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Thread: Getting the most out of private ukulele lessons?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2017
    Seattle, WA

    Question Getting the most out of private ukulele lessons?

    3 months ago, I started taking weekly, in person private (i.e. 1 on 1) ukulele lessons from a local instructor. At our first lesson, I shared my two (current) goals: jamming with other folks and learning how to improvise.

    So far, I've learned quite a few things. From the playing pentatonic scale to memorizing the movable chords. However, despite diligently practicing these areas—and supplementing lessons with the vast collection of music theory books I've accumulated over the past few months—I've been really unable to put the lessons into practice when it comes to my goals in mind. In short, I'm having a difficult time applying the lessons I've learned.

    I gave some feedback to the instructor, explaining that I learn best when I have context and can directly apply what I'm learning. His suggestion was two-fold: continue to just practice the movable shapes and just play around on the ukulele and discover the music. The latter is to help (presumably) build intuition and train the ear. However, this style of learning vastly differs than how I normally approach learning: taking a structured approach.

    Basically, I like to know why I am doing something and I like to apply what I'm learning to solidify the material. So, I thought perhaps I could suggest the following to my instructor in our next lesson:

    - Working through a music book together
    - Selecting a song and practicing
    - Jamming more in our sessions

    But I'm wondering if maybe I should just allow myself to follow his lead, given he's the instructor. And that taking a less structured approach might be the right approach, albeit very different than the way I normally learn. In contrast, I find my singing lessons with another instructor very aligned with what I'm looking for: we practice during the session and the she gives me exercises to work on throughout the week.

    In other words, I'm wondering if I should just continue with the less structured approach on the ukulele or suggest to him that I'd like to take a more structured approach (but this doesn't seem like it is his style). Please bare in mind that I have little (to no) background in music and pretty wet behind the ears when it comes to taking music lessons.

    [1] At Dusty Strings in Fremont, I picked up the following book: Fretboard Roadmaps Ukulele Bk/CD
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2015
    Upper Hale, Surrey/Hants border, UK.


    We all learn things differently.
    If a structured approach is how you learn best, then that is the kind of instruction you need.
    You won't be happy if it doesn't suit you.
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    Blaine, Washington


    What Uke1950 says and also join the STRUM Group in Seattle. Uncle Rod is one of the better leaders out there. For myself, it takes playing with others to fully comprehend how all the theory you're learning now and putting it to use.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    West Los Angeles, California


    I agree with uke1950. There is nothing worse than an instructor who is not on the same wavelength as you. It can be unfulfilling when you are not fully enjoying the learning experience. They may be a good teacher but perhaps not for you.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2017


    It sounds to me as if you have had about a dozen lessons which, in the bigger picture of things, is not that many but more than enough to get you started. In a class room setting, with other adults, I had roughly 8 lessons of about 2 hours duration before I joined a Uke Club. In your position I’d expect to be joining a club now to strum and sing along and I’d expect that your teacher should have been preparing you for that before anything else. If he’s teaching you scales then that’s premature in my opinion, at this stage in your learning you need to be establishing the basics and understanding that improvisation and the like is something for several years time (maybe decades). I suggest you reduce your lessons to monthly for now, join a Uke Club, see what it is that you want to understand and do better right now (what you’re using and attempting now as a club player) and then tell the man that you’re paying what areas the classes will cover. Like everyone else Music Teachers need to put bread on the table, most are honest folk but unfortunately some don’t have common objects with their students and others ‘milk’ the students they have (or the student’s parents).
    Last edited by Graham Greenbag; 10-23-2017 at 01:43 PM.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Ames, Iowa/San Juan, Puerto Rico


    I'm with the rest of them, if you want to learn to play with others, then there is really no substitute for playing with others. Improv, that's another thing. I've been working on that for years, with mixed results. Sometimes I feel inspired, and sometimes I wonder why I even try. I think that comes with the territory. Improv is an ever evolving endeavor. But back to playing with others, does your instructor play along with you? I have my one ukulele student, and we have been jamming together since the first lesson. When I demonstrate something to her and ask her to give it a go, I always play along with her. I think that it really helps her. You instructor should be good enough to slow it down and stay with you. I mean, sometimes I just have to play super slow and wait while she struggles through things for the first time, but I always play along. That would seem to be a good start it think. It would give you a better feeling for playing with someone else at least.
    Last edited by Rllink; 10-23-2017 at 09:15 AM.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Twin Cities, MN


    I'm not sure learning to improvise can be very structured. It's a lot of playing around. Learning what fits. I like structure in lessons, too. But when we got to improvising? It was pretty loose.

  8. #8


    If you've tried and it's not working for you just find another instructor. I do that with dance classes all the time. After you get what you wanted, you may want to try them again later to try something out of your comfort zone

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2017
    Pennsylvania, USA


    I strongly agree with several of the points mentioned above:

    A) If you feel you don't vibe well with your current instructor, don't hesitate to find a new instructor. There are many methods of teaching and many modes of learning. It works out better for both master and student if they are on the same wavelength.

    B) To learn to jam with others you have to play along to music. Live musicians are probably best, but records can work too. Playing along will teach you to follow the feel and rhythm of the music, which is the key skill when playing in a group. Jamming does also require a certain level of proficiency, which varies depending on the nature of the music being jammed.

    C) Improvisation is by its very nature a freeform art. Yes, there is structure and theory to it, and you must study those structural and theoretical elements (e.g. your pentatonic scales and movable chords.) In the end though, the goal of improvisation is to hear those studied elements and string them together in ways that please you, and do it while flying by the seat of your pants. To do this skillfully, you will spend many, many hours nailing down the structural parts, and then years(a lifetime?) figuring out how to best put them together on the fly. Noodling around is unavoidable because the goal of improvisation is essentially noodling with intent.

    Congratulate yourself for all the progress you have made! Remember your studies, but don't forget to have fun!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2010


    While there are lots of good points, I have always felt that if you put yourself in the hands of a teacher, trust his/her judgement and see where it leads you. A good teacher may have a different perspective and you may not see the big picture. You need to develop a vocabulary and a fluency on the instrument. As you develop skills you can take things where you want.

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