View Full Version : Help. I learned the Uke wrong, and I can't un-learn it.

08-10-2014, 09:57 AM
I started learning on a guitar, so with my uke, my chord shapes are the same as guitar shapes in my mind (where C is G, F is C, etc). The problem is, I can't unlearn this. When I try, I want to give up the instrument altogether. I've written all my songs with the "wrong" chords.

I want to start learning tabs now. It doesn't seem like it will be affected much by my problem.

Has anyone else experienced this? What did you do?

Jim Hanks
08-10-2014, 10:15 AM
Well, you could get materials for baritone uke. The shapes and names there will be the same as the top 4 guitar strings. So 0232 will be D for example. Then if you have a smaller instrument in your hand, you'll have to transpose the music up a fifth so it'll come out right with your shapes.

I have kinda the opposite problem. I treat all my ukes as if they are GCEA even if I'm holding a baritone. So I have to transpose music around to fit instruments. But I find that easier than learning different names for the same shapes.

Tabs are a different beast since you have the fret numbers and you can ignore the chord names.

08-10-2014, 10:19 AM
Not being a traditionalist, I adapted the instrument to me rather than the other way around. The past couple years I've been predominately Tenor Guitar and Mandolin (got tired of six-string), so when the ukulele came along, it got tuned GDAE so that the left hand and right brain did not have to reformat. it was a simple adaptation (low-G, C tuned up to D, and the E and A strings swapped. The uke sound basically stayed the same (only one string slightly modified), and the "play-ability" and enjoyment has been fine.

It's still about the music, so do what works for you. If others prefer "traditional," it's their choice and nothing wrong with that. Correspondingly, setting up an instrument to where it compliments you is okay, too. It's however the instrument provides the musician with the best means of making music pleasurable to the musician (and not the critic) that matters.

Consider investigating alternative tunings which compliment your style, ability and fun.

08-10-2014, 01:03 PM
Has anyone else experienced this? What did you do? ... simply ignore it and carry on "as normal", no-one will know ;)

I play my ukuleles as I play my guitar, 0232 is still a "D-shape" even if it's now a "G" (or even an "A" if I'm playing the instrument I've got in "D" tuning)

The only "problem" I've got is if the song I want to play is presented as a set of chord "letters" as opposed to chord shapes, then I have to do a few quick pencil notes or simply play it in the "wrong" key. With practise, it's no big deal :)

As noted by other(s), playing by tab doesn't have this problem, but it does limit you if you can't find the music you want already tabbed out.

I've also got a soprano tuned GDAE, just like my mandolin, but my mandola plays seven semitones lower ... all the same chord shapes ... then my 5-string banjo is different again. It's just a case of a different set of chord shapes, much like I was playing in a different key (which I may well be, but that's by-the-bye)

It's called "transposing" and is perfectly normal in the wider music world. Descant and treble recorders use the same fingering but play different notes. A clarinet is similar to a treble recorder, "six fingers down" plays a "G" on both instruments, but the clarinet actually plays an "F", even though it's called a "G" ... don't ask !!

08-10-2014, 01:28 PM
I can sympathize with your plight! It seems my brain is incapable of holding the information for both the guitar fingerings and the ukulele fingerings at the same time. I have the same trouble with soprano and baritone ukulele fingerings. I had the same problem with soprano and alto recorder fingerings. On a given instrument, I can only seem to hold one set of fingering patterns in mind at a time. If I start playing my guitar, I have to look up even the simplest chords for a while. Then if I switch back to my ukulele, the same thing happens. It's very frustrating! My workaround has been to keep the fingerings, and just transpose everything at sight. So, for example, with the baritone uke DGBE tuning, being a 4th lower than the soprano GCEA tuning, if I see a baritone F chord, I transpose it in my head to a C chord, and use the soprano C fingering for the chord. I suppose that seems too complicated for anyone who can keep more than one set of fingerings in mind. But it is the only thing that works for me.

08-10-2014, 02:57 PM
I switch up all the time, playing bari DGBE and smaller ukes gCEA. At first it was confusing and I have the occasional misstep, playing the wrong chord shape, but eventually it falls into line and it's like knowing two languages..you see a chord name and you have the pair of chord shapes in your head, sorted in reg. Language and bari language. Sometimes I have a tune in my head where I just have a series of chord shapes in my mind, without really thinking about the chord names and if I'm not playing with others, I just go with it and play it as I know it, disregarding whether I'm playing it in G or C, for example. Other times, I do have to just think a little harder and change the shape bari to reg or reg to bari, simply because I can't sing in the other key. Some times I'll pick up a piece of music and start to play it on my bari but find I can't sing it in whatever key it's written in and don't want to strain my brain so I just grab a standard tuned little uke and "problem solved", it's singable. It is more work and a little confusing learning the two different shapes for each chord name (especially 2nd or third positions) but it does get easier. I was tempted in the beginning to just buy string sets to give me the same tuning, but didn't really care for how it sounded. I didn't think it brought out the best in the instrument..but it was very tempting to have them all the same. I also toyed with the idea of just sticking to one size, but couldn't do that, I love bari and sop both too much to choose. In any case, I feel your pain.

08-10-2014, 03:37 PM
Give up the guitar, keep the uke!

08-10-2014, 04:07 PM
Give up the guitar, keep the uke!

Here here! Or, rather hear, hear! ;)

08-13-2014, 04:37 PM
Don't give up on uke!!!!!

Maybe, on a few songs you know really well, put the uke chord names above the names of the guitar chords you're using. Your brain will start relating the two and it will get a little easier.

No matter what, though, don't quit uke.

08-13-2014, 05:45 PM
There's something called plasticity. Of course you can unlearn, but why don't you think of it as learning a new instrument rather than associating it with a different instrument?

08-13-2014, 10:28 PM
What helps me a lot is thinking of the guitar/bari tuning as "sharper" and the standard tuning as "flatter". So if I want to translate C-tuning stuff (which I'm now more familiar with) to bari names, I have to go sharper: I think "what's the next sharper major key (signature)" or "what's the next position in the fifths sequence" (FCGDAEB, the clockwise pattern for the sequence/wheel of fifths). Whichever instrument I've played (and also from choral singing), I've had key signatures so drilled into me that that's the easier way for me to think. So my (C tuning) D shape plays A on baritone: the next sharper key from D is A. If you're reading lyric sheets for uke but still thinking in guitar shapes, it's the same thing: the chord name you see is flatter than the guitar shape you want.

To find the C-tuning name for a guitar/bari name or shape, I do the opposite: it's flatter, and also the direction chords (particularly dominant 7ths) like to resolve: BEADGCF. This reverse sequence is easier for me to remember because the "hard" part spells BEAD; that just leaves GCF, the three keys with the fewest accidentals. When you have to wrap the sequences around, that's when you make the entire next sequence either sharper (first case) or flatter (second case). The more I do this mental translation between bari and standard, the new names or correspondences stick, linked mentally to the size of the instrument and different hand feel (stretch) of the low-position chords, and now I'm becoming more automatically "binominal".

I've also got a simple orienteering scheme for mapping the fretboard for each size, and when I switch sizes, I may quickly run over the mappings for that size. It helps me switch gears.

Another thing that helps me is that I associate each chord shape I know or learn with which string the root lies on (sometimes the root is doubled and lies on two strings). The root for the D (guitar/bari A) shape lies on S3; F (bari C) lies on S2; G7 (bari D7) lies on S1; the same with G (D) except that it has a secondary root on S3; A (bari E) lies on S1 with a secondary root on S4; and so forth. (Most minor chords vary from the corresponding major shapes by just a fret position on one string, and so have the same root string; similarly with most other closely-related chords, like 7ths, major 7ths, 6ths and sus4s, reducing this extra memorization greatly.) Since I can at least remember the C major scale in first position for each size, the position of the root note tells me which shape to apply. If I'm playing a certain shape, I know its root location on the fretboard, and so can put a name to that note/chord. This is excellent preparation for playing in other positions, where I mostly think in relative root movements or shape progressions anyway: each movable shape relates to a first position one, and thus shares the same shape-to-string root mapping.

08-14-2014, 03:33 AM
I don't play two musical instruments, let along two stringed instruments, but I think it might be a lot like Bunny said, it is like speaking two languages. I speak two languages and have no problem with either unless I start to think in one language and speak in the other. When that happens I get stuck between the two and can't speak either. I don't know if that is what is happening or not, but maybe if you can just do "guitar think" when you are playing the guitar, and "uke think" when you are playing the uke, that would help.

08-26-2014, 02:01 PM
I played the guitar for years before I discovered the Uke. Best thing that ever happened to me, I love it. For a time none of my guitars got a look in anymore. Recently I put a capo on the fifth fret of my favourite guitar so I could play ukulele chords. The capo is now almost a permanent fixture on the fifth fret of my guitar. I like the tinkly sounds, and I can play Ukulele chords as well as using Ukulele strums. These guys also appear to be doing just that http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBumgq5yVrA

08-27-2014, 03:35 AM
You absolutely can re-learn it. When the new correct playing habits become comfortable enough, they will extinguish the old habits.......it takes as long as it takes.

PS: Stop telling yourself you "can't unlearn it." It's a very self-defeating idea and just isn't true. Replace that with "I can unlearn it."

08-27-2014, 04:31 AM
Transposing to different keys is a great skill to learn in any case. And, like Phil said, yes, you can ... it just takes practice.

I have been practicing since early days playing along with others from charts that are in different keys than the song is being played in.

So then transposing between guitar / bari uke and standard uke tuning is just one specific case of this.

Yes, it's confusing, at first ... like anything else you haven't learned yet ... but it gets easier with practice ... like anything else. :)

You'll get it!

(You could just keep playing it the way you have been ... but you'll have challenges when you try to play with others. :))