Does anyone else . . .


Well-known member
May 15, 2009
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struggle with finding a balance between the sheer joy of making music and the shame of doing it badly?

I'm not fishing - like a lot of people, I'm sure I'm my own worst critic, and really, no one has ever been anything other than super-positive and encouraging.

Still, it's a weird thing. On the one hand, I'm flabbergasted that I can make any music at all. I've picked up like a half-dozen chords, so there are plenty of songs to work on, and people who don't leave the room can generally tell what I'm playing. I'm so much better than I ever thought I could be and I have so much fun hearing myself make music. Sometimes when I'm alone, I get the uke out and just thrash around like I think I'm some kind of rock star and I have a lot of fun doing it.

The other side of that is I have listened to enough music to know what "suck" sounds like, and it's not going too far to describe my playing with that word. I'm better than I was 6 months, 3 months ago, and I have every reason to believe that I'll improve more as time goes by. But I don't think it's in the cards for me to escape the realm of the mediocre. I have some fundamental problems with rhythm and coordination and also with finding practice time.

And on one level, that's okay. I'm totally having fun. But on another level, I feel bad about taking beautiful songs and torturing them into something I can kinda sorta play.

Anyone else? Surely I'm not the only one with a performance gap. What do you all do with these sorts of feelings?

If you're getting joy out of playing music, then you're doing it 100% right. Nothing to be ashamed about there. Balance achieved!

In fact, you're miles ahead of someone who, though technically skilled, doesn't find the joy in the music.

Anyway, you are better now that you were. In the future, you will be better than you are now. You might not see the rate of improvement that you saw when you started out, but that's the case in just about any endeavor. Still, the improvement will be there if you pay attention enough to notice it (this is where recording yourself periodically comes in handy... it's like marking your height on the bedroom doorframe when you were growing up).

totally with you dude!

I'm fine in my own space and can amuse myself, but if it goes public I am such a critic of myself. Have always been that way with guitar (20 years) and now doing the same with uke.

I also put down my singing voice, despite positive comments.

On this board, and indeed with friends at home or out and about, I get nothing but decent comments and total support, but I know I am just learning on the uke.

but i'll be honest with ya - as far as this forum goes - the support is genuine and it recognises that there are some on here who have played for 30 years, and some who have played for 30 seconds. THing is, those who have played for 30 seconds are the ones who need encouraging to become the ones who play for 30 years or more!

As for escaping the mediocre - I went through that phase on guitar about 10 yrs ago - got fed up with it, and didnt touch the instruments at all. I then moved house, and we fell in with a new crowd who insist on musical instruments being taken to pubs, parties, whenever - the support from those guys has been brilliant, and I think I now pick up either a guitar or a uke daily.

I know I am still mediocre - I accept that - but it is fun, and others think it is fun, and that gives me a boost.

When I was 15 I wanted to be in Black Sabbath. That was never going to happen, but better to pick an instrument up than to never bother surely?

Tips - you do need to find practice time, and I too find that tough. It is important though. Do you have a gang of friends who play (or more importantly, want to learn to play)? - doesnt have to be uke -anything really - just so you can jam along - that brings people on so much. 2 years ago we started a "no questions asked" drop in session at our pub, aimed at getting those people who had bought guitars on a whim but never played them along. A couple of guys who fitted that category are now playing daily, and one is in a band!

As for timing and rhythm - I used to struggle also - starting slow (ie playing the song way too slow) works, and then build it up. The other old classic is the metronome, and I wouldn't be without mine when warming up for a recording - either that, or tap your feet. Playing along with a backing track also helps.

Anyway, I hope I am helping - the reality is that you are probably in such a small % of the population for actually picking up an instrument at all, so you are already ahead of the majority - stick with it - it does take time. As I say, I think I still suck at guitar, and have been playing for 20 years, but I still love it!

Nice Uke by the way - you picked a good one!
What JJ said. +1

I am my own worst critic also. My teacher says I'm doing really well for only playing 1 1/2 years, but I still think I suck. But since I love to play (practice, really) I continue on. Since it makes me feel really good, I'll keep playing. You should too.
If you're getting joy out of playing music, then you're doing it 100% right. Nothing to be ashamed about there. Balance achieved!

In fact, you're miles ahead of someone who, though technically skilled, doesn't find the joy in the music.

Anyway, you are better now that you were. In the future, you will be better than you are now. You might not see the rate of improvement that you saw when you started out, but that's the case in just about any endeavor. Still, the improvement will be there if you pay attention enough to notice it (this is where recording yourself periodically comes in handy... it's like marking your height on the bedroom doorframe when you were growing up).


Well said. No matter how long you keep at anything you could always be better. Don't worry about what you can't do. Just take pleasure in what you can.
I'm not a musician; I'm an enthusiastic amateur -- so it doesn't matter how bad I am. If it makes me smile, and it makes others smile (for whatever reason), it's all good.
We are our own worst critic. I can tell you from a lot of experience that the public loves the Uke. Even bad most haven't seen or heard one in their life. Go enjoy learn and get better each time. There are no great learning's and confidence builders than just getting out there and doing it. And have a little nip before you start LOL
Yeah, what JJ said...
Just think-- right now,you're the worst you'll ever be. You'll be better next week, and in a year from now, you'll be MUCH better.

Stick with the awesome part. It truly does inspire awe to be able to make music, and even more to share it with others, and even more than that to inspire those others to make music. Spread the virus!
I definitely struggle with it. I started learning mandolin a few months ago. My mando's been in the shop for a small repair for about three weeks.

So, I bought a Lanikai 21 to fill the time and find myself playing it everyday - sometimes more than once a day. I love it, but I feel self-conscious if anyone else is in the room. That's when I start making mistakes. My rhythm and coordination isn't the greatest, and I developed a movement disorder earlier this year. Those things seem to trip me up when I'm playing in front of other people. To get over the pressure, I'm trying to play around family more and more.

There's a local group that meets monthly to jam, but I don't have the confidence to try it out - yet.

In the meantime, I'm thinking of buying a new ukulele, stepping up in quality. At this point in time, I'm happy to finally be making music on a string instrument. Even with the mistakes. I certainly want to get better, and I suppose playing with others is a good way to accelerate my learning and playing ability.

This place has been a great resource for me - very supportive people and wonderful tips.

Thanks for the sound advice and encouragement, y'all.

I like the notion that I'll never be as bad as I am today. It works with another notion I admire, that today should be my best day ever - because of all the experience and learning and living I've gone through to get here.

I'm not shy about playing - I sometimes think maybe I should be, but I'm not. That's where the conflict comes in - it's almost like it's indecent to do what I do in public. I'm only half joking.

I like what JJ says about recording myself to (eventually) see the progression. And what wheelgunner says about taking pleasure in what I CAN do - that fits. And paul's point about it being better to try and be a tiny bit good than to never pick up an instrument. I probably should look into a metronome, too. And I have nips before, during and after a practice session, so no worries on that count.

And Sukie, I'm hoping we find some time at UWC 2010 to swap a song or two.

mad love, y'all. mad love
well i've only been playing uke for about a month but i get that a lot with piano
guess you just gotta remember that what you're doing is PLAYING music, and it should be fun, even if you're not as good as you'd like to be
I still not as good at playing as I want to be and know it.
But I don't measure myself against anyone, now I must be better than I think I am cuz last summer I was playing in a parking lot waiting (no shame here) for my other half to finishing shopping when a lady driving by asked if I had any CD's for sale!!!!

Anyone that thinks they are playing bad is playing better than someone who doesn't try!!!!!!!!!!!!

and see my signature too
ukeyermind, it sounds like you and I will be in the same boat at the UWC2010. I really love my ukes....but I'm not the player I wish I was. I'm not making the progress I wish I was, probably for several reasons.

I really believe I'd be learning more and progressing faster if I had someone else to play with. There are no uke clubs or groups near here. When UWC arrives, it may very well mark the first time I've ever played uke with anyone else.

Practice time. I'm not making enough of it. Work has been killing me lately (often 10 hour days, usually 6 days a week). I'm just whipped when I get home. And, I'm almost ashamed to admit, I spend alot of potential practice time here on the forums....

This is not to say that I'm discouraged or not having fun. I know I'll never rival Jake or Aldrine, and that's okay! I plan to play uke for years and years. And I'm doing it for my pleasure, as opposed to trying to please others.

Looking forward to meeting you (and everyone else) in June!
Anyone that thinks they are playing bad is playing better than someone who doesn't try!
I think you just hit the nail on the head. :D

The vast majority of people who don't play an instrument will appreciate your efforts at any level. The majority of the minority who actually do play an instrument will be encouraging to you. Of course, there's always going to be a small portion of the populous who will want to criticize your playing and say you suck no matter what.

I'm thinking about taking my uke to Thanksgiving at a relative's house. I have no desire to show off, just thought it might be a nice thing to help pass a little time while waiting on dinner if anyone doesn't object to me plucking out some tunes. Plus, they have a teen boy who plays guitar and I thought he might like to check it out. :)
I'm coming up on about a year since I first discovered my Mom had a Martin baritone stashed in the closet along with the violins! I loved the bari because 1) it was a Martin! and 2) it was smaller and easier on my beat up hands but still gave me the pleasure that my classical guitars did years ago. I could never do much with those either but loved to play what I could, and over 10 years ago when a 1500 lb horse wearing steel shoes stepped on my right hand (don't ask, a 1 in a million thing) and I figured that was it, especially after I bailed off of another horse I was riding bareback with no bridle (he was always fine before and just got a bee up his hiney) decided to buck and I bailed and broke my left ring finger a year or two later (he also cost me my ACL in my right knee but that has nothing to do with uke).

So I was ecstatic that my hands could fret the neck of a ukulele! I'd never of thunk it! Mini guitar, 2 less strings, how cool was that? That was my introduction. So I found the forums and discovered the key discrepancies and decided I should get a soprano so I could play in the "real" key, and get the ukey sound, and got a vintage Harmony. UAS was born when I decided the fingerboard was too cramped, and got a Pono tenor, but it still seemed a little hard to reach some chords, so I discovered cigar box ukes and found a concert size. That was a great fit.

A year later of just working with my books, the forum, and YouTube I know or at least can finger from chord diagrams a lot of chords, I'm practicing hammer ons, pull offs, slides, barre chords, and fingerpicking, a lot of which came back to me to some extent from the distant past. Not necessarily really well, but I keep on. My best compliment is that my hubby says it sounds like I know what I'm doing, but I'm still just fooling around, though I keep finding pieces of the puzzles that are technique and theory are making more sense to me now. I get too much time away from practice because of the need to work 3 various part time jobs where the hours can pick up a lot then fade, and sometimes I seem to come back to practice a klutz at square one, but then can pick it up and get a lot of flow again other times. Nothing I can do is great, but it is soothing to my own ears when I'm "on", it's very meditative, it's loosened up the arthritis in my fingers, it gives me joy and I hope it's making new neural connections in my brain! We're supposed to keep learning new things to stay mentally sharp as we get older. So there's a lot of great stuff involved.

I have family in music and they never taught me anything, but I have an inherited ear for sound quality. Because of that I have better ukes than I need, but I can appreciate the sound and playability and it feels great to mess with them!

I'll echo the prevailing opinion here that the only thing to ask yourself is if it brings you joy. If so, that's enough. Everything else is the gravy, and if you keep picking it up all your skills will improve overall. And, it doesn't matter what anyone else says or thinks unless you use their credit card to satisfy UAS urges! ;)
Sukie sells herself short. I'm consistently plopping down more complicated songs for the Uke Orchestra and she's up to speed in no time. (I mean, for a year and a half, she's built up a heck of a repertoire...)

But adding to the echo chamber. It's all true.

It's a process. It's about practice. It's about muscle memory freeing you from consciously thinking about which finger goes where on this chord and what the physical motions are for strumming a particular pattern. And it takes time to develop the free & unencumbered flow from brain to fingers. To play with your ears and the sound and the motion are the same thing.

And this is going to be a constant. But if you're not striving for the next level, you're not growing. I played guitar for close to 30 years and with that it would seem like there would be points and plateaus in terms of what I was capable of at any given time. Expect that and play through it. As long as you have a sound in your head that you're chasing it'll never get old.

And absolutely find other people to play with. I think you always learn more from listening and working with other musicians than you will ever by yourself. Developing the ability to listen to yourself and others is the key to everything.
I was just talking about this today. I know I'll never have a professional quality sound in my singing or playing, but I like doing both. I play in front of people quite often and get good feedback but I am never happy with the way I sound to myself.

If you love music, doing it is doing it right. It is infectious and it spreads. I have even gone so far to start recording using garageband. Once I settle in to the uke, I'll have to post a vid.

One thing I noticed though, is that when I feel bad about my playing, I am invariably comparing myself to others. When I feel good about it, I am just being present in the moment.
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