On this page, I’ll share any and all physical, digital, and online resources that I personally use and recommend to all who want to learn and improve in playing the ukulele. (I put baritone in parenthesis but all this info is useful for any kind of ukulele player!)
The Dylan Santiago Method of Learning Ukulele
From the beginning, my method of learning has almost always been:
- Look up chord charts for a song I like
- Look up any unfamiliar chords
- Practice until I get bored/frustrated and come back to it later
That’s honestly it.
And now, 10+ years of playing casually and “professionally”, I still follow this same method. I don’t worry about strumming patterns, tabs, finger-picking or any of that. For years, I’ve been able to look up most songs and just start playing and singing without a problem.
Now, I might be biased, but I think it’s the best, fastest, and most effective way to learn the ukulele. Period.
Which Ukulele Should I Buy?
In my opinion, any concert ukulele between $50 and $100 will suit anyone from beginner to advanced levels of playing.
The ukulele brands that I have used extensively are Caramel, Kala, and Lanikai.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other great ukulele brands out there. I’ve even used many “knock-off” brands and have been impressed at how well they sound and feel.
Tenor ukuleles are cool because they’re a bit bigger, and they have a bolder sound to match, while still having the same tuning as a regular (concert/soprano) ukulele.
Quick note about soprano ukuleles: they’re too small for me. Feel free to get one for your kids, to keep in your car, or if you have extra small hands.
Now baritone ukuleles, I can’t recommend enough. I made the jump from tenor a few years ago and I have never looked back. The bigger body, deeper sound, and longer neck makes it sound and feel like a mini guitar. In fact, the baritone ukulele strings share the same notes as the bottom 4 strings of a guitar. (i.e. the “D” chord is played the exact same way).
Baritone ukuleles are tuned differently than all other ukuleles, so keep that in mind if you’re trying to follow tutorials/play-alongs on youtube.
I currently play and record with an electric-acoustic Lankai OA-CEB. This is my fourth and best ukulele so far because it holds up well while playing live 10-20 hours a week! (And I do strum pretty hard)
What Strings Should I Buy?
Does it matter?
I guess it’s up to personal preference. I mean, a full set of strings only cost $5-$10 and for some, changing strings is a zen-like therapeutic practice.
Go ahead and try any and all kinds of strings and choose what you like best.
(Note to self: do a string review video so these good people don’t have to do all the restringing themselves)
Some of the big string brands include: Aquila, Martin & Co., and D’Addario.
As of late, I’ve been a fan of D’Addario Titanium Ukulele Strings because they’re priced right and they get the job done.
Honestly, I don’t stress too much about strings cause I’m not picky about sound. All I know is, you can never go wrong with Nylon/Gut/Nylgut strings for the harp-like ukulele sounds you expect.
What Other Equipment is Worth Having?
Short answer, it depends.
My last few ukulele purchases came with a travel bag, a strap, a wall mount, ukulele picks, a capo, a guitar cable, a cloth, some wrenches, and extra pieces.
Of all these little add-ons, the only ones I really use are: the bag — very useful for traveling, the strap — very useful for performing and playing standing up, and the wall mount — cause I like putting my ukes on the wall.
Now, I’ll explain all the other equipment that I have grown to use and then you can decide what you want/need…
I bought a hard case for my baritone ukulele because I wanted it to be protected, but then it was too big for a carry-on so I got an extra-padded case instead.
Tuners are a must-have. Whether it’s attached to your uke, on your phone, or a stand-alone tuner — it’s VERY necessary.
If you want to perform, or simply amplify your sound, then you might want to invest in an amplifier.
I used to own a Fender Frontman 10G guitar amp, but I realized I needed to plug in a microphone and a ukulele so I upgraded to Fender Acoustasonic 15. Then, I was looking for portability so I chose the Roland Mobile Cube speaker which included a power adapter (and a battery panel for 6 AA batteries) — the battery life wasn’t great.
Now, I’m quite happy with my Coolmusic BP60D which is powerful enough for great sound, has as its own soundboard (with reverb), and can plug into other speakers. On top of its great features (including bluetooth), it is also rechargeable and has a great battery life (4-6 hours per charge).
If you want to get a little experimental, and you should, you might consider buying a multi-effect pedal.
I’ve had the Zoom G1on for years now, but I guess they don’t make them anymore. So your best bet is to buy the successor, the Zoom G1 Four.
Personally, I’ve enjoyed messing around/playing/performing with different effects, using the looper feature, plus it’s battery-powered. And the battery lasts a loooong time on this one.
One piece of equipment I’ve recently come to love is the Boss VE-8 Acoustic Singer Pedal! It includes vocal and instrument enhancement, nice reverb, vocal harmonizer (that actually works with the chords I play on the ukulele), looper (for both uke and vocals), and vocal effects. Plus, the pedal can plug directly into speakers (and/or a computer), and has a aux input. I had my eye on it for several years and it definitely lives up to the hype.
If your ukulele isn’t electric, or want to sing and play, then you’ll likely need a microphone. Everybody swears by the Shure SM57 for instruments and the Shure SM58 for vocals. Silly me, I ended up getting the SM57 for vocals, but I don’t have any complaints — besides, it’s what Reggie Watts uses.
But if you don’t want to pay $100 for a microphone (but trust me and everybody in the audio industry, it’s worth it) then you’ll still sound great with the Shure SM48.
If you’re a complete noob when it comes to equipment, which I definitely was, then you’ll probably want to know which kind of chords/wires/cables you’ll need.
For starters, you want to make sure you have the right cable(s) at the right size.
For my basic set-up, I only need one 10-foot guitar cable to plug in my electric ukulele and one 15-foot microphone cable to plug into my Coolmusic BP60D, which I mentioned earlier.
If I ever use any multi-effects pedal, then I’ll use another 10-foot guitar cable.
Oh, and if you use a microphone, then you’ll probably want to get a proper microphone stand. If you’re singing into your mic, then it wouldn’t hurt to get a foam cover to reduce the explosive booming from “P” and “B” sounds.
And speaking of stands, you might want to consider getting an adjustable music stand if you want to have a nice place to hold your music/chord book/lyric sheets.
Live Performance Setup
Alright, it’s been a while since I’ve updated this post — at this point of writing, I’ve played over 250 live shows. I strive to keep my setup simple, portable, yet still powerful enough for bigger outdoor gigs. Here’s EVERYTHING I use for both solo and band gigs:
(Note to self: upload pic of my live setup)
[Pic of PA Speakers]
Let’s start with PA speakers. For solo gigs, I currently use two Alto Professional TX310 350W 10″ Powered Speakers. They’re on the cheaper end of PA speakers and they sound great! For band gigs, I use a third speaker (the same kind, but the older model) as a “monitor speaker” that faces the band.
[Pic of PA Stands]
Don’t forget the PA stands! Well, I’ve seen many performers simply leave their speakers on the ground and it sounds perfectly fine. But I like the presentation and it probably helps the sound somehow.
[Pic of Male XLR to 1/4″ TRS]
For solo gigs, all of my equipment plugs into my Boss VE-8 Acoustic Singer Pedal (mentioned earlier). To plug in the speakers, I use two Male XLR to 1/4″ TRS cables (pictured above) around 15 to 20 feet in length.
[Pic of Yamaha MG10XU]
For band gigs, I use a mixer. Specifically, the Yamaha MG10XU. It’s on the pricier side, but it has a great reputation and I have no complaints after 2 years of use — I’m hoping to use it for 10+ years.
At this point, you’ve been introduced to almost everything I own and use for practicing and performing.
But some of you may want to be able to properly record and edit your playing (and singing). In which case, you’ll need a preamp that plugs into your computer via USB.
But before I get into all my recording gear, just know that using your phone is a great way to start recording and even editing your singing and playing!
Up to this point, I have only used one preamp to record directly into my computer: the Behringer U-Phoria UM2. Personally, I highly recommend it in terms of price and quality: Low price, decent quality. I do admit that there has been a bit of a learning curve to set it up and use it correctly.
Lastly, many music producers can, and will, argue for hours and tell you which studio headphones/studio speakers are best for XYZ reasons.
But I don’t care…
I just use my laptop speakers or old earbuds, and I’ve recently purchased some of the cheapest over-the-ear headphones I could find: these Sony MDRZX110 — such a long name for such cheap headphones. But hey, they work for me!
Since we’re on the subject of recording, if you or anyone you know is interested in music production, then I’ll always recommend using Reaper to record your tracks.
Download Reaper for free here: https://www.reaper.fm/download.php
However, if a digital audio workstation (DAW) like Reaper, Ableton, Logic, etc. seems a bit too intimidating, then you can use Audacity (what I used before Reaper) for its user-friendliness and many features.
Download Audacity for free here: https://www.audacityteam.org/download/
Is There Any Other Equipment I Should Know About?
Not really. Well, maybe just a few things worth mentioning…
If you know how, and want to add digital instrumentals to your recordings (which I do sometimes) then you can get this Midiplus AKM 320 keyboard to plug into your computer and make it easier to add piano, drums, bass, guitar, etc. to your recordings.
One of my biggest purchases that I (almost) regret was the Electro-Harmonix 22500 Dual Stereo Looper. See, I once had this dream of being like Ed Sheeran and Reggie Watts — being able to create masterworks with a simple looping machine.
But it turned out to be harder than I thought (that’s what she said) and I didn’t want to risk losing/damaging it in my travels, so I gave it to a good musician friend.
Ooh, I can’t believe I almost forgot. I’m a huge fan of the Cajon/Box drum! My friend Rocky and I usually play it to accompany each other with our sets. It just adds so much to an acoustic performance — seriously a game changer if you’re out there jamming or making music with friends.
What Websites/Online Resources Are The Best?
Now, with all the advances in technology and the world at your fingertips, you can learn everything twice-over.
But, now we’re burdened by the amount of choices we have. There are simply TOO MANY resources to choose from.
“How do I know which one is right for me?” You might wonder…
Well here are some good online resources that I have personally used and recommend including…
Ukulele Chord Namer/Chord Finder
As of late, my favorite go-to website is: https://www.ukulelebuddy.com/free-ukulele-namer.html
As a songwriter, I tend to mess around a lot on the ukulele and play some interesting chords — like Bm7b5. Or if I play covers, sometimes I change chords to sound better to my ear, but I don’t really know what I change them into.
Luckily, the chord namer is there to help me out: it allows you to choose the tuning of your uke, pick and choose which frets and strings you’re playing, and it will tell you what chord it is — note, some chords have more than one name.
Another very helpful tool, especially for beginner players, is the chord finder: https://www.ukulelebuddy.com/free-ukulele-chords.html
This tool can help you find almost any chord you’re looking for, plus it gives you all the variations of playing it.
I can’t forget to mention online ukulele tuners! While my ukulele has a built-in tuner, I thought I’d include include some online ones as well:
It’s important to always make sure your ukulele is tuned correctly before you start to play!
You can find many popular tuning apps for your phone. The last time I checked, the most popular is called GuitarTuna.
Where to Find Chords?
So if you’re like me, you picked up the ukulele because you wanted to sing and play your favorite songs.
Over the years, I’ve found that the best way to improve is to just look up chords and play and play until I get the hang of it.
If there’s any new/unfamiliar chords, then I’ll learn how to play them (using the resources above), and then continue to learn the whole song.
Now, the best method I have found for finding chords is to simply google: [song name] chords.
And then click the top result — which is almost always a link to Ultimate Guitar.
But don’t worry about the guitar part — chords are the same for every instrument; a G Major chord on a piano sounds the same on a ukulele.
(Tip: For best results, use a laptop/desktop for finding chords)
Once you found the chord sheet, you can transpose the chords to your liking.
Why might you want to transpose? Usually one of two reasons:
- The default chords might be too difficult to play, and you want to choose chords that are easier/more familiar.
- You want to change the chords to fit your vocal range better.
Another handy tool is the AUTOSCROLL button, which I have used many times when recording covers, because it slowly scrolls through the whole song — plus, you can adjust how fast or slow you need it to scroll.
What Are Some Good Videos (Tutorials) To Learn From?
Lately, I’ve been asked by many people online to start creating ukulele tutorials.
While tutorials aren’t really my forte, nor my cup of tea, I understand many people like tutorials where some one shows you how to play a song step-by-step.
In my early days of ukulele learning, I did watch some tutorials on how to play more-difficult songs, to learn new strumming patterns, and some fingerpicking exercises…
And while tutorials aren’t quite for me, I do recommend one channel which is…
The Ukulele Teacher! – https://www.youtube.com/c/TheUkuleleTeacher/
He’s one of the most popular ukulele tutorial channels on Youtube with over 1 million subs.
And each of his videos break down everything you need to learn a song in a simple-to-follow manner including: chords, strumming, and lyrics.
Bonus Content! Ukulele Videos
If you ever need some inspiration or a moment to chill out and watch something worth your while, then check out some of my all-time favorite ukulele videos:
If you made it to the bottom, then you are now familiar with ALL the recommendations I can give you as a ukulele player.
Just a heads up, everything here that I promote and recommend comes from personal experience — I am in no way paid or sponsored.
I simply want to share some useful information and resources to anyone who wants it!
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