Learn to Play the Hawaiian Ukulele

Wouldn’t you love to be able to play the ukulele like that? (Email subscribers, click on this link to watch the video.)

Joe Crocona, Sheraton's Ukulele Teacher

Learn in Hawaii

Well, the next time you visit Kauai and decide to stay at the Sheraton Kauai Resort in Poipu, you can sign-up to take your first ukulele lesson. The lesson is provided for a nominal fee and, in a group setting, you’ll learn the basic chords and have a lot of fun. You can even buy good quality ukuleles on site–more on buying your first ukulele below.

OK, so you won’t finish the 45 minute lesson playing like Jake Shimabukuro, but you will leave being able to (somewhat) play a commonly heard Hawaiian “vamp” and you might also come away with a desire to learn the ukulele.

I know I did.

Buying Your First Ukulele

So, after returning to the mainland, I purchased my first ukulele. Unfortunately, I made the same mistake of most eager Hawaii visitors–I purchased one of those “toy” ukuleles. Sure it was cheap. And, sure it was pretty. But, it also sounded horrible–and that was on top of my bad playing!

Lesson learned.

I then purchased a Lanikai Concert Ukulele–about a $70 investment–and found that not only was this larger size easier to hold (and play) but it also sounded much, much better. So now I had the tools, but did I have the skills?

I needed to find an ukulele teacher. If I had been anywhere in Hawaii, I would have been practically tripping over ukulele kumus–Hawaiian for “teachers.” Unfortunately, in Raleigh, North Carolina, ukulele teachers are a little thin on the ground. I did find one and, while he was a nice guy, he didn’t really teach the sweet melodies your ear grows accustomed to hearing in the Aloha state.


OK, I’m an internet geek, what type of lessons can I find online?

Online Ukulele Lessons

Well, there are actually a lot of great resources on the web–my favorite being LiveUkulele.com. However, I found YouTube to be my new best friend. In particular Ukulele Mike. Ukulele Mike probably looks the least Hawaiian ukulele teacher you will ever find–he lives in Seattle–but, he understands the uke and plays it beautifully. He also happens to be a great teacher:

With my previously learned Hawaiian vamp under my belt, and Amazing Grace added to my very short playlist, I moved on. Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” is close to being perfected and I’m also working on learning “Somewhere over the rainbow” by the famous Bruddah IZ.

Andy Learning the Uke

In short, it’s been just 3 weeks since I decided in earnest to learn the ukulele. Quite honestly, the first few days were very difficult. There are apparently a gazillion ways to strum an ukulele. Add the contortionist type way you have to curl your fingers to make the chord changes. Then throw-in trying to actually sing along while playing, and no one would blame you for giving-up after just a couple of hours. Get past that, however, and you start to make progress. You start to hear glimpses of Hawaii in your fingers. You start to smell the Plumeria. You picture yourself under a coconut tree…..OK, sorry, I’m back.

At this point, you’re may be asking for a video of me playing the ukulele. Yeah, right. Like I said, it’s been just 3 weeks. While I’m making progress every day, I’m not quite ready for my video debut–although I did let Sheila snap the picture above. OK, OK…if you really want to see me playing the ukulele, here’s a quick video I shot.

The ukulele is inexpensive, relatively easy to learn, small enough to carry anywhere, and learning just one vamp will immediately transport you back to Hawaii. If, like me, you’ve had an itch to learn a musical instrument, I can highly recommend it. Try Ukulele for Me to get you started.

A Beginner’s Ukulele Checklist:

  • Ukulele is correctly pronounced “ookoolaylay” in Hawaiian. Though outside of Hawaii, that will likely get you some strange looks.
  • Ukulele means “jumping flea” and gets its name from Hawaiians watching the instrument being played by migrant Portuguese and noting that their fingers resembled jumping fleas.
  • Ukuleles have just 4 strings, while guitars have 6. This makes it easier for beginners but as you advance, it does become trickier to make some notes using just 4 strings.
  • If your ukulele is bright red and costs less than $30, it will likely serve better as a decorative ornament. 😛
  • There are four different types of ukulele.
  • Once you’ve learned the basic chords and can read “tabs” you’ll find a great list of songs to learn at Ukulele Boogaloo.
  1. Curious…what exactly is “infamous” about Bradda Iz? I am hoping it is merely a typo.

    1. Yes, Trish, a typo. Absolutely no ill will was intended. Andy and I are both IZ fans.

  2. Nice post. Thanks so much for pointing out the proper pronunciation. It’s one thing if you don’t know how to say it right, but to continue to say it wrong when everyone tells you the right way is one of my biggest ‘ukulele-internet-community “issues”. I guess the grammar rules change when you shorten it to “uke” though. All the local boys (I live on the Big Island) say “‘ukulele”, but it’s always “I like play your yook!”, not “I like play your ook!”. Then again, pidgin English throws out all grammar rules.


  3. Anyone teaching ukelele on North Shore, Kauai?

  4. I’m from Raleigh too snd have driven to Wilmington a couple of times for classes at the Ukulele Academy. Kent, the owner is a great teacher with a good personality. I also took two classes online during the pandemic. I understand his studio is now closed but you can still contact him for lessons. He also offers group family lessons at Wrightsville Beach for all ages!

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