How To Speed Up Your Ukulele Playing

If you’re looking to get a little faster with your ukulele skills then there are few better ways than to use a metronome. It may seem counterintuitive but slowing down is one of the best ways to speed up.

Increasing speed on ukulele can cover a number of areas. Maybe it’s changing chords faster, maybe it’s your fingerpicking fluidity, strumming or something else. The good news is that the metronome method works equally well for all areas.

Where To Get A Metronome

Firstly you’re going to need a metronome. There are a few options here. You could buy a physical metronome from a music store. Typically they’ll cost around $10-$15+ (£10) and for the large part they do a great job. There is one problem with the physical metronome though – they’re very easily misplaced. I couldn’t even tell you the whereabouts of my metronome.

Google's Metronome

There are a few more options – for a start Google has it’s own built in metronome which you can get to by just searching the word metronome. Alternatively, and for me the best way to have a metronome with you at all times is to download an app to your smartphone (assuming you have a smartphone). They’re cheap (mostly free) and will remain with you pretty much all the time. Simple Metronome is a great choice on Android (it’s what I use) and Pro Metronome is great for anyone with an iPhone.

Now you’ve got a metronome you need to know what to do with it.

Start Slowly

The way I like to work with a metronome is set it at a much slower pace than I’m comfortable playing whatever I’m trying to play is at.

For the purpose of this, lets say I’m struggling to get a particular strumming pattern up to speed. I’ll slow the metronome down to a speed that is slower than I can already play the pattern. In some cases this will be incredibly slow – 50bpm or lower. That’s fine though. It’s exactly where you need to be.

Try and play in perfect time with the metronome concentrating on fluidity. If you can’t manage to play at the speed you’ve set the metronome at, slow it down a little more. I like to work in chunks of 5pm rather than changing by a single bpm.

Once you’re comfortable playing over the metronome consistently you can speed it up. It can actually be very difficult to play at a very slow speed but it’s all good practice. Again I like to work in chunks of 5bpm or smaller. Each practice session I aim to advance by 5pm. You should find that if you’re dedicating at least 10 minutes in each session to this method an increase of 5pm is achievable.

Each practice session I aim to advance by 5pm

Sometimes you’ll need to go backwards to go forwards. I was recently working on the song The Kesh Jig (taken from the ebook Celtic Tunes For Campanella Ukulele) which you can see me playing in the video below. My target on this piece of music was to be able to play it fluidly at 100bpm. When I started playing it initially I couldn’t play it faster than 60bpm.

The Kesh Jig. My t-shirt definitely needs ironing!

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Initially I was advancing at around 5-10bpm per day. Every day I was progressing until I hit 95bpm. I attempted 100bpm but couldn’t manage it. When I stepped back down to 95bpm I was still struggling. I backed right down to 85bpm and slowly but surely moved back towards my target.

In total it took me 1 week to get this song to to the speed that I wanted to play it at. I practiced maybe 4-5 times in that week and advanced my playing of the song by 40bpm during the course of that week. Now that’s the kind of progress I’ll happily take.

Using a metronome can feel a little rigid at times and I make sure that I allow myself some practice time without a metronome. Sometimes you need a little freedom with your playing and you need to remove all restrictions and limitations.

Here’s to slowing down to speed up!

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2 thoughts on “How To Speed Up Your Ukulele Playing

  1. Your comments and ideas about practicing slowly are very meaningful to me. I purchased Daniel Ward’s book “Arpeggio Meditations” and practicing his music is a daily ritual. My goal is to memorize all of the selections in his book (three down).

    I find great pleasure living in the slow lane and wallowing in whatever I’m doing at the moment even though my wife of sixty seven years rolls her eyes at times.

    Thanks for sharing, your work is appreciated.

    p.s. The other day while slowly cruising on my three wheel bike, the sun shining on my back, the smell of fresh laundry hanging on the line, robins chirping, and the smell of Spring in the air, I fell asleep riding (good thing it was three wheels) and woke up only when my feet hit the ground (no one was looking)….

    1. Hey Don, thanks for the comment.

      I’ve been meaning to grab a copy of Daniel’s book. How are you finding it?

      It’s amazing the impact that slowing down can have when it comes to increasing your speed. I constantly tell my 13 year old son to slow down when practicing but it never really has an impact – I was the same at his age though I guess!

      Hope you didn’t do any damage from your fall.

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