How Do I Know If I Need New Strings?

Is your ukulele trying to tell you something?

With our Change Your Ukulele Strings Workshop just around the corner, I’ve been getting the same question from a lot of students: How do I know when it’s time to change my strings? There are several different things to be looking and listening for, as well as other situations in which a string change might be appropriate even if your instrument isn’t necessarily begging for them.

What to look for

Periodically, take a close look at your strings, especially around the areas where they hit the frets. You may notice divets in the strings, which indicate they are getting worn down. This is the most common visual indicator, but you may your strings look generally ragged and strained as you look up and down the fretboard more generally.

What to listen for

The most likely way you’ll be able to tell when it’s time to change your strings is the way your playing will start to sound different. Here are some things you might notice:

  • A change in tone. Worn strings have lost their full-bodied tone and have more of a flat, plunky sound.
  • A change in tuning. If you’ve tuned your open strings, but the chords you play still sound out of tune, or you have to constantly retune as you play, that’s a good indicator your strings have lost the ability to hold their tuning consistently.

Other considerations

Just because you’re not noticing any big changes to warrant a strings change, there are still several reasons why you might do so, either as a matter of personal preference and/or in anticipation of those changes mentioned above that you want to avoid from the outset.

  • As a general rule, you can choose to change your strings every certain number of weeks or months. This allows you to keep that full-bodied sound going all the time and prevents the hassles of dealing with constant retuning and generally bad-sounding strings. How often you change them depends on how often you play. Professional performers change them as often as every several weeks. For the enthusiastic hobbyist, every several months should suffice. For those on a budget or just not as invested in the whole string-changing thing, I recommend a minimum of every 6 months to a year.
  • Sometimes you might decide you want to try for a different sound on your instrument. In this case, you might decide to change your strings earlier than you otherwise would, because you want to try a different string material. The most popular, quality-sounding strings out there are called Nylgut, fluorocarbon, and titanium, with wound strings used for lower toned strings on tenor and bass ukuleles. (We’ll discuss these options more in depth at our workshop.) I don’t generally recommend straight nylon strings, because I find they just sound plasticky, but they are also a popular option. Steel strings that you often find on guitars are not appropriate for ukuleles.
  • This one is obvious, but just to be sure: if a string on your instrument breaks, it’s probably a good idea to change them all, as they are most likely wearing down by that point.
  • Likewise, if you can’t remember when you last changed your strings, or you have no recollection of ever changing your strings … IT’S TIME TO CHANGE YOUR STRINGS.

Final thoughts

As you can see, there’s no one way to determine when it’s time to change your strings. It’s a personal call. If you’re in the Portland, Oregon region and would like to join us for our upcoming Change Your Ukulele Strings Workshop, click here to register. I’m in the process of working on a video tutorial of the workshop for those further field… Thanks for your patience!

Winter Weather Cancellation Policy

With the recent snow and ice that has been seen in the Portland, Oregon region, and the uncertainty just how much more is in store for us, I wanted to take a moment to clarify Song by Song™’s Winter Weather Cancellation Policy. While this policy mostly applies to weekly classes, consider it also valid for workshops and retreats, unless where noted.

First of all, it’s important to clarify that other music schools in town often refer to the call made by Portland Public Schools (PPS) each day, and follow accordingly. That is, if PPS cancels school, their classes are cancelled. We do consider PPS decisions, but because most of our classes are offered in the evening, and Portland weather is so fickle as to drastically change over the course of the day, we do not automatically cancel classes is PPS has canceled school for the day. However, if PPS does not cancel the school day, but cancels afternoon / evening activities, we will cancel classes for that day. This does not apply to workshops and retreats, as they take place on the weekends.

In general, if any afternoon / evening class is to be cancelled, I try to make that decision around 12:00noon, to give you all plenty of notice. For workshops and retreats taking place on weekend mornings and afternoons, I try to make that decision by midnight the night before. Notice of any event cancellation will come by email, and be posted on our website and via social media. Please make a point of checking any and all of these modes of communication to make sure you get the word.

Sometimes, such advance notice is not always possible. If any unexpected weather rolls into the region, may be cancelled up until 1 hour before class begins. Please keep a close eye on your email and social media for confirmation one way or another.

If weekly classes are cancelled, all efforts will be made to add a class the week after the end of the term. This is subject to the teacher and site availability. If not possible, another date will be determined for a make-up class. If a workshop or retreat is cancelled due to weather, all efforts will be made to reschedule the event. Registrations and payments made for the original event will be honored at the rescheduled event, and refunds will be offered to those who are not able to attend the rescheduled event. In the rare case that an event is not able to be rescheduled, all registrations will be refunded.

When any event is cancelled, participants are encouraged to make a personal call as to whether it is safe for them to travel to the event. As we know, Portland neighborhoods can vary greatly in winter weather impact. Please be safe! If class is not cancelled but you feel it is not safe for you to leave your home, all efforts will be made to catch you up on material, whether through video tutorials or, occasionally, a mini-private lesson before or after the next class you do attend. No pro-rated refunds will be given. If a workshop or retreat is not cancelled but you feel it is not safe for you to leave your home, 50% of your registration fee will be refunded to you.

Thank you for taking a moment to review this policy. Any updates to this policy will be announced on this blog. Please direct any questions or comments to me at

November “Best Hits” Workshops – Registration Open Now!

The votes are in and we have our winners! Thanks for picking the topics for our “Best Hits” workshops coming up in November 2018. Registration is now open for all workshops, including a Workshop Pass that admits you to all three for a discount. Hope to see you there!

“best hits” workshops

All workshops take place at:

Lincoln Street United Methodist Church

5145 SE Lincoln St, Portland, OR

Click below to register!

70s / 80s Pop – Sunday, November 4, 1:00-4:00pm

Music of the Beatles – Saturday, November 10, 1:00-4:00pm “On the Road Again”  Traveling Songs – Saturday, November 17, 1:00-4:00pm


Workshop Pass – Attend All Three!

Questions about any of these workshops? Let us know:

Workshops return in November: Vote for your “Best Hits”

Ad for survey of workshops in November

As I prepare to return to teaching, what better way to get back into the swing of things than with some of our “best hits”?! We’ve learned a LOT of music these past several years as we’ve tackled a different genre of music each term. Let’s revisit our favorites! What are you excited to play? Vote for your favorites from the following:

  • 70s/80s pop
  • The Beatles
  • Classic Country
  • Motown
  • Music from the Movies
  • On the Road Again (Traveling Songs)
  • 60s Folk Revival

Be sure to fill out this survey to let me know what music you’d like to revisit, or learn for the first time.  You do not need to have learned the music the first time around, I’ll have packets aplenty.

Finally, all workshops will take place at our SE Portland location: Lincoln St Methodist Church, 5145 SE Lincoln St. Save these dates for these workshops, *times subject to change*:

  • Sunday, November 4, 1:00-3:00pm
  • Saturday, November 10, 1:00-3:00pm
  • Saturday, November 17, 10:00am-Noon

Check back soon to learn what the winners are and how to register!