7 Essential Tips for Playing Ukulele in Folk Music
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Strumming patterns in folk music
  2. How to tune your ukulele for folk music
  3. Common chords in folk music
  4. How to use fingerpicking in folk music
  5. Using the ukulele capo in folk music
  6. How to play folk music solos on ukulele
  7. Folk songs to try on your ukulele

Exploring the world of folk music through the vibrant strings of a ukulele can be a fascinating journey. Whether you're new to the ukulele or a seasoned strummer, learning how to play ukulele for folk music can open a new realm of musical expression. This guide will share seven tips to enhance your ukulele skills specifically for folk music, from mastering strumming patterns to tuning your instrument for that perfect folk sound.

Strumming Patterns in Folk Music

How to play ukulele for folk largely depends on your strumming patterns, which give each song its unique rhythm and feel. One of the first things you should get comfortable with is alternating between down and up strums—a basic yet versatile pattern used in many folk tunes.

For example, one common pattern in folk music is Down-Down-Up-Up-Down-Up. This pattern is especially useful in songs with a 4/4 time signature, which is the most common time signature in folk music.

  • Down-Down-Up-Up-Down-Up: To play this, you simply strum down twice, then up twice, down once, and up once again. It may take some practice to get the rhythm right, but once you do, you'll find this pattern incredibly handy.

Another pattern that is often found in folk music is the Down-Down-Up-Down-Up pattern. This one is a bit more tricky as it involves a skipped beat, but it gives a great swing feel to folk tunes.

  • Down-Down-Up-Down-Up: For this one, you strum down twice, then up once, skip a beat, then down and up again. Remember, the key is to keep your hand moving up and down—even during the skipped beat—to maintain the rhythm.

Practising these patterns will help you play a wide range of folk songs. So, grab your ukulele and let's get strumming!

How to Tune Your Ukulele for Folk Music

Now that you've got the strumming patterns down, let's move onto tuning. The standard tuning for a ukulele is G-C-E-A, which is great for a wide range of music genres. But if you want to learn how to play ukulele for folk, you might want to experiment with alternate tunings.

Many folk musicians prefer the D-G-B-D tuning, also known as "open G" tuning. In this setup, strumming the strings without pressing any frets gives you a G major chord—a common chord in many folk songs. Here's how to do it:

  1. First string (G): You don't need to change this one—it's already in G.
  2. Second string (C): Tighten the string until it reaches D.
  3. Third string (E): Loosen the string until it reaches B.
  4. Fourth string (A): Loosen the string until it reaches G.

Remember, be gentle with the strings. Turning the tuning pegs too fast or too hard can result in broken strings. And we wouldn't want that, would we?

Another popular tuning for folk music is the D-A-F#-B tuning, also known as "D tuning." This tuning raises the pitch of each string by a whole step and is often used to brighten the sound of the ukulele, making it particularly well-suited to upbeat, lively folk tunes.

Experimenting with different tunings can be a fun way to explore the diverse world of folk music. So why not give it a try?

Common Chords in Folk Music

Now that your ukulele is in tune, let's get to the chords. Folk music is known for its simplicity and beauty, often utilizing a handful of common chords. So, if you're wondering how to play ukulele for folk music, mastering these chords will be a great start.

The most common chords you'll find in folk music are: C, G, D, A, E, F, and B. While these may seem like a lot, remember that practice makes perfect. Let's break down a few of these chords:

  1. C Major (C): This is perhaps the easiest chord to play on the ukulele. Simply place your ring finger on the third fret of the first string, and strum.
  2. G Major (G): This chord requires three fingers. Place your index finger on the second fret of the third string, your middle finger on the second fret of the first string, and your ring finger on the third fret of the second string.
  3. D Major (D): This chord also requires three fingers. Place your index, middle, and ring fingers on the second fret of the fourth, third, and second strings respectively.

While learning these chords, don't rush. Take your time to make sure your fingers are in the right spots and that each string rings clearly. Remember, it's not a race—it's a journey. And the journey of learning how to play ukulele for folk music is a rewarding one indeed.

Once you're comfortable with these chords, start combining them, experiment, and see what melodies you can create. After all, the beauty of folk music lies in its ability to tell stories through simple yet captivating melodies.

How to Use Fingerpicking in Folk Music

Now that we've covered strumming and chords, let's explore the world of fingerpicking. This technique is another essential aspect of playing the ukulele for folk music. So, how does it work?

Fingerpicking involves plucking the strings of your ukulele individually, rather than strumming them all at once. This technique allows you to create more intricate and delicate sounds, perfect for the intimate and heartfelt style of folk music.

To get started with fingerpicking, remember this golden rule: your thumb plays the top two strings (G and C), while your index and middle fingers play the bottom two strings (E and A). Here's a simple fingerpicking pattern to try:

  1. Pluck the G string (the one closest to you) with your thumb.
  2. Next, pluck the E string with your index finger.
  3. Then, pluck the C string with your thumb.
  4. Finally, pluck the A string with your middle finger.

Repeat this pattern while switching between the chords you've learned. Before you know it, you'll be creating beautiful folk melodies on your ukulele.

Remember, fingerpicking, like any new skill, takes time to master. Don't get discouraged if it feels tricky at first. With a little patience, you'll soon be wondering how you ever played without it.

So, are you ready to add some fingerpicking magic to your ukulele folk music repertoire? You've got this!

Using the Ukulele Capo in Folk Music

Now, let's turn our attention to a handy little gadget: the capo. If you're wondering how to play ukulele for folk music with more ease and versatility, getting to grips with a capo is a smart move.

So, what is a capo? It's a device that you can clamp onto the fretboard of your ukulele. When positioned correctly, a capo effectively shortens the length of the strings, allowing you to play in different keys without having to learn new chord shapes.

Using a capo can be particularly beneficial when playing folk music on your ukulele. Why? Folk music often features open, ringing chords, and a capo can help you achieve this sound without having to stretch your fingers into complicated shapes. Here's how to use it:

  1. Choose the fret you want to place the capo on. The higher up the fretboard you place it, the higher the pitch of the chords will be.
  2. Position the capo just behind the fret, not on top of it. Make sure it's straight and that all the strings are firmly held down.
  3. Now, play your chords as usual. Remember, the capo acts as a new 'zero fret', so your chord shapes will be relative to the capo, not the nut of the ukulele.

Voila! You've just expanded your folk ukulele skills and made playing in different keys a breeze. Remember, the best way to master using a capo is to simply start experimenting with it. Happy strumming!

How to Play Folk Music Solos on Ukulele

Ready to take your ukulele playing to the next level? Let's dig into playing solos. Playing a solo is like having a conversation — but instead of words, you're using notes and rhythms. It's your chance to express yourself and add a personal touch to the music.

When learning how to play ukulele for folk music, solos are a great way to showcase your skills. Here are some tips:

  1. Scales, scales, scales. Understanding scales is key to playing solos. Start with the major and minor scales and practice them until you know them inside out.
  2. Listen and learn. Listen to your favorite folk solos and try to figure them out note by note. This will help train your ear and give you a sense of the kind of melodies and rhythms that work well in a solo.
  3. Keep it simple. When you're starting out with solos, less is often more. Stick to the notes in the key you're playing in and build up your speed gradually.
  4. Experiment! Once you're comfortable with the basics, don't be afraid to get creative. Try playing around with different rhythms, techniques, and dynamics.

Remember, playing solos is about making the music your own. So don't worry too much about playing 'correctly'. Instead, focus on playing in a way that feels right to you. And most importantly — have fun with it!

Folk Songs to Try on Your Ukulele

Let's bring together everything you've learned about how to play ukulele for folk music. It's time to put your new skills into action! Here is a list of folk songs that you can try on your ukulele.

  1. "This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie: This classic folk song is a great place to start. It's simple, catchy, and perfect for ukulele!
  2. "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan: This song gives you a chance to practice your strumming and fingerpicking skills.
  3. "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals: This song may be a bit challenging for beginners, but it's a great way to practice your chords and melody playing.
  4. "If I Had a Hammer" by Pete Seeger: This is another folk classic that's fun and easy to play on the ukulele.

Remember, these are just suggestions. The best songs to play are the ones you enjoy and feel connected to. So feel free to explore different songs and see what resonates with you. After all, the most important thing is to enjoy the journey of learning how to play ukulele for folk music.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab your ukulele, tune it up, and start strumming. Who knows, you might just find your new favorite song among these folk classics!

If you enjoyed these essential tips for playing ukulele in folk music and want to take your skills to the next level, check out Debbie Knox-Hewson's workshop, 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!.' This workshop focuses on improving your skills in any creative field, including playing the ukulele, and will help you become a more accomplished musician.