In this lesson, we’re going to learn some basic solo fingerpicking songs on the ukulele (songs that don’t have a vocal accompaniment to them). As a way to learn the correct fingerpicking techniques and to get our fingers moving, we’re going to learn three awesome nursery rhymes.
If we’re able to play these songs without a hiccup, we’ll be really well equipped to learn more difficult songs in future lessons.
Last week, I gave you a quick crash course on how to read music. In order to learn these fingerpicking songs, we need to know a little bit about reading music. So if you haven’t already, you might want to refer to last week’s post on how to read music.
The Right Way to Fingerpick the Ukulele
In my fingerpicking blues lesson, I went over fingerpicking technique a little bit. I presented two different techniques, but for this lesson, I want to focus on only one of them, because in my opinion, it will be more beneficial to use in the long run for these classical types of fingerpicking songs.
For the sake reference, I want to assign each of the four strings on the ukulele a number.
The G string is the 4th string. The C string is the 3rd string. The E string is the 2nd string, and the A string is the 1st string.
To fingerpick these songs, we’re going to use only our thumb, index, and middle finger.
Our thumb will be used to the pluck the 4th and 3rd strings. Our index finger will be used to pluck the 2nd string. Our middle finger will be used to pluck the 1st string.
We will also plant our pinky on the top of the ukulele, just below the sound hole, to stabilize our picking hand.
There will exceptions to this rule, but this should be considered “home base” for our three fingers.
Check out this short video where I demonstrate the fingerpicking technique we will be using for these songs.
A Common Question About Finger Placement
You might be wondering, “Why not use our ring finger as well, so each finger (thumb, index, middle, and ring) can be assigned to a string?”
That’s a great question, and it’s one that’s often debated. Honestly, assigning each of your four fingers to pluck one of the four strings on the ukulele is not a bad way to go for some songs (such as the blues fingerpicking patterns).
However, fingerpicking like this can feel weird to some players, mainly in that, this method doesn’t use our thumb to pluck the lowest string. Because we are in standard re-entrant tuning, the lowest string on the ukulele is the second to top string. Some people (myself included) find that it’s a bit more intuitive and natural to assign the thumb to pluck this lowest string.
I prefer the three-finger fingerpicking technique for this reason and just because it’s less fingers. Because of this, I recommend the three-finger technique, however, you might need to experiment and see what works best for you.
Learn 3 Easy Solo Fingerpicking Songs on Ukulele
All three of these songs will be great songs for you to get your feet wet with fingerpicking on the ukulele. Thanks to PDF Minstrel for sharing the sheet music.
Unlike other video lessons I’ve done before, it’s very important that you download the music and tabs below each of these videos to follow along with me. In order to play these songs, we need the music and tabs. Again, if reading music and tab is foreign to you, be sure to check out my post on how to read music and how to read ukulele tabs.
For each video, I demonstrate the song, and then go over some potential tricky parts of each song and talk about those. The thing is, there might be some challenges that arise for you that aren’t covered in these videos, so if you have any questions whatsoever, don’t hesitate to post them in the comments section below!
Here are some tips for learning these songs:
- Your fingers need time to get comfortable to the motion of plucking the strings. If it doesn’t come quickly, don’t be too hard on yourself.
- As you practice, it’s very important to count out loud and even tap your foot. It’s possible that you’ll need to break down the rhythm in certain sections of the songs. Counting out loud allows you to do this with greater ease.
- At first, you might need to slow some of these songs down to play them. Speed will come. You may even need to separate the song into four-bar sections and just focus on learning and playing each of those sections.
All to say, these songs are fantastic to learn if you are just beginning to fingerpick, or if you’ve been fingerpicking but want to add some more songs into your arsenal. However, fingerpicking poses its own set of challenges, so if you run into any problems, don’t hesitate to post your comment below and we’ll talk about it.
I’m excited to look at these songs! Here goes.
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
This first song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” will be the easiest song to play out of the bunch as it uses a very simple quarter note rhythm and utilizes a lot of open strings.
Download and print off the tabs and music for “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” here.
Note: If you are having trouble downloading the music, right click on the download link and select “Save Link As” or “Save Target As” to save the file to your desktop.
Old MacDonald Had a Farm
This should be another familiar song, which makes it great for a beginning fingerpicker. It’s a bit more challenging though because there are some faster eighth note passages. You’ll want to make sure you are practicing counting out loud and slowing it down, so you can get those parts down perfectly.
Download and print off the tabs and music for “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” here.
Hey Diddle, Diddle the Cat & the Fiddle
In my opinion, this song is one of the prettiest out of the bunch. It’s important to note that unlike the previous two songs, this song is counted in three rather than four. There are some quick eighth notes that are best played with an alternating fingerpicking technique (I go over this in the video).
Download and print off the tabs and music for “Hey Diddle, Diddle the Cat & the Fiddle” here.
What Do You Think?
What challenges are you coming up against when playing these songs? I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you have any tips or tricks, those are always very welcomed too. Let’s hear it!