How to Play Hawaiian Songs on the Ukulele

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Playing Hawaiian songs on the ukulele begins with the basics of tuning, forming basic chords and learning a simple strum pattern. While there are many chords and strum patterns to learn as you progress, these basic elements will help you become familiar with the instrument. Many Hawaiian ukulele songs use chords that are played with three fingers or less, and are strummed with the thumb, index finger, or a combination of the two. There are a number of Hawaiian songbooks available at music stores that will include words, music and chords to assist you in expanding your ukulele knowledge and song repertoire.

Things You'll Need

  • Ukulele
  • Ukulele tuner pitch pipe
  • Ukulele chord chart or songbook

Tuning

  • Place the ukulele on your lap with the strings facing outward. The section at the end of the neck with the tuning pegs (headstock) will be on your left.

  • Tune the ukulele using a ukulele pitch pipe, which is inexpensive and can be purchased at most music stores. Blow into the section marked G4, making the note of the G (or fourth) string at the top of the ukulele. Turn the tuning peg while playing the string with your thumb until the sound matches the note from the pitch pipe. It might take several attempts.

  • Blow into the pitch pipe in the marked sections to tune the remaining three strings, which are, from top to bottom, the C (or third) string, the E (or second) string and the A (or first) string.

Chords

  • Place your first finger of your left hand on the third fret (or third section of the neck) of the A string. This is the C chord and is one of the most common ukulele chords in Hawaiian music. Strum all four strings in a downward motion with the thumb on your right hand as you hold your finger in place to play the chord.

  • Place your first finger on the first fret of the E string, and your second finger on the second fret of the G string. This is the F chord. Strum all the strings in a downward motion with your thumb as you hold your fingers in place to play the chord.

  • Place your first finger on the first fret of the E string, your second finger on the second fret of the C string, and your third finger on the second fret of the A string. This is the G7 chord. Strum all strings in a downward motion with your thumb as you hold your fingers in place to play the chord.

Playing a Song

  • Form the C chord and strum all strings in a downward motion with your thumb four times.

  • Switch to the F chord and strum all strings in a downward motion with your thumb four times.

  • Move your fingers to the G7 chord and strum all strings in a downward motion with your thumb four times.

  • Switch back to the C chord and strum all strings in a downward motion with your thumb four times.

  • Repeat the playing and strumming of the C, F and G7 chords as many times as you wish. Start slowly until you are able to switch chords smoothly, and develop a steady, repeating rhythm to play the song. This is a basic chord progression and strum pattern which will help you become familiar with playing Hawaiian-style ukulele songs.

  • Play the Hawaiian song "Aloha Oe (Farewell to Thee)" by strumming each chord eight times with your thumb: F-C-G7-C. Repeat as many times as you'd like.

References

  • Photo Credit tuning the ukulele image by Shirley Hirst from Fotolia.com
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