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Thread: "Big picture" Ukulele learning method?

  1. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Shastastan View Post
    Well, you could try Uncle Rod's Boot Camp since he encourages learning chords and progressions before learning songs.
    +1 on Uncle Rod's Boot Camp. That's a great overview of common forms in common keys. It may well be the Big Picture you seek. Just remember, this is a picture you hear. I'm not sure the type of learning methods that have brought you to grad school are perfectly adaptable to learning music. Music is a different subject, and it requires the attention of your brain in a different way than reading about it.

    What I think you want is ear training.
    Last edited by Cooper Black; 07-31-2012 at 09:35 AM.

  2. #12
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    It seems to me that something like learning to play an instrument - which blends diverse elements like understanding theory, ability to decode written music, and physical training - is not a thing that fits well into a "big picture" philosophy. Even such (for lack of a better word) "holistic" approaches like finding a song you like and learning it involves starting from a sequential set of exercises involving proper finger placement, strum techniques, etc. Unlike a purely theorhetical or partially subjective field of study, playing an instrument begins with repetitive practice of the most basic concepts. It's very much like trying to teach someone to re-learn a language: you don't begin with having them write a graduate-level paper on something, you begin with learning the alphabet.

    That said, the top-down approach is certainly around. In fact, a rather odd and slightly mad music store owner I met has created his own sort of musical approach called Echometry, and he has (I believe) an app for an iPad or iPhone. I can't do it justice, but it blends music, geometry, philosophy and other concepts into a rather ambitious attempt. Give it a look at echometry.com
    Last edited by PoiDog; 07-31-2012 at 10:24 AM.
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  3. #13
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    Music is like mathematics---it's impossible to see the big picture without some basic techniques and language---you won't find a method that starts with music theory and progresses to playing songs.

    The one resource I know of that may suit your needs is James Hill and Chalmers Doane's "Ukulele in the Classroom" series. Their goal is to teach students about music via the ukulele. They do try to accomplish the goal one lesson at a time, though. The instructor's versions of this series go into detail about each lesson's musical goals. Maybe that would help contextualize each lesson in a big picture for you. You can get a peak at these books here.
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  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alligator View Post
    Hi all. This is my first post. I've been playing (with) the ukulele for about a year and a half but haven't found a way to practice or learn that has "clicked" yet.

    I'm a grad student/lecturer and it turns out different people learn in different ways. I think this is the source of my blues. Most people are "sequential" learners. They do great by learning details. A procedure here, an idea there. And eventually they build them up into a big picture. Or not. It doesn't really matter because they can learn the details without a big picture.

    I'm the opposite: a global learner. I need the big picture. Once I have it, details follow fairly quickly. But without it I can't do much (ok, anything).

    The thing is, ukulele instruction seems like a sequential learner's world. Ukeminutes, youtube lessons, and most books I've encountered tend to focus on isolated details: strum like this, play this song with these tabs. I'm looking for help putting it all together.

    Does anyone know of a book or method that begins with more of a big picture? For example: This is what music is, this is how you create it with a ukulele, when you change this this happens, etc. I'd imagine that you'd only get to actual notes and songs near the end. I once found something like this called The BanjoHero manual (which was great but seems to have disappeared from the web. Also it was for banjos).

    Thanks!

    p.s. If you are interested in learning styles, you can find a real account of them here (just skip past all the stuff that's not global vs. sequential). You can even take a quiz to find your own style here
    Great question, Alligator, and one that I have pondered myself. I studied this stuff in grad school too, when it finally dawned on me that the reason United States compulsory education was a failure for me was that it's geared toward sequential and verbal learners, of which I am neither. As a visual/kinesthetic/global learner, I've sometimes wondered what business I have attempting to learn a musical instrument in the first place!

    I can't learn online via videos because I need to interact in order to process information. I can't learn from books because I don't have the patience to read them - I prefer diagrams, pictures, etc. (On the other hand, I am *great* at assembling flat-pack furniture from wordless instruction manuals!)

    That being said - there's no single how-to that has worked for me. Websites have been bookmarked and ignored; with a couple exceptions, books just gather dust on the shelves, no matter how highly recommended they have been. What has worked has been having an instructor who understands my learning style and has the patience and ability to work with it. So if that's an option at all for you, I highly recommend it.

    The book that has helped somewhat is Fretboard Roadmaps - but I know the author and took instruction from him personally. Without that, I'm not sure that the book would have made any sense to me at all. The basis of it is understanding patterns, though, so it does provide a sort of big-picture approach, rather than focusing on the nuances of theory, so you might want to check it out.

  5. #15
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    It sounds like you need to lay aside the ukulele and all instrument related books for a little bit. Find an introductory level book on music theory and [b]composition] and read it through a couple of times. Then, when you pick up the ukulele and uke-specific books you should have your big picture to fit the details into.

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  6. #16
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    I'm going to cut to the chase and paraphrase what others have said.

    A helluva lot of it is muscle memory. Period. Practice, play, whatever - over and over and over and over and over. Pick a song. Learn the chords. Then play it til you're sick of it. Then do it again.

    Eventually (hopefully) after a period of time that part will become second nature. Then you can think about the big picture. At my pace it took about a year-and-a-half to feel comfortable playing through the chord progressions on about a dozen tunes.

    But I've enjoyed all of it and met a bunch of great people in the process. I might view the whole process differently if I were doing it for reasons other than my own enjoyment.
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    Quote Originally Posted by janeray1940 View Post
    (On the other hand, I am *great* at assembling flat-pack furniture from wordless instruction manuals!)
    See, there are sequential learners, slow learners, visual learners, reflective learners, tactile learners...

    And then there's janeray1940, who is in a group I will now call "Ikea learners."

  8. #18
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    Thank you everyone for the suggestions! You've given me quite a bit to think about and quite a few leads to follow up on.

    You've also prompted some new thoughts to float up in my mind. If you'd like to hear a newbie try to sort things out, read on

    I agree completely with the practice/muscle memory/10,000 hour approach. 10,000 hours with the ukulele sounds wonderful, which is why I think I'm in the right place.

    Music theory is a "big picture" that I'm learning, but not the "big picture" I had in mind. I can whistle without music theory and if I could play the ukulele as well as I can whistle, well that'd be awesome!

    What I have in mind probably sounds much stupider. If I was a child with no knowledge of music theory, how would I interact with the ukulele? I'd probably strum it or try to imitate someone. If I'm lucky, I'd stumble upon some way of hitting the strings that sounds nice. And I would repeat that ALOT. Eventually I might notice that if I change it *this* way my noise sounds happier. If I change it *that* way the noise sounds sadder. One far off day, I might completely master making the sounds I imagine in my head on the ukulele. But it would all make sense relative to that basic strum I became comfortable with. That strum is the big picture I'm thinking of. It makes me wonder how self taught musicians learned. I've heard stories of blues men who started by playing the diddley bow as a kid (one board, one string, two nails). Maybe there's something there worth trying.

    I probably need to work on my right hand. I can make notes happen with my left hand, but they don't really run together. I haven't come across much advice about the right hand, but I haven't really looked for it either.

    Perhaps just one song, a simple song really well learned could be the big picture I'm looking for.

    Anyhow, thank you again for the advice. This was a much bigger (and more helpful) response than I hoped for!

  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alligator View Post
    If I was a child with no knowledge of music theory, how would I interact with the ukulele? I'd probably strum it or try to imitate someone. If I'm lucky, I'd stumble upon some way of hitting the strings that sounds nice. And I would repeat that ALOT. Eventually I might notice that if I change it *this* way my noise sounds happier. If I change it *that* way the noise sounds sadder. One far off day, I might completely master making the sounds I imagine in my head on the ukulele. But it would all make sense relative to that basic strum I became comfortable with. That strum is the big picture I'm thinking of. It makes me wonder how self taught musicians learned. I've heard stories of blues men who started by playing the diddley bow as a kid (one board, one string, two nails). Maybe there's something there worth trying.
    If you were a child knowing only a few nursery rhymes by ear and not much else you'd probably grab the uke, hold it more or less like a guitar you once saw and start strumming to get a rhythm. You'll soon realize (not necessarily consciously) that your strumming sounds odd somehow. At that point, helpful dad might come in handy and first of all tune your uke before showing you the first basic chord(s): C (0003). All over sudden you start strumming C chords which sound much nicer than all strings open. And pretty soon you want to sing your nursery rhymes along the uke - but that doesn't fit completely due to some other harmonies which can't be covered by a C alone. The journey begins....... (eventually with adding Am (2000) and F (2010) and all the rest of these)

    Bottom line: first thing when picking up the uke is always (unless you just want to dust it off) tuning. Second thing is to learn some basic fingerings for a "harmonic" sound. Anything from there depends on you - YMMV.
    Last edited by Louis0815; 07-31-2012 at 10:30 PM.
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  10. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Louis0815 View Post
    If you were a child knowing only a few nursery rhymes by ear and not much else you'd probably grab the uke, hold it more or less like a guitar you once saw and start strumming to get a rhythm. You'll soon realize (not necessarily consciously) that your strumming sounds odd somehow. At that point, helpful dad might come in handy and first of all tune your uke before showing you the first basic chord(s): C (0003). All over sudden you start strumming C chords which sound much nicer than all strings open. And pretty soon you want to sing your nursery rhymes along the uke - but that doesn't fit completely due to some other harmonies which can't be covered by a C alone. The journey begins....... (eventually with adding Am (2000) and F (2010) and all the rest of these)

    Bottom line: first thing when picking up the uke is always (unless you just want to dust it off) tuning. Second thing is to learn some basic fingerings for a "harmonic" sound. Anything from there depends on you - YMMV.
    I absolutely agree with all of this. Whatever your preferred learning style, you have to start somewhere. Make sure your uke is in tune, pick a two chord song, get over the initial physical fingering difficulties by refusing to give up. Watch a couple of basic tutorial videos on basic strumming and a few basic chords, and take it from there. Your own musical preferences will take you in the direction you want to go - but you have to walk before you can run, and there are no shortcuts. And when you feel you want/need musical theory, you find it out. Roy Smeck, possibly the greatest ukulele player ever, couldn't read music until until he decided to teach himself, after being a "wizard of the strings" for decades! And from the start, he practiced for hours and hours, every day. Good luck! If you want it, you'll do it!
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