The ukulele is a pretty simple instrument in concept – just like the guitar – but it is deceptively simple. Played well, it can span a wide range of genres and styles. Most people who don’t know much about an instrument may be put off by this deceptive simplicity, so the focus of this article will be to educate you on the possibilities with a ukulele. You’ll find more such resources on fourstringfun.com.
Bear in mind that some of these styles might be out of reach for a beginner, but the underlying techniques can be practised so that you can eventually master some, if not all, of the different styles. It will educate you immensely, and you’ll learn to how to play songs by ear for the pleasure of your friends, family and yourself!
Strumming, or rhythm, is the most common way to play a stringed instrument. It’s easy, so long as you stick to the rhythm and manage the chords well enough. Many of the easier songs have a basic strumming pattern that can quickly be learnt. The only difference between the ukulele and ther stringed instruments is that the strumming is handled by the thumb and index finger. For the very beginner, this is an excellent place to start as it will open up many songs for you to learn and play.
Fingerstyle playing requires a little more dexterity than strumming. On the guitar, folk songs are often played in the fingerstyle manner. It uses a repeating bass line that features the melody. It’s far more popular on the guitar, but fingerstyle songs are relatively popular on the ukulele too.
The Campanella recently emerged as a playing style. It makes the ukulele sound more like a harp, and involves playing the strings such that each note of the melody gently rings into the next one. Campanella is Italian for ‘little bell’. It isn’t recommended for beginners, but it is quite mesmerizing.
The clawhammer style is not exclusive to the ukulele, as it comes from traditional American folk and bluegrass music. It puts an emphasis on rhythm, though it is quite able to be used flexibly. Again, this isn’t recommended for beginners, but it’s worth knowing because once you’ve got the fundamentals down, it’s up to you to make the most out of the tools at your disposal.