Dive into the magical world of this traditional Hawaiian instrument with Michael Poupko, professional musician and instructor. Let Michael’s 20-plus years of playing and teaching music take you from musical novice to master the uke in the 24 easy lessons of How to Play the Ukulele. Come along as he shares with you the skills you need to explore the voice of the ukulele for years to come.
How to Play the Ukulele
Michael Poupko is a professional musician, teacher, producer, composer, and recording engineer. He is the director and owner of Our Music Institute in Northfield, Illinois. He plays dozens of instruments but is most proficient in ukulele, guitar, and electric bass. He received his BA in Jazz Guitar Performance from Roosevelt University and then began his teaching career in 2001. He served as the director of North Shore Music Institute from 2010 to 2019.
Michael’s original music and collaborations have been heard worldwide on NBC, FOX, BBC, Discovery, Travel Channel, Food Network, Cooking Channel, HGTV, DIY Network, and more. Notable programs and movies include Dateline NBC, Design on a Dime, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Made in America, Rehab Addict, So You Think You Can Dance, and New in Town.
Michael has performed professionally in North America, Europe, and Africa with such artists as Frankie Avalon, Jeff Mauro, and Jim Peterik. Along with bandmates and other collaborators, he has shared bills with Tom Petty, The Black Crowes, the Wailers, Soul Asylum, Cracker, Fishbone, Blind Melon, and Victor Wooten. He has also performed in theatrical productions of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, Hair, and Footloose. In 2004, Michael’s band, Punsapaya, received an award for Best Rock Album at the Chicago Music Awards. The band was also nominated three times for Best Rock Performer.
01: The Musical World of Ukulele
Master musician and teacher Michael Poupko advises that this course does not require any musical experience, just a desire to play the ukulele. Learn general navigation of the uke, tablature, and tuning, all in this first video lesson. Your journey to the music of the islands begins right here.
02: Learning Your Way around Your Ukulele
After a thorough review of the material from Lesson 1, expand your understanding of tablature and add frets and finger placement to your complement of skills. Michael will take you through several short exercises with clear graphics and patient repetition before sending you off to practice your new skills with the course companion workbook.
03: Six Starter Chords for Ukulele
Play along as your personal instructor guides you through fingering charts and six starter chords on your uke. Add a metronome to keep the beat, and this lesson will have you practicing the chords and chord progressions necessary to access hundreds of easy songs on your ukulele.
04: Strumming Techniques for Ukulele
With several basic chords under your belt, it is time to turn to strum patterns to bring it together. Practice several chord progressions, then a variety of strum combinations. Finally, play along as you master “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “One, Five or Six to Four.”
05: C Major Scale and Melodies for Ukulele
Following some independent practice time, return to your lessons to learn about major scales and a little more music theory. He supports you through your next assignment—playing the C Major scale—and translating your knowledge into picking notes in the melody for two songs, including “Ode to Joy.”
06: Playing a Ukulele Melody with Chords
The more you practice, the faster you will improve. If you put in the time this week, you will be ready to move on to this 6th lesson. Combine what you learned in Lessons 1–5 to play a chord melody for both the songs you have been learning. This lesson represents a real jump in your musical skills, so take the time you need to bring it all together.
07: Ukulele Chords in the Key of G Major
Practice, practice, practice. Repeat. With graceful attention to the specific details of his craft, your master musician takes you into the key of G Major, opening up the world of traditional Hawaiian music, including your first song in G, “Aloha Oe.” Revisiting several earlier strum patterns, you now apply them to the new chords you have added for G.
08: G Major Scale and Melodies for Ukulele
With Michael’s patient support and your emerging skills, you will learn the G Major scale, allowing you finally to play the melodies for “Aloha Oe” and “Drifting.” Use your metronome to help you keep the beat and take all the time you need to practice before moving on from here.
09: Playing with Suspended Chords for Ukulele
Although the material is increasingly complex, the individual skills you need to work on remain clear and straightforward. In this lesson, you will learn suspended cords in both G and C major and make both a little more fun with melodic embellishments. Follow along in your workbook to practice the novel composition “In the Air.”
10: Starting to Fingerpick Your Ukulele
After several lessons that focused on the left hand—chords and chord progressions—turn back now to work with the right hand, developing your skills at fingerpicking. This will allow you to play individual notes in a sequence rather than only chords, lending depth and character to your musical presentation.
11: More Ukulele Fingerpicking Patterns
The real measure of a lesson is in its application. Can you take the fingerpicking skills you learned in Lesson 10 and apply them with greater verve and increased complexity to new chord progressions and even a song? Yes! Let Michael show you how it is done.
12: Ukulele Chords in the Key of D Major
Although you do not need to understand music theory to play the ukulele, Michael shares a little bit about the circle of fifths in this lesson as he teaches you chords in the key of D major. Practice the D, G, G7, A, and A7 chords, then wrap up with chord progressions and a fun rhythm - the Bo Diddley Beat.
13: D Major Scale and Melodies for Ukulele
Develop facility with the D major scale, both forward and backward, and then practice the scale pattern exercise in your workbook until you have it mastered. Finally, conquer the original “D Ditty” song melody as Michael accompanies you with the chords. Remember to listen to what you are playing—music is, after all, about the sound!
14: The Feel of Time Signatures on Ukulele
After 13 lessons focused on chords and scales, we now turn to another essential component of music—rhythm. Most of what you have tried so far has been in the 4/4 time signature. Today, step up and learn two new time signatures, 3/4 and 6/8, and practice the songs “Amazing Grace” and “Moonset” in your workbook.
15: Introduction to Minor Keys on Ukulele
With two new time signatures and two new songs under your belt, now we consider the minor keys. If you have some musical background, Michael’s explanation of the uses of chromatic and diatonic scales will resonate with you. If not, you will still enjoy learning about minor scales and two new songs using them.
16: Twelve-Bar Blues on Ukulele
Perhaps you have heard it called a 1/4/5 progression or the 12-bar blues progression. That is on tap for today in the keys of C, G, and D Major. Wrap up the lesson with a darker A minor 1/4/5 blues progression and a new strum pattern.
17: Blues on Ukulele with Pentatonic Scales
After some practice with the 12-bar blues chord progression, discover the C minor pentatonic scale and use it to add a melody or riff to the mix. With patience and time, Michael supports you one measure at a time until you are riffing right along with him to “Green Blues.”
18: Ukulele Songs with Sliding Chord Shapes
Make simple chord progressions sound a little more exciting with sliding chord shapes. Picking in G major and sliding G minor up and down the fretboard, learn the techniques you need to play “Easy Peasy.” Practice until you have it down, then return for your next lesson.
19: Chords, Melody, and Fingerpicking Combined
Now that your skills have developed, we will revisit an earlier, traditional Hawaiian song, “Aloha Oe.” Not only will you practice an instrumental chord melody arrangement that you can play along with Michael, but later in the lesson, you can learn a self-sufficient solo version that sounds complete all by itself.
20: The Freedom of Ukulele Barre Chords
Listen as your expert begins this lesson by playing the same barre (also spelled “bar”) chords that you will learn today. By stretching your fingers and skills, you can use barre chords to make moveable shapes that quickly transition from one fret and chord to another.
21: Ukulele Songs with Movable Chord Shapes
Today Michael Poupko takes you from practice to application with several songs using the barre chords and other moveable shapes from the previous lesson. Using strum patterns that you have learned, practice applying your new skills to increasingly complex compositions. Make sure you take breaks as your hands get used to this new practice.
22: Latin Groove for Ukulele with C Minor Scale
Take your learning to the next level in this lesson with a Latin, Bossa Nova style rhythm. Efficient motion as chords are formed will help to increase speed without sacrificing precision. Practice moving smoothly through complex progressions, plucking and strumming alternately to hear how the tone changes even as the rhythm remains the same.
23: Percussive Strumming for Ukulele
Each lesson offers new challenges, but with a little practice, you are ready to learn some funky new riffs. Would you believe that the ukulele can also be used as a percussive instrument, like a drum? Deaden the strings with your left hand, and let your right hand take flight in a percussive groove.
24: Combine Your Ukulele Skills: “The Doozy”
Bring it all together in the final lesson of this course in a song that combines all the skills and techniques you have learned thus far. Picking and strumming, major and minor chords, progressions, percussions, and melodies, “The Doozy” is a challenge, but by now, you know that you are absolutely up to it. Enjoy!