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itsmemattchung
10-23-2017, 07:33 AM
3 months ago, I started taking weekly, in person private (i.e. 1 on 1) ukulele lessons from a local instructor. At our first lesson, I shared my two (current) goals: jamming with other folks and learning how to improvise.

So far, I've learned quite a few things. From the playing pentatonic scale to memorizing the movable chords. However, despite diligently practicing these areas—and supplementing lessons with the vast collection of music theory books I've accumulated over the past few months—I've been really unable to put the lessons into practice when it comes to my goals in mind. In short, I'm having a difficult time applying the lessons I've learned.

I gave some feedback to the instructor, explaining that I learn best when I have context and can directly apply what I'm learning. His suggestion was two-fold: continue to just practice the movable shapes and just play around on the ukulele and discover the music. The latter is to help (presumably) build intuition and train the ear. However, this style of learning vastly differs than how I normally approach learning: taking a structured approach.

Basically, I like to know why I am doing something and I like to apply what I'm learning to solidify the material. So, I thought perhaps I could suggest the following to my instructor in our next lesson:

- Working through a music book together
- Selecting a song and practicing
- Jamming more in our sessions

But I'm wondering if maybe I should just allow myself to follow his lead, given he's the instructor. And that taking a less structured approach might be the right approach, albeit very different than the way I normally learn. In contrast, I find my singing lessons with another instructor very aligned with what I'm looking for: we practice during the session and the she gives me exercises to work on throughout the week.

In other words, I'm wondering if I should just continue with the less structured approach on the ukulele or suggest to him that I'd like to take a more structured approach (but this doesn't seem like it is his style). Please bare in mind that I have little (to no) background in music and pretty wet behind the ears when it comes to taking music lessons.

[1] At Dusty Strings in Fremont, I picked up the following book: Fretboard Roadmaps Ukulele Bk/CD

Croaky Keith
10-23-2017, 07:54 AM
We all learn things differently.
If a structured approach is how you learn best, then that is the kind of instruction you need.
You won't be happy if it doesn't suit you.

Patrick Madsen
10-23-2017, 08:01 AM
What Uke1950 says and also join the STRUM Group in Seattle. Uncle Rod is one of the better leaders out there. For myself, it takes playing with others to fully comprehend how all the theory you're learning now and putting it to use.

cyber3d
10-23-2017, 08:03 AM
I agree with uke1950. There is nothing worse than an instructor who is not on the same wavelength as you. It can be unfulfilling when you are not fully enjoying the learning experience. They may be a good teacher but perhaps not for you.

Graham Greenbag
10-23-2017, 09:08 AM
It sounds to me as if you have had about a dozen lessons which, in the bigger picture of things, is not that many but more than enough to get you started. In a class room setting, with other adults, I had roughly 8 lessons of about 2 hours duration before I joined a Uke Club. In your position I’d expect to be joining a club now to strum and sing along and I’d expect that your teacher should have been preparing you for that before anything else. If he’s teaching you scales then that’s premature in my opinion, at this stage in your learning you need to be establishing the basics and understanding that improvisation and the like is something for several years time (maybe decades). I suggest you reduce your lessons to monthly for now, join a Uke Club, see what it is that you want to understand and do better right now (what you’re using and attempting now as a club player) and then tell the man that you’re paying what areas the classes will cover. Like everyone else Music Teachers need to put bread on the table, most are honest folk but unfortunately some don’t have common objects with their students and others ‘milk’ the students they have (or the student’s parents).

Rllink
10-23-2017, 09:10 AM
I'm with the rest of them, if you want to learn to play with others, then there is really no substitute for playing with others. Improv, that's another thing. I've been working on that for years, with mixed results. Sometimes I feel inspired, and sometimes I wonder why I even try. I think that comes with the territory. Improv is an ever evolving endeavor. But back to playing with others, does your instructor play along with you? I have my one ukulele student, and we have been jamming together since the first lesson. When I demonstrate something to her and ask her to give it a go, I always play along with her. I think that it really helps her. You instructor should be good enough to slow it down and stay with you. I mean, sometimes I just have to play super slow and wait while she struggles through things for the first time, but I always play along. That would seem to be a good start it think. It would give you a better feeling for playing with someone else at least.

sukie
10-23-2017, 11:27 AM
I'm not sure learning to improvise can be very structured. It's a lot of playing around. Learning what fits. I like structure in lessons, too. But when we got to improvising? It was pretty loose.

captain-janeway
10-23-2017, 12:40 PM
If you've tried and it's not working for you just find another instructor. I do that with dance classes all the time. After you get what you wanted, you may want to try them again later to try something out of your comfort zone

MopMan
10-23-2017, 01:32 PM
I strongly agree with several of the points mentioned above:

A) If you feel you don't vibe well with your current instructor, don't hesitate to find a new instructor. There are many methods of teaching and many modes of learning. It works out better for both master and student if they are on the same wavelength.

B) To learn to jam with others you have to play along to music. Live musicians are probably best, but records can work too. Playing along will teach you to follow the feel and rhythm of the music, which is the key skill when playing in a group. Jamming does also require a certain level of proficiency, which varies depending on the nature of the music being jammed.

C) Improvisation is by its very nature a freeform art. Yes, there is structure and theory to it, and you must study those structural and theoretical elements (e.g. your pentatonic scales and movable chords.) In the end though, the goal of improvisation is to hear those studied elements and string them together in ways that please you, and do it while flying by the seat of your pants. To do this skillfully, you will spend many, many hours nailing down the structural parts, and then years(a lifetime?) figuring out how to best put them together on the fly. Noodling around is unavoidable because the goal of improvisation is essentially noodling with intent.

Congratulate yourself for all the progress you have made! Remember your studies, but don't forget to have fun!

EDW
10-23-2017, 01:42 PM
While there are lots of good points, I have always felt that if you put yourself in the hands of a teacher, trust his/her judgement and see where it leads you. A good teacher may have a different perspective and you may not see the big picture. You need to develop a vocabulary and a fluency on the instrument. As you develop skills you can take things where you want.

70sSanO
10-23-2017, 02:58 PM
This is a tough one. I guess my first question is whether you know how the scales interact with what chords or is it just a rote memory and dexterity exercise. Once you understand the why behind the notes, it opens up what you can do when jamming or improvising. Unfortunately some people can grasp the theory and some can't grasp it. Just like math, some people get it some people can't.

I think it is difficult for instructors to bridge learning theory with just memorizing patterns. It is probably more prevalent with guitar instructors because so many of their students just want to learn riffs or have an instructor tab something out.

A friend of mine who had played guitar (hack) for years went to an instructor and wanted to start from the beginning and understand theory, the instructor was taken back because it was a request he had never had in years. My friend introduced the CAGED system to the instructor and over the next couple of years my friend mastered the fretboard and understood what he was doing. He plays bluegrass and changes keys and improvises. But it was hours and hours and hours of practicing. FWIW... one of the early exercises was memorizing every note on the fretboard.

You just have to decide how much you want to put into it and is your current instructor able to get you there.

Or, you can join a club and strum along and just mimic everyone else.

John

Booli
10-23-2017, 08:10 PM
as far as structure and context - if not songs, are you at least learning chord progressions in a given key?

Movable chord shapes alone do nothing for musicality since you can move up or down a fret, but without a key or a melody or a progression to follow, it seems a lot like spitting into the wind for me...

Having said that, I 'explore' the fretboard all the time when songwriting, and improvising is a key part of that, however I've been learning and playing music since I was 5 yrs old, and writing my own songs since I was 15 yrs old (48 now) so I'd advice you to manage your expectations that you need to learn some basics before you can get close to your goals, as you need the tools and skills as a foundation to build upon.

You can study music theory until your eyes bleed, but none of it will help you unless you learn HOW to use the music theory.

For example, if you see a music staff with one flat, on it, do you know what key that is? looking at the circle of fifths can help you, and from there you will know the major and minor scales, and then from there you can build a chord progression.

You have not mentioned learning any actual songs, but doing so, may get your closer to stitching these pieces and tools together in your mind so you can understand the why and how of theory in terms of how music 'works'...

Also, how much practice time do you put in per day? Are you just noodling around, or following exercises or learning songs or what?

Without daily practice of at least 30-60 mins, your 3 months of lessons are nothing more than you just paying to listen to someone preach and give examples. If you feel lost when you get home and sit down with the homework from the lessons, then either your understanding of the lesson is lacking or the teacher has not given you a foundation from which you can get started when he/she is not there....

Just my 2 cents...good luck...

brUKEman
10-24-2017, 03:00 AM
As far as I'm concerned, the purpose of playing the ukulele is to have fun. Tell your instructor a couple of songs that you would like to learn and if he can incorporate that into the lessons then stick with him. Once you learn a couple of songs well (without looking at the music) then you can start the improvisation portion of your journey. Also, the idea of a uke club is a must. This way you will be exposed to different size ukes, different tuning and different styles of ukulele playing. Lastly, is your instructor a guitar player who teaches ukulele, or is he a ukulele player who teaches ukulele (there is a big difference).

Rllink
10-24-2017, 04:06 AM
As far as I'm concerned, the purpose of playing the ukulele is to have fun. Tell your instructor a couple of songs that you would like to learn and if he can incorporate that into the lessons then stick with him. You know, that is my attitude about it as well, but as time has gone on I have run into more and more ukulele players who have made learning to play the ukulele into some sort of "discipline". I did not expect to find that with ukuleles, but it is there. Now maybe that is fun for them. Maybe they need to have that self discipline in their lives and they get that from sitting down each day and following a script. I don't know what drives other people to do what they do, but that is why I dumped classical guitar and my classical guitar instructor after a month and ran off with a ukulele. Some people don't like being disciplined.

itsmemattchung
10-24-2017, 07:18 AM
Thanks for all the comments and suggestions. I took them into consider when meeting with my instructor last night.

Last night, I met with my ukulele instructor and broached the topic of how I've been feeling about our lessons. I expressed how I'd like to adjust the ratio between playing during our sessions and listening to music theory, devoting more time to playing and only sprinkling (enough) theory on top—instead of the way around because there has been a lesson (or two) where the entire time was spent on him delivering a lecture with maybe 5 minutes of actual playing. To be fair, I did ask him to elaborate on the theory because I struggle with memorizing something without understanding the why behind it.

Third, I suggested reducing the cadence of our sessions, from weekly to bi weekly (i.e. twice a month).

Finally, I asked him to be more direct when it comes to suggesting practice exercises; for example, "you should practice the chord shapes" is not enough guidance for me (maybe down the line, though, once I build my fluency). I asked him to help me construct actual exercises; in short, I'm searching for concrete guidance that emphasizes on the "how" to practice instead of the "what" to practice because without the "how", I'm left with creating my own practice routine mostly inspired from the Ukulele Aerobic book[1]

In response to my feedback, he suggested the following:
- Picking out a song that we can work through and that I can showcase (if I feel comfortable) during one of his upcoming student concerts, giving us something to work towards
- Practicing strumming patterns (from a sheet he provided) with a metronome

I'll continue my lessons with him and will likely evaluate another instructor to see if there's a style of teaching more aligned with what I'm looking for.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Ukulele-Aerobics-Levels-Beginner-Advanced-ebook/dp/B00LSPYYZS/

cyber3d
10-24-2017, 12:41 PM
Thanks for all the comments and suggestions. I took them into consider when meeting with my instructor last night.

Last night, I met with my ukulele instructor and broached the topic of how I've been feeling about our lessons. I expressed how I'd like to adjust the ratio between playing during our sessions and listening to music theory, devoting more time to playing and only sprinkling (enough) theory on top—instead of the way around because there has been a lesson (or two) where the entire time was spent on him delivering a lecture with maybe 5 minutes of actual playing. To be fair, I did ask him to elaborate on the theory because I struggle with memorizing something without understanding the why behind it.

Third, I suggested reducing the cadence of our sessions, from weekly to bi weekly (i.e. twice a month).

Finally, I asked him to be more direct when it comes to suggesting practice exercises; for example, "you should practice the chord shapes" is not enough guidance for me (maybe down the line, though, once I build my fluency). I asked him to help me construct actual exercises; in short, I'm searching for concrete guidance that emphasizes on the "how" to practice instead of the "what" to practice because without the "how", I'm left with creating my own practice routine mostly inspired from the Ukulele Aerobic book[1]

In response to my feedback, he suggested the following:
- Picking out a song that we can work through and that I can showcase (if I feel comfortable) during one of his upcoming student concerts, giving us something to work towards
- Practicing strumming patterns (from a sheet he provided) with a metronome

I'll continue my lessons with him and will likely evaluate another instructor to see if there's a style of teaching more aligned with what I'm looking for.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Ukulele-Aerobics-Levels-Beginner-Advanced-ebook/dp/B00LSPYYZS/

nicely done! best of luck to you on your ukulele adventure.

ksiegel
10-24-2017, 01:50 PM
In response to my feedback, he suggested the following:
- Picking out a song that we can work through and that I can showcase (if I feel comfortable) during one of his upcoming student concerts, giving us something to work towards
- Practicing strumming patterns (from a sheet he provided) with a metronome

I'll continue my lessons with him and will likely evaluate another instructor to see if there's a style of teaching more aligned with what I'm looking for.


That sounds like what you need to do, so Mazel Tov!

I don't read music or tab - play totally by ear, and find I learn more, and better, when I'm playing with people who play better than I do, regardless of the instrument. I've found myself doing an improve noodling more than I can count while everyone else is is playing the song straight, and concentrating on the "official" strum pattern. After a workshop with Ken Middleton 4 years back, I started to pay attention to playing 2nd and 3rd position chords while others are playing the first position, as it really does change the music. Even if I don't know the name of the chord.

I've gone from hopelessly lost while the guitar and banjo players around me are capo-ing their instruments to death, while I just find the base chord and transpose on the fly -even though I prefer to play in C, because that's where the singing is most comfortable.

All of this has led me to some "jazz" chords, and using the diminished-7 chords (in multiple shapes) without knowing what they were - they just sounded right, and were repeatable.

When I use what I call a "Lead Sheet" (and it is probably not the right name for it), it is generally the words and the chord names. If I don't know, or can't learn the melody, and I want to play a song, I'll just make up a tune that fits within the framework, whether it is repeatable, or not.

While I admire someone who can fit in a structured musical environment all the time, well, that isn't me.

One time I opened up my case at an in-progress multi-instrument Swing Jam Stu Fuchs was leading (Strings, woodwinds, brass, and keyboards of every shape, size, and description), and Stu turned to me, said "E-flat, Kurt - Take it!" and I started playing a syncopated melody I pulled out of my butt on the spot, sliding all over the fretboard, up and down the strings, and Sweating Bullets.

I had no idea what I was doing, but it wasn't horrible.

If I was a trained musician, I would probably have done a Great Job, and that's where the structure I can't make work comes in. I did OK, had a great time, and most importantly, have never worried about taking a solo since.

You will do fine. Keep playing!


-Kurt

(I don't practice - I play.)