Welcome to the world of ukulele jams …

As a beginner, turning up to your first set of jams can seem quite daunting. Misconceptions about jams abound, but they’re generally based on the nature of jazz or folk jams. Ukulele jams are different! There are no rules. Here are our jam survival tips.

Myth buster!

  1. You don’t need to be an expert to come to ukulele jams. You don’t even need a uke. Try before you buy! We can lend you a uke for the jam (if you let us know in advance).
  2. If you have a uke, you don’t need lessons before you come. We provide beginners sessions before most main jams, and hints and tips during the jam.
  3. You don’t need to know a lot of chords to play along at a jam. Fake it ’til you make it. Just leave out the chords you don’t know. Nobody will notice. We’re all busy skipping chords too.
  4. You don’t need to be able to read sheet music. Ukulele songsheets just have lyrics and chords.
  5. You don’t need a repertoire of songs that you can play without music or songsheets. Who does that these days? Even our experienced set leaders play from songsheets.
  6. You don’t have to bring a friend, nor wait to be invited to a jam. BUMS jams are free to financial members and open to visitors for $5 entry. And you’ll soon make friends there.

The apparent complexity of jams can be mastered with a little bit of knowledge, a few essential resources and lots of enthusiasm.

What should I bring to a BUMS ukulele jam?

Your load will be light — no songbook, no music stand. At BUMS jams, songsheets are projected onto a screen.

Just bring your gig bag containing:

  1. Ukulele – soprano, concert or tenor ukes are well catered for at jams. If you have a baritone, bring a baritone ukulele chord chart. For more advice talk to one of our baritone toting members. https://www.brisbaneukulele.com/learning-uke/baritone-basics/

https://www.brisbaneukulele.com/basically-baritone/
You’re also welcome to bring other instruments.

  1. Tuner – You can buy clip-on tuners at music stores and online. Or … download a tuner app for your phone.
  2. Ukulele chord chart – Although the chord diagrams (showing finger placement) are displayed on our songsheets, sometimes it’s handy to have a chord chart of commonly used chords.
  3. $5 entry for visitors, and a few coins for your raffle tickets.
  4. Uke strap if you prefer one. (optional)
  5. Spare set of strings – or a spare uke in the car. (optional)

Where should I sit?

Don’t be shy — don’t sit at the back. Arrive early. Choose a seat where you can read the screen easily.

Getting started

While you’re waiting, tune your uke. You’ll sound so much better if you’re in tune with the group.

Hold your uke comfortably. Use a neck strap to support your uke if you find it more comfortable. Position your thumb behind the 2nd fret.

Interpreting ukulele songsheets

Work out the key and timing of the song. Usually, the first chord mentioned tells you the key. You can get away with playing that chord all the way through the song.

The time signature is important. It tells you how many beats to the bar. Most jam songs are in 4/4 time. Some are in 3/4 time. But occasionally other time signatures are used.

In the songsheet, the chords are interspersed within the lyrics. They’re bold and blue and between square brackets.

The first beat of the chord is usually strummed when you sing the word that follows the chord.

In ‘Act Naturally’, strum [C] when you sing ‘They’re’ and [F] when you sing ‘movies’, and [G] when you sing ‘me’.

Terminology

We do use some music terminology on songsheets. Commonly used examples are:

Vamp – Repeat the chord until the song starts.

Tacet – Don’t play any chords. Just sing.

Tremelo – Strum as fast as you can. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBxTUO5a8fg; and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B82XbasUA-E)

Chord notation

We are working towards updating our songsheets to consistently use this chord notation. But it’s a work in progress so you might come across other conventions.

[C] = full bar of chords, i.e. 4/4 Time play C chord for 4 beats

[C]/= two full bars of C;    [C]// = three full bars of C

[C/]= strum the chord for two beats of the bar.

[C//]= strum the chord for three beats of the bar.

[C↓]= play a single downstrum

[C↓↑↓] = play down up down (usually cha cha cha)

[C F] = play C for two beats then F for two beats of the four-beat bar.

How do I strum?

Use the smallest strum movement possible — finger or wrist movements, rather than arm movements. Basic strumming is based on a continual down-up movement. Sometimes you leave out down strums, and sometimes you leave out up strums.

Strum notation

Sometimes there is a suggested strum at the top of a songsheet. It’s only a suggestion. You can use single down strums or a combination of down strums and up strums.

In 4/4 Time there are four down-up strums to the bar, i.e. du du du du.

Count 1& 2& 3& 4& as you strum. The numbers are the down strum. The & is the up strum.

In 3/4 time there are three down-up strums to the bar, i.e. du du du.

Capital letter D means place greater emphasis on that down strum.

Du du du du = Strum down-up, down-up, down-up, down-up

Count one-&,     two-&,      three-&,   four-&

Du d- d-         = in 3/4 Time, strum down-up, down, down

Du d- d- d-    = in 4/4 Time, strum down-up, down, down, down

Some basic strums

Most songs played at jams are in 4/4 Time. Occasionally there are songs in 3/4 Time. In this strum notation D & d mean downstrum and U & u mean upstrum. Capital letters mean give more emphasis to that strum. The hyphen means leave out the down or up strum.

The most useful ‘chord’ 

The most useful ‘chord’ for jams is the Z chord.

Actually, the Z chord is not really a chord. It’s a percussion sound similar to a snare drum.

Position your thumb behind the second or third fret. Mute the strings by holding your fingers lightly across all four strings.

Strum to make a percussion sound.

Remember, you can play the Z chord when you:

  1. don’t know the chords in the song. (Play the Z chord all the way through, or to replace chords you don’t know.)
  2. can’t keep up with the chord changes. (Just play the Z chord, focus on the strum pattern and become the percussion section.)
  3. want to master a new strum pattern. (Experiment with strum patterns until you find one that fits the song. Then use the Z chord to practice the strum pattern throughout the song.)

Reading chord diagrams

Chord diagrams are provided on songsheets as a guide to how you might play each chord used in the song.

Each chord diagram shows the name of the chord, and number dots to show where to position your fingers on the fretboard.

The numbers on the chord diagram correspond to the numbers given to your fingers.

So for [G7], position your pointer finger on the E string in the first fret, your middle finger on the C string in the second fret
and your ring finger on the A string in the third fret. Your finger should be placed close to the fret bar, but not on the fret bar.

               

Which chords should I learn first?

For ukulele, the easiest songs are usually in C Major. Start by learning C, F, G & G7. Once you’ve mastered these chords, practice Am, C7 and Dm.

Chords in commonly played keys

Looking at Primary Chords column of this table, you can see that to play songs in five major keys, you only need seven chords — A, Bb, C, D, E, F and G.

If the songsheet has additional chords, just leave them out until you master them.

Barre and partial barre chords

 

If the same number appears on more than one string, it means you have to barre those strings with that finger.

For example, playing [Dm], the second finger can be used to barre the G and C strings. This is a partial barre.

 

Another partial barre is used for [Bb]. For [Bb], the first finger is used to press down both the E and A strings.

 

 

Each chord can be played in a number of positions on the fretboard.

For example, here are two different positions for playing [E] as a barre chord and as a partial barre.

Some people find [E] hard to master. If you have trouble playing [E], position your finger/s on the G, C and E strings, and only strum those strings.

The ‘X’ on the chord diagram means, don’t strum the A string.


As you can see there are sometimes a number of ways to position your fingers to play the chord. For example, [D] can also be played using three fingers or as a barre.

Sometimes the fingers you use for each chord depend upon which chords precede of follow the chord.

For example, if you play [Am] before or after [F] or [Dm], you’re likely to use your second finger.

However, if you play [Am] before or after [D] or [G], you might prefer to use your first finger.

Common chord changes and progressions

When you are learning a new strum, practise it on the Z chord. Then on each chord you know, e.g. in the early days C, F, G and Am. Once you have mastered the strum pattern, play it on a common chord progression like C, Am, F, G7.

12 Bar Blues

You can also practice your strum using the chord progression for the 12 bar blues. It’s in 4/4 Time so there are four beats to every bar.

Try it in a range of keys.

C Major

[C]    [C]    [C]    [C]

[F]    [F]    [C]    [C]

[G7]  [F]   [C]    [C]

 

Play along to a 12 Bar Blues backing track in the key of C.

Now that you’ve read and digested all of our jam survival tips, if you found this web page useful, download the Jam Survival Kit printable version.

Download a chord chart of essential chords.