Goals, Tips, and Thoughts

JCar

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As an amateur musician and ukulele enthusiast I often find myself sharing my passion for music with friends, family, acquaintances, strangers, and pretty much anyone else willing to listen to me. That being said, I have frequently been asked by these people if I could teach them how to play. At this point I've casually taught a good number of people how to play the ukulele. It has been a highly rewarding experience. After all, the only thing more satisfying than taking part in your own passion is sharing it with others. I would like to share some of the strategies and techniques that have helped me both personally learn to play better and also teach others more effectively. These are mostly just thoughts and ideas largely opinion based (so let me know what you guys think and how your own opinions vary!)

First things first, you are born a musician. Sure, some people have a little more or a little less natural talent but everyone is born with the ability to identify rhythm, recognize patterns and differentiate between pleasing sounds and dissonant ones. This is good news! It means anyone that desires to has the ability to learn to play.

Second, the goals of a musician:

In my opinion, no matter what instrument you're learning, no matter your ability level, and no matter the style of music you like to play, the ultimate goal for any musician is the same.

They are: 1) The ability to reproduce any music they hear on their chosen instrument
2) The ability to interpret and create music proficiently from written symbols i.e. notated music or tablature
3)(and in my opinion the most important) The ability to take the musical ideas they come up with in their head and effectively execute them on their instrument i.e. improvisation or the writing of original songs

All work put into learning an instrument, all technique, all theory and ear training etc are to further those 3 goals. Having goals in mind makes for more focused and disciplined practice.

Conversely, the teacher's focus should be to bring the student to a level where they can pursue these goals independently.

Next, some practice tips that I feel are under focused:

1) Get a stand for your instrument and keep it in the room of your house you spend the most time in.

Take advantage of the human condition. If you get home and sit on your couch after work and the closest thing to you is the TV remote while you're ukulele is in its case in your bedroom you're probably going to spend the evening watching TV and not practicing. So keep it where you can see it and play it, you'll be shocked how much more you practice. If you're trying to learn an instrument, keeping it in its case in your closet is setting yourself up to fail.

2) Listen to music.

No I mean really listen. You're not a spectator anymore. Start simple, identify the rhythm, figure out the meter the song is written in, identify the chord progression. Visualize what the performers physically doing to produce the music he or she is making. You will rapidly start incorporating ideas you heard into your own playing.

There's something to be learned from every performance.

3) Don't go straight to the tabs!

Want to learn a new tune? Try and figure it out by ear first. Yes its exceedingly frustrating at first but you will improve quickly. Think about it like this, if you were blind folded sitting at your keyboard and someone asked you to type a sentence out for them, could you do it?

Probably not 100% accurately but most people this day and age could take those words they hear and without looking at the keyboard more or less spell them out. Think about the mental processes that are going on, you're taking spoken words, deriving meaning from them, translating them into symbols and without looking, physically hitting associated keys to input them into the computer. This is not so different than learning a song by ear and the more you do it, the more familiar you are with your instrument and the relationship between different pitches the easier it becomes.

4) Play everything you hear

A jingle from a commercial on TV? That new Miley Cyrus single? The sound of your doorbell? Try and recreate everything you hear. You're ear will improve leaps and bounds.

This will also help to ward off something I call circular practicing. Where you learn 3 or 4 tunes and every time you practice you still only play those 3 or 4 tunes.

5) Invest some time in learning about the history and mechanics of the instrument

When was the instrument invented and for what purpose?

Why does pressing down on a fret make the pitch higher?

What materials is this instrument made out of ?

Answering questions like this not only makes you more knowledgeable about the instrument and how it works but also creates a personal investment in it. You're far more likely to stick to something you've invested time and research into.

Well there's my 2 cents I hope at least some of you guys can extract something useful from my ramblings. Please feel free to give input as well and let me know if you disagree with anything I'm always looking for ways to improve.

Learning an instrument is like hiking up a large hill with a gentle slope, anyone can eventually make it to the top as long as they invest the time it takes to get there.
 

Rllink

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I'm self taught. I don't really talk about ukuleles to a lot of people who don't play ukuleles. If they ask me about ukuleles, I am more than happy to tell them about my ukulele experience, but I seldom bring the subject up in casual conversation. So I'm sort of opposite. My attitude and goals during the two plus years that I've been playing is to play every day, practice with purpose, learn something new every week, and get just a little better every day. That's it for me.
 
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padlin

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Pretty much the same as Rlink. I feel no need to talk to anyone about the Uke. I play cause I enjoy it. I'm certainly not a musician, no more then I'm a doctor just because I can put on a band-aid and take an Aspirin on my own. I'm a ukulele player.
 

AndieZ

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Jcar, I really like you post and agree with everything you've said. I'm new to uke and have taken it up so i can accompany myself singing. I'm just having a low few weeks at the moment which frustrates me a bit but i need to go with it.

The internet has been incredibly helpful to my relationship to music and learning about my instruments - my voice and the uke.

I don't think there's anything to be gained in refusing the idea of seeing yourself as a musician but if you are happy to not push yourself, that's also completely fine and your right and you should be comfortable doing that.

Since i've taken up the uke, but mainly as a result of a singing site i'm on in which the owner is excited by the idea of songwriting, my own interest in attempting this at some point has been piqued even though i have no amibitions to become a professional songwriter. So i have created a bit of a study on the side of songs with a view to future song writing. Meanwhile back at the ranch, I do struggle quite a bit with learning to play the songs that interest me well. I think i've probably set myself a fairly hard task by taking the uke on in the first instance with the goal of going busking. So you see i need to learn how to play quite a few songs really well. Actually maybe i should start a new thread for this topic but Jcar, i invite you to engage with me on it if you wouldn't mind...
 

timmit65

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4) Play everything you hear

A jingle from a commercial on TV?

Great point, My old boss, a really accomplished guitar player, says one of the ways he improved was playing along with Saturday morning cartoons....Back in the days when they showed cartoons on Saturday morning.
 

zztush

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Thank you very much JCar for this very nice thread. I totally agree with your opinion. I just add my goal as musician here. It is just my goal.

Second, the goals of a musician:

In my opinion, no matter what instrument you're learning, no matter your ability level, and no matter the style of music you like to play, the ultimate goal for any musician is the same.

They are: 1) The ability to reproduce any music they hear on their chosen instrument
2) The ability to interpret and create music proficiently from written symbols i.e. notated music or tablature
3)(and in my opinion the most important) The ability to take the musical ideas they come up with in their head and effectively execute them on their instrument i.e. improvisation or the writing of original songs

All work put into learning an instrument, all technique, all theory and ear training etc are to further those 3 goals. Having goals in mind makes for more focused and disciplined practice.

I think one of the most fantastic joy of music is voluntary and self generated joy. This joy is more important than improvement or achievement in music for me. If we don't have much of this joy, we look for other joy outside ourselves. We look for appreciation of other people, we look for new ukulele, new strings....

My goal as musician is to get and keep voluntary joy of music.