Etudes speed C to G7 change

Our new book 21 Songs in 6 Days:Learn Ukulele the Easy Way gives the learner several practical tips in learning new skills. One such skill is changing chords. And one of the most important changes to learn is from G7 to C 0
G7 newC

The video shows Jenny teaching how to move the left hand fingers from the easy shape of the C chord to the more difficult shape of the G7 chord. Practice along with the video, so you can become skilled at this progression.

To Strap or not to Strap

20131109_190558Having a strap really helps! When I started to learn more complicated left and right hand patterns, the strap keeps the ukulele in place, which makes it easier to move around on the instrument. I got a ukulele thong, because I did not have an end button on my soprano ukulele. They can be hard to find, but I called Music Works in El Cerrito, California to order one. . Classical guitarists also use these types of straps, so the Guitar Center can order one for you.

I’ve been working on holiday songs to sing and teach at school: “Let It Snow” and “Winter Wonderland.” Both songs have a lot of changes and fairly complicated strumming patterns. I also want to include a ukulele solo section with finger picking in the main part of each song.

Well, I’ve learned where some of the higher notes are on the ukulele, some bar chords and some movable chords. I’ve also learned some more complicated strumming patterns with chunking and coordinating all of these techniques with singing. I practice at home with an accompaniment track I created through Band In A Box, and have gradually gotten better at the songs.

I would recommend a strap for a ukulele. I also play and teach violin. I would compare the ukulele strap to using a shoulder rest on the violin or viola. Without one, you can still play, but it is difficult to shift or do vibrato, unless you are already quite accomplished. Why not make it easier for yourself, and buy a ukulele strap?

Can You REALLY Learn Ukulele in 20 Hours?

In his recent book, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn ANYTHING Fast, Josh Kaufman describes how he mastered and performed a  four chord song on the ukulele in a very short time.  I forget whether it was one week or two weeks,  but his performance definitely fell under the heading ‘rapid skill acquisition’, which is his phrase for learning new things quickly. But although Josh can learn a four chord song really fast,  can you?

Well my answer is unfortunately rather vague : it depends.  It depends on your previous musical background and your practicing skills.  But I think the more important question is,  why not go ahead and TRY to learn some ukulele in 20 hours?   What have you got to lose other than some free time?

One thing Josh is definitely right about is that it matters a lot exactly how you spend your 20 hours of practicing. Josh certainly has learned more skills rapidly than I have,  but I have spent thousands more hours watching beginners tackle new musical skills than he has. So, I thought I’d do a series of posts about my personal take on how his principles of rapid skill acquisition how apply to learning ukulele.Melissa uke 1

I’ve organized my thoughts by using some of the principles Josh presents in his book. You might enjoy reading the book as you start working on ukulele – but DON’T compare your progress to his.  Josh was anything but a musical beginner when he started learning ukulele – he already had experience singing in a choir, and with the ukulele’s two handed strum/chord coordination, because he had previously played some guitar.

So here goes:  key concepts numbers one and two.

Make time to practice

The time you spend practicing ukulele must come from somewhere else in your schedule. You will not “find” time in a big pile under a bush somewhere. We all are allotted 24 hours per day. Some you must dedicate to work, and some to caring for yourself or loved ones. The hours that remain are what you have left to learn the ukulele. You must take a hard look at your schedule and see if you can eliminate other activities that are less important to you than learning ukulele.

Another important fact about learning something new is the more time you spend working on it each day, the fewer days it will take to learn. And the faster you get good at ukulele, the more you will enjoy it. The enjoyment will make it easier to choose ukulele practice over, say, watching TV or cruising Facebook.

Make starting easy

If possible, create a space where you can keep your gear set up so that you can get started quickly when practice time rolls around. Failing that, try to store your gear to minimize setup time. Concert pianist Robert Henry likes to stress the importance of what can be accomplished in short bursts of practice (2-3 minutes). But if you have to spend 20 minutes finding your ukulele and folding the laundry on top of it before you start,  you might burn up all your available practice time before you start.

What do you think?  Have you been able to make quick progress on the ukulele or other musical instruments? What seemed to be the key factors for you?

Next post:  Overcoming emotional blocks to learning, what to do about pain or discomfort.

Plan Ahead for Faster Learning: More Ukulele Practicing Tips

In my last post,  Can You REALLY Learn Ukulele in 20 Hours?, I talked about some of the principles of ‘rapid skill acquisition’ presented by Josh Kaufman in his recent book, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn ANYTHING Fast.  I looked at how important it is to create time to practice by weeding out other activities that are less important, and the importance of making it easy to get started practicing.

In today’s post, let’s look at 3 more key ideas about learning something fast, or at least in the most efficient way possible.

Plan Ahead to Block Distractions

After you’re done creating a place where you can store your ukulele and associated gear for easy access, put some attention on how to block 20834331212_fc5cfae9ac_ndistractions before they start. It’s best if your space can be free of noise (if that distracts you), and requests for attention from family, pets, and electronic family/pets such as your smart phone, tablet, or computer. Since the ukulele is portable, maybe your practice space can be physically distant from potential distractors. If the distracting items have on/off switches or volume controls, use them!  Unfortunately this doesn’t work on cats, but I do have Clare the Cat trained to curl up and sleep on the chair next to me when I am practicing. When necessary,  I reinforce training with additional dried bonito flakes.  See Clare in action with ukulele playing here.

Maybe you can do your practicing when family members are away, concentrating on their own activities, or asleep.  You probably can’t train them with dried bonito flakes, but there might be other “treats” that can be negotiated.

Plan How to Overcome Emotional Blocks

In my almost 40 years of piano teaching experience, adult music learners often have unrealistically high expectations of how fast they ‘should’ progress. (Children are used to beginning new skills and tend to be less judgmental.) Adults also sabotage themselves by comparing themselves to others (sometimes real, more often imaginary), who are of course doing better than they are.

Finally, everyone has a different learning style and background, so things that are easy for one person may be difficult for another. As a teacher, I can definitely say I have NEVER had a student for whom everything is easy. Even the most brilliant players had to work hard at something, and the ones that improve the most quickly are those who work the hardest and who are the most patient and positive.

Tell the negative voice in your head to be quiet so you can concentrate. It is irrelevant whether you are learning faster or slower than someone else, because learning is not a race: hopefully it never ends, and you’re not in it for the prize money anyway.

Sometimes it is helpful to find a supportive other; maybe there is a friend or family member who can cheer you on. There also are a lot of great ukulele groups on Facebook and Google+ where people encourage each other and ask for help and advice.

In the final post of this series, we’ll talk about how to approach any discomfort or tension that might show up while you’re practicing.

I’d love to hear from you.  What is your practice space like? What do you like about it? Have you had to overcome any emotional blocks on your path to ukulele ninja-ism? How did you do it? Any tips for others?

Get more great practice tips with

21 Songs in 6 Days


photo credit: <a href=”″>PLAN AHEA D</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

Playing the Ukulele on a Lake Michigan Beach

Playing the uke on a Lake Michigan Beach

Our water is colder than in Hawaii, but it is still fun to play the uke before a long swim in the lake!

When is your favorite time to play ukulele?