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Holding the Ukulele Correctly: The Ultimate Guide
If you want to hold the ukulele correctly, you shouldn't take some of what you read, hear and see on the internet too seriously. Even professional players have a “wrong” attitude from a beginner's point of view: This may be exactly the right attitude for them, but it can become an insurmountable hurdle for a beginner. In this post you will learn how to hold the ukulele correctly and what you need to consider so that you can play without pain and with a lot of joy.
Why is it so difficult to hold the ukulele correctly?
It's actually easy to hold the ukulele correctly. The problem is rather that some players either take the wrong role model on the guitar, do not worry about the posture or at some point become a little comfortable and give up their once correct posture.
The latter in particular means that innumerable YouTube videos contain examples of how not to hold the ukulele. This is not a reproach to the protagonists, because if the attitude works for them, they are doing everything right. It is only difficult for beginners to distinguish right from wrong and so you quickly get used to techniques of other players, which can limit your own game or even lead to pain.
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There is no one way to hold the ukulele
First and foremost, however, I have to make it clear that there isn't one golden way to hold the ukulele. So when the term “right” or “wrong” is used here, it is primarily meant with regard to a beginner of average stature.
Your optimal posture can differ in nuances or even significantly. However, I keep hearing sentences like “I can't do that with my hand, it's probably different”, which fall reflexively because the posture doesn't work right away. I have to say that at least people are actually as individual as they think they are. Most of the time, the player just wants to make it easy for himself and cannot yet know how difficult he is actually making it by adopting a wrong attitude.
For 99% of the players, the posture shown here works fine. If you have reasonable doubts about belonging, feel free to try another path. There is (yet) no police station. But I recommend that you at least give this path a chance, because it has been tried and tested and works perfectly for most ukulele players, as it promotes their freedom of movement and does not put too much strain on the body.
The posture on the body
In most cases, the ukulele is held diagonally and not horizontally. It is generally flat with the back (floor) against the body and is held more at chest level than at belt level.
For right-handers, the neck of the ukulele is taken in the left hand, while the right arm holds the body of the ukulele. For left-handers, it's the other way around when using a left-handed ukulele. You can also play a normal ukulele just like a right-hander, since both hands have to learn different movement patterns.
The ukulele is held at chest level, but usually not directly in front of the chest, but a little below. The lower frame of the body (where a strap button can also be attached) presses against the biceps.
From there the neck runs diagonally to the shoulder. The head plate can even be above the shoulder joint, so to speak at neck level. That's perfectly okay. You have to find the right angle for yourself. If we imagine a clock face, a good posture would be around 10 o'clock from the gamer's point of view.
One pose that is really not recommended for beginners is that of the guitar. This is namely often held at belt height and also horizontal. This is extremely uncomfortable with such a small instrument (and even with a guitar, by the way). But here, too, there are players like Taimane Gardner who have also mastered this to perfection. Beginners are better off literally keeping their hands off this.
The ukulele can be angled very strongly, but a vertical position is not recommended here either. Just like bending the neck of the ukulele towards your feet. Not only does that look silly, it makes playing unnecessarily difficult.
How the ukulele holds its position
A very, very, very common mistake that almost every beginner makes is actually holding the ukulele. So the question: How will you Weight held, especially when I'm not using a belt?
A lot of newcomers hold the weight of the ukulele on the one hand with their right arm on the body and on the other hand with their left hand on the fingerboard. This is wrong. And I have to say that so clearly, because it is one of the main reasons why beginners in particular find it so difficult to finger chords properly.
The left hand is allowed No way hold the weight of the ukulele. In no form. The right arm is solely responsible for this. That might sound impossible at first because the right arm doesn't have the strength yet. But there is still no way around it.
By the way, you can test this very easily: If you hold your ukulele correctly and suddenly take your left hand away, does the neck stay exactly in its position, does it keep its angle? If so, are you holding the ukulele correctly.
It is important that you press the ukulele against your body with your right forearm. This can and should cause the ukulele's neck to flex away from your body. This is normal and even helps you in two ways: On the one hand, it presses the fingerboard against your fingers and thus automatically creates counter-pressure for your fingers, which then need less force when gripping the chords. On the other hand, it creates a cavity between your body and the bottom of the ukulele. This ensures that a significantly fuller sound is created because the floor can vibrate.
Why don't we look at the fingerboard
It is perfectly understandable that beginners like to tilt their ukulele so that they can better see the fretboard. Because, after all, this is still completely unknown territory and how else should you grasp the chords?
But that leads to a wrong attitude and is something that has to be trained off again in the course of the learning process. It's legitimate to do this at the beginning, but tilt the ukulele as little as possible and get used to this technique as soon as possible.
You don't need to look at the fingerboard at all. You will find that by looking at the top edge of the ukulele you can tell where the fingers are in relation. In addition, your fingers will soon feel whether they are in the right fret and, above all, near the fret. This takes some practice, but it also takes it if you want to get used to it later.
You can't avoid this step anyway, so you can start getting used to it after just a few days of getting used to it. Trust me, it's so much easier than you are currently imagining.
The posture of the right arm
Let's take a closer look at the right arm. He accesses the strings from the right via the body of the ukulele.
The forearm comes either over the lower frame of the ukulele (where the strap button is usually attached) and runs parallel to the strings. Or it comes from above at an angle.
That depends largely on what is more comfortable for you. First of all, to get the correct right hand position, which we are now talking about.
The right hand posture
When it comes to the ukulele, you really shouldn't look too much at the guitarist, because the ukulele is not struck above the sound hole. This is a common mistake that also occurs with many YouTubers and which unfortunately spreads as a result.
The ukulele doesn't sound very good when you blow it over the sound hole. Your fingers should strike the strings where the neck meets the body. This interface is practically the sweet spot for playing chords.
Of course, it is not a problem if you deviate a few millimeters or a few centimeters from it. But the closer you get to the sound hole or headstock, the less favorable your ukulele will sound.
Yes, even professionals sometimes flock to other positions, but you will find that they use this very consciously as a stylistic device. Since we are not that far, however, the rule of thumb applies: We are streaming at the transition between the neck and the body.
Your right arm must then reach over the body in such a way that it can comfortably reach this point. Incidentally, this should also play a role when buying the ukulele, because not every ukulele size is equally comfortable for everyone to play in this way.
With fingerpicking, however, it is a little different: This usually takes place above the sound hole or between the sound hole and the neck-body transition.
The posture of the left arm
The left arm should be as relaxed as possible because it needs to have enough strength to grip the chords. It doesn't actually take a lot of power, but if you make mistakes with your posture, it can be an almost impossible endeavor.
The left arm should not be pressed against the body, but neither should it move far away from it. A few inches of space between your body and arm is a good measure.
A requirement that you will break every now and then depending on the chord and playing situation. However, it is a good rule of thumb and the most relaxed choice for most situations.
How high your hand has to reach depends, of course, on how far you have angled your ukulele. As I said, there is a certain amount of discretion here. A larger angle may be higher for the left hand to reach, but it may be easier for the right hand to flow.
The posture of the left hand
With the left hand, you should pay particular attention to the correct posture. This is where the greatest sources of error appear and this can have a very serious impact on whether you can grasp chords properly and change them quickly enough.
First, take a pencil and try to hold it horizontally in front of you with your left hand so that there is room for your thumb on the back and your four fingers on the front. This is basically how you hold the ukulele's fingerboard.
In principle, you can imagine that your left hand is gripping the fingerboard like a pair of pliers or a clamp. It's like taking a particularly large clothespin and attaching it to the fingerboard from below. The fingerboard is compressed by the thumb on one side and the four fingers on the other string. This creates the pressure on the strings.
The posture of the left hand: the thumb
The thumb belongs to the back of the fingerboard. In its basic position, it should run roughly parallel to the frets, i.e. largely perpendicular to the fingerboard.
You can and must deviate from this depending on the chord, which causes the thumb to turn a little to the left or right. As soon as the thumb is tilted so much that it points directly to the headstock or the body of the ukulele, something usually goes wrong. Only with barre chords may it be necessary to turn the thumb that far towards the headstock - but that comes much later.
The thumb should never be on top of the edge of the fingerboard, even if it can be seen from the perspective of a viewer looking at you from the front. In other words: depending on the chord, it can protrude a few millimeters, but it should never be on the edge. However, it is worthwhile to constantly correct yourself here and keep bringing your thumb to the center of the back of the neck. By the way: Only the foremost link of your thumb should touch your neck.
Reaching over the fingerboard with the thumb is also an absolute no-go. You see that often with guitar players, for whom it is just as wrong, by the way. You only get more comfortable over time, and the more adept you are with an instrument, the less you mind a supposedly wrong posture. Beginners should avoid this at all costs, as it restricts the freedom of movement of the hand enormously.
Always make sure that your left hand never holds the weight of the ukulele. That's why the ukulele shouldn't be in the palm of your hand. The whole ukulele including the neck is held exclusively by your right arm.
The posture of the left hand: the fingers
The fingers should always be curved, making your arch so that the strings that you don't want to be touched can flow through. The strings are pressed down with the fingertips (just in front of the fingernail). The top phalanx should be as vertical as possible on the fingerboard or string.
(As in the picture above; the inactive fingers should however float closer to the strings. I've taken them out of the way here so that you can see the active fingers better.)
Be careful not to press down on the strings with your flat finger, or you will touch strings that you don't want to touch. Even the lightest touch of another string will cause it to become mute. Imagine the strings that you don't want to touch glow like a hot iron. Then you will automatically find the right position.
Another typical mistake is spreading the fingers that are not currently gripping a chord. You like to do that because you think you have more power when you push the string down. However, this hinders your game. The fingers that are not pressing down a string should only hover a few millimeters above the strings. Ideally already in the formation that is needed for the next chord. But you will learn that all by yourself over time.
The role of your shoulders
The shoulders have become an Achilles' heel for most people today. Due to an increasingly bent posture at the desk and smartphone, we put a lot on our shoulders. The ukulele is not very useful if you make mistakes in posture.
It is therefore important to relax your shoulders, even if the right forearm and left hand have to use a certain amount of force.
Make sure that your shoulders are always down instead of your ears. A relaxed posture will also make it much easier for you to perform complex movements.
Posture is also crucial
When holding the ukulele, however, you should not only look at the ukulele, but also at your own body. Because even if you hold the ukulele correctly, your body can be in an unfavorable position.
Therefore, not only make sure that your shoulders are down, but also that your back is straight. As at the desk, we tend to arch our backs when playing the ukulele. Especially when playing while sitting.
Here it helps to get up from time to time. And above all, correcting your back again and again so that it is straight. A good chair back can work wonders here. That is why a high-quality desk chair is usually better suited for playing than a supposedly comfortable sofa or armchair.
The neck should also be as straight as possible, otherwise this can lead to cervical vertebra problems. Which are already significantly affected by sitting at the computer and looking at the smartphone. Make sure to keep pulling your chin in, as if to do a double chin. This will straighten your head again and relieve the cervical vertebrae. You should also avoid looking at the fingerboard too often if you already have problems here.
For me it actually went so far that my right hand became partially numb as soon as my back was no longer straight. Reproducible. This is because the nerve tracts that go into the hand start with the cervical vertebrae and then reach the hand via the shoulder and arm. If you have hand problems, you should look for the problems especially in the shoulders and back, the hand itself is usually perfectly fine.
With or without a belt?
I can only keep emphasizing how useful it is to buy a strap for your ukulele. It is extremely helpful in holding the ukulele correctly and in preventing pain. Because it is quite exhausting to hold even a supposedly light instrument like the ukulele. The right arm has to build up unfamiliar pressure so that the ukulele maintains its position without the left hand having to help.
A strap can help you hold the weight of the ukulele. Or even take over this task completely so that you can move your right arm freely. However, that depends on your belt.
There are straps like the Fender Ukulele Strap, which is simply placed around the neck and clipped into the sound hole from below. The advantage is that it is never in the way and that you do not need any strap buttons on your ukulele. However, you will still need to apply light pressure with your right arm to keep the neck in place. You also cannot let the ukulele float freely, otherwise it will roll off the belt and possibly crash onto the floor. But it still helps a lot with the posture.
Another variant is the so-called uke leash (see picture above). This offers a variety of ways to hold the ukulele. However, I've found that not all of these are enjoyable. Some cut me so that my arm became numb in places. But there is one variant for which the strap is really ideal: You don't tie the large loop around your arm, but around the body of the ukulele. The small loop around the headstock as usual. So you can just hang the ukulele around your neck.
Unfortunately, the best variant is the more complicated one. Because for this your ukulele needs at least one strap button. This is usually attached to the lower frame of the ukulele (this can also be done afterwards with every ukulele). The strap is then attached to it and, with a small leather cord, also to the headstock of the ukulele, such as the Ortega OUS-SUN ukulele strap. This is great for holding the ukulele. So it can float freely without falling off.
There is also the option of attaching another strap button to the neck - at the point where the neck merges with the body and becomes wider. However, on the side that points to your feet. There it is attached to guitars. This means that you don't have to attach the strap to the headstock, it mainly holds the body. The Minotaur Ukulele Strap Oahu, for example, is suitable for this.
Every ukulele player should now own a strap. Today it has not been frowned upon for a long time (like it used to be), because all well-known ukulele players such as Jake Shimabukuro, Taimane Gardner, Aldrine Guerrero and many more play the ukulele with a strap. Apart from that, this is about your health and it shouldn't matter what others think is cool or less cool anyway. Jake had to stop playing without a seat belt at some point due to shoulder problems. The long-term burden of even such a small ukulele should not be taken lightly. Literally.
Common problems with holding the ukulele
If you're still having trouble holding your ukulele properly, the following problem descriptions and solutions may help you:
- Too little strength in the left fingers. Those who cannot press the strings down with their fingers without using all of their available force often have a problem with their posture. It can also be due to a ukulele that is too cheap and bad strings or it can have pathological reasons. Quite often it is because the left hand has to keep up with the ukulele or is simply being held incorrectly on the fretboard.
- Left hand pain. If you experience pain in your left hand, you should make sure that the shoulders are down and that the wrist is not bent too much while playing. It should also be checked that the left hand position is correct and that it definitely does not have to keep up with the weight of the ukulele. The pressure on the strings should come from the fingers on the one hand and from the fact that the right arm presses the ukulele against the body, which causes the neck of the ukulele to move away from the body. The thumb, on the other hand, should only exert as much force as is necessary, otherwise the ball of the thumb will eventually become slack.
- Pain in the right arm or shoulder. Pain in the right side of the body is often either related to posture or the fact that it is too strenuous to hold the ukulele in position with your right arm alone. The main thing here is to constantly correct your posture (shoulders down, back straight, head and neck straight) or to buy a belt so that it holds the weight of the ukulele or at least provides some relief.
- The right arm cannot hold the ukulele in place. If your right arm is not strong enough to hold the ukulele in place without your left hand helping, then you cannot avoid a strap. It is the most sensible accessory that you can buy for your ukulele and often only costs a few euros. Even the cheapest belt is often better than none at all.
Even more articles for beginners
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