Whether you’re new to uke or branching out, baritone might be the answer.
In February 2020, two very brave baritone ukulele beginners came to Mini Absolute Beginner Ukulele Bootcamp. We’d never had baritone players attend a Bootcamp before, and were a bit concerned about how well the Bootcamp format would cater for them. But they soldiered on, using a chord chart that they’d brought with them to adapt the materials as we taught.
The enthusiasm and determination of our two Bootcampers inspired me to create colour-coded teaching resources for music teachers who want to add baritone to their school ukulele ensembles. In addition, I hope this article helps ukulele players decide which ukulele is best for them.
Apart from the uBass, the baritone ukulele is the largest and lowest sounding ukulele. It’s the ideal gateway between guitar and uke as the notes of the baritone uke strings are D G B and E — the ‘top’ four strings of the guitar. Please note that strings 1-4 are closest to the ground as you hold the instrument to play. Think of the strings like the floors of a high rise building — the 1st floor is closest to the ground floor.
To decide whether baritone is for you, consider the sound, size note range and timbre of the instrument.
Note that the baritone standard tuning is different from soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles as it is tuned five semitones below standard ukulele tuning.
If you are totally new to string instruments and ukulele workshops and jams, you might wish to start by using with a standard-tuned ukulele. Otherwise, take the initiative, and know some basic baritone chords and take along a chord chart. In addition, purchasing a baritone ukulele method book is a good investment. Method books usually provide basic theory, chord charts and beginning songs to practise.
Jams are a great way to learn. But remember to bring your chord charts. Jam sets usually start with 3- or 4-chord songs and progress to more complicated tunes. The easiest jam songs are aimed at standard-tuning beginners. Therefore the handiest sets of chords are Am, C, F & G7 (key of C); C, D & G (key of G), and A, D and E7 (key of A).
The experience of playing straight through a song at speed adds a different element to the skills you develop at home. Besides, all of those other ukes around you help you stay in time, and make you sound amazing.
Once jams resume talk to some of our regular baritone players. You can ask jam leaders to introduce you to any baritone players in attendance. Sit with them if possible. BUMS members are happy to help if you have any questions.
Garry Collins — “I started playing baritone when we formed the instrumental group ‘The Brisbane Uketet’. It gave an extra dimension to work within our arrangements and playing.” (Garry is a former member of Performing BUMS and The Brisbane Uketet, runs BUMS Inc baritone workshops, attends Coorparoo and Northside jams.)
Garry provided workshop participants with Baritone Ukulele Basics notes. Thanks for making them available, Garry.
Di Davis — “I chose to play baritone ukulele because I like the richer tone and the versatility provided by the longer neck (more frets). In addition, it adds another dimension of timbre when playing with smaller groups.” (Di performs with Spare Parts & The CAGE, and attends Coorparoo & sometimes Northside & Ferny Grove jams.)
Erin Harrington — “I love playing baritone for it’s full jazz sound. It’s a great contrast to my other ukuleles when I feel a certain song needs a deeper sound. Moonriver sounds particularly wonderful on baritone for example.” (Erin performs as Miss Elm, offers online ukulele lessons including beginner baritone, and sometimes attends Coorparoo jams.)
Chan Hoo — “I Love singing sentimental songs and the Baritone is the right 4 strings instrument for it.”
(Chan performs with Flukey and for patients at the local hospital, and attends Coorparoo, Northside & Westside jams.)
John Low — “I like the ‘low-end grunt’ the baritone adds to the rhythm section of a couple of bands I play in — and I find the size is more comfortable for me.”
(John is the NUMB BUMS band leader, performs with Ukulele Saints, and attends Northside and Ferny Grove jams.)
Now, if you’ve got your baritone uke already, find out how to get started on our Baritone Basics web page.