Creative Ukulele in the Time of COVID

Creative Ukulele in the Time of COVID

During these trying times when many people are angry and frustrated, we try to cope by learning creative ukulele in the time of COVID.

Humans Like Order

We like our routines and we like to think we are in control. In reality, we don’t know what the future holds, but we like to think that we do.

This Covid 19 pandemic has brought many changes to our lives and we do not like it. We do not like having to wear masks, shelter in place, get sick, or lose our jobs. The restrictions on our freedoms and the fear that is all around us makes us sad. We do not like the loss we see and feel.

That’s why you see so many people who are angry. Who are unkind. Who are acting out. It’s a way to express our deep frustration and lack of power.

But what if there is a better way? What if we learn and model resilience to help us in troubling times? What better way to do that, than to learn creative ukulele in the time of Covid?

That’s why Rebecca and I have developed our Ukulele Sisters materials. To help you to learn creativity, fun and resilience.

And when you’re involved in something creative, you are better able to pivot and try something new. Because music is creative, it prepares us to consider alternatives when things are tough. Below I give you the stories of five musicians I know who have been able to pivot in this time.

Case #1 – Rebecca

Rebecca Bogart, one half of the Ukulele Sisters, also teaches piano. When California shut down, she was out of income. She pivoted and built a studio for teaching lessons via Zoom. As a self-employed person, she needed the money. Necessity became the mother of invention. She now has a beautiful set-up for lessons and more people are coming her way.

Case #2 – Lil Rev

Lil Rev was looking at a banner year for traveling and teaching ukulele. On March 12, his planned year of income vanished. What has he done? He has taught and concertized on many online platforms. He is writing new ukulele books and he is building an online music school. Visit to learn more.

Case #3 – Matt Cantlon

Matt Cantlon, the owner of Aloha City Ukes, left the gig economy in time. He started his brick and mortar store about a year ago. Thank goodness he has an online component. His store is one of the few music stores in our area that is poised to do well through this pandemic. Visit Aloha City Ukes to learn more.

Case #4 – Alison Fujito

Alison Fujito is a violinist in the Pittsburgh Symphony. She and her colleagues performed at a concert in the park this summer. They wore masks and socially distanced as they performed. They played works for strings and percussion, the instruments that are safest now. Click on the link to enjoy the concert. Summer in the Parks Concert.

Case #5 – Jenny Peters

I have been teaching socially distanced ukulele on my patio all summer. It’s been great to connect with students in person but outside where it feels safer.

Focus on Something Happy

The musicians I talked to are aware of the difficulties around us. We know there are so many who have suffered during this time of the pandemic. We are thankful for the music that sustains us.

Many of the folks who have used our products are thankful for the focus, the fun and the creative outlet. They are thrilled to focus on something happy, rather than the doom and gloom we sell all around.

As our world changes, we need to use creative and new ways to deliver our ideas. So that we can build resilience in our children, ourselves, and our future. Humans need healthy distractions, community and creativity. Music nurtures these skills. And ukulele is one of the most fun ways to do this!

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Do You Want to Learn to Improvise with Lonely Blues?

Do You Want to Learn to Improvise with Lonely Blues?

If you’d like to learn to improvise with Lonely Blues, our original blues song, then let’s dive in.

How do I make up my own music?

Several years ago I wrote the song, Lonely Blues, for my students. I wanted them to have a simple song where they could learn the pattern of the 12-bar blues. They got an initial experience in improvisation over a simplified blues scale. Since I was composing for fourth and fifth graders, the music needed to be simple and accessible. It also needed to sound different from the many folk songs that they sang at other times of the year. I wanted them to have the feel of a blues band and to have the experience of creating their own music. I also wanted them to experience African-American contributions to our popular music culture.

So, how did it go?

It was quite successful. I created a great backing track and played the bass line on the upright acoustic bass. I showed them how to play three notes up high on the A and E strings that worked over the entire chord progression. They were able to improvise all at once and kept asking all year to return to this song.

Rebecca and I then needed a 5th song for our book, Easy Ukulele Songs: Five with Five Chords. “Lonely Blues” (with a few more chords added) fit the bill. So, now the piece is ready to play as written. But what if you want to take it further and learn to improvise? What if you want to really create your own music?

Let’s learn to improvise with Lonely Blues

So, what do you do? 

  1. Play with a backing track. Slow Blues Backing Track
  2. Play with Strum Machine Strum Machine
  3. Record yourself on your phone or tablet strumming the chords and singing the song. Include a few extra choruses with no singing.
  4. Improvise in the spaces where there is no singing or over the entire blues chorus. If you record yourself, it works really well, because it keeps you going when you make mistakes. Making mistakes in real-time helps you to find “licks” you can use later in your improvisations.
  5. Get a book of Blues licks. One of my favorites is by Lil Rev Intros, Endings and Turnarounds for Ukulele.

What do you do to get the rhythmic feel?

  1. Swing the strumming pattern. Play the 8th notes unevenly. The first note is longer than the second.
  2. Make beats 2 and 4 the strongest beats of each measure, not 1 and 3.
  3. Add Boogie notes when you strum.

This feeling for the rhythm comes with practice and with listening to blues artists. That’s why it’s such a good idea to practice with a backing track. If you record yourself, you will hear when you have the right feel. You will make quick progress because you’ll be able to fix your mistakes.

How do you improvise over a backing track?

  1. Learn the “easy” blues scale up high on the A and E Strings. This scale works well if you’re playing with others because you are higher in pitch than they are. You can hear what you’re doing.  
  2. Create licks (2 to 3 note patterns) that you play over and over while the backing track is going. Use the notes of the “Blues Scale” to do this.

How do you create your own blues solo that sounds complete by itself?

  1. Learn both blues scales that are presented above.
  2. Create licks from these scales that use two or three notes over and over again.
  3. Check out books of Blues Licks for ukulele. I’ve learned from Lil Rev. 


 Add a blues bass line. Even up high it sounds good!

Add some cool strumming-hand effects

    1. Fingerpicking an arpeggio
    2. Slapping the fretboard during a rest
    3. Chunking with the right hand
    4. Triplet strums
    5. Rolls

Make your song complete by adding an introduction and an ending.

Understand the form of the 12-Bar Blues

Any traditional blues song will be 12 measures long. There are specific chords that appear at certain places throughout the song. When you get more advanced, you can substitute more complicated chords. But, learn the simplest progression first. It goes like this.

Write things out to get the timing.

Since I am a music reader, I find it helps if I write things out. I can’t always “feel” how my ideas fit with the rhythms behind me. There is a tradition of listening and transcribing great solos. By learning exactly what an artist plays, you get used to adding these ideas, in a different order. You mix up these ideas from other places with your own ideas. Pretty soon, you’re comfortable creating your own improvised solos.

Check out my written-out improvisation on “Lonely Blues.”

You can also make your own and improvise with Lonely Blues.

Check out this lesson on Blues Tools

In this lesson, I teach all the written examples on this page. You can then apply them to your own solos.

How do you get good at it?

  1. Shake it up.  
  2. Mix it up. 
  3. Practice and Practice. 
  4. Rinse and repeat. 
  5. Remember to have fun!

And, then you have the beginnings of a blues solo.

I hope you enjoyed learning to improvise with Lonely Blues! 

“Lonely Blues” is in our book, Easy Ukulele Songs: Five with Five Chords.


You might want to check out the recording of our Facebook Live lesson on “Lonely Blues”!

So, you’re pretty good at 3-chord songs now. You can do simple strumming patterns. You may even know some other chords. You’d like to take your playing to the next level.

Where do you go from here?

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Positivity During a Pandemic

Positivity During a Pandemic

Right now Rebecca and I are sheltering in place in California and Illinois and we’re thinking about how to keep our positivity during a pandemic. I have a little more time because my school teaching has moved online. I am busy developing online resources to teach orchestra.

It’s a time to think of the positive!

With that in mind, I created the following parody of “Nearer My God to Thee.” With Easter this week, it is time to count our blessings. To be thankful for our nurses and doctors who are on the front lines. It is time to reach out to family and friends. And, it is time to send kindness and good wishes to all.

I’ve also learned some new apps. This video was created in acapella, an app that allows you to easily make split-screen videos. For folks who want to learn to play melodies and chords for a song, recording one part and then playing the other will be a great way to do this. I also enjoy harmonizing, so this was a lot of fun for me.

Our hymn book is coming out soon!

Anyway, since our communities are virtual right now, here’s to making music together with our online tools. The original version of this song, “Nearer My God to Thee,” will be in our new book 21 Easy Ukulele Hymns

Positivity During a Pandemic

We are all stuck at home, what’s there to do?

Celebrate our families, learn something new,

Practice ukulele, be a good friend,

Reach out to those in need, until we meet again.

Families and kids are home, learning online

E-learning’s what we do, in this trying time,

Holidays come this week, over zoom we’ll meet and greet,

Greetings to everyone, send our love to all!



If you want a copy of the sheet music of this song, please comment below. To read more about the “Nearer My God to Thee,” click here.


Do you want to play hymns with confidence?

In our Hymn Kits you'll find something for varied learners, from beginners to a little more advanced.

Get your Hymn Kit today!

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll enjoy these related posts:

These posts will show you how to play other hymns on the ukulele.

Staying Home Due to the Coronavirus Outbreak

Staying Home Due to the Coronavirus Outbreak

I’m staying home due to the coronavirus outbreak. And I’m working on new ideas for sharing ukulele online with our ukulele community. 

Today is the first day of my spring break, but everything is uncertain because of the outbreak of coronavirus. Here in Illinois we are “sheltering in place.”  That means my husband, son, and I all work from home. None of us can go out except for a walk or a trip to the grocery store.  

While we have a LOT to be thankful for, we miss our daily routines. I miss the students I teach at my school job. I miss both their energy and making music with them face to face. 

On a happy note, many of my public school students are making videos of themselves playing their instruments joyfully. They’ve been posting videos on social media or sending them to me. It warms my heart!

I am sure many of us are in the same boat. We’re home; we’re waiting and we’re anxious.

For Spring Break, I was planning a trip to California to see family and to work with my sister Rebecca on our business. I was looking forward to celebrating together what we have accomplished this year.

So, what am I doing now?

  1. Taking long walks or bicycling every day.
  2. Building my spiritual practice with daily meditations and readings.
  3. Playing my ukulele.
  4. Reconnecting with family members now that we are together under one roof.
  5. Developing new and exciting ways of teaching ukulele online.
  6. Watching lots of instructional videos to learn more about how to build great courses and community.

I am excited to share all of these ideas with our ukulele community. I hope all of you are well and that you are enjoying your friends and loved ones in this stressful period. The ukulele is such a happy instrument; I hope it can bring you joy in a troubled time. 

How about you? How are you spending time while staying home due to the coronavirus outbreak?


Do you want to play hymns with confidence?

In our Hymn Kits you'll find something for varied learners, from beginners to a little more advanced.

Get your Hymn Kit today!

Illinois, Here I Stay! And Share Ukulele Music to Cope with Anxiety

Illinois, Here I Stay! And Share Ukulele Music to Cope with Anxiety

Since Illinois, here I stay, let’s continue to share ukulele music to cope with anxiety.

Last week I wrote about a planned trip to California to work with Rebecca and to visit family. Now with the spread of the coronavirus and social distancing as real policy, I am staying home. All concerts, parades, and sporting events are canceled here in Chicago. People are anxious and afraid of the uncertainty that faces us.

Here are some facts on the ground:

  • All schools in Illinois are canceled for at least the next two weeks.
  • My students did not get to perform for their parents because scheduled concerts were canceled.
  • My students did not get to go to a music contest.

The students are disappointed and sad that they worked hard and didn’t get to showcase their work.  I was disappointed too and wanted to do something to help channel their sadness into creative expression. So I came up with a creative way to build community.

The City of Chicago announced they won’t be dying the Chicago River green this year.
Photograph by Benjamin Suter via Unsplash

On the Thursday and Friday before school was canceled, I recorded my students performing their music and sent links of the performances to families. During our parent/teacher conferences families watched these videos and were thrilled by the music.

AWESOME!  I like ‘Cello Squadron,’ too, sounds almost like ‘Ride of the Valkyries!’  Your quartet was terrific, that’s quite a concertmaster you have there!”

Alison Fujito
Violinist, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Americans have seen the Italian balcony singers as an expression of joy and resilience in a time of fear. I also think of the student violinist who was quarantined in Wuhan during the height of the outbreak. He took Skype lessons with his American violin teacher and practiced many hours every day. He later journaled how playing his violin took his mind off the very real fears he had for his friends and family who he could not visit.

Orchestra students performing during a rehearsal.

Photograph by Jenny Peters

Music soothes fear and anxiety

As a way of dealing with the uncertainty, I urged all the teachers at my school to encourage band and orchestra students to bring their instruments home over the extended break. In addition, I passed out new music and shared YouTube tutorials of the music with parents and students.

Online resources can help people feel connected

These ideas are also ideas that will help people all over the globe to feel connected through music. Rebecca and I intend to continue to share ukulele music to cope with anxiety. We spread the gift of music with our ukulele community through books, online courses and live events. In a time of uncertainty, we encourage all of you to embrace the gift of music by playing your ukulele and being happy. It is said, “Music hath charms to soothe the wildest beast.” But at best we know music is much more than that. Surely, it is part of what makes us human. Also, it is a safe place for our emotions. And it offers us a way to take our minds off of fear and anxiety.

Stay well and happy strumming!


Do you want to play hymns with confidence?

In our Hymn Kits you'll find something for varied learners, from beginners to a little more advanced.

Get your Hymn Kit today!

Writing More Readable Ukulele Tab: Evolution of Sakura Chord Melody

Writing More Readable Ukulele Tab: Evolution of Sakura Chord Melody

I want to share about a recent experience on writing more readable ukulele tab.

I really enjoy (and so do many of our fans) playing both the melody and the chords of a song on the ukulele AT THE SAME TIME. This process is called “chord melody.”

When you first start learning chord melody, it seems almost impossible. And, when you go looking for ukulele chord melody arrangements, many of them are difficult. As a ukulele teacher, I enjoy both playing and teaching chord melody arrangements that are accessible.

By accessible, I mean arrangements that use lots of open strings, stay fairly low on the fretboard, and don’t use many barre chords. I love creating such arrangements, because they sound so cool!

The challenge comes in notating the arrangements.

Writing More Readable Ukulele Tab Chord Melody

Recently I posted my arrangement of “Sakura” on Facebook. One eagle-eyed reader pointed out:

“The tab doesn’t match the staff notation and doesn’t have the rhythm.”

I was thrilled to get a response from someone who could challenge me to create something even better. He and I went back and forth about the best way to write out my arrangement of “Sakura”. He went so far as to even create an arrangement with his own software that used the notes I had written, but made everything easier to read.

Let me show you this evolution.

Here’s my first version:

Jenny Peters during RAGBRAI 2019

As you can see, there is no rhythm indicated with the tab notation.

Here is Version 2, inspired by the person who commented on my Facebook post. By researching my music notation software, I was able to add rhythmic notation to the tab staff. The top staff of music remains as a sing-and-strum version of the song.

Jenny Peters making music on RAGRBRAI 2019

Version 3 has both musical staves with the same notes, but there are no more lyrics. It is an instrumental version only. The notes shown on the music staff are the same as the notes shown in the tab.

So, now my question for you is: which version do you like best, and why? I’d love it if you let me know in the comments below.

We are always looking for ways to make our products better, to help you to have fun learning ukulele YOUR way.  The more we know about what you like the better!

Thanks so much!

Wow, chord melody sounds rich and full, with melody and chords at the same time!

But it’s probably too hard for me. Not true!
In this course you’ll learn easy full-sounding music using techniques you know.

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