Documenting Daily Ukulele Progress


Well-known member
Oct 10, 2008
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Tallahassee, Florida, USA, Earth
OK, I’m about to begin documenting daily practice hours, fingerstyle songs I’ve put into memory, scales, fretboard memorization, string changes, etc. I’m hoping my playing will improve by adding structure to my daily ukulele routine, rather than simply sitting down and do whatever strikes me at the moment. I practice 1-2+ hours daily.

Anyone use a sys to document their progress. For those that do, any thought/suggestions?
As you know, I have a similar journal and the biggest complaint I get is that I don't have pictures. The reason I don't have pictures is that it would take as long to do that as play. Presentation is an art form and it requires work to make the information digestible to others. I am not willing to put the time into it. If you want to reach a wider audience, then consider a lot more visual aids.
I think you raise several different issues in your original post. Adding structure to your practice routine, keeping track of when and how much you practice, documenting your technical progress, managing your repertoire, and communicating any or all of these things to others and yourself are related but somewhat distinct objectives. If you are going to spend the time to document anything, and it will be time consuming, I suggest you think about who you are documenting for, and how the document will be used.

I started out with just a paper journal where I would jot down anything ukulele related. In the short term it was useful as a sort of to do list and to help reinforce concepts or thoughts, and it kept me from just making notes to myself on scraps of paper. However, it quickly became rather unmanageable and unuseable as a reference since it had no structure other than a date heading on each page. It made more sense to integrate my ukulele to do's into my more general list just as it made sense to integrate my ukulele lesson times into my general calendar. I also found that I moved many of my random ukulele thoughts or notes into a more general diary that I keep.

Structuring my practice and keeping track of my practice are more closely related. I am not prescribing this, but I found it very helpful to think about practice and playing as different activities. Both are important, but I'm less interesting in structuring or documenting my playing time. Playing is running through pieces end to end with or without music or just noodling around harmonic progressions or working out melodies without music, or even working on arrangements with ukulele. Playing may go on for minutes to hours. Practice is broken into shorter (20-35 minute) more focused and more structured sessions where I work on small portions of a piece or technique that I am trying to improve (usually from a measure or two to an entire phrase). The session is shorter because it is much more tiring, and as my concentration wanes and I start making more mistakes, I am much better off ending the session and taking at least a 30 minute break. I think Jeff Peterson says that it is not so much that practice makes perfect, but rather that practice makes permanent. So when things begin to get sloppy I stop.

I've structure my practice sessions at two levels. In a given session, I usually spend the first five minutes on warmups, fretboard orientation, scales, chord proressions, arpeggios etc. I might slightly change this according to what comes next, but it is usually fairly rote, and it really is warmup. Then I will allocate the rest of that session to one or two pieces or technical studies that I am currently working out. I focus on the measures that give me the most trouble and work outward from there. My goal is to make all parts of the piece equally difficult (or easy) for me to play. When my chances of flubbing on most any measure are about the same, that's when I feel a piece is under my fingers, though I don't always get there.

I also think about which pieces or studies to assign to which practice session, so I am not doing just pieces or just studies or just right hand emphasis or left hand emphasis. This isn't some big formal scheduled plan, but I do decide ahead of each session what the content will be. To some extent these assignments will reflect whatever needs the most work, but I try hard to keep it balanced and keep everything moving forward.

I keep a practice diary in electronic format. I keep the structured part simple: date, time, length of session, and instrument played are the minimum data for any entry. The rest is completely freestyle. I generally keep it in bullet style with a bullet for warmup and each piece or study. If I put in a bullet entry I usually put down roughly how much time I spent and the rest is just stream of consciousness with as little or as much as I am in the mood to write. The good feature is that the effort it takes to merely enter the fact of a practice session is minimal, so it is not hard to keep up to date. Also, even if I don't get all my practice sessions documented, it is not hard to reconstruct at least a minimal entry the next day. I have tried spreadsheets and databases in the past, and frankly it made it more time consuming to log my practice, and this minimal structure plus the search function of any text editor has been more than enough. I've found it helpful to review the practice diary every week or two just to see if what I am writing down matches my sense of what I think I am or should be working on.

As far as repertoire, my only advice is to have a date/time on anything you print out. I deal mostly in sheet music, not lyric sheets or charts. I find that having a reasonable physical filing system is fine and the amount of music that is in active practice at any point is manageable on the music stand plus one shelf.

The stuff I post here is mostly by nature a conversation. It's more like we are sharing current events or old stories. It is fun to review some of my old entries to see what I was thinking at some time in the past, and to see where and how I contradict myself. I certainly gain valuable insights and get answers to questions here, but as valuable as the conversations are, I don't see much value in reviewing my old posts.

As always ymmv, this is just what I have found useful.

I use an Excel spreadsheet to score how I'm doing with whatever I'm practicing and to prompt me when I should revisit each piece. It's based on a lesson log method which James Hill teaches.
Thank you, aileven.

I write everything with a simple text editor. No template, format, or "auto" anything to distract me. Just my thoughts (warts and all) into characters. In the Microsoft world, that is Notepad.

Everything else that looks like a table (chord shapes, song titles, and their page number with simple one-liner notes) is in Excel.

I am about 5 years into the Daily Ukulele books and it is at least 98% of my repertoire. Chords, lyrics, and melody staff only. I see no end to what I can learn from them. There is variety from very simple to 'oy veh!' throughout. Over time, many of the 'oy vehs' have turned into 'Okays!'
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I’m currently using a thread here to keep track. I’d really like to add video to it because I think it would be the best way to capture improvement. I imagine it as the equivalent of pictures for people who begin a weight loss journey to document their progress. I took pictures when I began going to a gym and it was great to see the work paying off and also served as motivation.
I have started keeping a paper journal, recording what I’m working on and what is giving me trouble about it. It seems to help, in that when I get distracted and drop something, as I inevitably do, I can go back and pick up where I left off more easily. I have also been doing Seasons of the Ukulele here on UU, and my YouTube account is now an auditory/visual record of my progress as well. If I didn’t have the external motivation of posting videos to a weekly challenge I would make much less regular recordings of myself. I know this because when I first started I tried to track progress by occasional audio recordings on my phone, but didn’t do them regularly enough to be very useful.
For clarinet, I have a physical notebook where I jot down my daily practice plan. Then, on that page, I note problem areas, etc. My schedule for clarinet goes something like this
  • Tone
  • Scales
  • Technique (studies, finger exercises)
  • Repertoire (band rep or pieces for upcoming lessons/recitals)
After I've improved on ukulele, I imagine that I'd modify this plan somewhat: Tone would become Warmup Exercises, for example. At the moment, though, I'm being pretty loose about my learning. I currently start with the spider walk exercise, continue with a little barre chord practice, do the chromatic scale and one-octave C and F scales, and then work on what ever lesson I'm up to in Matt Stead's series. I aim for about 20 minutes a day.

(Clarinet is on extended hiatus, due to asthma problems. I took up uke in order to have something to work on that didn't require good breathing. I'm hoping to get back to regular clarinet practice this fall. A girl can dream.)
Many thanks to all who have contributed to this posting. I have gained much from this thread and will integrate highlights into my documentation plan. As I am an Apple user, I will use ”Notes” as my text app. Thanks everyone. 🤙
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