How to Hold the Ukulele for Perfect Tone and Technique

How to Hold the Ukulele for Perfect Tone and Technique

Learning how to hold the ukulele is simple, but there is a bit of technique involved in doing it correctly. The ukulele’s small size and associations with easy island music and culture lead many people to think you can simply pick it up and start strumming. This same small size, though, means you have to pay a bit more attention to how you handle it. Holding it incorrectly can muffle the sound, and it can lead to finger and wrist pain, too.

Even if you just plan to play ukulele as a hobby, learning to hold it properly is worth the effort. First of all, it’s more about knowing the right way than perfecting some complex technique. You’ll also be able to play longer without discomfort if you’re holding it right, meaning you’ll enjoy the instrument a lot more.

Sound like a good idea to you?

We thought so! Read on below to learn the right way to hold your uke by the time this articles over.

Jessica Simms
Today’s expert
Jessica Simms

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Jessica Simms
Today’s expert
Jessica Simms

Jessica Simms is a saxophonist and life-long student of music. She works as a freelance writer and ghostwriter in Pittsburgh, PA.

Considerations

What Do You Need?

Unlike other string instruments, such as the guitar or violin, you don’t need any tools like picks or bows. In fact, to learn how to hold the ukulele, the only thing you need is an instrument to practice on.

If you have a uke already, you’re good to go—no extra supplies needed. If you don’t, figuring out which size and style are right for you should be your first step. This handy guide to beginner ukuleles is an excellent resource if you’re not sure what kind of instrument you want to get.

Anatomy of a Ukulele

The ukulele is a relatively simple instrument, and there aren’t very many parts to keep track of. There are some specialized terms used to refer to specific areas of the instrument, though, and knowing them will help you as you’re learning how to hold it.

So let’s break it down:

Body:
The hollow part of the instrument that resonates from the vibration of the strings to create the sound. The bridge and soundboard are located on the body. You’ll hold the body using the same arm you use to strum.
Bridge:
The piece that holds the strings to the body, located between the soundboard and the end of the instrument. This won’t directly affect how you hold your instrument, but it will affect the tension and height of the strings if you need to change those down the line.
Frets:
The metal pieces set into the neck that shows you where to press the strings to play different notes and chords.
Neck:
The long, slender piece of wood extending from the body. On the front of the neck is the fingerboard or fretboard. The strings run down the neck, across the frets, and are secured by the tuning pegs on the headstock (the larger wooden piece on the other end of the neck).
Nut:
The piece at the top of the fingerboard that determines how the strings are spaced. Along with the bridge, it is used to determine the height (or “action”) of the strings.
Soundhole:
The round hole cut into the top of the body which allows the vibration of the strings through the wood to come out as sound. Your strumming hand will be positioned either over top of the soundboard or between the soundboard and the neck.

How to Hold the Ukulele: 4 Easy Steps

Step 1: Pick up the ukulele correctly

You might be tempted to simply grab the instrument by the neck, but this isn’t the best way to do it. Gripping the neck this way can potentially damage the strings, and also leaves the body swinging, which increases the chances you’ll hit it off of something.

 Instead, cradle the body against your body, even when you’re not playing it.

There will be three primary points of contact between the ukulele and your body:

  • the back of the instrument against your chest and a hand each for the neck and the body.
  • Hold the instrument’s neck with your left hand (your “frn  etting hand”) and place your right hand (your “strumming hand”) on the instrument’s body.
  • Get in the habit of keeping at least one hand on the instrument at all times, even if you’re sitting down, so it doesn’t end up taking a tumble.

Step 2: Press the ukulele to your chest

The ideal position for most players will be roughly at the level of your ribs. Hold the ukulele just tightly enough for it to stay in place. If you squeeze it against your body, this will affect the resonance of the instrument and make it sound muffled.

Hold your right elbow at a 90° angle, with the body of the uke against your forearm. The instrument should be roughly parallel to the ground, although you can angle the neck up slightly if that makes it more comfortable.

Step 3: Put your left hand in playing position

Place your thumb on the back of the neck between the nut and the third fret. Don’t wrap your thumb completely over the top of the neck. This will limit your hand’s range of motion, making it more difficult to play chords.

Once your thumb is in position, wrap your fingers around the front of the neck. Keep them as close to parallel to the frets as possible, with your wrist straight, and don’t put any of the weight on your fingers—only the tips should touch, and they should float over the strings when you’re not playing.

Note

In fact, once you’re playing, you don’t want any of the weight held by your left hand at all. A light grip will make sure your fingers can freely move across the strings.

Step 4: Put your right hand in strumming position

Extend your right forearm along the bottom of the ukulele. Just like with the left arm, keep your wrist straight and don’t let your fingers carry any of the instrument’s weight. While you’ll use all four fingers to fret, you’ll only use one to strum—usually either your thumb or index finger. Your hand should be positioned so your strumming finger can reach the strings easily without straining.

And that’s all there is to it—seriously! You’re ready to learn some basic strumming patterns and start making music (there’s tons of uke sheet music at this site if you need some).

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More Tips

  • It can be hard to tell if you’re holding things correctly by feel alone. Try practicing in front of a mirror. This will make it easier to see any problems with your technique.
  • How you position your elbows will change the angle of your hands and fingers. Your elbows should have a free range of movement. Neither one should be tucked tight against your body, and the strumming elbow especially should be as close to a right angle as is comfortable, with a straight line running from the elbow through the wrist.
  • Guitarists often grow out their fingernails to use them like picks, but for ukulele, you want the pads of your fingers making direct contact with the strings. It’s especially important to keep the nails on your fretting hand short so that the pads of your fingers are the part making contact with the fret.
  • As you get more comfortable holding your ukulele, you won’t need to support it on the bottom all the time. This will free your strumming hand up, giving you a better range of movement. Work up to this point by practicing removing one hand at a time from your ukulele. If you’re holding it correctly, the instrument won’t slip or change position when you take one hand away. If it does, you may need to hold it a little tighter with that hand.
  • The less contact you make with the ukulele, the better. If you still find the sound a bit muffled, even following the advice above, try angling the instrument so the headstock is slightly further from you than the body. This extra layer of air around the back allows for more resonance and a fuller sound.

In Conclusion

You’ll probably find a lot of different advice online for beginning ukulele players—some of which might be blatantly contradictory. The steps and tips above are taken straight from music educators and experts and they’ll get you started off right, but that doesn’t mean you only have one way to do things.

No technique is wrong if you sound good and feel comfortable doing it.

Do you have a tip of your own for how to hold the ukulele? Be sure to share it in the comments—it just might be the answer someone else is looking for.


FAQ
Faq

Frequently asked questions

Q:

Should I change the way I hold the ukulele if I’m sitting?

You don’t have to—if your technique is correct, you’ll be able to hold the instrument against your chest whether you’re standing or sitting.

When you’re sitting down, though, you do have the option of resting the instrument on your lap, instead. This can be especially helpful for smaller players or larger ukuleles, like tenors and baritones.

You will have to change the position of the ukulele slightly if you’re playing it from your lap. Rest the body on your right thigh with the neck tilted up at approximately a 45° angle. Still try to keep your fingers parallel to the frets, if you can.

You should also maintain the same three points of contact list above (back, bottom, and neck). This both supports the instrument and makes it an easier transition if you want to stand and play later.

Q:

Do I need to use an instrument strap?

Again, you don’t have to, but you can if you’d like. The question again typically comes down to the instrument’s size. Most players find a strap unnecessary with soprano and concert ukes because they’re so light. Many soprano ukuleles don’t even come with pegs for a strap since they’re typically played without one.

An instrument strap can be helpful to make sure you don’t accidentally drop or damage your ukulele, especially for standing play and larger instruments. If you have an adjustable guitar strap around the house you can use it for a ukulele, but you can also buy straps designed specifically for the smaller instrument. This strap from CloudMusic is a good example, and an affordable option, too, at right around ten bucks.

Q:

Where should I strum on the strings?

Most players strum either directly over the soundhole, or in the area between the soundhole and the neck. The closer your fingers are to the bridge when you strum, the less resonant and more strident the sound will be. If you feel like your sound is thin, try moving your strumming hand closer to the neck.

For more advice about strumming, this article from RIT has some great tips for strumming beginner chords.

Q:

My fingers and wrist hurt when I play - is this normal?

Your hands might get tired more easily than you’d expect when you’re first starting, but pain is a warning sign from your body that something’s wrong. Most often, too much tension is the cause of stiff or aching fingers and wrists.

Put the instrument down for a minute to stretch and shake out your arms. When you pick the ukulele up again, watch yourself play in the mirror to make sure your wrists are straight and use as little pressure as you can without dropping the instrument.

Q:

What if I’m left-handed?

You can still use your right hand to strum, even if it isn’t your dominant hand. If you’d rather strum with your left hand, you have a few options. The easiest is to buy a left-handed ukulele.

You can also play a right-handed ukulele upside-down, although this will mean learning a different playing technique.

The most complicated option is to re-string a standard uke to turn it into a lefty uke, though if you’re a beginner, you’ll probably want to have a music repair technician do this for you.


The team
The team

We made this review

Kate Kalanchuk
Content Manager Kate Kalanchuk
Jessica Simms
Writer Jessica Simms
Tiffany Mueller
Editorial Director Tiffany Mueller
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