It won’t come as a surprise to most people that the best way to get better at Ukulele is to, you guessed it, play the ukulele. Its not always easy to develop a good ukulele practice routine though.
You might not know what to practice, what you should spend your time on, maybe you feel like you don’t have enough time, or you seem to not be getting any better even when you do practice. All of these things can be frustrating.
In this article we’ll start by giving you a great 20-minute ukulele practice routine that we’ve used ourselves.
Next, we’ll go through a handful of tips that will help you if you’re not making progress as fast as you like, or even if you’re stuck.
Last, if you struggle to come up with things to practice, or don’t know what’s next, we’ve put a list together of a TON of things you can actually spend time working on!
20 Minute Practice Routine for the Ukulele
As we said before, we used this routine for a long time while we started playing the ukulele. The structure of the practice is what we really want you to pay attention to, because you can customize it quite a bit for your specific needs!
Warm-Up Fingers – 1-2 Minutes
This can be really simple or really complex, but we always add in some sort of “warm-up” before we touch our ukulele. This may not seem like a big issue when you first start playing, but the more time you spend playing the more important it becomes!
This video has some great stretches, maybe pick one or two for your warm-up and vary them each day you play!
Play A Simple Song You Know – 3-4 Minutes
Now that you’ve picked up your Ukulele, continue to warm up with something simple that you already know. This will get your fingers and strumming hand moving without making you think to much about what you’re doing.
Plus, most of us tend to spend a LOT of time learning songs we like so this is a great way to have a little fun and ease into the harder exercises to come!
Don’t know any songs yet? No worries, play some simple notes or chords you do know that you’ve already mastered or gotten proficient at. The point is to start moving your hands and fingers!
Chord Changes – 5 minutes
Now to the actual improvement part of practice!
In the first 5 minutes you warmed up and played easy chords or notes. Now you want to incorporate a chord or two you aren’t good at.
Lets say you’re a beginner and the only chord you’ve mastered is the C chord. This 5-minute block would be used to practice switching between the C and maybe D and G chords. Play C, slowly move your fingers to the G, play the G until it sounds perfect (you may have to adjust a few times), and go back to the C.
Strumming or Fingerpicking – 5 minutes
Now to work on your other hand! In these five minutes we want to focus on improving what your strumming hand is doing.
For a beginner this may mean you are just strumming up and down, focusing on hitting each string in a smooth and consistent rhythm. For a more advanced player maybe you are working on a complex strumming pattern or fingerpicking arrangement.
You shouldn’t be playing any difficult chords during this time. In fact, you may not want to play any chords at all and just leave the strings open!
We suggest you have a metronome going for these five minutes. Make sure your rhythm is correct and you’re able to stay in time!
New Song Practice – 5 Minutes
Now, you’ve worked on some strumming or fingerpicking and a new chord or two… put them into practice!
Now, if the song is difficult, or you just started learning it, maybe that means that you only play the chorus, or must play it much slower than the original. That’s ok, Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will you become a master at a new chord or strumming pattern!
Also, let’s say you only have 10 or 15 minutes, or you have blocked out a 30-minute time slot to practice. Just adjust the time you spend in each section, just try to keep the ratios about the same.
Six Ukulele Practice Tips
Now that we’ve looked at a great practice routine, what are some tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of your time?
Keep your Ukulele Visible
In Atomic Habits, author James Clear says the first step to creating any new habit is to make it obvious. So, our first tip for playing the ukulele actually has nothing to do with playing.
Put your ukulele somewhere you will notice it every single day. Or even better, multiple times a day. It is easy to miss a day of practice because you didn’t think of playing, but not if you have to move your ukulele to sit in your favorite chair!
Write Down Your Goals
To make your practice sessions as productive as possible it really helps to know why and what you are practicing for.
If you want to learn a certain song, write it down! Then, underneath that you can write down the different components of that song you need to learn. Now you know which chords, strumming patterns or fingerpicking arrangements to spend our time on!
Pick a practice schedule and stick to it! Playing 3 or 4 days in a row and then taking 2 weeks off is going to make it very hard to progress. Instead, maybe you play on Tuesday, Thursday, and both days on the weekend.
Or, even better, play for 10 minutes every day! Or 10 on your workdays and a half an hour on the days you have free.
It really doesn’t matter as long as you are consistently practicing!
You can practice the D to G chord transition all day long and not get any better if every time you switch between the two you are missing notes or partially holding down strings. By doing this you won’t get any better, you’re essentially wasting your time.
How to fix this?
Set a metronome for a VERY slow speed. Get the change right at a very slow speed and then gradually increase the pace. If you miss more than a few times at a speed slow it back down.
You want to make sure these transitions are perfect, so until they are don’t try to play them fast!
Don’t Watch Your Fretting Hand
If you are learning a new chord shape then this could be ok, but if you’re practicing playing a song then don’t stare at your fretting hand. In fact, we like to pick a spot on the wall and focus on that. You don’t want to get dependent on seeing what’s going on.
A fun way to do this is to practice playing ukulele in a pitch-black room. It will be awkward at first, but it will force you maintain good posture and technique. Not to mention this can really help you develop an ear for how a note, chord or progression should sound!
Get a 2nd Ukulele
Ukulele’s are portable, right? Get a 2nd one that you don’t care about too much and put it in your car, office, or a place you spend a lot of time away from home. This is a great way to get a little extra practice time in while you’re away from your main instrument!
Things to Practice for your Ukulele
One of the funniest things we hear from musicians of all sorts of different instruments is they don’t know what to practice, or even better, they’ve run out of things to practice!!!
To help you out we’ve come up with a quick list of things to practice when you need a little inspiration or push in the right direction!
- Scales – There are hundreds of scales, patterns of scales, tempos and variations (skipping notes, groupings, etc) that can be improved upon or learned.
- Chords – There are tons of ways to play each chord, then you can work on replacing notes with a 2nd or 4th, or omitting a note by removing the root note, 3rd or 5th.
- Rhythm – Playing different timing patterns or with other musicians.
- Techniques – Hammer-ons and pull-offs, bending, sliding, vibratos, harmonics, muting and all combinations.
- Strumming – Endless combinations of strumming patterns, mute mono and fan strumming
- Ear Training – Tune your uke by ear, pick out major, minor and 7ths on the same chord, record chord progressions by ear
- Theory – Reading different notation, building chords/scales, timing
Still not sure…. Learn a new song. There are literally millions to choose from!