The ukulele can be a very simple, relaxing instrument. You can learn a handful of chords and be able to play enough songs to be set for life.
But if you want to challenge yourself and take your playing to a more intermediate level, here are a few steps you can take:
1. Learn Music Theory on Your Ukulele
Understanding the music you are playing will help you learn new music quicker and remember it better.
Something that might help is instead of trying to learn music theory on the ukulele, try first learning it on a keyboard or better yet with standard music notation where the notes are represented in a linear and more straightforward way — then translate the knowledge to the ukulele fretboard.
A few music theory topics of interest worth learning for the beginner are rhythm (time signatures, measures, beats, note duration, etc.)
2. Train Your Ukulele Ear
Being able to hear different chords types, chord changes, scales, and intervals will also improve your learning and remembering.
Start small and just try to listen for the difference between a major and minor chord. Then move to the learning the sound of a dominant 7th chord or the difference in sound between a jump by a 5th interval vs a 4th interval.
As you learn new concepts, try to hear them as well as understanding them.
3. Try Something New With Your Ukulele
You won’t learn anything without first challenging yourself with something new. Get in the habit of always moving forward with your playing. Try a different style, a different arrangement, a different strum pattern, a different book, different music genre.
There’s not much risk in trying something different with the ukulele, but the reward could be very handsome.
4. Work Your Way Up the Ukulele Fretboard with Chord Shapes
One of the quickest ways to rev up your ukulele chops is to learn some chord shapes and play them further up the fretboard.
Start with the basic “C major” chord shape and move the whole shape up one fret. You now have a C# or Db Major chord. Up another: D major, etc.
You can expand on this technique by playing melody notes as the highest note of the chord to play melody and harmony at the same time. Though teaching and explaining this fully will require a separate article.
5. Keep it Fun If You Can, and Don’t Give Up If You Can’t!
This goes along with “Trying Something New” but try to make your ukulele learning and practice and enjoyable as possible. This way learning won’t feel like a chore but a treat you can look forward to.
However, if something is getting frustrating or difficult, and you feel like giving up, don’t! Instead take a break for a day and come back to it tomorrow with a fresh mind.
Try slowing down whatever you’re learning to an almost absurdly slow tempo so you can play it accurately. Also, at the same time, try breaking up what you’re trying to learn into smaller “chunks” which can be more easily mastered.
You can then speed up and combine these slow chunks into full speed full pieces of music and you’ll be surprised what you can play!