UD#84 The Ultimate Ukulele Scale

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UD#84 The Ultimate Scale Practice (Use all your fingers)
from Ukulele in the Dark with Guido Heistek


Do you have reluctant pinkyitus? It’s common among guitar and ukulele players. I am recovering from it myself. When I was just starting out, I only used my first three fingers on my left hand. My pinky felt weak and unreliable, so I avoided using it. I was encouraged when I learned that Django Reinhardt, one of the greatest Jazz guitarists of all time, played with only two functioning fingers. But, then, eventually, I came around to this thought,

“Well, if you’ve got a pinky, you might as well use it.”

When a student expresses an interest in getting their pinky more involved in their playing, I usually get them playing a chromatic scale up one string. A chromatic scale is when we play every single note in an octave. For example: C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C.  This gives us a scale that is 13 notes long. It doesn’t really sound like a scale, but it is great practice for getting around the uke. (More about the chromatic scale here: UD# 40)

Let’s look at an example. Let’s do a chromatic scale on one string. We’ll go from the open third string (3rd string from the floor) to the 12th fret of the third string. On a soprano uke, this has you start on a C note and end on a C note. On a baritone uke, the same fingering has you start and end on a G note. Practice this scale, and the other scales in this lesson, ascending (going up) and descending (going down),


1. Chromatic Scale on Third String:

The left-hand fingering is marked. 1=index 2=middle 3=ring 4=pinky. Notice that you use each finger in turn, and then shift to the index finger after the pinky. This is a great way to practice positional shifts. Try not to leave a pause when you make the positional shift. Keep the rhythm of each note as steady as possible.


2. Chromatic Scale Using Open Notes:

This scale should sound identical to the chromatic scale we just played on the third string. The difference is that, this time, we use the open strings whenever we can, instead of shifting up the neck. The fingerings are marked. Give this example a play, ascending and descending.

Do you notice something interesting? We start on the open 3rd string (C string for sopranos and tenors; G string for baritone ukes), then we play we play THREE NOTES (frets 1, 2 and 3) on the same string before we have to jump to the 2nd string. BUT, once on the second string, we start with the open note, then play FOUR NOTES (frets 1, 2, 3 and 4) before we jump to the 1st string. What’s that all about? Do you know WHY this is?

…I’ll leave a space for thinking time…

…Times up. It’s because the 3rd and 2nd string have a different tonal relationship than the 2nd and 1st string on the uke. The 3rd and 2nd strings are a little closer in pitch than the 2nd and 1st strings. This is a fundamental quality of the uke that affects all the shapes of scales and chords that we play on the instrument, and it is shown very clearly in this very cool exercise. YAHOO!

Note: The strings on the uke are numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 with 1 being closest to the floor and 4 being closest to your smiling face!


3. Continuing Up The First String:

Let’s go on a chromatic adventure. Here, we don’t stop on the 3rd fret of the first string. We keep going, shifting as needed, until we run out of frets. Ws stop on the 15th fret which is the same note we started on. That gives us 2 octaves! If you don’t have a 15th fret, stop on the last fret that you have.


4. Choosing a New Route:

This is the part that I find really fun. Instead of using the open strings every time, we choose our own route through the chromatic scale. We go up the third string and then, when we get to our pinky, we can either shift to the index finger on the same string or we can jump to the index finger on the next string. There is a multitude of different “routes” you can take through the chromatic scale in this way. Here is one example:

(By the way, this way of playing the chromatic scale was shown to me by my guitar teacher in university, Bill Coon!)

Here is a little video that I made outlining today’s lesson. Maybe it will help to illuminate any grey areas.

Let me know how your practice goes. I hope your pinkies feel alive!

Best Guido


P.S. I am regularly adding new lessons to Ukulele in the Dark. Please subscribe to my mailing list below to receive every lesson right when it comes out. Be sure not to miss a thing!