- Feb 2, 2022
Jan, thank you so much for this! It makes perfect sense and will help me a lot. I'm going to think of those flat/sharp frets as the black keys on the piano (which I played for many years). I wonder if anyone has ever thought of making a fretboard with black and white frets? (Just kidding--what a monstrosity that would be.)Patty, I came to the uke with good music notation sight reading skills (from years of piano and harp playing). When I decided I wanted to play more than just chords on my ukulele, I decided to learn where the notes were located on the fretboard. Two things helped me with that process - (a) understanding that every fret represented a half-step or semi-tone, and (b) playing scales. I knew that the open 3rd string was C, so if I fretted the C string at the first fret, I now had C# (or Db). The second fret on the C string would be D, on so on. Using that knowledge, I was able to find and play each note of the C scale. Rather than playing the scale up and down the C string (which would be less efficient when playing a tune, and would also reduce the sustain for each note), I took advantage of the open strings. When I got to the E note, I moved from the C string to the E string. When I came to the A note, I moved to the A string. Over and over, I practiced the C scale an octave up and then back down. I then tried playing simple melodies that only used notes in that octave. After that, I figured out the notes I needed to play the C scale two octaves up and down. And then worked on tunes that included notes in both octaves. Then it was rinse and repeat for the G and D scales, and playing tunes in those keys, so that I could become familiar with the F# and C# locations. Continuing to practice the scales over and over really helped. Some people find that saying the name of the note out loud while playing it also helps to reinforce the knowledge.
Early on, I realized there was more than one location on the fretboard for many of the notes. But I waited quite a while before attempting to figure out where those alternate locations were up the neck. Once I was ready, I starting looking for them, and then began incorporating them into my scale practice. As I became more familiar with various small groupings of notes higher up the neck, I tried using some of those notes when playing a tune, especially when it was physically more efficient to do so. Over time, using those higher up notes became more natural.
It’s a process, for sure. But one that is well worth the effort. I do play from tablature as well, but the majority of the fingerstyle music in my uke repertoire is in standard notation. A lot of the melodies came from my piano, harp, and hammered dulcimer music collections - which don’t exist in ukulele tablature. My musical world would be much, much smaller if I didn’t read music.
Wishing you the best of luck on your own journey, Patty!
I'm printing out your message so I can keep it nearby as I practice. I may even cheat a bit and put tiny bits of Post-It notes (the sticky parts) on the flat/sharp frets as a reminder. You're brilliant!
Edit: Jan, I see that the "Unlock Your Fingerboard" video EDW sent recommends much the same approach that you advised. You apparently found it for yourself!