Beginner Ukulele + tips & purchase advice

All about the ukulele!
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5 things to keep in mind before buying a ukulele for beginners

  • Material: solid wood such as koa, mahogany or cedar wood

  • Pleasant feel & haptics

  • C tuning (g-c-e-a) for beginners

  • Ukulele size: soprano or concert


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Not only popular in Hawaii

Like most people, you certainly associate playing Ukulele with Hawaiian shirts and floral wreaths. Then think of the most common ukulele size – the soprano ukulele. But the Hawaiian instrument is also very popular in Europe.

Ukulele can be learned by anyone, wether kid or adult! Also the price is much cheaper compared to guitar or bass, so the ukulele is perfect for beginners. We will familiarize you with the instrument and explain everything important for your start as a Uke player.

Start for adults

The nice thing about the ukulele is that as a beginner you can buy an instrument and get started right away. Without a lot of accessories like further technical equipment. In principle you can play any ukulele as an adult! Nevertheless, you should inform yourself about the different ukulele sizes before buying in order to find the best ukulele for you personally. With a little more background knowledge, e.g. about the shape and structure of a ukulele or the two common tunings, you can’t really go wrong when buying a ukulele. Your Uke should be fun in the first place!

Start for children

There are two ways for children to play ukulele. Either with a kind of toy ukulele, which has an even smaller body and is usually produced in bright colors and patterns. Or with a soprano ukulele with a length of about 20″, which by the way is suitable for all ages. Up to the age of about 10 years this is the approach for children who really want to learn the instrument and do not just want to play. For children 10 years and older we recommend a concert ukulele with a body of approx. 24″ cm.


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The setup and components of a ukulele at a glance

The functions of the individual components at a glance

Basically you can imagine a ukulele like a small guitar. However, ukuleles usually have only four strings, with the top one octavated. This means that it is tuned higher than the other strings. The structure of ukuleles is usually very similar. The table below explains the functions of the individual components in more detail.

ComponentFunction
Body- Consists of three parts: soundboard, bottom & frames
- The type of wood determines the sound of the ukulele
Bridge & bridge inlay- Are located on the soundboard of the ukulele; they lead the strings over the neck
- Transmits the energy of the vibrations of the tensioned strings to the body
Soundhole- Cutout in body
- Increases the volume
Neck & Fretboard- Strung with nylon strings (plastic is an indication of bad quality!)
- The frets make gripping easier
Saddle- Transition to the head of the ukulele
- Leads the strings over the neck
Tuning pegs- Allow the tuning of the ukulele
- C tuning or D tuning

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Which type of wood is the best?

The right wood for the optimal sound

As with most instruments, the material of the ukulele is strongly responsible for the created sound. For this reason you should pay particular attention to solid wood for the soundboard, as plywood is of inferior quality. Which wood to consider when buying your ukulele is ultimately a question of taste. Those who prefer a warm, complex sound are best served with the classical Hawaiian Koa wood. A cheaper but similar sounding alternative is acacia wood. Also the “standard wood” mahogany is known for a warm and soft sound and is also relatively inexpensive.

Exotic woods in the bright sound spectrum

Those who prefer a slightly higher to medium sound spectrum will feel at home with some exotic types of wood. While in “warm” sounds the notes merge smoothly into each other, in “brighter” sounds they can be clearly distinguished from each other. Rosewood soundboards, for example, produce – just like maple – a particularly bright sound. Mango wood, on the other hand, is strongly located in the middle sound field. Spruce wood is used particularly frequently in the production of ukulele soundboards, as its optimum density produces a lively sound in the middle sound spectrum.


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How to care for your ukulele

Regular cleaning with microfibre cloth

An important basis for the care of every ukulele is the air temperature at which it is stored. Ideally this should be between 20°C and 25°C. During transport, a well padded gig bag or ukulele case can compensate larger temperature differences. This prevents the wood from expanding or contracting too much. Also the air humidity in the room should move around 50%, so that the wood of the ukulele does not dry out and gets cracks. For regular cleaning it is sufficient to wipe the instrument – especially the fingerboard – with a damp microfibre cloth after practicing. This prevents larger impurities.

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Thomann Microfibre cloth Foto

Fretboard care with lemon oil

The so-called Lemon Oil, which is applied to the fretboard of the ukulele with a microfibre cloth, has established itself as a classic for fretboard care. It not only gently removes old impurities from the wood, but also leaves it well cared for with a beautiful shine. The only thing you have to pay attention to is whether the oil is compatible with the type of wood used on the fretboard of the ukulele. Dunlop’s popular Lemon Oil, for example, is ideal for rosewood fretboards, whereas caution is advised with maple.

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Dunlop Lemon Oil Foto

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A comparison of the two main tunings

C Tuning

The C tuning is the most widely used tuning in ukuleles. You can play many of the exercises for beginners as well as well-known songs with it. We can therefore recommend it to beginners. The video below also shows you how to tune your ukulele to the C tuning.

  • Hawaiian tuning: g-c-e-a
  • Very popular in the Anglo-Saxon area & Europe
  • Recommended for beginners

D Tuning

At first, the D tuning was only widespread in the USA, but in the meantime this tuning has found its way to Europe. Nevertheless, the tuning is not quite as widespread as the C tuning. What is special is that each string is tuned a whole tone higher compared to the C tuning.

  • Classical tuning: a-d-f#-h
  • First very popular in the USA
  • Meanwhile also widespread in Europe

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Which ukulele sizes are suitable for beginners?

General information about ukulele sizes

There are four ukulele sizes available: the two smaller versions soprano and concerto as well as the two larger ukuleles tenor and baritone. We focus on these four types of ukuleles, although there are other variations and special types.

Some manufacturers also offer so-called bass ukuleles. Strictly speaking these are not ukuleles but rather an electric or acoustic bass in the compact size of a ukulele. Especially small ukuleles are also produced and are called Sopraninos. There are also ukuleles with five, six or eight strings. However, these instruments are not very beginner-friendly on the one hand or not very common in Europe on the other.

For each of the four main ukulele sizes we have also compiled the most important infos at a glance. These are primarily the total length, possible tunings as well as the scale. This indicates the length of the free-swinging strings, which is measured between the saddle and the bridge. You can also see whether the ukulele size is suitable for beginners or not.

Soprano

Soprano ukuleles are not only the smallest of the four main ukulele sizes, but are also considered the standard size. Thus the Soprano is the most common ukulele among its siblings. The average length of a soprano ukulele is about 20″. “Small but fine” is the motto, as a soprano ukulele produces an impressive sound!

Playing the Soprano is simply fun, which is why we would say that it is suitable for beginners of all ages. The Soprano Ukulele is also a good choice for children under 10! However, if you have very big hands or want to play more complicated chords, a Soprano Ukulele might be too small. In this case it is recommended to choose a concert ukulele, the next larger ukulele.

  • Total length: approx. 55 cm
  • Scale: 35 cm
  • Tunings: g'-c'-e'-a' or a'-d'-f#'-h'
  • Recommended for all beginners
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Harley Benton Soprano ukulele Foto

Concert

Konzert ukuleles with a total length of approx. 63 cm are already considerably larger than the smaller sopranos. Apart from the total length, these two ukulele sizes hardly differ optically. The sound is a bit different. The concert ukulele sounds fuller, as the scale is of course also larger. The concert ukulele is medium in size and has its own unique sound.

The playing feel is also different. Especially adults with bigger hands find it easier to play a concert ukulele. But a concert ukulele can also be the right choice for children from the age of 10. Therefore the concert ukulele is equally suitable for children and adults as well as for beginners and advanced players.

  • Total length: approx. 63 cm
  • Scale: 38 cm
  • Tunings: g'-c'-e'-a', g-c'-e'-a' or a'-d'-f#'-h'
  • Recommended for beginners with large hands
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Harley Benton Concert ukulele Foto

Tenor

Somewhat bigger than the concert ukulele is the tenor ukulele. It has a total length of approx. 66 cm, thus the scale is 43 cm. Of course, this also has an effect on the sound. With a tenor ukulele you can produce the largest sound spectrum without having to sacrifice the typical exotic C tuning.

Many professional ukulele players or former guitarists choose the tenor ukulele. Often the fourth string, the note g, is tuned lower on tenor ukuleles. This not only gives the tenor ukulele a fuller tone, but also more depth and reverberation. Of course, this ukulele size is also suitable for all people with larger hands who find it difficult to grasp a soprano or concert ukulele.

  • Total length: approx. 66 cm
  • Scale: 43 cm
  • Tunings: g'-c'-e'-a', g-c'-e'-a', d'-g-e-e' or a'-d'-f#'-h'
  • Conditionally recommendable for beginners
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Thomann Tenor ukulele Foto

Baritone

The baritone ukulele is not only the largest of the four ukuleles, it also sounds the deepest and warmest of all. That’s because it’s tuned a quarter lower, d-g-h-e’. As a rule, the fourth string is not octavated. This already strongly reminds of a guitar with the tuning E-A-d-g-h-e’, which is why the baritone ukulele is sometimes not regarded as a “real” ukulele.

A baritone ukulele is not recommended for beginners as it requires experience with one of the first three ukulele sizes. As soon as you are a little more advanced, however, there is nothing to stop you from trying out a baritone ukulele.

  • Total length: approx. 77 cm
  • Scale: 50 cm
  • Tuning: d-g-h-e'
  • Not recommended for beginners
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Thomann Baritone ukulele Foto

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The special ukulele shapes at a glance

Banjolele

The ukulele banjo is also called banjole and is a special type of ukulele. Already around 1917 the banjolele was developed by the Hawaiian Alvin D. Keech. The jazz musician Al Bowlly used a banjolele and contributed significantly to the increase of the instrument’s popularity. Today you can also buy various models from well-known manufacturers such as Gibson or Ludwig.

Basically this instrument is a mixture of ukulele and banjo. The banjolele is tuned in C tuning by means of the ukulele-typical four nylon strings on the neck, which is untypically short for a banjo. At the same time, the body resembles that of a tenor banjo. However, we would not recommend the ukulele banjo to beginners.

  • Mixture of ukulele and banjo
  • Not recommended for beginners
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Harley Benton Banjolele Foto

Electric ukulele

The ukulele is no longer a purely acoustic instrument. A variety of models with pickups are now available, which means you can also connect your ukulele to a guitar amp or effects unit. Special shapes of electric ukuleles are based on the appearance and functions of electric guitars, steel guitars or contra-guitars.

Beim Kauf einer E-Ukulele kannst Du Dich in der Regel für eine einspulige oder zweispulige Ausführung entscheiden. Die Erstere zeichnet sich durch einen klareren Klang aus, während die Letztere für ihren druckvolleren Klang bekannt ist. Beachte auch, dass mit dem Kauf eines Verstärkers zusätzliche Kosten auf Dich zukommen. Ansonsten ist die E-Ukulele aber problemlos auch für Einsteiger geeignet.

  • Beginner friendly
  • Additional costs for amplifier
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Ziegenspeck Electric ukulele Foto

Change and rewind ukulele strings

If the old strings of the ukulele deteriorate over time, show signs of corrosion or are torn, it is time for a string change. To do this, first relax the old strings, then cut them with a string cutter and pull them out of the tuning mechanism and bridge. The next step is to pull the new strings through the bridge one after the other and knot them. Thread now the upper end of the string through the hole at the corresponding tuning peg, form a loop, put the end on the same side again through the hole and tighten the whole thing. Now turn the pegs until the string is on tension and start tuning. Then shorten the string ends to 1-2 cm with the string cutter – done!

What you need for a string change

  • Aquila Strings Foto
  • Harley Benton String winder Foto
  • Cruztools String cutter Foto

How to learn ukulele

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Ukulele lessons

Probably the most effective method of learning ukulele is to study in a music school or with a private teacher. By the direct exchange you can immediately recognize and correct posture and playing errors. Especially those who have no experience with notation can learn it quickly with the help of a teacher. Fingering charts may be sufficient to play your first pieces, but they can be a hindrance, especially when playing with other instruments. In addition, regular ukulele lessons can help you to stay tuned and support your own motivation. Therefore, this learning method is best suited for beginners and children.

Even though ukulele lessons have many advantages, they are somewhat more expensive than other learning methods. For a 45-minute one-to-one lesson per week, you have to calculate about 100 Euro per month.

  • Mentor with experience
  • Direct exchange
  • Mixture of practice & theory
  • Long-term costs
Lehrbuecher

Fingering charts & books

Basically it is recommended to learn ukulele playing by means of notations, which are vividly explained in various textbooks. A distinction is made between melodic plucking and song accompanying beating. Rock, pop and folk songs can be well accompanied by chords. Special fingering tables facilitate learning in this context.

Otherwise, it is of course also possible to play the ukulele by notes or tablature, which functions contrary to the chord as instrument-specific notation. The ukulele tablature comprises four lines for the four strings of the ukulele, which are indicated in reverse order. The lines are printed with small numbers indicating the fret on which the string must be played. The advantage is that you can read how to play the ukulele. In any case, learning with a book is highly recommended.

  • Flexible self-directed learning
  • Cost-effective
  • No direct exchange
  • Initiative is a prerequisite
Youtube

Videos for ukulele beginners

Another option is to play it by the balls. Try to accompany a song with your ukulele or watch some tutorial videos on Youtube for example. Many of the mentioned videos offer you the learning of the absolute basics in the form of two or three very simple chords. You will be amazed how many songs you will be able to learn this way.

Already within a few days you should make great progress and be able to play and sing something on your ukulele. Try it alone or with friends. With the ukulele, the fun of making music is in the foreground. Even for less musical people the ukulele is the perfect instrument. In addition, this learning method is extremely inexpensive and should at best be supplemented by the use of an accompanying textbook.

  • Practice-oriented learning
  • Cost-effective
  • Exchange thanks to comment function
  • Initiative is a prerequisite

Good ukulele-textbooks for beginners

  • Wise Publications Let's Play Ukulele Foto
  • Hal Leonard Ukulele Chords Foto
  • Wise Publications Uke'n Play Easy Ukulele Foto

Ukulele for beginners: Checklist for your ukulele purchase

  • Soprano ukulele for beginners

    The soprano ukulele is the standard model and is ideal for beginners. For larger hands and more complicated plucking patterns it is better to use a concert ukulele.

  • C tuning (g-c-e-a)

    The C tuning is considered the standard tuning and is ideally suited for most pieces.

  • Solid wood like koa, acacia or mahogany

    Solid wood is an important quality feature when buying a ukulele. The most popular types of wood are koa, acacia or mahogany, which are known for their warm sound.

  • No no-name products

    Unfortunately, no-name often means inferior quality for instruments. But especially with the Ukulele you can find very cheap models from well-known manufacturers like Harley Benton or Luna Guitars.

  • Digital tuner

    If you want to tune your ukulele yourself and don’t want to rely on your own musical hearing, you should buy a suitable tuner as soon as possible.

Ukulele sets for beginners compared

SizeSopranoConcertConcertSoprano
ProductHarley Benton
Ukulele
Harley Benton
Ukulele
Luna Guitars
Ukulele
Thomann
Ukulele
Picture
Best deal
Harley Benton Ukulele Foto
Best price
Harley Benton Ukulele Foto
Luna Guitars Ukulele Foto
Thomann Ukulele Foto
Body Material KoaSpruce, mahoganyMahoganySpruce, walnut
Neck and fretboard material OcoumeOcoume, blackwoodMahogany, Black WalnutMaple
Set content That contains the Ukulele-beginner set
Ukulele Ukulele Ukulele Ukulele Ukulele
Gigbag Gigbag Gigbag Gigbag Gigbag
Tuner Tuner Tuner Tuner Tuner
Picks Picks Picks Picks Picks
Textbook Textbook Textbook Textbook Textbook
Shoulder strap Shoulder strap Shoulder strap Shoulder strap Shoulder strap
Strings Strings Strings Strings Strings
Offer
only 124 €
only 75 €
only 79 €
only 63 €

Equipment for ukulele beginners

  • Thomann digital tuner Foto
  • Aquila strings Foto
  • Ibanez gig bag for concert ukulele Foto
  • Minotaur ukulele belt Foto
  • K&M wall bracket Foto

The most important questions and answers at a glance

How is the ukulele constructed and which components does it have?

The main components of the ukulele are the body, which acts as the resonator, the neck and the head with the tuning pegs. On the body the bridge is located to which the lower string ends are attached. There is also a sound hole so that the sound can escape from the body. A detailed sketch with the components of the ukulele and their respective functions can be found here.

Which strings are best for the ukulele?

First of all, the strings should have the right tuning and length and be suitable for the respective ukulele size. Nylon has become the standard material, but if you want to invest a little more, you can also use fluorocarbon strings. These sound a little louder, brighter and less sensitive, which is beneficial for their durability. Depending on your taste, there are also sets where the G and C strings are additionally wound with materials such as aluminium, silver, copper or bronze. Among the best-known brands are Aquila and D´Addario, the former even offers strings made of patented nylgut and is specialized in the production of instrument strings.

Where does the name of the ukulele come from?

The name “Ukulele” is a combination of the Hawaiian words “Uku” – flea – and “Lele” – hop – because it looks a bit like the fingers are hopping over the strings like fleas. However, the ukulele has its origins on the Portuguese island of Madeira. It first came to Hawaii in the course of the 19th century.

When do I have to replace the strings of my ukulele?

As with all stringed instruments, string fatigue depends greatly on the intensity of play and the quality of the string. If you have a soprano ukulele with a declining tuning, the strings of the ukulele can actually last for several years. Whether a string needs to be changed can be determined by various factors: Does the intonation decrease? It is often noticeable during playing when the sound of the strings fades with time. Can external changes be detected or are the touch points roughened? External signs of abrasion are also a reason to replace the strings of the ukulele.

When can you start learning ukulele?

Especially for children from 4-5 years the ukulele is an optimal entry instrument. As it has only four strings and a smaller shape by nature, it is much easier to learn than a guitar. At the same time, children can gain their first experience with a stringed instrument without having to compromise on the sound – as in the case of a children’s guitar. This makes it much easier to switch to the guitar at a later date and the musical ear gets trained from an early age.

What does a ukulele cost?

Despite some exceptional models, the ukulele is a relatively inexpensive instrument. Beginner models are available from 20 Euro, slightly higher quality ukuleles are usually available for less than 100 Euro.

Which ukulele is best suited for beginners?

Beginners are best advised to use a classic soprano ukulele with C tuning, which is considered the standard size and is also suitable for children. Since the ø 50 cm soprano ukulele is also the smallest ukulele size, beginners with larger hands or the ambition to play more complicated chords should use the next larger concert ukulele. With models from renowned manufacturers such as Harley Benton, Kala or Luna Guitars, beginners are also well served in the lower price segment.

What is easier to learn: ukulele or guitar?

Since the ukulele – unlike the guitar – has only four strings, it is a bit easier to learn. Especially for children, it is therefore an ideal entry-level instrument. The ukulele is also a good introduction for adults and provides initial experience with a plucked instrument. This also makes it easier to switch to the guitar at a later date.

Which wood is best suited for the ukulele?

A high-quality ukulele can be recognized primarily by the use of solid wood types. Especially the soundboard wood has a strong effect on the sound of the instrument, which is why you should pay special attention to it when buying. Basically, there are many types of wood that are suitable for making a ukulele. There is no right or wrong here: Which wood is the right one depends entirely on your personal taste. The “classic” among ukulele woods is the Hawaiian Koa, which is known for its warm, complex sound. A somewhat cheaper alternative is the similar sounding acacia wood, also the frequently processed mahogany is very popular thanks to its warm, soft sound. Maple and rosewood provide a somewhat brighter sound, mango and spruce wood are found in the middle sound spectrum.

How can I tune my ukulele myself?

For tuning the ukulele it is best to use a digital tuner. This tells you if the played tone of a string is reproduced correctly. If the tone is too high or too low, this can be corrected by adjusting the corresponding pegs. How you can tune your ukulele without a tuner is explained here.

How many strings does a ukulele have?

Unlike the guitar, the ukulele has only four strings and is therefore particularly easy to learn.

Where can I buy my ukulele?

Since the selection of cheap ukuleles is particularly large on the Internet, one should fall back on proven dealers such as Thomann or Kirstein. No-name goods are also not recommended for ukuleles, as they often leave much to be desired in terms of quality and sound. In addition: Also well-known manufacturers like Harley Benton or Luna Guitars offer inexpensive beginner ukuleles of high quality. If you would like to try out your instrument before buying and are still uncertain about the tuning and wood type, you should visit a local dealer.

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