View Full Version : Switching between chords on a soprano

07-12-2013, 01:41 PM
Hi all,

I'm new to all this - and loving it so far. :) But I am having mechanical issues with switching between chords smoothly. I looked around the forum a bit but couldn't find a specific topic on this... sorry if I'm repeating a topic here. I watched Aldrine's video on switching chords more smoothly by going back to an open chord in between, but if I do that, the uke moves around because at the moment, the fingers on my left hand are what's holding the instrument in place. Sometimes my left thumb can do some of that work, but it currently moves around depending on the chord I'm playing.

I don't have a strap on the instrument, and I've seen that having one helps with stability. But is there a way around that? Is there a better way to hold the ukulele so I can steady the neck without using the fingers that are creating a chord? Or do I just need to keep practicing?

07-12-2013, 01:50 PM
Do you keep your thumb behind the neck? If so, try cradling the neck between your thumb and first finger, with your thumb wrapping a little over the top of the fretboard (this also allows you to mute the 4th string if needed).

Oh yeah, and practice helps. It ALWAYS helps!

07-12-2013, 01:58 PM
So far, I have kept my thumb behind the neck - and after posting this topic, I watched a youtube video where the guy held his ukulele the way you suggested. I'd never seen or thought of that before, but I tried it, and it seems to be a position with potential. Thanks!

07-12-2013, 02:26 PM
This is just my opinion, and not necessarily the correct answer... when learning, play sitting down and rest your uke on your lap, and/or get a strap if that works for you.

I have always had a problem playing while standing without a uke strap. Many do so with no problem. My attitude is "why fight it."

07-12-2013, 03:40 PM
This is just my opinion, and not necessarily the correct answer... when learning, play sitting down and rest your uke on your lap, and/or get a strap if that works for you.

I have always had a problem playing while standing without a uke strap. Many do so with no problem. My attitude is "why fight it."
agreed. And it's especially hard when you're struggling with the chord changes. When the changes happen quickly, the problem lessens..

07-12-2013, 04:05 PM
there's no secret...practice, practice, practice!

07-12-2013, 04:12 PM
Ukemunga's on to something here.

I remember your struggle, and the then the struggle to play whilst standing and walking around.

The good news: practice will solve these problems.

The bad news: in my experience, there is no middle ground, ie I can't do something until I can. The reward is that, when I can finally do something, it feels spontaneous and natural.

Keep at it.

07-12-2013, 04:28 PM
Practice definitely helps. It will come. I also am a cheerleader for straps. I started my strap journey with a Uke thong. I really love them. Unfortunately my ukulele is too nice to use it. I am afraid of ruining the sound hole. I have recently started using a strap. Love it. But sitting down is also a great way to feel more secure about holding your ukulele. There is also a Uke leash that people love. Don't worry. No matter what you decide to do, it'll come with some time.

Kayak Jim
07-12-2013, 04:42 PM
Uke leash made all the difference for me.

07-12-2013, 06:49 PM
Thanks all for your suggestions! I definitely am not attempting to play standing yet... at the moment, the idea of playing, singing, and walking around at the same time is rather horrifying. :) Changing my thumb position has been really helpful so far; I'll consider a strap of some sort if I continue to have challenges. It's a fun world I've stumbled into, though! Wish I'd jumped in sooner.

Uncle Rod Higuchi
07-12-2013, 09:32 PM
How about your right arm? Are you holding the uke in the crook of your right arm and lightly pressing the uke to your body?

I ask because i've seen some players who don't seem to be 'cradling' their ukes against their body.

For me, I can release my left hand and support the uke (a soprano) with just the pressure of my right arm, pressing the uke to my body. To me 'support' actually means the right arm and not the chord-forming hand, per se. That said, they do both work together to support the uke while playing, standing or sitting.

Besides that, please feel free to use the Boot Camp link in my signature below. I hope it will help.

keep uke'in',

07-13-2013, 01:32 AM
In a word...Strap. It will change your playing. Oh, and one more word...Practice. Here's some photos of my homemade strap.558025580355804 I used a camera strap, but you can use any strapping and a plastic buckle. Cost...around $3.00 for two straps. Good luck.

phil hague
07-13-2013, 02:47 AM
Use a strap or hook if you need to. I find it helps to have a look which order the chord changes are. If it is C G7 F start with your ring finger making the C, then slide it up one fret and place index and middle to make the G7, then keep hold with the index and move the middle to make the F. This means that you can keep a grip on the pesky little devil. Unfortunately you sometimes have to release with all fingers. Yes I still find it difficult to hold on sopranos without a strap of some sort but planning ahead helps.

07-13-2013, 04:37 AM
Practice...practice...practice. :)

Changing chords smoothly is difficult for everyone at first; you're learning an entirely new set of motor skills. Some people learn faster than others - but all struggle at first and if anyone claims they didn't it just means they've been playing so long they've forgotten what their first week (or year) was like!

Some things that will really help:

1) Think of your fretting hand as a "rubber stamp." When you change chords you don't move one finger at a time, you lift all of your fingers, begin moving all of them together, and then "stamp" them down into the new position at approximately the same time. Now...don't get anal about that...I've been playing guitar, and now ukulele, for a couple of decades and on some chords I will have a finger that lags a little but that's usually okay - in fact you can call it a hammer-on and it actually gives you a more complex sound! But, for the most part, pick up your fingers, make the new shape, stamp your shape onto the fret board. I think this is one of the reasons that Aldrine and many others recommend the "open" strum between chords - it reinforces that idea of getting your fingers off the board, making the shape, getting your fingers back down (and it often sounds fine, too, though not always).

2) Start really, really, REALLY, slow. The temptation is to try to play at speed right away. What you are doing is practicing to play sloppy! You will play the way you practice. Therefore, practice precision and let speed come as it will. Playing poorly fast should not be your goal - yet to watch most beginners practice that is exactly the goal they are aiming for.

3) Edit - almost forgot this one: Practice "smoothness" above all else. Your first goal should not be to play fast, but to play without any rhythmic interruption. If that means that you have to play at 1/4 speed (or less) to not have any hesitation at the chord changes - then play the entire song at 1/4" speed! Again, speed will come and you WILL play the way you practice. If you practice smoothness then you will continue to play smoothly as your speed comes up.

4) Have fun - don't "woodshed" so much that you get frustrated and bored. It is better to play two or three (or five or six) short sessions each day than to sit down and "work" for five or six hours (unless you're having fun - then the five or six hours is fine - it's when you are forcing yourself to put in that time when you really don't want to that you want to avoid).


07-13-2013, 05:37 AM
Maybe it doesn't exactly apply to holding your ukulele, but I always liked to listen to Steve Vai talk about his process with playing his guitar. Anytime you're struggling with anything, sometimes you just have to close your eyes and imagine yourself doing it, and eventually, you'll do it. Just tell yourself, I CAN do THAT! Good luck in all your endeavors and have fun!

"A lot of times, I just sit and imagine, I visualize myself playing things that are unorthodox, maybe impossible and unique. Why would I visualize myself doing something that someone else does? And then what happens is that they just start to become your reality and maybe not exactly as you envisioned them, but pretty close and it is up to you to cultivate those ideas and sort of incorporate them into your fingers and your music. But most importantly, the caveat I impose on myself is that whatever it is that I do, has to sound like music, whether it is noise or a dynamic idea all of these mental parameters you put up become your reality." - Steve Vai

07-13-2013, 10:32 AM
Thanks for all your thoughts! I really appreciate it. I love the comment about not trying to play for five or six hours... as a teacher and a new mom, that probably won't happen even if I want to. ;) Working in shorter stints has been helpful to not get too frustrated, and I can already tell that doing a little at a time is going a long way. As a flute player for many years, I understand the value of regular practice - but this is a whole new ballgame for me!

I decided to learn the uke in part because at the school where I teach, all students and staff pick an independent project of some sort to explore. Having wanted to learn the guitar of some sort for a long time, I recently decided the ukulele would be a fun experiment - so that's my project for the coming semester. I know already that I'll be sharing lots about what I learn with my students, and modeling that learning process is as valuable to share as where I end up by my presentation in December.

07-13-2013, 11:12 AM
You might, just for fun, try playing while reclining in an easy chair, or lying down. That way, gravity is less of an issue. Other than that, straps are great, or get used to clamping firmly on your uke using your strumming elbow.


ukuLily Mars
07-18-2013, 02:48 PM
I would like to repeat Oldephart's suggestion of playing SLOWLY. Give yourself time to play one chord and then the next without changing tempo... which might feel ridiculously slow. Use Uncle Rod's Boot Camp for this, but you should also do it with songs that are giving you trouble, or even just one or two chord transitions that are hard for you. I used to do this silently while watching TV with my husband. But again, keep it SLOW! It will work, and you will find it gives you the ability to master more challenging chord changes as you progress. Practice is a skill in itself.

Now, this will get very boring, so don't keep it up until you are sick of it. Do it for a while, then play something you can play up to tempo and have some fun! You will improve. We've all been there!

07-19-2013, 03:15 AM
...I can't do something until I can. The reward is that, when I can finally do something, it feels spontaneous and natural.

Keep at it.

That's pretty much how I find it...oftentimes I'll be working on something over a practice session or three (or ten) and not be getting it, maybe I'll put that thing aside and work on something else...then next time I pick up the Uke the thing that was eluding me is just there.

I was going to suggest Uncle Rod's boot camp exercises for practising transitions but I see he has already visited :) I have found them helpful.