage fright there too but this was something new.

The first two exercises are something that you can do wherever you are and whenever you want, the last three will require a Ukulele.

I’ve learnt a lot from this first live workshop and I can’t wait to improve the next ones. Make sure you sign up to the Uke University newsletter to hear about the next one (and get a whole host of free resources like a song book for kids, a printable chord chart guide and a printable ukulele key chart.)

Ukuleles for Ukraine

GoFund.Me

This is a great cause and well worth checking out. Having spent time working in Ukraine and even visiting some orphanages I know that the conditions can be pretty poor. These guys are bringing resources (including 100 ukuleles) to children out there affected by the conflict.

They’ve got to be going soon and they reached their funding goal so maybe it’s best to keep and eye on what they are doing and the future progress. I’d love to see more initiatives like this using the soothing and healing power of music.

Ukulele player problems cover songs

Do you hear a new song and instantly start to wonder how it would sound as a Ukulele cover? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Is playing with a plectrum heresy?

If you are a guitar player then the chances are that you’ve played with a plectrum. A little piece of triangular shaped material, usually plastic, nylon or similar which is used to vibrate the strings of a guitar. However, you’ve probably noticed that plectrums are pretty rare for Ukulele players. But is it heretical to play the Ukulele with a plectrum? Let’s have a little discussion.

plectrum for ukulele

Cons of plectrums

A plectrum is a single point to play with unlike your five fingers. It is true that you can use some of your fingers along with a plectrum but you remove the thumb and pointer finger and instead gain only a plectrum.

Plectrums can also damage your strings and the body of your instrument as well. It’s why guitars usually have a “pick guard” which sits atop of the guitar body and is more resistant to the plectrum and so protects the body. However, the majority of Ukuleles don’t feature this protection.

Plectrums also damage the strings more than strumming with your finger or plucking with your hand. This means you may have to replace your strings more frequently.

Standard plectrums aren’t designed for Nylon strings, this reinforces the previous point, it will damage your strings more, but also makes them sounds harsher.

Finally, traditional sounds and playing styles have all revolved around using fingers and so if you want to get a “classic” ukulele sound, you’ll have to use your fingers.

But…

Having said all those points, strings still wear out even if you don’t use a plectrum. Plus, it’s okay to create new styles of music and not have a “traditional sound”. So while these are downsides…they aren’t deal breakers in my opinion.

Pros of Plectrums

After thinking about those downsides, it’s importent to think about the advantages of plectrums as they often get neglected with it comes to Ukuleles.

Plectrums can be easier to play with. The firmness of a plectrum can be easier to get used to playing with when you start out playing. It also won’t hurt your finger as much as you strum.

Plectrums can be louder. This is not a firm truth, you can gently and quiet play with a plectrum and loudly with your fingers, but with the firmness of a plectrum you can create a louder sound.

Plectrums can help you play faster. When you look at the fasters guitar players, they don’t use their fingers, they tend to use a plectrum as their firmness returns to it’s place quicker. This can help you play a series of notes quicker. This is not a complete truth as you can also roll strum which can help you play very quickly with your fingers.

Conclusion

Well, it’s really up to you and what you prefer. In general I don’t play with a plectrum as I prefer playing with my finger and the variety of options it opens up but I have and do sometimes play with a plectrum. What about you?

Do you ever play your Ukulele with a plectrum? Why/Why not?

11 reasons every Ukulele player should own a metronome

Metronomes have been a staple of music classrooms for years and there are good reasons for that. I remember the nagging tick tock from my early music lessons that annoyed the heck out of me but in truth established good habits which I have kept to this day. Metronomes aren’t sexy and can be very frustrating but here are X reasons why you (and every other Ukulele player) should own (and use) a metronome.

11 reasons why every ukulele player should own a metronome

Reasons to Use a Metronome

1. Metronomes can help you improve your rhythm

If you don’t have natural rhythm (or could do with improving) then a metronome is one of the few tools that can actualy help you. If you can’t stick to a rhythm yourself, then the only way round that is with a metronome or finding someone who can.

2. Metronomes highlight your errors

Similarly, a metronome will highlight your rhythmic errors. By having a consistent, reliable reference point you will be able to see where you are going to fast or slow.

3. Metronomes make you more consistent

There’s a quote which goes “Amateurs practice till they get it right; professionals practice till they can’t get it wrong.” This is all about consistency. When you start out it’s great the first time you play something correctly, but after a while you need to aim for where you always play it correctly. Using a metronome helps you focus on consistency, steadiness and regularity.

4. Metronomes will help you play better with other musicians

If you want to play with a group of musicians then you need to be able to stick to a rhythm that other players are following. If you slow down or speed up and everyone else doesn’t. You’ve got a problem. A metronome not only teaches you to stick to that rhythm but it is also a useful tool when you get out of sync as it forces you to get back in sync with the metronome.

5. Metronomes help you speed up

If you want to get faster, yet keep your accuracy and quality of sound then a metronome is a great tool. Start with a slow beat and then gently increase the speed of the beat to drive you faster. When you can’t accurately play, stop and aim to beat that next time.

6. Metronomes help you notice your improvements

As elluded in the previous point, a metronome can help you notice your progress in a very real way. This is espeically true if you are a more proffesiante player rather than a beginner. Being able to point to an exercise

7. Metronomes help improve your practice activities

Practice activities without a metronome are okay but adding in a metronome helps you to have a more quantifiable measurement of your level. It stops you getting away with statements like “yeah I played pretty quickly” to “I managed to play that at Xbpm”

8. Metronomes help you to record a song

If you want to record yourself playing some music, then you need to be able to follow a beat. Using a metronome while you record helps you stick to that beat, know where you are in the song and what different section you should play at a certain time. They can also let you know when the recording is going to start.

9. Metronomes prevents you from slowing down or speeding up mid song

Likewise, imagine you are recording your song and suddenly it gets faster or slower in the middle section. Not so great when you listen back, but if you use a metronome to keep you steady during the song, you won’t suffer from this problem.

10. Metronomes help you get more confident.

Knowing that you can keep a steady rhythm and follow a metronomes beat will help boost your performing confidence when you play on your own or when you perform with someone else.

11. Having a metronome on your desk makes you look like a real pro

If you have a friend come round and happen to glance the metronome siting one your desk they’ll certainly come to the conclusion that you take your music seriously. You clearly must work hard and be a great player. Impressing people without even picking up your instrument.

A Few Great Metronomes

Okay, so now you know why it’s a good idea to use a metronome you need to pick up one. Here are a few suggestions

iOS app: Metronome+

Metronome+ has some really cool features which enhance your metronome beyond the usual tempo. These include recording your practice, The ability to increase the tempo for a practice routine, a setlist with regular tempos and a pitch mode which plays a defined pitch with the metronome.

Get it on the App Store

Android App: Mobile metronome

Mobile metronome is a free app which includes tap tempo, the ability to change the metronome tone, preset tempos and a beat count down. It does have ads which you have to pay to stop.

Get it here on the Google Play store.

Standalone metronome: Korg MA–1

This is a great basic metronome from Korg. If you want a stand alone device then this is a great choice for you. You can set your tempo, use it with headphones, increase your tempo, tap the tempo in which you want and it’s cheap.

Get it here on Amazon.com

Get it here on Amazon.co.uk

Website metronome

If you like then you can try out a website metronome, it’s a great way to get a very basic metronome for free on any computer.

Click here to access the website metronome

What exercises do you practice with a metronome