Everything You Need to Know About Ukulele Scales

Scales are a crucial part of learning and understanding how to play any instrument. Ukulele is no different! Conquering ukulele scales will make you a more proficient player.

To learn ukulele scales, however, you must first know what they are and the role they play musically.

So, what are scales? Essentially, scales are a collection of pitches that are played consecutively, either in ascending or descending order. Typically, scales consist of eight notes. This is due to the principle of octave equivalence, an important foundational rule of music.

In each scale, the beginning note and the end note are the same. So, for example, when playing the C major scale, it starts with the C note and ends with the C note. It looks like this:
C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

You’ll notice the last C note of the scale is exactly one octave higher than the first C note of the scale.
For more information about why scales are constructed this way, we recommend giving this Wikipedia article a read.

Once you have a firm grasp on the concept that all scales consist of eight notes and start and end with the same note, you will already have great foundational knowledge to build upon!

Now, let’s apply this knowledge to the ukulele!

UNDERSTAND YOUR STEPS

On a Ukulele, each fret represents a half step. To move a whole step, you must move your fingers up or down by two frets. It is important for beginners to learn these intervals, because every scale consists of whole steps or half steps.

If you picture a scale on a piano, the half steps are the two keys that do not have one of the upper black keys between them. This pattern repeats the entire length of the piano, every 8 keys, due to the principle of octave equivalence.

The easiest scale to learn is the C major scale, because it does not contain any sharps or flats (the black keys on a piano).

As you can see by the piano visual below, the C major scale is played entirely on the white keys. Along the scale, there are two half steps (where two white keys appear without the black key between them).

To duplicate this pattern on your ukulele, you will have to match these whole steps and half steps.

STUDY YOUR STRINGS AND NOTES

One of the most important things about learning how to play ukulele scales is knowing your notes and how to play these notes using your strings.

To begin, you will want to learn how to play the above C major scale on a single ukulele string. This is the simplest way to recreate the way the scale appears on a piano.

As you can see below, you would start the scale by playing an open C string (the second string from the top of your ukulele). You would then work your way up from there until your scale (consisting of eight notes) ends on the next C note.
Ukulele expert Jim D’Ville demonstrates what this one-string C major scale should look like in the below music video.

He also demonstrates how to play the scale on multiple strings, so your hand can remain more comfortable in just one area on the neck of the ukulele.

The more you familiarize yourself with where each of your notes is, the more seamlessly you will be able to play your ukulele scales.

APPLY YOUR NEW KNOWLEDGE TO OTHER SCALES

Now that you understand how ukulele scales are played, you can apply this understanding to learn any scale.
To summarize:

All ukulele scales are made by playing eight consecutive notes, starting and ending with the note that the name of the scale begins with. For example: To play the C scale, you start and end by playing a C note.

So, to play the G major scale, what would you do?

That’s right. Start by playing a G note, and moving your way up the octave to the next G note.
Since you already know from playing the C major scale that all major scales have the same step (or interval) pattern, you know that the G major scale will also follow this pattern:

WHOLE, WHOLE, HALF, WHOLE, WHOLE, WHOLE, HALF

This is the same way the scale would appear on a piano!

So, starting at your G note, and moving up eight notes following the above pattern, you should be able to play the G scale (or ANY scale!) as shown in the video below:

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

You’ve heard it a million times, and you’ll likely hear it a million more: practice makes perfect. Ukulele scales soon become second nature the more you play them.

Before you know it, you will be grateful that you mastered these valuable basics.

Why, you ask?

Because scales allow you to tune your ukulele by yourself, making sure each note is in key when you play the appropriate fret in the standard scale pattern.

Ukulele scales also help develop your muscle memory and dexterity, conditioning your body to play the correct notes seemingly without thought. This is how all great ukulele players seem to strum away without a care in the world!

Remember, don’t just play the scales you become most familiar with. Branch out and challenge yourself to play scales that are more difficult and less common. The more scales you play and understand, the more you will recognize the key of music when you hear it, and the more successful you will be at learning to play music by ear.

 

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