How To Help Kids Learn Ukulele

How To Help Kids Learn Ukulele

My youngest son Max is now 7 years old which I think is a great age to start learning to play ukulele. There are challenges that come with learning to play ukulele at such a young age, here are some of the ways that I’ve found to work when teaching him. hopefully they can work for your children too…

You can press the play button above to listen to the audio version of this article. Or if you’ve like to subscribe to the podcast you do so here.

One String Riffs

Learning riffs is a great starting point, especially if you stick to a single string, there’s no need to overcomplicate things. When it comes to learning, I think it’s always good to leave a practice session having achieved something – this is even more important for newcomers. Having a positive experience goes a long way toward wanting to do it again.

Here are some really good one string riffs that are great for kids to learn. I find it really useful to play the song for them on Youtube so they know what they’re learning.

All of the riffs below can be played on any string. It will mean that you might not be playing in the correct key but that isn’t important in this stage.

I tend to let Max play them on the A string initially as he finds it easier to fret notes here, then when he gets more comfortable we slowly move up the strings. All the riffs below have been tabbed on the A string.

Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple

Yes it’s a classic and it’s hugely overplayed but there is a reason for that. It’s a catchy riff that is super accessible. Here’s the tab…

Smoke On The Water Kids Ukulele Tab

Seven Nation Army – White Stripes

This super recognisable riff from The White Stripes is a little more tricky than some of the others listed here so I’d recommend breaking it down into sections to help your children learn it.

Seven Nation Army Kids Ukulele Tab

Louie Louie – The Kingsmen

Another simple one that is really catchy.

Louie Louie Kids Ukulele Tab

The thing I like about all of the tunes above is that although they’re relatively simple to play, you really need to get the timing right. The way I help my son get the timing is by getting him to sing the notes as he plays – I think anything beyond this at a young age when it comes to timing can be a little off-putting.

You can grab my sheet with all of these on for your kids to learn by hitting the button below (I’ve laminated the one that Max uses to make sure it will survive a little longer).

It’s really important that you make practice sessions with younger children really fun and engaging. If they’re not really into it, I’d recommend trying again at another time.

Download the riffs for kids worksheet

Open Strumming

Max is a little too young to be able to fret chords that require a lot of finger dexterity so I came up with a way to let him strum along and make his own songs without having to fret full chords.

What we do is fret a single note on the A string (the bottom string) and he then strums all of the strings. I tell him which frets will sound good and which ones won’t work too well and let him just play around with that. It really helps him to get to grips with the idea of strumming and fretting at the same time.

In the audio clip above I’m strumming down and simply fretting at the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 10th frets of the A string (the bottom string) oh and I also threw in a strum without fretting any notes.

Guess The Note

This is a great little game that is geared towards ear training. I will play a note on my ukulele without letting him see what I’m fretting. To help him out I’ll tell him which string I was using and I then ask him to find the note on his ukulele. Max really enjoys this game and it will really help him understand how the fretboard works at the same time as developing his ear.

You can make this a little more challenging by firstly not giving away exactly which string you’re playing on. You could even ask them to find the same note on another string. You also have the option of moving beyond a single note.

For those that don’t have a second ukulele, I’ve created an MP3 below which will help you to play this game.

Just hit the play button, then pause after the note has played let your child try and find the note (I used the A string).

The notes in the above MP3 are found on the following frets 2, 7, 4 , 10, 4.

Eyes Closed

This is a good one, and perhaps it’s something that I should practice myself a little more. I get Max to play with his eyes closed. I’ve noticed in his practice sessions that Max really focuses on looking at his hands as he’s playing. Because he really focuses his eyes on either his strumming hand or his fretting hand, he struggles to do both at the same time. I get him to play either with his eyes closed or staring at a distant object instead.

This is a great exercise which helps you to really get a feel for the fretboard but also helps with ear training too as you have to hear your mistakes rather than see them.

Do you have any great tips for teaching kids ukulele? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you!

Grab my free Ukulele Go! beginners pack.

16 thoughts on “How To Help Kids Learn Ukulele

  1. This is also great for learners. I would like my group to play with out chord sheets, so the closed eyes is a good help.

  2. I am a beginner and I have never played an instrument. I keep getting frustrated because I do not understand anything…Any ideas?

    1. Hi Ella, try to just take it a step at a time. If you head over to my beginners section and slowly work your way through it you should find that you start to get to grips with things.

    2. Hi, Ella! I agree with Dave that you have to take things one step at a time. I think some initial frustration is normal, because your feelings of “I’m just not making any progress/nothing makes sense” can be very strong. When I work with adults just beginning to learn how to play an instrument, I encourage them to start a list of what they actually DO understand. So for Feb. 2019 you might put down how you hold it, being able to tune the strings to the correct note, the direction you go to make the notes higher, and any simple chords you can play (and name!) without looking them up. Then, in March 2019, you might find yourself learning some other chords or some simple strum patterns. You might realize that you can always find C on the bass string. You might learn how to go back and forth between 2 chords, learn when to change from one to the other, and learn to sing a simple song while you strum them. I think it really helps to remind yourself of what you have already learned and review the list from time to time to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything you learned earlier in the year. And, if you can find someone else who plays, use them to “reinforce and add to” your list of what you have learned. Then, don’t forget the help from sites like this to keep you moving–at your own pace–in the right direction. Keep on trying, ’cause it sounds like you would really like to learn to play the ukulele!

    3. Get yourself the ukulele Chord Changer attachment. You can play 8 different chords by pressing the chord buttons (instead of strings) and just strum as usual. Comes with a book of 92 uke songs, all playable with the ChordChanger…..18 are of British origin including Jerusalem. $25 plus shipping.

    4. Hi Ella. A great thing I found is to record yourself from day 1. I did this on my smartphone. After a few months, you will be encouraged by how far you have come when you re-record what you tried. I have been playing for a year now and when I feel down because I am not making any progress I play back my old recordings and then realise how much I have improved.

    5. If you have a friend that plays ukulele maybe have them teach you, or you could learn easy songs and work your way up. If you already know another string instrument (guitar, bass, etc.) then it should be easy bc thats how I got into ukulele. Try ode to joy first, bc if you know fingerpicking then chords should be easy. The notes are e e f g g f e d c c d e d c c and repeat

    6. After teaching myself to play via online tutorials, i think playing with others is a great help. You get to see you are not alone; others have the same problems. You do not need to know music theory or read sheet music. Paul McCartney does not read or write music. Course he knows his instrument well and has an understanding of what he wants to sound what way.

      Just take it easy! Play a few minutes each day. Find a song with 2or3 chords and keep playing it. I promise it gets easier. Wanting to be able to play a certain song always influences me to learn the chords it needs.

      1. Yeah playing with others is great, it feels great when you first feel a chord change – meaning you didn’t know what the next chord was going to be but somehow you knew what to play.

  3. This is great. I teach 10 year olds, who are doing really well with their chords but I was wanting to move on to finger picking, so this will be just perfect.

  4. Thanks so much for the information! Really useful and I’m looking forward to using it with my students! Have a fantastic day!

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