Recently I’ve been teaching my 10 year old son to play ukulele, as I’ve been teaching him I’ve spotted some of the mistakes that he’s been making that are very common among beginners and others that I’ve taught to play.
Today we’re going to look at some of those mistakes and work out why they happen and how to correct them.
Let’s get to it.
Strumming From The Elbow
Almost every beginner strums from the elbow. This results in quite a rigid wrist and more often than not this means that your finger is strumming across the strings horizontally.
It sort of works but it brings a few issues, the most common of which is your fingers getting caught in the strings a little as you strum. This happens mostly on up strums.
To correct this you need to let your hand drop a little and relax your wrist. This will mean your hand is not quite so horizontal. This is the perfect position to strum from your wrist whilst at the same time flicking your finger downwards.
Your nail should be hitting the strings on the down strums and the back of your finger hitting the strings on the up.
Not Checking Notes
When you learn to play a new chord, and this is particularly important for chords that use more fingers it’s important for all the notes within the chord to ring clearly.
A quick way to check whether the notes are ringing clearly is to fret the chord and pluck each string individually to make sure it isn’t being muted by either poor finger position, not enough pressure or another finger accidentally muting the string.
Plucking each string individually allows you to quickly isolate any issues and get on the path to correcting them.
This one is really common but it’s also very easy to fix.
Laying your fingers on the frets rather than pressing directly down is likely to leave you with unwanted muted strings. Essentially you’re fretting notes with the back of your finger rather than the end of your finger.
Here’s the quick fix…
All you need to do is push your wrist forwards a little. This will bring your fingers further around the front of your ukulele which is exactly where they need to be to fret a chord or note well.
Not Keeping Your Strumming Arm Moving
One you get to the point with strumming patterns where you need to miss a strum here and there to provide a more interesting rhythm it’s super common to stop the strumming hand moving completely until it’s needed for the next strum.
The problem with doing this is that it completely breaks your rhythm and is likely to mess up your timing to a point where it’s instantly noticeable to the listener.
What you need to get into the habit of doing is keeping your strumming arm moving. This means when you need to miss a strum for your rhythm your strumming hand keeps going but it doesn’t make contact with the strings. This is known as a ghost strum.
Once you start doing this you’ll find that your rhythm improves drastically.
Ok this one isn’t so much a beginner mistake but an everyone mistake. I still do this now from time to time but it’s still worth knowing about.
When you find something difficult to play you may notice that your arms start to tense up. The frustrating thing with tensing up is that you often don’t notice it happening and only when it becomes a real problem do you recognise it.
Try to be aware of your hands and arms and notice if they feel like they’re starting to tense up.
If it is happening, try and relax your hands, give them a shake, take a few breaths and try again.
You’ll notice an immediate difference.
Bonus Tip: Tap Your Foot
Quite a few of the tips here focus on improving your timing. It’s so important to keep a consistent rhythm with your playing. If you ever hear anyone playing that keeps bad time, it’s super noticeable.
You can get away with a wrong note here and there, a misplaced chord. Break the rhythm and it’s hard to recover and a very obvious mistake
Tapping your foot on the down beats of a song will really help you to maintain steady timing.
I didn’t do this when I first learned guitar and I had horrible timing, it took me years to correct it and it’s quite an easy fix. Try and get in the habit of tapping your foot to help with your timing.
10 thoughts on “Beginner Mistakes on Ukulele and How To Fix Them”
Thanks Dave. I think I do all those things. So simple!
Flat fingers are very common, and bringing the wrist forward is the solution. Often I point out that the support of your thumb, as a cantilever point, helps getting that wrist forward.
What about completely missing the strings when you strum? I’ve been playing for about 2 years now, and I’m not improving as quickly as I’d like, though I do practice. But sometimes I get frustrated by my right hand’s inability to connect with the strings, so there’s no note sounding. Not sure why, and it’s not all the time, but when it happens it sure is frustrating.
I’d expect that to correct itself naturally at some point. That said, if you want to fix something quickly then the best method is to focus all your efforts on that and nothing else.
I’m actually in the opposite situation, I’d actually like that to happen a bit more when I’m playing. If you’re playing complex strumming patterns, a little variety in them can really go a long way – missing some strums is sometimes harder than it seems.
On foot tapping: try to just tap your toes inside your shoe so that only you know that you are doing it. If you are playing in a group, it can be really distracting if other people are doing visible taps, especially if they are not properly on the beat or are playing a part with a different rhythm to you!
This is a great tip, thanks Hilary
Just got my ukulele and this is SO helpful, thank you for sharing. Your son has a great teacher.
I’m glad it’s useful for you
Thank you only started in December at a very late age, but have joined a group who are good players, they do help me but I have found you very helpful Thank you
Thank you, good luck with your journey