Learn to play "Up On The Roof" by The Drifters on Ukulele

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Hey UUers!

This month on Ukulele Underground's monthly song lessons, we're bringing it back to the old school with an ukulele version of "Up On The Roof" by The Drifters. The original key is G#, but for simplicity's sake, we're playing a "beginner" version in the key of G. Intermediate and Advanced players will have fun with this one as well by adding an interesting 1950's and '60s-style rhythm. Check out the steps below and go as far as you want to take your uke skills!

STEP 1 - Chords

To start off, you'll need to know 4 easy chords on your ukulele:

Ukulele Chords: G, Em, C, D
G(0232), Em(0432), C(0003), D(2220)

Memorize the names of these chords and how to play them while getting comfortable switching between them. For more info on holding these chords, check out the video below:

To help switching these chords, here are a few tips:

1. G to Em - keep the chord shape of two of your fingers
Maintain the same shape for your ring and middle fingers from your G chord. Move them up one fret and one string. At the same time, move your pointer finger from the C string 2nd fret to the A string 2nd fret.

2. C to D - use your ring finger to anchor

Move your ring finger from the A string 3rd fret to the E string 2nd fret. Use that to anchor and add your other two fingers to the 2nd frets of the G and C strings.

3. D back to G - slide your ring finger up one fret
Take your ring finger and slide it from the E string 2nd fret to the 3rd fret. Then, move your pointer finger down 1 string while moving your ring finger down 2 strings.

The changes are relatively simple, so spend a little time on them and you should have them down no problem. After that, head up to the top of the page and play along with the Play Along. Use simple down strums and switch chords whenever indicated. Great, you just played the beginner version of the song! When you can switch chords at their proper times, move on to Step 2.

STEP 2 - Beginner Rhythm

The standard "Island Strum" that most beginner lessons and ukulele clubs use will work just fine for this song. If you're a beginner, here is a simple way to play a version of the strum that will work for our purposes:

Follow the steps below in order to get your beginner strum started:

1. Strum down on each beat (4 beats per measure)
Hold your ukulele properly and do a steady strumming motion. Graze the strings with your pointer finger on the down motion only. Count 4 beats and strum down on each beat.

2. Add an up strum between all of your down strums
Keep strumming down on each of the 4 beats. Next, add up strums in between each of the downs. Graze the strings with your pointer finger as your hand moves back up to the top of the strum. This gives you a "down, up" strum for each beat.

3. Take out the first up strum
After doing the down strum on beat 1, miss the strings instead of doing an up strum. Continue with the rest of the strums (a "down, up" on beats 2, 3, and 4).

Use the following video to practice the Verse chords along with the 3 phases of the beginner rhythm:

Steadily progress through all three phases and you've already got a basic version of the "Island Strum" under your belt! Try playing along with the "Up On The Roof" Ukulele Play-Along at the top of the page. Awesome job!

STEP 3 - Intermediate Rhythm

Now, if you'd like to take it up a notch, you can add some accents and a pinky mute technique to make that 1950s-style rhythm really shine in your strumming. Check out the video below to see Aldrine break down the technique for this rhythm:

Do the steps below in order to add some oldies flair to your strum:

1. Strum "down, up" on each beat, omitting the first up on beat 1
Same strum as at the end of the beginner rhythm section above.

2. Add an accent to emphasize beat 2
Strum the down on beat 2 a little louder than the other strums.

3. Use your pinky finger to cut the down and up strums on beat 2 short
After the down strum on beat 2, gently place your pinky over the strings to stop them from vibrating. Remove your pinky and follow with the up strum, then place them back down to stop the vibration again. This gives a shortened, staccato quality to these strums. Continue with the rest of the strum as usual.

Use the following video to practice the Verse chords along with the different phases of the intermediate rhythm:

Being able to do the last step of the intermediate rhythm will take some practice. As always, feel free to use whatever strum works best for you and remember, you don't have to be able to do everything to enjoy and play along with the Play-Along at the top of the page.

STEP 4 - Picking

In the Play-Along video, when you get to the middle of the song there will be a short, simple picking part. This picking is primarily based around the G chord that you've already been playing. Use the G chord as a base and follow Aldrine's instructions in the video below:

If you need some extra guidance, refer to the "Up On The Roof" Ukulele Play-Along TAB sheet. Practice this and when it's smooth, be sure to play along with the Play-Along at the top of the page.

That's it! If you like this one, be sure to check out our ukulele tutorial for "Under The Boadwalk" also by the Drifters. For other oldies songs, also see the tutorials for "Stand By Me" (Ben E. King), and instrumental ukulele arrangements for "Can't Help Falling In Love" (Elvis), and "We Belong Together" (Richie Valens).

And if you have any questions with your playing or need help with a song, please contact us! Have a great one, UUers - rock on and keep strummin'

-UU Staff


  1. Man I live thus song but what I really want to learn how to play and sing is christian songs do you teach that kind of music.

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