Impressions of One on One Lessons

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ailevin

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What does it mean to get fingers tangled? The wrong finger moves?
It means fretting a note with the wrong finger. In this particular case, playing second fret on the G string with the first finger (pointer) rather than the second finger (middle). Jordan is trying to get us used to playing melody using first finger on first fret, second finger on second fret, and so on in first position unless otherwise indicated. Tangled fingers is my term from violin playing days and it refers to what happens when a poor fingering causes the fingers to cross one another. You'd kind of like to keep the fingers in their own lanes moving across the fretboard from string to string. Strictly speaking it isn't a matter of wrong or right and there are often several reasonable choices for fingering. I believe that Jordan is just trying to get us to burn in good habits of where we hold our left hand and what fingers we use for the basic melodies and chords (shapes) we are playing.
 
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ailevin

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I've changed the title of the thread from Impressions of In Person Lessons to Impressions of One on One Lessons. We took our fifth lesson with Jordan yesterday in-person at their studio, and we've come to the conclusion that though there are advantages and disadvantages, we prefer the video lessons. From our point of view, themain advantages of the video lessons are:
  • No lesson time is used for setting up, tuning, packing up etc., so more teaching time per hour
  • No travel time or expense to and from lessons
  • We are generally more comfortable in our own music setup
The disadvantages are:
  • Poorer sound quality when Jordan plays something for us
  • More difficulty seeing when Jordan demonstrates fingering
  • We don't get to see all the amazing ukuleles around Jordan's studio
We discussed it with Jordan, and they are happy to do it either way, and the only disadvantage to them is the inability to reach out and move a finger or hand. However, they see that as minor and they have students who live pretty much around the corner who take video lessons. We have witnessed Jordan eagle eye (and ear) via video where they notice, remember, and go over every detail of what we have played even when we are playing duets.

Frankly I am surprised that we got to this conclusion. I expected lessons via video to be much less effective. I think it is important for others considering lessons to distinguish between one-on-one lessons from a teacher in person, one-on-one lessons from a teacher via video and prepackaged video lessons. The prepackaged lessons are generally less expensive, and you can watch them over and over. I suppose if you recorded the one-on-one video lessons, you could review them, and I will consider that in the future. The other advantage of the lessons via video is that they give you access to teachers at much greater distance, whether one-on-one or prerecorded. Obviously time zones matter, but in principle we could take one-on-one lessons with a teacher anywhere in the world. Time zones dont's matter for pre-recorded video lessons.
 
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ailevin

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We took our fifth lesson with Jordan in person yesterday. We spent the entire lesson on All I Have To Do Is Dream by the Everly brothers. I had done a melody only arrangement and a chord/melody arrangement in Musescore. Jordan did a chord/melody arrangement using a different tool (I don't recall which one). They gave me some general pointers on my arrangement, but we did the lesson from their arrangement. Surprisingly, just playing the chords or the melody from Jordan's arrangement was more difficult for both of us, partly because it was formatted differently, and there were a few actual differences in the structure of the arrangement. Also, neither of us really have either the chords or the melody really well practiced yet. Jordan spent a while talking about chord shapes, in particular using a closed form for Em so that it becomes a moveable shape. They said that learning to routinely use closed shapes advances your playing since you have many more voicings available. Jordan also worked with us on hand position and in particular coordinating position of thumb and first finger, and thinking about which fingers are leading chord changes.

For most of the lesson, the discussion and examples were mostly about Jordan's chord/melody version and the different choices that were possible for chord substitutions or voicings or alternate fingerings and also where the full chords should be played and where only a few of the notes of the chord should be played. I could see my wife glazing over during this discussion and when we discussed it afterwords, she thought we had not done nearly enough playing at the lesson. None of the music theory, chord numbers, voicings etc. register with her at all. As she put it, "I am just trying to consistently play the chords and switch between them." She is also not familiar enough with the fretboard yet for any talk of locating the root of a chord to be useful.

When we discussed it a little more last night, I realized that at the previous (fourth) lesson, I had some similar frustration that we had gotten almost to the end of the lesson doing only chord melody duets of Hallelujah and then only had a short time to go over the chord/melody version I had been practicing. For the next lesson we are going to discuss with Jordan having a first half and a second half to the lesson where each of us has a main agenda for our half, and the other is in a more supporting role. For instance, in my wife's half if she is working chords or melody and I play the other part, or if she is working a chord/melody passage, I can quietly play just the chords. Similarly, she can accompany my half as appropriate, depending on what I'm doing. We want to keep it joint, but we also want to make sure that we each have time to focus on our individual issues or what Jordan picks up on.

This week we are both going to practice Dream switching between melody and chords as a duet, and learning the chord/melody version.
 

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I enjoy this thread and appreciate your sharing.

The halving of the lesson sounds like a great idea. The paths your wife and you are on is quite different and it may be tough to manage this. I am more like your wife, wanting to get proficient at the music at hand and too much theory frustrates because it slows down the playing and physical improvement. I envy your path of learning the theory in order to be able to create better.

I await your next (weekly?) installment. Thanks!
 

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Agreed, this is a great thread and I appreciate your sharing as well. We all learn differently and it’s nice to see you work things out as a couple so that you both benefit.
 

Brian PacNW

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I enjoy this thread and appreciate your sharing.

The halving of the lesson sounds like a great idea. The paths your wife and you are on is quite different and it may be tough to manage this. I am more like your wife, wanting to get proficient at the music at hand and too much theory frustrates because it slows down the playing and physical improvement. I envy your path of learning the theory in order to be able to create better.

I await your next (weekly?) installment. Thanks!
I agree, halving the lesson is a great idea. Every one is different in terms of what they want. I happen to lean toward ailevin's proclivity of preferring to think about the structure and theory of what I'm playing. But I can hear the student before me needs to work on chord memorization and transitions (and that is what they're working on).

This really stresses the importance of students communicating with their teachers about what is needed. Glad to see that you (ailevin) and your wife are making steps to ensure that. (y)

And ailevin, +1 on using moveable chord shapes! I used to think that the 4442 was the cheating version of E major and that 1402 was the real version, whatever that meant. Having that "D major" shape available to use anywhere on the fret board is great.
 

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None of the music theory, chord numbers, voicings etc. register with her at all. As she put it, "I am just trying to consistently play the chords and switch between them." She is also not familiar enough with the fretboard yet for any talk of locating the root of a chord to be useful.
This would be my experience too. I like your decision to try a split format for your lessons. Good luck with that!
 
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ailevin

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Thanks to everyone for comments and support. I am pleased that folks are still reading my posts. I have a couple editorial comments and some further background that I'd like to share. My first name is Alan and I'm married to Chris. I want to start using her name in addition to the usual pronouns and the more possessive "my wife." Neither of us has a problem being called the other's husband or wife, we wouldn't have it any other way. I just need more variety because repeating the possessive over and over in writing seems to demote her crucial role in our ukulele adventures.

My music lesson expectations are conditioned by a dozen or more years of violin lessons with the same teacher, weekly at first and then twice a week. To say it was structured would be an understatement. My teacher studied with Jacques Thidbaud at the Paris Conservatory in the 1920s, and for a serious student of the Franco-Belgian school of violin playing there was a clear sequence of graduated studies, exercises, and small pieces from the beginner level to major concertos and Paganini Caprices, should the student live that long and get that far. And other than cotinuously cycling through 3 octave scales and arpreggios in every major and minor key, and playing studies in octaves, thirds, and sixths, there was no discussion of harmony or music theory or intervals. The scales were organized by major keys and their relative minor, but I never really thought about it other than recognizing they had the same number of sharps or flats. I guess my point is that I was used to a teacher telling me exactly what to do in terms of technique, when something was good enough, and what was next. While I developed a fair ability to play the violin, music theory was mostly mysterious. Obvously this sort of approach is not appropriate now, and to a certain extent wasn't appropriate then since I never followed up and enrolled in a music conservatory. But aspects of that history are burned into the way I approach the ukuklele, and I have to continually temper that.

Chris studied piano as a kid and had what I would consider a more normal experience. She started playing at five and stopped at twelve. As an adult she always had a piano in the house and enjoyed reading and playing songs and simple arrangements of classical pieces. She is also a capable singer, especially compared to me. She can not only carry a tune, which is to say sing in tune, but she can sing harmony and stay in tune. Thinking in terms of chords and singing while playing come more naturally to her, but she lacks any experience with a stringed instrument, so the notion of fretboard or fingerboard is foreign she has less sense of left hand positions and fingering.
 

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I regularly check back on this thread and enjoy hearing your thoughts Alan. Your attentiveness to Chris' needs/behavior and the way you want to refer to her in this thread makes me smile. It's great to see you two not only learning together but the level of respect you show is inspirational and heart warming. =)
 
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ailevin

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I've been keeping a practice diary this week, even if I only write a few lines. I only keep track of dedicated practice time not general playing or noodling around. About half my practice is joint with my wife, and half is solo. We have been working on the chord melody arrangement of Dream and it is coming together. The song is very repetitive, so that once you get some basic patterns down it becomes more natural. Then it is more of a challenge to get every not to ring and keep it moving properly rhythmically. The most difficult part of me is the closed Em chord shape. The most difficult part for Chris is learning to read the tabs and play only portions of chords at a time. She is actually kind of fried after each practice session on the chord melody. However, we are both improving day over day.

Today we also played around in non-practice playing time with other songs including an attempt at malaguena, but that is further out. We haven't worked on the pima stuff at all. So far our chord melody is all thumbs, with the occassional forefinger strum. However, our thumbs are getting better and better at finding the right string at the right time, so that is progress as well.

I have spent some time playing concert and soprano this week, along with my regular tenor practicing. I am constantly in this kind of comparative mindset looking for clues about advantages and disadvantages of the different ukuleles. Sometimes I wonder if it confuses my fingers to be playing the different sizes, but it seems like it doesn't take very long to adjust. While the difference in sound is very obvious, the differences in how they play and what I can do better or more easily on the different instruments is more subtle and complicated. Both the Pono and the KoAloha tenors have rather full necks and wide fretboards and I am used to that. When I use a ukulele with a narrower nut or flatter neck, I feel like my left hand is swimming around a bit trying to find the right place. That adjustment seems to take much longer than the change in fret spacing. I have a new soprano built by Pops Okami arriving next week and I am looking forward to the soprano scale with KoAloha style neck and fretboard. I know it is non-traditional, but I ordered it strung with low G so it would be consistent with what I am practicing on the tenor.
 

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I know it is non-traditional, but I ordered it strung with low G so it would be consistent with what I am practicing on the tenor.
I'm loving the opportunity to have a soprano strung low G. It's delightful. I'm sure you'll appreciate having the new Pops soprano strung that way.
 

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interesting thread... woulda been cool to have videos along the way (not nec posted here if not comfortable doing so, but to see your own progress)
 

ploverwing

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interesting thread... woulda been cool to have videos along the way (not nec posted here if not comfortable doing so, but to see your own progress)
Not too late to start that - they're still at the early stages of their journey. I've done audio recordings of some of my pieces and it's very interesting to hear the differences.
 
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ailevin

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Lesson six with Jordan yesterday in person at their studio. We are going to take next week's lesson in person as well because it is Valentine's Day, and we already have a reservation at a restaurant we like in Jordan's vicinity. After that we are moving to FaceTime lessons going forward.

Chris and I have both been working of a chord/melody version of Dream this past week. On the drive to the lesson we discussed how to manage the time during the lesson and decided it was less of an issue with both of us working on exactly the same thing. We also talked about not taking detours about music writing software and arranging techniques. That is definitely on me. I always feel like I have 10,000 questions I would like to ask at a lesson, and it can eat up time on on interesting, but tangential issues.

When we arrived, we talked to Jordan about what we had practiced and how to proceed, and I started playing the chord melody while my wife played only the chords and then we switched. Of course, my peformance was much worse than in practice, but there were no fundamental problems, it just needed more work, particulary transitions and the closed Em chord shape. Jordan made a few adjustments to my playing and to the arrangement. It was mostly about making sure that certain notes and chords were allowed to ring out to their full sustain. A habit from violin days that seems to work well on ukulele as well is to keep fingers down until there is a good reason to move them. I do this more or less instictively, but Chris finds this much harder to do. I think it has to do with some sort of finger awareness of how to move a particular finger with a chord or shape.

Chris's turn for chord/melody took considerably longer, which was appropriate since she was having much more difficulty with both the playing and reading/understanding tablature and the difference between tab numbers and fingering. Although Jordan was focused on help my wife, much of the discussion and explanation was also extremely helpful for me. I continue to learn more about the arrangement possibilities and alternative for different chords and fingering. Jordan consistently explain which notes in each chord or in chords within a phrase are important and why they are important. Also they explained why you finger chords according to what preceeds and follows, and that the typical default chord patterns are based on the most likely chord sequences.

In the last portion of the lesson we took a look at the first meditation in Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele by Daniel Ward. I gather this is how we are going to learn finger picking techniques. It strikes me as a melodius etude book. Jordan sent us a copie of the first three etudes, but I have since ordered the book. Our practice assignments for this week are 1) continue with Dream chord melody, 2) practice Dream chords only and at tempo and sing or hum melody, 3) Dream duet at temp duet chord only and melody only, 4) Arpeggio Meditation(s). While they sent us the first three Meditations, but I quite literally have my hands full with the first Meditation.

We were both pleased with the way that this lesson went. Just a couple of random notes. Jordan was play a Koa Romero Tiny Tenor, which was very cool for portability, but frankly I thought both of our tenors sounded better. I've noticed that when we are practicing together I usually start with the KoAloha and she starts with the Pono. We often switch part way through the practice, usually toward the end. I notice I've had trouble adjusting to the Pono at first, and when I compared the instruments, it seemed like the scale length is different. But when I measure, the scale of the Pono is 17" and the KoAloha is 17.25", not very much at all. We both agree that the KoAloha is easier to play.
 

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at least in my concert experience, the necks of pono and koaloha are quite different albeit with similar string spacing. but similarly, the koaloha wins on playability
 
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