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Learn the Ukulele: Absolute Beginners

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

A practical course in ukulele playing, covering rhythmic accompaniment as well as melody and ensemble performance. Suitable for absolute beginners and those wishing to learn to play with others for the first time, with opportunities to play and perform in an ensemble, and/or take a recognised grade exam as part of an ensemble.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No previous knowledge of the subject is assumed.

Content of Course

Each week students will work on a range of popular, well known songs (Love Me Tender – aka ‘Aura Lee’, For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, Kumbaya, Bear Dance, Oh Susanna, Warriors Return). Students will be encouraged to learn both parts of a song (the accompaniment and melody) and to work in groups to build up experience of playing with others. They will also work on ‘Grade’ repertoire and exam related exercises.

1. The Ukulele – a little history; naming its components; tuning it; basic chord ‘shapes’ (reading the ‘box’ diagram); moving between basic chord shapes.

2. On the Beat – introduction to Common and Waltz times; the ‘bar’; beats and divisions within the bar. Playing (strumming) along to recorded music. Working on finger placement between chord shifts and extending chord vocabulary.

3. A Sense of Rhythm – understanding ‘note lengths’ and ‘slash’ (strumming) symbols. Looking at an 8-bar progression and then a 12-bar blues progression.

4. The Right Hand – playing with fingers, a plectrum and the back of the nails. Practicing ‘string skipping’. Quarter note rhythm (down strokes only) and eighth note rhythm (down and up strokes). Introducing musical dynamics (soft and loud playing; slow and fast attack). Developing and mixing rhythm patterns.

5. The Blues Pentatonic scale – comping under a soloist and then soloing over a 12-bar blues progression; simple ensemble playing and taking solo ‘turns’.

6. Major, Minor and Dominant Chords – examining chord qualities, how they sound and how they are used in songs. Numbering chords with Roman numerals. I-IV-V chords and pop ‘standards’. Western music and the turnaround or ‘cadence’.

7. The Major Scale – introducing the major scale ‘box’ diagram, and ‘step’ order (doh-ray-me). Using the major scale to play over chord progressions. Learning to read ‘tablature’ and/or music – student choice. Numbering and naming all the chords of the major scale.

8. Accompaniment – arpeggio playing and/or strumming under a singer or lead player. Full 16, 32 and 48 bar song forms, with AB, AABA and ABC formats.

9. Seguing Melodies & Tunes – looking at how simple melodies (Oh Susanna and Bear Dance) can be ‘run-together’ or played continuously to produce a longer musical performance.

10. Ensemble Performance – putting all the previous week’s work together!

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students should be able to:

  • Hold and strum a number of chord types, appropriate to their level of playing (e.g. 4 chords at Initial Stage to 11 at Grade 1)

  • Keep time to a musical beat in more than one ‘simple’ time signature (4/4 and 3/4)

  • Play a chord progression of at least 12 measures in accompaniment to a melody line

  • Accompany a singer (either themselves or another person) or other instrument.

  • Play at least one melody line.

  • Play / perform in a Ukulele ensemble (appropriate to Initial, Preliminary levels and Grade 1)

  • Name key parts of the instrument and tune it

  • Know something about the history of the instrument

  • Know something about various styles of music played on it (folk, blues, jazz, ragtime, country and classical)

  • Understand the construction of the major scale in terms of ‘fret’ steps (tone – tone – semitone – tone – tone – tone – semitone) and ‘box’ diagrams.

  • Understand the construction of the natural minor scale in terms of ‘fret’ steps and ‘box’ diagrams.

  • Gain a rudimentary knowledge of the rhythmic notation of music (slashes and beams for strumming; and simple combinations of these lengths to create distinct rhythms)

  • Gain a rudimentary knowledge of dynamics and speed changes in music

  • Listen to other musicians and respond to what they are doing (keeping steady time)


Core Readings


  • Graded repertoire and exercise books (Initial Stage, Preliminary Grade 1):

  • Registry of Guitar Tutors (2014) Ukulele Playing Bexhill: Registry Publications (Available with discounted price by ordering through tutor).


  • Lil Rev (2005) Ukulele Method Book 1 Hal Leonard

  • Rob MacKillop (2011) 20 Progressive Fingerstyle Studies for Uke

  • Ukulele magazine (quarterly) – published in US, available in larger WH Smith stores

Web Sources

Class Handouts

Chord charts, lead sheets and exercises will be handed out as appropriate, though a lot of material will come from the grade books.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.