Ukulele is not a hard instrument to learn. You know that a child is ready to learn ukulele based on his/her curiosity of the instrument. In my own experience teaching the musical instrument, a four or five-year-old child should be ready to learn to play the ukulele.
So how to teach a child to play the ukulele? The most important aspect of teaching a child to play ukulele is getting them interested in playing it. Once the child is interested in actually playing it, get a uke that is suitable for children. Then start teaching them basic chords, strumming patterns, keeping in mind some songs to learn, such as nursery rhymes.
1. First, make sure the child has a ukulele
To get started the child needs a ukulele. Bring the child to any music store and have him look around and see if there’s any spark of interest with the different musical instrument. Who knows he or she might pick up a different instrument to learn instead of a ukulele while roaming inside the music store.
You could also let the child watch a few youtube videos of any young ukulele players. Ask the child if he or she has a favorite color or specific design that he/she likes.
Make sure you do not buy an expensive ukulele for a beginner child. But do not get ukulele from the toy store either. A toy is not an instrument. You can also make that clear to your child so he or she would treat the instrument different than the toys.
There’s a lot of ukulele for beginner level that is reasonably priced, from $25–$50. Check amazon.com for different pricing and models.
2. Lesson #1, have fun
Hand in the ukulele to the child and let him do whatever he/she wanted to do without breaking it. Once you see that a child is touching, tapping, plucking or anything to do with ukulele, he or she is ready to learn.
Perhaps the desire towards ukulele has started. As long as the child does not bang or throw the ukulele like its a bouncing ball, let him or her have the curiosity with the instrument.
Now that the child shows interest with the ukulele, let him or her continue exploring the instrument. Always remind the child that ukulele is an enjoyable instrument to play that creates a unique sound and a timeless instrument. With this in mind, you would be on the right track, there are many benefits your child will get from learning an instrument.
While a child curiously plucking or strumming the string, turning those tuning keys or lightly tapping the soundboard, you can explain to him/her the parts and functions of the ukulele.
Perhaps show the child how to hold the ukulele properly. Keep watching, so that you can remind the child about the importance of properly holding the instrument without developing any bad habit. Then slowly tell him or her the names of each string in open position while plucking it.
Here’s a video that shows how much it matters that the child is enjoying the uke and just having a blast:
3. Teach them their first chord: C Major
Before the child learns any chord, allow him or her to keep strumming gently as the open strings is a chord itself, a C6 or Am. Let your child enjoy the whole process of learning the instrument. After several times of strumming the open chord, the child is ready to learn the C major chord, very simple and easy to play.
To play C major, have your child place the middle or ring finger on the third fret of the first string. Use all downstroke strumming. If the child discovers the upstroke strumming pattern, let him or her continue, as that is the natural process. Do not worry if the child does not repeat the same strumming pattern.
Now the child is ready to learn his or her favorite song or a nursery rhyme.
4. Their first song: Are You Sleeping? (Frere Jacques)
A great way to get your child started playing songs on the ukulele is simply to teach them how to play a nursery rhyme. There are hundreds you can choose from, and most likely your child will be familiar with quite a few of them.
The majority of these nursery rhymes are played with either two or three chords. However, “Are You Sleeping?” is a song that will sound fine just with C Major. Later on after you introduce the next chord, which we’ll cover shortly, your child can add it to this song and others.
5. Learning their second chord: G major
The most common songs in almost any genre are almost sure to include G major. This chord, after C major, are the most popular chords. So this is a great starting point for your child.
To play G major, have your child:
- place the middle finger on the second fret of the first string.
- Place the index finger on the second fret of the third string
- Place the ring finger on the third fret of the second string
With these fingers in place and a nice gentle strum, you will hear one of the most popular chords ever. As I mentioned earlier the majority of nursery rhymes are played with 2-3 chords. C major and G major are the ones your child should learn for sure.
Next, let’s take a look at a song that your kid can play with these two chords we’ve gone over.
6. Teach them a 2 chord ukulele song
So the next song we recommend you teach your child is “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
This is another easily recognizable nursery rhyme that your little one most likely enjoys already.
For the most part, the song is mostly playing the C major chord. You can switch to G major when you sing the word “life” in “life is but a dream”, then switching back to C major to end the song.
7. Their third beginner chord: F Major
Now the last chord you want to teach your child at this stage is F major. Together with C and G, these three make the top most popular chords for the vast majority of songs.
After learning these three chords and getting really comfortable playing and switching between them, learning easy songs becomes a breeze. In fact, the next song is super popular right now and I’m sure you will get a kick out of it yourself!
To play F major, have your child:
- place the index finger on the first fret of the second string
- Place the middle finger on the fourth fret of the fourth string
8. A 3-chord song your kid will love
By now you child would have gotten down the basics of playing a couple of easy songs. This one will kick it up a notch. Are you ready for the song? It’s “Baby Shark.”
It seems like every parent I talk to knows the song like the back of their hands.
The order of the chords for this song is C-F-C-G. If you repeat these chords throughout the song, you would be playing it the right way. Here’s the chord chart showing when to play the chords:
Well at this point it might be a good idea to add teach them new songs they already enjoy listening to. Take a note of the next 5 songs you would like to teach and double check that it has these chords in it. If not, no biggie, learning new chords after these will be a new challenge that will help your kid learn and develop.
And it’s a wrap, folks!
If you had the patience to follow these steps with your little darling, we want to be the first to congratulate you! Good job!
A few new songs, a few new chords, and perhaps a couple of different strumming patterns to make things interesting and your child will be on the way to performing at American Idol.
Until next time!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.