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Getting Started with Bass Ukulele

Playing the bass ukulele is somewhat different from playing other ukuleles and for beginners is something quite different to learn. However, it's really not difficult to play a basic rhythm that adds to the overall sound of a group of players. We're not going to show you here how to play more complex rhythms and patterns like walking bass. You can find plenty of tutorials for that on YouTube. Here we're aiming just to get you started on the basics.

Note. Some people seem to think the UBass ukulele is not the same as a bass ukulele. Not true. UBass is a trade name dreamt up by Kala for their range of bass ukuleles and has been "pinched" by a number of Chinese manufacturers to make their bass ukes look good.

Another Note. You will need an amplifier for your bass ukulele. DO NOT be tempted to plug it in to an ordinary amplifier. Basses produce very low frequency vibrations at high power and this is liable to blow speakers which are not designed to handle it. Get yourself a bass amplifier. One of the more popular bass amps for bass ukuleles is the Roland Micro Cube BASS RX Bass Amplifier (you can find it on Amazon but don't confuse it with the Roland Micro Cube GX Guitar Amplifier).

Firstly, you are not going to be playing chords the way you perhaps have done when playing a soprano or concert ukulele. You are just going to be playing single notes that underpin the harmony being played by others in your group. To be able to do this you have to know how to find the individual notes on your bass's fretboard. If you are coming from playing other sizes of ukulele you will be familiar with the idea of having to learn where to put your fingers to play each chord. On the bass you need to learn where to put your fingers to play a single note. Simple.

Tuning your Bass

The bass ukulele is tuned to the same notes as a bass guitar, although some bass ukuleles may be tuned an octave higher. Either way, the notes are E A D G, where E is the lowest note. You may find the lower strings more difficult to tune at first until you get used to it because the frequency of the notes is so low that tuners (and the human ear) have more trouble picking them up.

Step 1 - Learn the Notes

As a matter of good practise, and to enable you to be able to be a better player when you get more advanced, get yourself into the habit of always keeping your left hand (right hand if you're a leftie) in what's known as the "first position". In the first position, your index finger is positioned at/over the second fret, the middle finger is at the third fret, the ring finger is at the fourth fret and the little finger is at the fifth fret. To play the first fret, you just move your index finger to the first fret and then immediately back to the second fret. Keeping your hand in this position is important because then you will always know where your hand is, and hence you'll be able to find the notes, without having to keep looking.

If you play an open D string you get (logically enough) the note "D". If you then play the same string again but with your finger at the first fret, you will get the "D#" note. Then on the second fret you get an "E" note. Etc., You need to know how to find all these notes without having to think about it. Otherwise you can't play bass.

String Open 1st Fret
Index finger
2nd Fret
Index finger
3rd Fret
Middle finger
4th Fret
Ring finger
5th Fret
Little finger
G String G G# (Ab) A A# (Bb) B C
D String D D# (Eb) E F F# (Gb) G
A String A A# (Bb) B C C# (Db) D
E String E F F# (Gb) G G# (Ab) A

Notice that the note at the fifth fret is the same as the open string above it. Don't bother trying to play the fifth fret for the moment (except on the G string). Just stick to the open string. It's easier.

Practise the different notes by, for instance, playing a scale of C major, using the diagram to play the notes C D E F G A B C, starting with the "C" on the A string. So to play the C scale, start with your middle finger on the third fret on the A string ("C"), then play the open D string, then the index finger on the second fret of the D string ("E") then the middle finder on the third fret ("F"), etc.

Other scales can be played in a similar manner. For instance, for G major, play "G A B C D E F# G" starting on the "G" on the third fret of the E string.

Step 2 - Playing With Your Ukulele Group

Your ukulele group will no doubt be using songsheets which show the chords as well as the lyrics of each song. You just need the chord name.

Playing the Root

Starting off, if the group is playing the chord of "C major", you can just play a "C". When they change the "G7" you play a "G". If they move to "Dm", you play a "D", etc. Often as not you would play the notes always on the beat and on the first and third beats of the bar. This is "playing the root" because "C" is the root of a "C major" chord, "G" is the root of a "G7" chord, etc.

Root and Fifth

Once you have mastered playing the root, you can move on to "root and fifth". This is what you will hear most often even on professional music tracks. As the name implies, it's a mixture of playing the root (as above) and the fifth of the scale. The fifth is the note five note up from the root, (counting the root as one). So in "C major", the fifth is "G", i.e. "C D E F G" is five notes. In fact, it's usual to play the fifth note that comes (musically) below the root.

This is actually surprisingly easy as the fifth can always be found on the string below the string you're playing the root on, and on the same fret. So if you're playing "C major", you have the root at the third fret on the "A" string, and the fifth is on the third fret on the "E" string.

Example: Let's say the songsheet calls for two bars "C major", one bar of "G major" and one bar of "C major" (as in [C] [C] [G] [C]), you would play the following notes:-
C G | C G | G D | C G

Note that you can play the same notes with almost any version of a chord. So "C major", "C minor", "C7", "Cm7", etc., you just play "C G C G". However, with diminished chords and suspended 4th chords, e.g. "Cdim" and "Csus4", you will need to drop the fifth by a semi tone so instead of playing "C G C G" you would need to play "C F# C F#". (Yes, I know there's one or two others as well, but they're not used very often and let's not confuse the beginners)

Well that's it. If you've got this far and you can now play all the above, you're ready to move on to more sophisticated things. This is where you need to start looking at YouTube tutorials, etc.

Good Luck