The ability to play an instrument makes you more employable and diverse as an artist. But which instrument should you choose and how do you do play and sing at the same time?
Performing with the ukulele and singing has become increasingly popular over recent years. It’s a relatively easy instrument to learn, portable, inexpensive and capable of basic accompaniment. But doing both simultaneously is a skill to be learned.
If you’re thinking of learning the uke, or are struggling to sing and play at the same time, read on, to find out everything you need to know about performing with the ukulele.
Performing with the ukulele while singing
Maybe you’ve seen the likes of Taylor Swift, Ingrid Michaelson and Madonna playing one and you fancy giving it a try. But if you’ve ever attempted to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time, you’ll know that focussing on two different actions at once is tricky.
Playing a live instrument does put you ahead of the crowd though. It’s perfect for an acoustic set, means you can perform literally anytime, anywhere and looks cool. And if equipment fails, you don’t have to sing A Cappella. It went out of fashion for some time having been super popular mid-twentieth century but saw a resurgence thanks to hipsters and bands like Mumford and Sons.
One of the first things to consider when deciding to take up the ukulele is your repertoire and purpose. If you want to perform heavy rock or power ballads, for example, this may not be the best choice. It has a particular sound and is not as versatile as learning to play the piano or guitar. But on the plus side, it’s easier to pick up and has a great sound.
How do you strum and sing?
Start slowly and build up bit by bit. First, you must be on top of your singing technique. If you’re concentrating on another task it can be easy to let this slip. So ensure you’ve done some scales and a good warm-up before you start.
You must then work on instrumental scales, before even trying to sing with the uke. Once you’ve got this, then start to sing along to the scales. It might seem tedious, but you need to learn to walk before you can run!
How much time will it take to learn ukulele?
The amount of time it takes to learn will depend on a number of factors:
- How well do you want to learn to play?
- Are you planning to take lessons or self-teach?
- How frequently will you practice?
- Do you already play an instrument and is it strung like a guitar or banjo?
Expect to pick up the very basics in as little as 10 minutes. Whereas learning songs will take around 3-6 months of regular work. This will be cut right down if you already have a strong musical ability and experience on the guitar. Similarly, if you blitz it every day, you’ll get better faster.
Is ukulele hard to play?
No, the uke is considered a very easy instrument to learn, hence its popularity. As it has fewer strings and is smaller than a guitar, it’s simpler to grasp and doesn’t require as great a finger stretch.
What are the notes on a ukulele?
There are a few ways to tune it, but the main notes are G, C, E and A. This doesn’t mean that you can only play four notes. By adjusting the fret you can also incorporate sharps and flats, encompassing the full 12 note chromatic scale.
Let’s take a look at the anatomy of the uke…
How to strum and sing at the same time – ukulele skills
Once you’ve become fully acquainted with the instrument and spent time practising scales, you can move on to simple melodies. Before you try and play and sing a song, practice it vocally and instrumentally, separately. Get really good at singing it, then really good at playing it. Then it’s time to put the two together.
How to sing and strum at the same time – ukulele singing
While it is a little more challenging to play and sing at the same time, in many ways it makes the performance aspect easier. Practice your song a bar at a time, until you can sing and play through its entirety.
Now you can start to use the instrument as part of your act. Move fluidly with the uke. You can gently rock in time with the music, stand or sit and glance down – although do be careful not to stare at the strings all the time. You should be able to play comfortably without having to look down before you take it in front of an audience. Try to head along to some jam sessions to see other uke players in action and practice playing while looking out to the crowd, in a low stake environment. And you may even find some other musicians with whom you can collaborate.
Ukulele strumming for dummies
There are a number of ways to learn to play. Taking lessons is the most expensive, but the most effective and fastest. You can learn via online tutorials (more on that shortly), or buy one of the many books on the market that will help you learn at home.
If you’re already investing in voice coaching, music equipment, studio time and clothes for performing, it’s understandable if there’s no room in your budget for further lessons. But don’t worry, there are so many ways to teach yourself. You just need to be committed, set aside some time and be self-motivated. As with vocals, we often find video tutorials to be the easiest to work with. But apps, PDF sheets and websites can work just as well if that’s your preference.
Ukulele YouTube lessons
Always the first stop when it comes to online videos tutorials, YouTube has a wealth of resources. And the really great part of it is, you can see how many people have watched them, indicating which are the best and most popular. Here are some of the things to consider when choosing which one to work with:
Do you like the teacher? Much like one-to-one lessons in person, you need to feel an affinity with them and enjoy their style. If you find it dull or frustrating you’ll not last long.
Is it at the right level? If you’ve played another instrument, you might not need to start with the absolute basics. Or if you jump in the deep end, you might be confused by the directions and give up too easily.
Is there room to continue? If you want to spend many months developing this skill, find an online teacher who offers a series of tutorials. Once you’ve found someone you like, it’s better to stick with them, rather than keep searching around for new ones.
Do they have a following and good comments? Check out their numbers and what people are saying about the lessons, in the comments section below the video description.
How long are the lessons? If you’ve put aside a specific amount of time, the video will need to fit this. It’s better not t have to start and stop halfway through each tutorial.
There are so many to choose from, but if you’re looking for somewhere to start, try this one out…
Begin with the basic chords of G major, C major, D major, and E minor. Practice each of these using your thumb and down strum. The key of G works really nicely on this instrument and is comfortable for most voice types. Tapping your foot as you go will help you to keep time.
You may have heard people talk about ‘tabs’ in relation to music. It’s short for tablature, describing a form of musical notation used for stringed instruments like this one. Most people learn a new piece of music by using tab. Unlike the standard musical stave (the five horizontal lines on which the notes are written), tabs show you exactly where to play the notes on the fretboard.
It’s a kind of shorthand and simpler to look at that a full musical score, as it only contains the bits relating to you, rather than pitches.
Sing Carpenters ukulele chords
The pop duo recorded plenty of classics, mostly self-penned but with input from writers like Burt Bacharach. Their numbers are simple to play and sing and an ideal place to start for learning and practising playing and singing. Here’s a list of their songs with chord instructions.
But there are plenty more songs and genres from which to choose.
Easy ukulele songs
If you write your own music, this is a great way to perform it. Accompany yourself with some simple chords and let the sung melody shine through. If you’re having lessons your teacher will have particular songs he or she likes to work with, and you’ll get some of these as part of your homework.
What’s the easiest song to play on a ukulele?
Here are some of the easiest songs for beginners, that sound great on this instrument.
- Blowin’ In The Wind by Bob Dylan
- Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison
- 22 by Taylor Swift
- I Won’t Back Down by Tom Petty
- Someone Like You by Adele
- Your Mama Don’t Dance by Loggins & Messina
- Let it Be by The Beatles
- I’m Yours by Jason Mraz
- All Along the Watchtower by Bob Dylan/Jimi Hendrix
- Counting Stars by One Republic
‘Riptide’ on the ukulele
This Vance Joy number sounds great and is a popular one to play on the uke.
‘I’m yours’ on the ukulele
Another up to date option is this Jason Mraz song, that lends itself to strings.
Ukulele novelty songs
This instrument is often a good choice for musical comedy. As an artist, this genre of music may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but did you know that there’s a huge market for novelty and comedy songs – particularly if you write your own. Use your vocal and musical skills to carve out a niche for yourself, and get seen on a different scene.
Comedy clubs (with the money to pay) are always on the lookout for these kinds of acts and many musicians have forged successful careers in this way. You can release them on YouTube as well as gigging live.
Ukulele parody songs
A great place to start with musical comedy on the uke is with parody songs. Hugely successful ukulele playing and singing duo Garfunkel and Oates have had found fame and fortune – including their own TV series in the United States – in this way.
Who invented the ukulele?
Manuel Nunes invented the instrument. He arrived in Honolulu on a ship named the Raven’s Crag from Madeira, Portugal, on Aug 23rd 1879. Nunes came to Hawaii with his friends to work the sugar cane fields, but soon developed the ukulele basing it on a native Portuguese instrument called the braguinha. The name translates roughly to ‘jumping flea’ in English. As it was born in Hawai, it’s often linked to the island and a strong part of its musical heritage.
How long has the ukulele been around?
Stringed instruments were very popular in the 18th century. And sometime between the late 1800s and early 1900s, the uke was born and became popular. There are now four main types of ukulele: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone.
Once you’ve mastered performing with this instrument, you can sign up for unplugged gigs, make decent cash from busking and accompany others. It’s hard to say whether the uke will continue to be a popular and fashionable instrument long-term, but for now, it looks set to stick around.
- Is ukulele easier than guitar?
A ukulele has four strings, as opposed to the guitar’s six. The fretboard is also thinner and smaller, making it a little easier to handle and carry. Generally speaking, picking up basic ukulele skills is a swifter process than for the guitar. But it really comes down to your preference and needs.
- How much does a ukulele cost?
A very basic model can cost as little as £8, less if bought second hand or in a charity shop. Whereas a deluxe, professional model by a high-end brand such as Sumi can cost several thousands of pounds.
- Which ukulele is best for beginners?
This will depend on your budget and whether its a hobby or for professional use. Here are some great options for those starting out to choose from.
Do you enjoy performing with the ukulele and singing? What are your favourite numbers to sing and play? Tell us about them in the comments below.