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bigchiz
12-31-2011, 06:26 AM
Background:
The group in our community started in November 2010 by a middle school teacher who has been playing for 20+ years, and has dropped in on other groups while traveling. He is happy with his skill level, and jokingly says "anything past the third fret and you're just showing off". Several other regulars are beginners, and that's great because we all start somewhere.

The group shares music that consists of lyrics with inline chord changes. Sometimes the chord fingerings are included on the side, top, or inline.

I joined the group six months ago, after having "retired" for 8 years as a semi-professional bass player of 20 years.

Another person came on the scene about two months ago and has 20+ years ukulele experience and has gigged on different instruments. He used GuitarPro software and made some charts for the group. Some of the fingerings provided required going past the third fret. Those were perceived by some as complex chords (as opposed to adding +9).

The group is experiencing a separation in skill level, and a contrast in the desire to improve. The higher skilled players appear to inadvertently be a threat to those who are happy not knowing or caring what a "key" is, for example.

Question:
Surely this phenomenon is not new to our group. How have others handled similar situations? Is it time to suggest branching into a beginners and an advanced group?

SailingUke
12-31-2011, 11:22 AM
My take on this:
Those who are happy playing first position chords and singing should not be looked down upon by those wishing to move up the neck.
It is common with all groups that there is a contingent who wants to learn more. To some learning more songs is learning enough other strive for more abilities. I teach some songs up the fret board and always lose a few folks who can't grasp the concept there are more than one "C" chord.
My sugesstion is for those who want to learn get together for a learning session between the other meetings, when is the group everyone should play at their ability. The point is to have FUN. Folks playing a "C" in second/third position adds a dynamic to the group. Do NOT split your group the ukulele is a very social instrument. I have a group where a few folks have been playing 40 years and a few folks just bought their uke. We all get together and play.
I myself am fairly new to ukulele, but have been working really hard on learning.

janeray1940
12-31-2011, 11:31 AM
Definitely not unique to your group - I've played in several local groups and experienced a couple of things: either the songs chosen by the group leader are fairly simple, first-position strumming and singing, with no more complex parts offered to those with the skills; or if there were more difficult parts, most people were intimidated and wouldn't try. Just can't win either way!

I don't think splitting the group is the answer - coming up with arrangements that interest all skill levels is. And this is easier said than done - wish I had some advice to offer but I'm in the early stages of learning exactly this right now.

Harold O.
12-31-2011, 11:38 AM
I empathize with your situation.

The Canogahana Players have been together for a couple of years. Because of my relationship with Guitar Merchant, I arranged the venue timing and lead the group. Thing is, I am a beginner/intermediate level player and that's where I keep the music for our two hour gatherings. This keeps things pretty simple and lets people get comfortable with certain songs. I mix up the playlist of course and anyone can bring in a new one for us to try. But I keep it at the B/I level.

There are a lot of pretty good players in our area and several have stopped in. They add their two cents now and again, but I keep friendly reigns on them. It's all good and folks seem to understand without being insulted. What happens, though, is when group guys start getting beyond what we play, they want to know more than is offered. Most times, they just drift away. But we keep getting brand new people in, so that's where I play to.

When an intermediate player steps into an advanced group, it's easy to get overrun and discouraged. Likewise, if a more advanced guy has to sit through two hours of 12-bar blues, he'll be looking for the exit. How many people have you met who cringe at the thought of even holding an instrument, let alone playing one or singing in public? It's an intimidating experience. Get a group of beginners together and start talking about circle of fifths, second position, or even low-G tuning and they will scamper. All they (we) really want to do is play a few songs.

What I did with my group was decide what level I could best lead a group at. Then I stick with that. I bring the play list, I say if we should play that song over or move on to the next one, and I let the conversation go as long as I want it to before calling out the next song. Someone has to be in charge, regardless of the situation. It might as well be me since I arranged the venue, put out notices, and show up every time. We're all friendly—I'm not the boss, I'm just in charge. If the advanced guys want to form up, fine with me. But the Canogahana Players (noon to two on second and fourth Sundays at Guitar Merchant) are a beginner/intermediate group and will stay that way.

Our group varies between five and ten at a shot and I'm sure it would grow if I changed things up now and again. But you know what? I'm still enjoying it.

You're not alone out there on the frozen plains. If you are not comfortable with standing up and announcing your issues, perhaps you could quietly get some of the people at your level together separately and form up from there. You can always meet with the larger group, too. As Alan said, the ukulele is a social instrument. As I always say, "it doesn't need to be that hard."

I'm sure you're aware that musicians can be a fickle lot and some are more forceful than others. Even in your targeted group, someone will still have to be in charge.

Good uke'n to you, keep us updated.

quiltingshirley
12-31-2011, 01:30 PM
I do hope you have a way of all staying together yet not limiting anyone. The group I go to has some very advanced players, and everything in between. I'm probably the most beginner there (can't carry a tune or keep the timing), but I pick a song out of the Daily Uke and have lots of fun singing along with the others. We go around in a circle and when it comes to you, you pick what you want to do. It makes a nice mix of "I wish I could play like that" -- and "wow, that doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard before" (not in a pleasant way). No one rolls their eyes or says anything to make the player (me) feel like not trying another song when their turn comes up again. We always leave feeling better than we did when we get there. It's just fun.

haolejohn
12-31-2011, 01:39 PM
Why does it matter the skill level of the players? I know nothing of music but I can kinda hang once shown something. Maybe the group can stay same but spend part of the time just jamming which can help all skill levels. Just my two cents.

Harold O.
12-31-2011, 01:53 PM
Why does it matter the skill level of the players?

We wish it didn't matter. But the reality is much different. Some people come to groups expecting lessons; some want to strum/sing for fun; others want to learn some Hawaiian culture; others are hoping to meet new people; ... the list goes on.

No one group can meet all demands. A roomful of beginners needs something different from advanced players. Some groups I know of groups that aren't even groups in my sense of the word. It's more of a gathering where one person plays a song, then passes the spotlight to the next person. It's a fine way to learn new songs and have yours heard.

If you can give up trying to be everything to everybody, more people will be adequately served.

haolejohn
12-31-2011, 06:00 PM
We wish it didn't matter. But the reality is much different. Some people come to groups expecting lessons; some want to strum/sing for fun; others want to learn some Hawaiian culture; others are hoping to meet new people; ... the list goes on.

No one group can meet all demands. A roomful of beginners needs something different from advanced players. Some groups I know of groups that aren't even groups in my sense of the word. It's more of a gathering where one person plays a song, then passes the spotlight to the next person. It's a fine way to learn new songs and have yours heard.

If you can give up trying to be everything to everybody, more people will be adequately served.
Reality is what you make of it. We have such a wide range of skills but everyone is welcome to join in. we have guys that make a living playing music and them just normal hacks like me. It is all about the atmosphere. People want to feel welcome and the only way to do that is by meeting everyone where they are. Or java jams are more of a social gathering but it has evolved to more of a performance.e use that Uke book that jim beloof put out. we strum, pick, and pay lead. We try easy songs and hard ones. But we always have fun and there is always a lesson being taught by some one on the side.I think some folks take tue ukulele too serious.the ukulele is all about having fun.it is one of the few instruments where the players are supportive of the player.most issues you heat about asst these Uke clubs are from musicians that come from other backgrounds and have ego issues.just my thoughts.

OldePhart
01-01-2012, 09:39 AM
The most important thing is to keep the dynamic fun - that's not just true of a ukulele "club" but of almost any voluntary group. Probably the easiest way to do this is for everyone to play the same songs (you don't want to split the group) but realize, and in fact encourage, the fact that most songs really lend themselves to easy / intermediate / show-off levels of performance all in the key. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a performance where some players (probably beginners) are strumming the easy open-position chords while more advanced players are free to run up the neck to their heart's content, throw in an arpeggio here and there, and so on. Frankly, there is little more boring than hearing fifteen people in a room all "down down down-up down" the same three chords. Having a little variety in the song, and even variety verse to verse, is a very good thing.

Finally, if you have some far more advanced players "pick on them" to solo occasionally. I.e. do a couple of verses where everybody sings, then a verse where one of your hotshots solos over strummed accompaniment, then back to all in on the last verse, that sort of thing.

If you use this technique I think you'll find something lovely - you'll have a few very contented folks who never move off the C-F-G7 but many others will gradually gravitate towards learning more because they're associating so closely with the intermediate and advanced players. Some of those who couldn't "make the leap" from charts in open position to charts up the neck will begin to approach it a little more slowly - but they'll eventually get there. A few will be inspired to want to learn to finger-pick, and so on.

Ideally, you want a variety of experience levels in a casual group. Beginners by and large aren't going to grow if they're only around other beginners. "Forcing" beginners to play with intermediate players will actually promote growth across the whole group. Even the intermediate players will improve as they become mentors for the beginners. I work in the training industry and most educators will tell you that somebody hasn't really learned something until they can teach it to someone else using their own words. (HaoleJohn can back me on this :) )

John

GreatGazukes
01-01-2012, 11:12 AM
The most important thing is to keep the dynamic fun - that's not just true of a ukulele "club" but of almost any voluntary group. Probably the easiest way to do this is for everyone to play the same songs (you don't want to split the group) but realize, and in fact encourage, the fact that most songs really lend themselves to easy / intermediate / show-off levels of performance all in the key. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a performance where some players (probably beginners) are strumming the easy open-position chords while more advanced players are free to run up the neck to their heart's content, throw in an arpeggio here and there, and so on. Frankly, there is little more boring than hearing fifteen people in a room all "down down down-up down" the same three chords. Having a little variety in the song, and even variety verse to verse, is a very good thing.

Finally, if you have some far more advanced players "pick on them" to solo occasionally. I.e. do a couple of verses where everybody sings, then a verse where one of your hotshots solos over strummed accompaniment, then back to all in on the last verse, that sort of thing.

If you use this technique I think you'll find something lovely - you'll have a few very contented folks who never move off the C-F-G7 but many others will gradually gravitate towards learning more because they're associating so closely with the intermediate and advanced players. Some of those who couldn't "make the leap" from charts in open position to charts up the neck will begin to approach it a little more slowly - but they'll eventually get there. A few will be inspired to want to learn to finger-pick, and so on.

Ideally, you want a variety of experience levels in a casual group. Beginners by and large aren't going to grow if they're only around other beginners. "Forcing" beginners to play with intermediate players will actually promote growth across the whole group. Even the intermediate players will improve as they become mentors for the beginners. I work in the training industry and most educators will tell you that somebody hasn't really learned something until they can teach it to someone else using their own words. (HaoleJohn can back me on this :) )

John

+1 on this advice

I was involved in a very small group of five,(they'd get newbies turn up once then never be seen again) which was meeting once a month, as the co-ordinator stated she was unable to devout any further time to the group. Fair enough, I was contented enough at that. Then she advised she was going to book us into a music festival in 5 months time, Ok Icould deal with that, lets do a few songs and see how we go... anyhow, five songs to work on and get some good vocals going, yep thats OK. The thing that p'd me off was that all the songs had some less than ordinary chord positionings. Heck, is it really necessary to make 'em all difficult? Any way, I brought the songs in reformatted with simpler progressions, then the following month, the "other" leader has them all changed back to how he thinks they sound best. Truth is his arrangemants were finer, but being pushed to musical proficiency in a short period of time was not providing me with any pleasure. And frankly, being quashed for my trying to get the group have a base line of proficiency was irritating.

This is the second group I have been involved in.

It seems to me that there are people who come to ukulele groups with no instrument background, such as myself, and are fairly slow learners, and to whom a ukulele group is a lifeline to learn from, as well as a place to "hang out" with other "ukulele dags". The other people will have some degree of guitar background, and they will learn faster than the others. Pushing people is good, overwhelming them brings distress.

Good luck with your group, I applaud your dedication in organising it.

Cheers

MisterRios
01-01-2012, 11:32 PM
I discovered my local group as a beginner, and, honestly, learned a ton of stuff from the intermediate and advanced players. Everyone is always willing to give you tips, or even let you play their uke- I had played ukes with so-so setups until the last time when I played a beautiful Moana (though the MOP was still a bit much) and I realized my first uke was too high on the first fret.

I do have to say that sometimes the more advanced players start jamming, and the beginners are left, holding their ukes silent,waiting for everyone to finish. Not so much fun, but that's what happens when people don't bring songsheets. I would say that the group has to accept all skill levels- which is certainly easier than accepting all musical tastes (I know the obscure songs in my group, but not the more popular ones that everyone else does).

Matimeo
01-02-2012, 03:03 AM
One uke group I know of has their 2 hr. jam divided into a beginner/advanced sections. The first hour has easier stuff and welcomes all skill levels from never played and up. The second hour is understood to be more complex. Everyone is welcome to stay and play what they can.

OldePhart
01-02-2012, 05:48 AM
One uke group I know of has their 2 hr. jam divided into a beginner/advanced sections. The first hour has easier stuff and welcomes all skill levels from never played and up. The second hour is understood to be more complex. Everyone is welcome to stay and play what they can.

A lot of Irish and bluegrass sessions are set up this way. They'll have 45 minutes to an hour "slow jam" when everybody helps beginners, they run through various songs at reduced speeds and with simple compositions, etc. Then they follow that up with 45 minutes to an hour of lickety-split stuff. Most of the beginners come away happy because they learn a little early in the evening, then get a great show the second half of the evening.

ONe of the other posters pointed out something important, though - this doesn't happen just by accident. If you want to make sure that beginners don't get left in the dust, or that all your best players get bored and leave, then you need to provide enough formal structure for this sort of "two-part" dynamic to work. I.e. everybody needs to come expecting that the first part is going to be a "workshop" and the second half a "fast jam." You need to strongly encourage good players to come to the early part and help out - otherwise a lot of them will tend to come in just in time for the fast jam and that's not healthy for the group dynamic.

whetu
01-02-2012, 08:51 AM
One uke group I know of has their 2 hr. jam divided into a beginner/advanced sections. The first hour has easier stuff and welcomes all skill levels from never played and up. The second hour is understood to be more complex. Everyone is welcome to stay and play what they can.

Came here to say this. This system works great for my group, and the more advanced players treat the first section as a warm up. We've got a serious guitar player in our ranks who will hear a basic version of a song and go "I know the riff on the guitar, let's see if I can do it on the uke" and it's great: the newbies are plonka plonking away happily and he's filling out the sound. The more advanced uke players pick up off him and everybody wins.

bigchiz
01-02-2012, 11:26 AM
Came here to say this. This system works great for my group, and the more advanced players treat the first section as a warm up. We've got a serious guitar player in our ranks who will hear a basic version of a song and go "I know the riff on the guitar, let's see if I can do it on the uke" and it's great: the newbies are plonka plonking away happily and he's filling out the sound. The more advanced uke players pick up off him and everybody wins.

Lot of good discussion and ideas here, appreciate the info. Good to hear the 2 hour jam split with the first hour for easier stuff and the second hour for fast jam works for some groups.

Our group will meet on Jan 10. We will see how the discussion on this topic goes. We do all want to get along and continue enjoying playing!

Skidmore
01-02-2012, 11:48 AM
I started a group called the St. John's Ukulele Club a few years ago here in Newfoundland with a couple of friends. As someone who started playing his first stringed instrument in his mid 40s, I've always been one of the slower learners. :) We tend to play a combination of tunes, some of which are of the 3 chord variety, and some which are more complicated. We encourage everyone to get better and that trying the harder songs will only improve their overall playing. As well, if it is a challenging song, we might suggest that you just play one or two chords in the song, until you improve. Other times, we might pick up a percussive instrument and just play along.

Our major solution was to create a band out of the more serious members of the club, which we call the St. John's Ukulele Orchestra. We've done two RPM albums with this core group and also created three music videos with decent production standards.

The one problem we've run into is we don't get together as a club anymore, but we're hoping to rectify that this month.

bigchiz
01-11-2012, 05:11 AM
Our group leader suggested that if people want to play more difficult songs they are welcome to meet outside the group, not interested in splitting the time into a first hour/second hour. Although it was never decided what a "difficult" song is. Some of the songs our leader and others have brought to the group have 8 to 10 chord changes, syncopation, dynamics and tempo changes. A few of us might meet on the side and still come to the group too. Not sure where this is headed, we do all want to continue playing as a group though.

It was interesting that after 30 minutes of talking, just as we were getting ready to play our first of the song of the night, a newbie walked in. Our leader instructs her for about 10 - 15 minutes on different ways to tune, different models of ukuleles, how the group was founded, signing the guest book and so forth. In the mean time I flipped through the group book to find an easy tune or two that has the pictured chord changes inline. We actually have very few of those. We played "I Walk The Line". This then led to a sequence difficult for a beginner, things in different keys requiring teaching/learning new chords. Coincidently the difficulty of songs we played increased beginning in the second hour. Hmm.

Discussed The Daily Ukulele book at our jam last night too. Only our group leader was not interested (at first), several others already have the book and are using it. One guy got the book shortly after getting his uke a year ago and was intimidated by it, which I find odd because many of the songs we play are written in "short hand" and are also in the book. Bottom line, our jam session host CGS Music will be ordering 6 copies for the 6 people that want the book (including the leader who later changed his mind). Folks were talking about ordering it online, I pointed out it would be nice to support Bob since he stays open late allows us to play there twice a month. People decided to pay full price and support Bob, who mentioned he is contractually obligated to charge the printed price. Keeping some money local, and a sign of support for our host. Yeah!

Thinking a good next step is to put together a list of entry level songs that are in The Daily Ukulele to help with the "instant satisfaction" factor. So then in two weeks when we meet again there is a better chance of success with the group for the first time using the book.

SailingUke
01-11-2012, 05:28 AM
One of the things I like about the "Daily Ukulele" book is that it is readily available and everyone has the same version and key.
In one of the groups I play with, they picked out some core songs to played at every gathering.
Folks can practice these songs and play them at their own level. Advanced players can add embellishments and mix those into the group play.
After the core songs are played, they go around the room and everyone gets a chance to pick a tune.
While most pick a song from the book, sometimes song sheets are handed out.

bigchiz
04-11-2012, 06:24 AM
So now 3 months later we had a nice showing of 15 people last night, most were regulars. Our leader returned from a trip to Michigan where he sat in with several groups and they all used The Daily Ukulele partially or exclusively. The venue where we jam is a music store and they sold all their copies of the book but have more on order and some of the players last night are on the wait list.

The group meets twice a month, the second and fourth Tuesday. During the off Tuesdays a few of us have been meeting at my house and working on songs that are a little more challenging, some of which are in the Daily book.

Everyone is happy and we are making progress.

SailingUke
04-11-2012, 06:54 AM
One of the groups I play with always seems to have great leaders.
I recently learned the leaders get together and pick out and play songs they are going to have the group play.
With good leadership all players can follow along.

PoiDog
04-11-2012, 07:02 AM
I agree with the Phart. Even if you're playing a very basic song, you can probably accommodate several layers of skill level within it. Have the beginners do the basic strum (i.e play rhythm guitar), and let the more advanced types go ahead and do the more intiricate melody on top (i.e. lead guitar). Not only do you end up with people playing and reaching for their level, you get cooler sounding songs as well.

Plus, by doing this many of the folks who say they only want to memorize a few basic chords may see just how much a uke can do, and start wanting to learn more. My personl experience is that people who say they are happy with the very basics are often just intimidated and don't have the confidence in their own ability to advance.

Lastly, if there is any interest, you can even introduce a small study session where some of the more advanced players can tutor the beginners in things like forming barre chords, moving up the neck, or basic fingerpicking or strum techniques (fan strum, chunking, etc).

Just my two coconuts.

Elainede
04-11-2012, 12:21 PM
We have the same situation with our group. Doing the beginners for the first half hour seems to work for some groups, but not for ours. (The fact that it pre-empted wine and pupus may have been part of the reason. What seems to work for us to do simple songs, but let the hotshots take a lead or solo in the middle which seems to keep everyone happy...........so far! We also make a point of doing a couple of tunes that stretch everyone's skills a little....just to the point where they don't get frustrated. Good luck....

bigchiz
04-22-2013, 08:02 AM
Little over a year later, here's an update. The group is now focussing on novice players and standard sheet music is banned. However lyric sheets with chord indications and forward slashes which sometimes represent beats (play or rest) are allowed. The premise is that sheet music is too complicated for beginners.

A new group recently formed and is called Lancaster Ukulele Aficionados United (LUAU). Lincoln is in the county of Lancaster. Interestingly enough we will meet at the same venue, just on different nights.

As stated in another thread on this topic, I like to view this as growing pains and feel fortunate to be in a community with enough organized ukulele players to have such a problem.

Wonder how the monks ever resolved issues of music notation centuries ago.

SailingUke
04-22-2013, 08:16 AM
Pardon my blutness, but banning music sheets with notaion is ridculous.
There are many two chord songs, if a player can't ignore the notes and play the chords and sing the lyrics, they should probably find a new hobby.
I am NOT saying everyone needs to read music, but merely having it there should not be cause for not allowing it to the group.