The Path of Stroke Recovery Through Ukulele

The Path of Stroke Recovery Through Ukulele

 Stroke Recovery Through the Ukulele

 The ukulele can play a vital role in stroke recovery. Read what one reader had to say about stroke recovery through the ukulele:

“Thanks, girls! This is wonderful.

I had a stroke that weakened my left side. So I have been trying to learn guitar but without much success. I have two guitars and a guitarlele, which is getting more airtime lately. Your approach to the ukulele and your enthusiasm has improved my life and my activity somewhat.

You have also sparked some enthusiasm in my fiancée. We will marry next year and move to a place near where she lives (about 2000 miles from where I am now) so at that time we will join a ukulele orchestra and we are hoping that all this left-hand exercise will help to rehabilitate my left arm.

Thanks, heaps!”


What Is a Stroke?

A stroke is a sort of ‘brain attack’ that occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is cut off. When this happens, the brain cells are deprived of oxygen and consequently begin to die.

A stroke can happen to anyone at any time. This makes it the fifth leading cause of death in the US.

Stroke Recovery

After the unfortunate event of a stroke comes a painful journey of recovery and rehabilitation. This process will involve making changes in physical, social and emotional aspects of the victim. It is normal for survivors to feel anxious, discouraged, depressed or even angry.


Enter Music.

Re-activates the Brain

Music, in general, extensively activates the human brain. For stroke survivors, this excitement causes increased blood flow to the brain, helping it recover by restoring blood vessels and synaptic connections damaged by the stroke. Experiencing music requires a large portion of the brain, scientists, therefore, believe that music is able to bypass the damaged area of the brain and form new neural pathways.

Improvement of Speech and Motor Functions

Perhaps the immediate evidence of a re-activated brain is the improvement of speech and motor functions.

A strange thing happened in Sweden in 1763. A young man with brain-damage was unable to speak but astounded townspeople when he was able to sing hymns in church. When music therapy is used,  it has been observed that the speech of some patients with expressive aphasia — the significantly decreased ability to use language, often because of a stroke — had noticeably improved, both in the clarity of words and also the increased ability to get the words out.

Music also goes a long way to help regain motor functions of stroke survivors. This is due to changes in the sensorimotor cortex. Musical activities require patients to coordinate their movement in terms of temporal and spatial organization, which stimulates greater change in the brain than rehabilitation alone.

Boosts Mood and Motivation

Uplifting music is a source of pleasure. When we focus on a favorite song, we combat de-motivating brain signals associated with fatigue and boredom. When you feel good and motivated, you are more inclined to continue rehabilitation.

A study done in 2008 in Finland found that if stroke patients listened to music for a couple of hours a day, their verbal memory and focused attention recovered better and they had a more positive mood than patients who did not listen to anything.

Music Relieves Stress

As said earlier, stroke survivors tend to be worried about a lot of things. They are thinking about work, their relationships and are anxious to get better sooner. This anxiety ultimately leads to stress. Music helps to reduce stress by increasing sense of enjoyment and relaxation. In addition, calming music has been found to steady emotions of stroke survivors.


Why the Ukulele?

So we see music, in general, is a great way to help stroke survivors rehabilitate. There are hundreds of instruments to choose from, so why is ukulele a special one for this particular job?

It is Easy to Learn

One of the biggest sell points of the ukulele is that it is easy to learn. It is completely unintimidating. Anyone, old or young, can take it up and before long is able to play some tunes with it. It is important that in the rehabilitation phase, you don’t take up activities that will frustrate you more. Having an instrument that you can quickly learn and master in your music therapy is important. The ukulele, while being a serious musical instrument is extremely easy for beginners to learn. This makes it the perfect instrument for stroke survivors to try out.

It Is Portable

The ukulele is a relatively small instrument. Furthermore, it is light and can be carried around easily. Stroke survivors will be comfortable lifting it and walking about with it. This provides adequate motor functions stimulation without being too much of an exertion. They can also carry it to places where other instruments like the piano would present a challenge.

It Sounds Majestic

Those four strings of this little instrument produce a gentle, calming and majestic sound that cannot be matched. This helps to relax and calm the nerves.


How to Start

21 Songs in 6 DaysSo how exactly do you kick-off a stroke recovery program through the ukulele? Start out slow, and don’t be too hard to yourself if you can’t play something on your first try. Our book, 21 Songs in 6 Daysoffers a beginner-friendly introduction to playing the ukulele. It starts with one chord songs and the simplest possible strumming patterns. New chords are introduced one at a time to make learning very gradual and easy.

Consequently, 21 Songs in 6 Days can be a comfortable guide in the rehabilitation process. Jenny even has colleagues who have had tremendous success teaching developmentally disabled students using the 21 Songs pedagogy.


Recovering from a stroke is a painful and tasking experience. It requires physical, mental and emotional exertions on the victims part in order to be successful. Any assistance towards this goal is invaluable. Music, as we have seen, is a perfect help for stroke survivors’ rehabilitation. The ukulele, in particular, is an ideal instrument to help with stroke recovery.

If you are recovering from a stroke or know someone who is, encourage them to take up playing the ukulele and singing along as they play.

Happy strumming!

Are you struggling with strumming?

With our book and course, you’ll become a fluent 3-chord strummer.

Get your copy now!

How to Find Your Strumming Speed

How to Find Your Strumming Speed

strumming speedWhen you’re playing the ukulele, your strumming creates the beat of the music. Strumming isn’t that easy to learn and many beginners struggle with it. Maybe you are wondering how to find your strumming speed too!

One of our customers asked the question below:

About to give up. I have your books (three) and still don’t understand how you determine how fast you strum on a song when you want to sing along. It looks to me like if you change your strum speed you would change chords faster. If you do that you would have to sing faster. I know that’s not right. So how do you decide strum speed?

Jenny’s Answer

You have asked a great question, one for which there is both a simpler answer as well as a more complex answer. I’ll give the simpler explanation first and then move on to the more complicated one. (The complex terminology is more accurate, so that is why it is used by professional musicians.) I’ve also created a video to help demonstrate what I mean.

Putting It Simply

The speed at which you strum depends on how many strums you do per beat.

The easiest strumming pattern is one down strum per beat. Use this pattern when you are first learning a song. Practicing this way helps you know when to change chords. It also helps you get your left hand coordinated with the words and melody without being distracted by your right hand.

When you can play and sing the song with one down strum per beat you are ready to add a fancier strumming pattern to your song. By ‘fancier’ I mean a pattern with more than one strum per beat.

The more complicated answer

There are different types of musical beats and rhythms.

The beat of any song is the underlying pulse. Pulse is what you might clap or march to if you were trying to keep time.

Moving at a different speed than the basic pulse is something called harmonic rhythm. Harmonic rhythm is how often the chords change in relation to the rhythmic pulse. Most songs will have many pulses per chord.

According to Wikipedia, ‘harmonic rhythm, also known as harmonic tempo is the rate at which the chords change (or progress) in a musical composition in relation to the rate of notes.’

When strumming you can have one strum per pulse, two strums per pulse, four strums per pulse or any other combination that you choose. These different combinations of strums per beat are our strumming patterns.

So, you can speed up your strumming a lot without changing the harmonic rhythm of the song. In other words, you can have lots of fast strumming going on without affecting the speed at which the chords change.

As long as you change chords at the correct time in relation to the melody, your strumming can be as fast or slow as you would like.

This concept is relatively complex; I did not learn the terminology I used in my answer until I was taking college music theory.

Here’s an example: Hush Little Baby

Learn this song first with four down strums per measure. Do one downstrumming speed: metronome strum for each beat of the song. Once you are comfortable playing and singing with all down strums,  you can change to a faster strum. One option would be to double-time your strumming using a down up pattern for each beat. When performing the song with two strums per beat you would have 8 strums per measure. In spite of the faster strumming speed, you would be changing chords and singing words at the same speed you did when doing all down strums.

I put the sheet music to “Hush Little Baby” here, so you could refer to it.

You can download the sheet music using the link below.

Download Hush-Little-Baby-in-F-Melody

There are four beats in each measure because of the two numbers 4/4 at the beginning of the song. So you can learn the song first strumming four F chords, eight C7 chords and then 4 F chords for each line of music. When you are good at that, do a down-up strum that is twice as fast. When doing the down-up strum you will strum 8 F chords, 16 C7 chords and then 8 F Chords.

The following video illustrates my point.

For more video tutorials, please subscribe to our YouTube channel by clicking on the link below.


I hope this post helps to reduce some of the frustrations you have been having with strumming speed. Please visit Struggling with Strumming? How to Develop a Sense of Beat on Ukulele to learn more about strumming.

I’d love to hear your comments and questions below.

Happy Strumming!


Are you struggling with strumming?

With our book and course, you’ll become a fluent 3-chord strummer.

Get your copy now!

How to Choose the Perfect Ukulele Size

How to Choose the Perfect Ukulele Size

If you’re just starting, you probably don’t know  much about ukulele. And ukuleles come in many different shapes and four main sizes: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. So there’s a lot to choose from, and it can be hard to know how to choose the perfect size ukulele for you.

Understanding the pros and cons of each can be quite a project. It’s worth the work though to find the size that’s right for you.

In this post, we take you through the different sizes of the ukulele to help you make your pick.


First of all, before we dive into the different ukulele sizes, we need to understand what scale length is in ukulele terms. When someone says the scale of a ukulele, they are referring to the length of the playing string, from the nut to the saddle. Consequently, each different type of ukulele will have a unique scale length which is the primary distinguishing factor of ukuleles.

Scale length determines the spacing of the frets, but it also affects how the strings sound and how they feel to play.  Short scale length ukuleles such as the soprano and concert have very little room to maneuver between the frets, and the shorter strings tend to be strung with less tension. As a result, many ukulele players find that longer scale sized ukuleles such as the tenor much easier to finger pick.

Shorter strings also have less length to allow the overtones to speak, which tends to create a softer, thicker sounding tone. Longer strings will have more room for overtones to speak which will create a clearer and more ringing tone.

And now, here’s more information to show you how to choose the perfect size ukulele for you.

ukulele size-sopranoSOPRANO

The soprano ukulele is the smallest of them all. This is the traditional size of the uke and is what most people think about when they imagine a ukulele. It is the most common type and produces the trademark classic ukulele sound. The soprano ukulele measures about 20 inches.

This ukulele has also the tightest fret spacing. Its small size means it has a brighter, softer tone with less projection than a larger sized ukulele. It is tuned to the standard GCEA tuning.

This uke is suitable for players of any skill level. Young players and those with smaller hands will find this size perfect for them. Kids will almost exclusively choose the soprano ukulele.

ukulele size-concertCONCERT

Up next is the concert ukulele. It is roughly 23 inches. The concert uke has a bigger body and slightly longer neck allowing more room for the frets. This makes is easier to handle.

Like the soprano, it has the typical and classic ukulele sound albeit a bit louder. It is also tuned in the standard GCEA tuning.

The concert ukulele is great for players at any skill level but is especially suited to those with slightly larger hands or fingers. The larger size gives the concert a fuller sound and warmer tone than the soprano ukulele.

ukulele size-tenorTENOR

The tenor ukulele comes next in size after the concert. It measures around 26 inches. The scale for the tenor is a little longer than the concert thus allowing for more frets with wider spacing between them.

Like the soprano and concert ukuleles, it is also tuned to GCEA.

The larger size gives the tenor a deeper, fuller sound with a deep, bass tone. It is also well suited for finger-picking. The tenor also projects better than the concert, making the volume a bit louder.

The tenor ukulele is most popular among professional musicians. Ukulele players with larger hands will find this size very comfortable.

Jenny and Rebecca both play tenor ukuleles with low G tuning.

ukulele size-baritoneBARITONE

Finally, the biggest ukulele of all is the baritone. It measures about 30 inches, almost the size of the guitar. It also sounds like a classical nylon stringed guitar due to its deep tone. In addition, the baritone ukulele has the longest scale with the widest fret spacing hence making it ideal for finger-picking.

The baritone tuning is DGBE, similar to the 4 highest strings of the guitar.While this quality makes it easier for guitar players, it probably explains why this ukulele size is least popular.

Almost all song tutorials will be on a ukulele tuned to GCEA. However, you can turn the DGBE tuning of the baritone ukulele to the conventional GCEA by placing a capo on the 5th fret of your baritone ukulele. Read more on capos in our “Ukulele Capos” post.

Check out the video to hear the different ukulele sizes in action. And why not subscribe to our YouTube channel for more ukulele videos?



ukulele sizeNow that you know all about ukulele sizes, it’s time to choose the perfect ukulele size for you. Therefore, go to a ukulele store and try out the different sizes. Place the ukulele in a playing position, pluck a few strings, listen to the sound and try carrying the ukulele around. Choose the size that you like and are comfortable with, not what is most popular. You might want to browse through our recommended ukuleles page if you see anything you’d like. 

We hope this post will help you choose the best ukulele size for you.

Happy strumming!

Are you struggling with strumming?

With our book and course, you’ll become a fluent 3-chord strummer.

Get your copy now!

Jenny’s Day Out With Educators

Jenny’s Day Out With Educators

Educators learning from JennyJenny Peters presented “Ukulele in the General Music Classroom” at the January 27th Illinois Music Education Conference in Peoria. The session was well attended by educators eager to benefit from her expertise in teaching this child-friendly instrument.

Jenny highlighted many interesting topics during the session.

Why Ukulele?

Jenny explained that the ukulele is portable, inexpensive and easy to play. And it’s not intimidating because it’s easy to learn. So all students can be successful at it.

Jenny Peters Discusses How to Teach Effectively

Jenny presented her unique pedagogy which begins with students learning strumming patterns and one-finger chords. Next, she teaches singing rounds, then gradual expansion into two-, three- and four-chord songs.  Students then play together to develop rhythm skills. Students are also encouraged to listen to each other and play with a resonant sound. Jenny also emphasized the use of visual aids to reinforce learning.

Jenny pointed out that starting with strumming before teaching melodies means all students in a class are learning something brand new. (Even those students some stringed instrument experience are unfamiliar with strumming.)


Assessment is very important to U.S. educators and forms an integral part of the development of ukulele skills. Two methods of assessment were highlighted:

Jenny out with EducatorsPerformance-Based Assessment

Here, students are divided into groups of four. Specific criteria about what is expected (referred to as a “rubric”) are then used to grade them based on their performance. The teacher can track students’ performance using a sticker chart or grade book. For motivation, students may take videos of themselves while performing. The videos can be uploaded to a protected video sharing site where parents can see their children performing.

Written Assessment

Students can complete written tests of their understanding of the material presented in books or in class. Students can write using clipboards while other students are doing their performance-based assessment.

Teaching Materials

Another great topic Jenny covered with the participants was how to evaluate ukulele teaching materials. Jenny pointed out that using a wide array of visual materials can speed students’ learning process. For presenting chord shapes, she proposed three types of images:

  • Traditional chord stamp
  • Chord stamp turned 90 degrees
  • Picture of a hand making the chord shape

Another great visual aid is video. Using videos in class allows the instructor to walk around and help struggling students. While the teacher is helping individuals, the rest of the class can follow the directions on the video and be learning to play the melody, strum, and sing together.

Jenny Peters Covers the 12-Bar Blues

Jenny also discussed teaching the 12-bar blues. The 12-bar blues is an important part of NaFME’s Common Core standards for music for harmony instruments (piano, guitar, ukulele). Learning blues makes it easy for students to create their own songs. A simplified blues scale can also be a great tool for students to learn how to improvise.

Educators Play Like the Students

This was the best part of the presentation. Jenny provided 70 participants with ukuleles and attendees got a chance to experience learning ukulele. Below is a snippet of the event.


The session ended with an enthusiastic question and answer session chock full of great participant ideas. Some of the topics covered were ukulele tuning, storage, classroom organization, special needs students, music theory, and how to teach when there are more students than ukulele. It was a great event in Peoria!

If you want to play the latest hits, you need to learn essential skills first. 21 MORE Songs in 6 Days will teach you these skills.

Get your copy now!

Left-Handers in a Right-Handed Music World

Left-Handers in a Right-Handed Music World

Left-Handers In a Right-Handed Music World

The music world is very ‘right-handed’. Almost all stringed instruments are set up for right-handed people. And it is extremely difficult for left-handers to find teachers or material that would help them. So what do you do if you want to learn left-handed ukulele?

Fortunately, lefties have several choices when learning to play a stringed instrument:

Play It Like Everyone Else

Left-handed people can choose to be part of the right-handed world and finger the chords with the left hand, while strumming with their right. This choice makes it easier later, because the left-handed person can read standard chord charts, buy standard ukulele music and learn from standard sources such as YouTube videos.

Left-Handers In a Right-Handed Music World-school

In a classroom situation, I insist on this way of playing because the students learn so much from each other. If one or two children are playing “backwards” it is confusing for the entire class. Also, if a left-handed person wants to become a multi-instrumentalist later, learning the right-handed way of doing things makes it easier to switch from instrument to instrument.

Reversing the Normal Way

Left-handed people can turn the standard ukulele backwards and finger with the right hand and strum with their left hand. Initially, this way of playing will be much more comfortable. However, these players will need to adapt all standard chord stamps and ukulele learning materials by doing a mental flip in their minds of the written and visual materials. It can be difficult to flip the chord stamps in one’s head.

Restringing the Instrument

jimi-1089298_1920Left-handed people can restring their ukuleles and finger with their right hand while strumming with their left hand. Obviously, many great artists have chosen this path. Sir Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton come to mind immediately! The chords charts and strumming patterns will probably be less confusing this way, but since I have not tried it, I am not sure how that would work.

Learning From a Left-Hander

When I initially studied guitar from a left-handed player who had a left-handed guitar, it was kind of cool. When I was facing him, our fingers on each hand were an exact mirror to each other, so it was easy for me to learn. He played mandolin, guitar, banjo, ukulele and many other stringed instruments.

He wanted to learn fiddle, but here was where he got stumped. While it is relatively common to restring “folk” and “fretted” instruments for left-handed people, it is virtually unheard of to restring bowed string instruments. My guitar teacher was frustrated because he could not easily pick up the fiddle from his knowledge of the mandolin. Mandolin and violin have the same strings, so left-hand chord and fingering shapes are identical.

How to Restring the Ukulele

I had a left-handed student who wanted to strum with his left hand and hold the ukulele in his right. We re-tuned his ukulele so that the string closest to the ceiling was an “A” string and the string closest to the floor was a “G” string. Since these two strings are close enough in pitch, we did not have to switch the strings. We switched the two middle strings and re-tuned them as well. He played the same songs as everyone else and had the same book. He simply had his lefty ukulele chord shapes on his music stand. It was a little confusing for me to look at him (in the class), but he was fine.

It’s Okay to Switch

I would say if someone is really struggling with right-handed playing, go ahead and switch them. After all, Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton have been eminently successful left-handed guitarists. Why not allow left-handed people who are really struggling to learn the way that is best for them?

Below is a good video that explains how to read the chord charts with the re-tuned ukulele. You simply look at the chord charts as a mirror.


Here is a screen shot of the most common left handed ukulele chords if the “mirror” method does not work.

The Long Range View

My advice to anyone who sees themselves as ever becoming a “multi-instrumentalist” is to learn fingering patterns in your left hand and bowing/strumming/picking patterns in your right. As a leftie, you will learn the traditional chord shapes and fingering patterns much more quickly than your right-handed counterparts. You will be able to transport this knowledge to any string instrument and learn any of them rather quickly. (I play violin, viola, cello, bass, ukulele and guitar.)

Final Thoughts

The real artistry of any stringed instrument is with the right hand-bowing/strumming/finger-picking etc. All of us have to work to master the different right-hand techniques on any stringed instrument, but it is nice to have the left-hand coordination mastered and be able to take it with you wherever you go musically.

I have lots of left-handed string students who initially struggle with strumming and/or bowing on their instruments, but after a few months of instruction the coordination is there! Then they sail ahead more quickly than their right-handed counterparts. I always tell the left-handed kids that learning to be ambidextrous makes anyone smarter because it uses more parts of your brain, and that all stringed instrument players are equally adept at the use of either hand.

Have fun and happy strumming!

Are you struggling with strumming?

With our book and course, you’ll become a fluent 3-chord strummer.

Get your copy now!

Reading Sheet Music vs. Playing by Ear: Which is Superior?

Reading Sheet Music vs. Playing by Ear: Which is Superior?

reading sheet music vs playing by ear

Are you scratching your head wondering which is better; reading sheet music or playing by ear? In this blog post, we review each of the techniques.

What’s the Difference?

Reading sheet music involves looking at written music, then translating the notation into the physical movements needed to play the song. The written music instructs you what and how to play.

On the other hand, playing by the ear is listening to a song to help you know how to play it.  With practice what you hear can guide you as to what to play.

Reading Sheet Music

Reading sheet music is the traditional way of learning music. You read everything that you play.  It is a straightforward way of learning music. It is what most music teachers teach.

Advantages of reading and playing from sheet music include:

  • It is comparatively easy since you get detailed guidance throughout the whole reading sheet music vs playing by earpiece, therefore, no need to remember or improvise. Of course, it’s only easy once you know how to read music or tab notation.
  • There is a lot of learning material for guidance. Many books on learning music will give you ample material on this technique.
  • In a group performance such as an orchestra or a band, having to read from a sheet music ensures everybody is in sync. It guides the whole performance.
  • It provides the essential foundational skills and principles of music. Therefore, it prevents pick up of habits and practices that might derail your progress.

Playing by Ear

While many wish they could read music, all of us admire a person who can pick up an instrument and just play a tune on it without any notes.

reading sheet music vs playing by earThis technique, admittedly, can be harder to master.Your mind will have to learn to do the reverse of reading and playing sheet music. However, some people find playing by ear much easier than reading notes – and some people find reading notes much easier than playing by ear!

You listen to music playing and translate it into a mental sheet music. Finally, you then play it yourself.  With practice your brain can to directly from hearing a song to knowing how to play it.

The pros of learning by ear are:

  • You’ll learn new pieces faster this way because no time is used in processing the written sheet music first.
  • You develop the ability to improvise a song and add your signature style.
  • It improves your ability to create your own compositions.
  • It is a fun and exciting way to learn in addition to being handy where no sheet music is available.

Our Verdict

In conclusion, none of these techniques is superior to the other.  Both of them are efficient and useful.

Some teachers tend to focus more on reading sheet music and not so much on playing by ear. Doing this limits the students’ abilities. What if they don’t have the sheet music? What if they need to improvise the piece they are playing? What if they forget the piece? Then, they always have to start at the beginning and can’t work on the hard parts.

We, therefore, think it necessary to learn both techniques. As earlier mentioned, playing by ear is not exactly an easy thing to do. Most people start by learning sheet music first. Through disciplined practice,  they eventually learn to play music by ear too.

Happy Strumming!

If you want to play the latest hits, you need to learn essential skills first. 21 MORE Songs in 6 Days will teach you these skills.

Get your copy now!