How To Increase Your Speed On The Ukulele

If you’re anything like me, the absolute dream is to be able to play the ukulele like Jake Shimabukuro, Corey Fujimoto, Andrew Molina, James Hill, or any number of players who play the uke at lightning pace. I used to watch them and think, “WTF!? How are they even doing that, and how can I do that?” I often found myself searching for ways to increase my speed on the ukulele.

I figured out a way we can get to the same point as them, but it requires a lot of patience, time, and playing along to a metronome. While it’s great to be flying up and down the fretboard, it’s equally, if not more important, to be doing it in time. By that, I mean playing at a consistent, steady pace throughout the whole song. All of the players I mentioned do this at an expert level.

Carry on reading for some in-depth examples of how you can apply this technique.

So Whats The Thinking Behind It?

The principle is very simple: we will slow everything down to a snail’s pace, super slow. Then, increase the speed in very subtle increments, 3 bpm every 4 bars to be exact. This method allows our fingers to learn with muscle memory instead of our brain telling them what to do. The changes in speed are so small that they are barely noticeable. However, over the course of 5 minutes, the changes are quite dramatic but manageable in small steps.

What Do I Do?

Take the piece of music you want to be able to play fast. This could be anything: a fingerpicking pattern, strumming chords, riffs, or solos. Play along to the end of this video. The speed starts at 70 bpm and gets up to 160 bpm. When your fingers start to hurt or can’t keep up, stop and make a note of the tempo you got to. Use this as your high score. Aim to beat that score next time. Take your time and aim to get to 160 bpm.

Quick Re-Cap

  • Take a piece of music you want to increase your speed on the ukulele with.
  • Use this video and play along at a snail’s pace.
  • Watch as your fingers begin to play faster.
  • Keep going until your fingers begin to struggle or hurt.
  • Make a note of the BPM you get to.
  • Use this as a high score.
  • Aim to beat the high score.
  • Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!

Repeat this process as often as possible, and you WILL increase your speed on the ukulele.

When Should I Do This?

I find this method to be extremely effective if you do it while watching a movie or YouTube video. This allows all the muscle memory to engage in your fingers and hands. You need to look down and concentrate on what you are playing at first, but once you are comfortable at a slow speed, it’s just a case of playing along until your fingers can’t handle it anymore. After all, no pain, no gain!

Alternatively, you can introduce this technique into your practice routine. As long as you maintain consistency, this can be very effective in increasing your speed on the ukulele.

Lets Put It Into Practise

Ok, so the theory makes sense, but you are not sure where to start. Let’s go over three types of playing and apply this technique to them.

Fingerpicking

We are going to learn the fingerpicking pattern from the Stranger Things Theme. This is a perfect example as it is a fairly difficult pattern to play, and it also has some hammer-ons and pull-offs that become difficult when playing at pace. Take a look at the tab below.

A |-------2-3-2-----|-------2-3-2-----|-------2-3-2-----|-------2---------|
E |---0-----------0-|---0-----------0-|---0-----------0-|---0-------0---0-|
C |-0---------------|-0---------------|-0---------------|-0-------2-------|
G |-----0-------0---|-----0-------0---|-----0-------0---|-----0-------0---|

A |-------2-3-2-----|-------2-3-2-----|-------2-3-2-----|-------2---------|
E |---0-----------0-|---0-----------0-|---0-----------0-|---0-------0---0-|
C |-4---------------|-4---------------|-4---------------|-4-------2-------|
G |-----0-------0---|-----0-------0---|-----0-------0---|-----0-------0---|

This is how it sounds at a normal pace.

This is the speed you would start playing at 70 BPM. Due to its super slow speed, it is very manageable. Get comfortable playing the song and start playing along to the video.

Once you have played through the sequence multiple times and are able to get to the very end at 160 BPM, this is what it would sound like.

Although it really doesn’t sound that great playing it that fast, that’s beside the point. The aim here is to train our fingers to move at lightning speed. By keeping consistent and doing this every day, you will get there. Ok, let’s try a similar thing but now we are learning how to increase your speed on the ukulele while strumming chords.

Strumming Chords

The principle here is the same: start very slow and speed up over time. We are going to be switching between the chords of C major and A minor.

The strumming pattern will be D D D U D U

So at a normal pace of 120 BPM, it would sound like this.

If we start at 70bpm it would sound like this.

Once we get to the very end of the sequence at 160bpm, it’s going to sound like this.

I find this method extremely effective for strumming as it not only trains your strumming hand to move at speed but also challenges your chord-changing hand. Lastly, let’s look at how to increase your speed on the ukulele while playing riffs.

Riffs

We are going to learn the ukulele solo in the in Get Familiar by Bud Sugar. The solo starts at 1.35.

The solo can be tricky, but once we slow it down, it actually becomes quite simple. Take a look at the tab below.

A |-----------------------------|------6----6---6-8-8-8-6-|
E |-----4---4-6-4-----6/8-8-8-6-|-6/8-----8---8-----------|
C |-3h5---5---------5-----------|-------------------------|
G |-----------------------------|-------------------------|

A | -6h8--6---6--6h8--6-----|--6---8---10---11----|
E | -8------8----8------8---|--8---8---8----8-----|
C |-------------------------|---------------------|
G |-------------------------|---------------------|

Again if you are unfamiliar with how to read tabs it would be worth checking out this guide. 

So let’s see how it would sound at a steady pace of 120 BPM. The song is at 140 BPM, but that could be a little fast to start with, so we will bring the speed down a notch to manage.

Now let’s see how it sounds when we take it all the way down to 70 BPM.

And finally, what it sounds like when we take it all the way to 160 BPM.

This is a really good riff to practice because it really works your fingers. As a result, when you reach those high BPMs, you’re really going to feel the burn.

Summary

There it is, you have just learned how to increase your speed on the ukulele. Now it’s time to apply this technique to your own playing and practice routine. It’s very simple: all you need to do is choose your song, riff, or fingerpicking pattern and play along to the increasing metronome.

Jump over to the tabs section of this website and start learning some new songs.

More Article's and Lessons

Badge Unlocked

Welcome To The Jungle

Complete your first lesson

Badge Unlocked

Start Me Up

Complete The Basics

The Basics

In this section, we will cover everything you need to know about starting to play the ukulele.