Learning to Play the Ukulele

An ukulele teacher standing in front of a wall of ukuleles
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Learning to Play the Ukulele

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro said, “If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place.” I’ve decided it’s time for me to help out.

When the world thinks about Hawaiian music, they think ukulele. This little instrument is as pervasive as the surfboard and the hibiscus when it comes to icons of the Hawaiian Islands. Its appeal is immense, and I was drawn to it as soon as I hit the island. But having absolutely ZERO music ability, I was happy to just watch and listen as others played. Then a few months ago, I went to a yard sale and found one. I couldn’t resist and bought it. That’s what happens. If you pick one up, you will want it.

Usually a new ukulele will come with a tuner and a book. If you’ve played any instrument before, these will probably help you get started. But they were Greek to me. I knew I needed help, so I signed up for lessons. Luckily, there are many options on this island, and I’ve been at it for six weeks now. It has been more fun than I ever expected! I love it! My lesson day is the best day of the week to me. I have to practice every day. But the rewards are challenging and immediate. I swear, I think my brain is growing.

For the uninitiated, there are three sizes of ukulele: tenor, concert (the one I got) and soprano. The size for you is a personal decision. It needs to feel right in your hands. There are also a lot of ‘toy’ type ukuleles for sale, which are not tunable and should be avoided if you plan to play it rather than display it. These are the ones you might see for sale at ABC stores. A student grade instrument can be purchased for around $100 +, and I just saw one in Costco for that price. I paid about $350 for mine because I wanted solid Koa wood construction. This is essential if it is to maintain its value for possible resale.

Oahu has over a dozen retail ukulele stores. There are a few at the Swap Meet, all of which are reputable outlets. The ones in Waikiki have slightly higher prices, and I can verify that. There are two Waikiki stores that offer a daily free lesson.I attended one recently. It was fun, and I suggest you go early and try to sit in the front row. The instructor has you playing four songs by the end of it. I take lessons from Roy Sakuma Studio, Hawaii’s most famous instructor. It is not advertised, but you can take a visitor lesson from them for a reasonable price. Just call them about it and get prepared to make the world a better place.