How to Finger Pick a Ukulele

by Cecil Fontaine
Finger picking gives you increased dexterity on your ukulele.

Finger picking gives you increased dexterity on your ukulele.

Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images

The ukulele is a small, four-stringed instrument that was developed in Hawaii during the late 1800s. It is most commonly used to play chords, which are made by strumming all the strings together with the thumb or a pick. You can play melodies and solos by picking individual strings. To do this you need to know the finger picking technique.

Step 1

Place the fingers of your right hand on the strings of the ukulele, over the sound hole. The thumb should be on the low G string, the index finger on the D string and the middle finger on the A string. Your ring and pinkie fingers should rest along the edge of the sound hole, without making any contact with the strings. This is the most common position for your hand when finger picking -- be aware, however, that the middle finger is also used to pick the high E string.

Step 2

Pick each string with its corresponding finger until you get accustomed to picking the strings in sequence, in ascending and descending order. Then practice alternating between open strings (G, A, D, E and then D, E, G, A) -- this will help you to jump between strings, without having to think about which finger picks which string. You will also get used to alternating the middle finger between the D and E strings.

Step 3

Practice finger picking scales and arpeggios -- this will help you to get used to picking different notes all over the fret board and across all of the strings of the ukulele. Play each scale and arpeggio in ascending and descending order. Start playing slowly and then gradually increase the tempo. As you begin playing faster, pay special attention to your picking hand as you transition from one string to another -- achieving fluid transitions between strings is important to successful finger picking technique.

Step 4

Learn the melodies to easy ukulele songs (some famous, simple songs for the ukulele include "Aloha 'Oe" and "Ukulele Lady"). Memorize the song and then play along with a recording until you feel comfortable with finger picking the notes in the correct rhythm and across different strings.

Step 5

Listen to recordings of ukulele masters Some of the best known players include Ernest Kaai, Lyle Ritz, Jake Shimabukuro and John King. All of these musicians use finger picking and listening to their recordings can help you to hear the possibilities of mastering this technique.

Tips & Warnings

  • When practicing scales and arpeggios, work your way around the circle of fifths, as this will take you through all of the major and minor keys, familiarizing you with the entire fret board.
  • Purchase a ukulele songbook, which will give you a wide range of new songs to learn. When choosing new tunes, try to focus on ones that you can find recordings of, to listen to the player and emulate the way that they are finger picking the melodies.

About the Author

Based in Colorado, Cecil Fontaine has been writing and editing since 2009, specializing in Brazilian travel guides. He received his Bachelor of Arts in political economy from the University of California, Berkeley in 2008.

Photo Credits

  • Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images