What is the best instrument to learn first?

What is the best instrument to learn first?

People often ask, “What is the best instrument to learn first?” While this is a good question to consider if you’re new to music, it is a little bit like asking, “What is the best food to eat?”

The Ukulele Sisters play eleven instruments and have taught thousands of beginners. So we definitely qualify as balanced ‘’music eaters’ and ‘chefs’, to stretch a metaphor.

Here are some factors to consider when deciding what is the best instrument for YOU to learn first.

Pick the instrument that inspires you

The best instrument to learn first is the one that inspires YOU. Learning music is fun at first but it’s also a lot of work. Most of the beginners I have taught are surprised at how much work it is to learn an instrument. So you want to pick an instrument to learn first that calls to your heart. There are always challenging spots in learning anything. Picking an instrument you love will help you keep going when things get tough. To sum it up: learn the instrument that you love most first.

A second factor in deciding which instrument you like is your response to its sound. Do you respond to the gentle plucking of a harp or the energizing beat of a skilled drummer at work? Maybe you love the singing, surging legato of romantic piano music? Or does cool smooth saxophone playing make your day? Use your emotions about sound to help you choose an instrument to spend time with.

What’s your goal?

Another consideration is the musical style you’re interested in. If you want to play a particular type of music, learn an instrument that’s central to it. For example, if you want to rock out , learn electric guitar. If you love Scottish Highlands reels, learn bagpipe. If you love Beethoven symphonies, choose violin or cello.

Are you working towards becoming a professional musician? You need to know piano to get a music degree even if you are majoring in another instrument.

Do you just want to have fun and maybe perform sometimes as an amateur? Any of the non-piano instruments could work great for you

Why pick only one instrument?

Learning more than one instrument will dramatically increase your understanding of music. The more you understand about music the easier it will be to learn your chosen instrument.

I’ll talk about this more below, but each instrument focuses on one aspect of music. For example, the drums provide the rhythm or beat to the rest of the band. Rhythm guitar provides the middle of the music and some of the beat. Single line instruments like saxophone usually play melody parts.

group of musical instruments

Here are the best instruments to learn first

OK, so here’s my ranking of the best instruments to learn first along with my reasoning. Remember, everyone will have their own view on this topic and that’s how it should be. I hope reading my ranking will help you make up your mind on which instrument to learn first.

1. Piano

I have played and taught piano for decades so of course I am biased. But lots of other people also think you should learn piano first. Western music is organized by scales which are basically stair steps of sounds. The spaces between each sound are either half steps or whole steps.

Pros:

Great visuals: The half and whole steps are laid out clearly on the piano keyboard. So learning piano can help you understand the structure of all Western music. You can just look at the piano keyboard to see how each pitch is related to another pitch. That’s why all music schools require students in all majors to learn to play the piano at a basic level.

piano keyboard

Make a complete song: It’s easy to play more than one note at a time on the piano. That means you can make a a complete musical texture by yourself on the piano. You can play the tune (what a singer would sing) and the background (what the backup band would play) at the same time. You can’t do that with a single line instrument like the saxophone or trumpet.

Gigantic pitch range: The highest note on the piano is higher than the highest note an orchestra can play. The lowest note is lower than the lowest instruments in the orchestra can play. This means that piano music can have incredible contrasts and drama.

Stays in tune: The piano has thick wire strings under a lot of tension. Pianos are tuned by professional tuners and usually stay in tune at least 6 months. So you don’t have to fiddle around with tuning before you can start playing.

Lots of styles to play: You can play classical, rock, blues, folk, and even popular tunes on the piano.

Sound great from the beginning: Even cats and dogs can get a sound out of the piano – remember Nora the cat? You don’t see a lot of videos about animals playing violin or saxophone.

Cons:

Big: The piano is large – about 6 ½” wide and at least 6” deep if you include space for the bench and someone sitting on it. That’s a lot of space for one instrument especially if you are sharing space with others.

Expensive: Sometimes you can find an old upright piano being given away for free. But, you get what you pay for. An instrument worth playing will cost at least $500-$1000.

Loud: The acoustic piano is quite a bit louder than some of the other options listed below. If you are sharing your space with someone who is working from home, you may have to limit your practicing times. Another option is to get an electronic keyboard. Then you can play with headphones when you need to be quiet. Electronic keyboards are very popular these days. However, an electronic action is not as good for practicing on as an acoustic action. But being able to play more hours makes considering an electronic piano a good idea. And your keyboard can create all kinds of sounds such as harpsichord, organ, and strings.

Takes a long time to master: The piano has 88 keys and three pedals. To play it you need to use all 10 fingers plus your feet at the same time. It can take a long time to get the coordination needed to play it well. By long time, we’re talking 10 or more years of lessons with a skilled teacher.

Not so great for popular music: The piano was most popular in the 1830s through the 1920s. It is perfectly suited for music from those years: classical music and jazz. Playing pop, rock, hip hop and rap on the piano can be tough. It’s pretty hard to play music that was originally played by 3-4 skilled musicians with only one brain.

2. Ukulele

Well of course on a site called ukulele.io we are big fans of ukulele. Here are some of the pros of learning ukulele as your first musical instrument.

Inexpensive: You can get a serviceable instrument to try out for less than $100.

Portable: The Beatles often took ukuleles on tour because they are small and easy to stow and carry. You can even get waterproof carbon fiber ukuleles to take to the beach or campsite.

Small and easy to hold: The ukulele comes in four sizes. Find out how to choose the perfect ukulele size for you here. The first three have the same tuning and the fourth (the baritone) has a different tuning. Even the largest ukulele is quite a bit smaller than a guitar. So, if holding a guitar is a stretch, the ukulele will be a great fit for you. Read more about ukulele sizes here.

Play harmony: Like piano and guitar, you can play complete chords on the guitar. You can even play the melody plus the chords at the same time which is called ‘chord melody’. It’s great to be able to play a complete song by yourself.

Easy to learn without a teacher: Ukulele is very popular right now. So there are many online ukulele tutorial videos, books, and courses. You can check out our offerings here.

Easier than guitar: The ukulele has only 4 strings not 6 or 12 like the guitar. That means that the chord shapes you make with your left hand are simpler and easier to learn.

Great for popular music: Lots of popular songs sound great on ukulele. If you like music that has guitars in it, you will like the ukulele

Happy upbeat sound: Many people associate the ukulele with happy mellow feelings. And who can’t use more of that in their life?

Great for playing with others: Lots of people join ukulele clubs to play in a group with other strummers. There are clubs all over the world. Facebook is a good place to look for a ukulele group.

Or you can improvise or play duets with a friend. Many of our books include the melody written out in ‘tab’ plus chord symbols to make it easy for you to play duets. (Tab is an easy to learn way of writing down music.) One person can play the melody while the other person strums the chords.

Sound good fast: The four strings of the ukulele sound great all by themselves. And that’s before you learn how to play your first chord. It’s not that hard to learn to strum the ukulele, so you can play complete songs within a week or two of starting. In fact, our introductory book teaches you 21 songs in 6 days. They are easy songs of course. But you are creating complete songs with a melody plus an accompaniment all by yourself.

3. Guitar

Pros:

Lots of popular songs to play: The guitar is the main instrument of pop, rock, folk and country music since the 1950s. Which means that it is a great instrument to learn if you want to play any of these styles.

Affordable: You can buy a beginner quality acoustic guitar for around $200. No way could you start on piano or acoustic bass in that price range

Easy to jam with a friend: Like ukulele, you can easily play with a friend. One of you would strum chords and the other can pluck melody notes and/or sing. Just decide what scale you’re playing in and you’re ready to go.

Expressive: You can affect the sound you make by how you strum or pluck the strings with your fingers. It’s a very direct and intimate music making experience.

Acoustic vs. Electric? Again, this depends on what style music you want to play.

Acoustic guitar is generally more affordable to start, and electric guitar is a bit easier to play. The choice is yours and there is no wrong answer.

Cons:

Lots of guitarists: There are a lot more guitarists than any other type of musician. This means that the competition to play in a group is a lot tougher.

Too big: For some folks, the guitar is just physically too big. Or maybe getting your small hand to wrap around the neck and cover six strings is too much of a stretch? In that case, we recommend the ukulele.

Which is better – piano or ukulele/guitar?

It all comes down to what you would like to do with your music. Do you want to learn some of your favorite songs, or play around a fire with some friends? Then I would recommend ukulele or guitar. If you would like to get deeper into music and maybe learn some classical pieces, I would suggest piano.

4. Bass guitar

Affordable: Beginner bass guitars are super affordable. Lessons are cheap and abundant online and elsewhere, and finding sheet music is very easy.

Different from guitar: Bass is a separate instrument from guitar. It is larger than a standard electric or acoustic guitar. It has four strings rather than 6 or 12 and its sounds are lower than the guitar. Because it is low, it usually works with the drums in a band to create a rhythm.

The electric and the acoustic (stand up) bass have the same strings. If you play the acoustic bass, you can really easily learn electric bass or ukulele bass because the fingerings and notes are the same. This also means that acoustic bass students can practice on an electric bass guitar at home! Being able to stash an inexpensive instrument at home will save you money and a lot of schlepping.

Big: The acoustic (stand up) bass is big.  In fact, it is so big you might have to buy a new car to tote your instrument around. But you can get a smaller size bass for younger students. If you go with the acoustic or stand-up bass, it is really big – and expensive. 

Strings are hard to press: to get those low tones, the strings need to be thick. That makes them harder to push down, which can tire out your hand and arm.

Usually in the background: If you like to be in the front playing a solo, you will not like the bass. Most of the time the bass works with the drums and rhythm guitar to create the supporting texture of a song.

5. Violin & Cello

Beautiful singing sound: These two instruments are the main part of any orchestra. They make a beautiful smooth singing sound. Some of the greatest classical music has been written for them. Violin also shows up as a fiddle in bluegrass, country and folk music. Violin even shows up in jazz played by artists like Regina Carter and Stephane Grappeli. There is a wonderful jazz violinist in the HBO series ‘Treme’, along with a lot of brass players.

Available in smaller sizes: It’s easy to get smaller size violins and cellos for children. They are available in ¼, 1/8 and 1/16 sizes. Read more about smaller violins here.

violins and cellos in orchestra

Easy to learn in school settings: Many schools have orchestra programs which offer lessons and loaner instruments to students. One of the Ukulele Sisters has a day job as a middle school orchestra director.

Always a group to join: Orchestras need lots of violins and cellos. So if you become proficient you’ll always be welcome to join a group. There are many amateur orchestras for adult players to join too.

Definitely will need serious lessons: These instruments are not easy to learn. It can take a while before you can make a good sound. You’ll need one on one lessons with a professional teacher.

With the right teacher, the Suzuki method of instruction can be a great option. Read more about the pros and cons of the Suzuki method here. 

Expensive: Even the cost of a starter instrument is on the higher side. Most school orchestra teachers recommend that you rent an instrument from a reputable dealer. You want someone who will handle repairs when needed, and look for a rent-to-buy program. It’s best to work with a business that is located near you so you can bring the instrument in to the shop in person.

Violins and violas are $20-$35/month depending on where your rent. Cellos are double that.

If you get to the point where you need a professional quality instrument, watch out. You could be spending thousands of dollars on just the instrument. The bows that you draw across the strings to make the sound are sold separately and can also be quite expensive.

6. Saxophone & other wind instruments

Wind instruments are a large group of instruments that you play by blowing into a mouthpiece. The flute is an exception – it is played by blowing across a hole. The oldest known musical instrument is a fragment of a bone flute from 60,000 years ago! Other popular wind instruments besides the flute are clarinet and saxophone.

Saxophone is easy to learn and is available in a variety of types and sizes. The alto saxophone is the most suitable for beginners. You can learn more about different kinds of saxophones here.

Easy to learn in school settings: As with orchestras, many schools also have band programs. Playing in the band can be a fun way to learn music and connect with other students in your school. I loved playing flute and piccolo in my high school’s marching band.

Not that many groups for adult wind players to join: Many wind players drop music once they leave school. When they don’t have a way to play with other people anymore it’s not as much fun. This was my experience. I didn’t get chosen for my university’s orchestra and never played flute again. For many years I wished that I had learned cello instead of flute.

There are not so many bands and wind groups for adults to play in because there’s not that much music written for band. Wind instruments like saxophone and clarinet sound great in rock and jazz. But wind instruments like oboe and flute are mostly limited to playing in orchestras. And orchestras usually need only one or two of each type of wind instrument. So you have to be really good to make the cut. The TV series Mozart in the Jungle tells the story of Hadley, an aspiring orchestral oboist.

Many years to master: There are lots of self-taught saxophone and clarinet players out there. But most wind instruments need training and discipline over many years to master. If you have a strong desire to learn one of them you definitely can do it. Just know that you will have to be very organized and identify a good teacher early on in your learning journey.

7. Drums

Fun: Drums are another instrument with a long history. It can be easy to make a sound at the beginning. But once you try to play with both hands and one foot at the same time, things become more challenging. Once you’ve passed this hurdle, you’ll get to a decent level where most rock blues and pop songs are playable. pretty quickly. In fact, choosing to play drums can be the quickest way to get proficient at playing a single instrument

Man playing drum

Lots of opportunities to play: If you get moderately skilled, you’ll have lots of chances to join bands. And it’s a good thing, because very few people have ever written a percussion only song.

Expensive: At first getting your drum kit set up will be expensive. Once you have a basic set up you’ll be OK for a while. Then you can gradually add different drums and cymbals.

Noisy: The drums are loud. Very loud. So many learners train on an electric drum kit to help neighbors keep their sanity.

8. Brass instruments such as trumpet

Easy to learn in school settings: Many school music programs offer lessons and loaner instruments. Playing in the band can be a fun way to learn music and connect with other students in the school.

Fun: Brass is great for the school marching band or orchestra. And it can be a ton of fun to be in the band at school sporting events. I mean, watch those dancing tubas in the Stanford Marching Band! Are they having fun or what! There is even a very famous college football play that included the band members.

However, when you no longer have the support of a school program, it can be difficult to keep your instrument up.

Not that many groups for adult wind players to join: As with wind instruments, there are few adult music groups that need lots of brass players. Adult orchestras only need one or two of each brass instrument, so you have to be good to get chosen to play. You can play jazz and some rock and pop on brass instruments. But brass instruments are not so common in styles besides classical.

So, if you’re learning a brass instrument at school, try to plan on how to continue once you are out of school. A good plan can be to learn a second instrument such as ukulele, piano, or guitar. That way you’ll be able to keep playing music when you leave school.

Very loud: Brass instruments are used when the music needs a loud or piercing sound. Think marching band and army signals. But neighbors most likely will not be enthusiastic about hearing daily brass practice. You can get a practice mute or play with just the mouthpiece some of the time. But you will need regular practice time when you can play your instrument unmuted.

So what is the best instrument to learn first?

Now that you’ve learned about the many options, I hope you’re ready to choose what instrument to learn first. If you are feeling overwhelmed with information and pros and cons – don’t freak out! Choose SOMETHING to get started. Even if you only try it for a month or two, you’ll learn a lot about music. And the knowledge you gain will help you as you move on to a second instrument.

Playing music as an adult is a great way to socialize and express yourself. Working with music will help you develop your creativity and thinking in new ways. In fact, music is often used to help folks rehabilitate from strokes.

So what do you think? Which instrument will you try to learn first? Let us know in the comments.

Which  Musical Instrument Should I Choose?

Which Musical Instrument Should I Choose?

 

“I love music and I’ve always wanted to play a musical instrument.

There are so many choices. Which musical instrument is best for me? How do I choose one?”

“As a kid, my family moved a lot, so I never was in one place long enough to do the whole “band” or “piano lesson” thing. Now I want to learn music. But I have no idea how to choose an instrument.”

I hear comments like these often from people who want to play a musical instrument. In this post I’ll answer your questions and give you some good ways to go about choosing an instrument.

It is never too late to choose a musical instrument. And don’t worry if you pick one and then move on to another. Whatever you learn about music on one instrument transfers to the next. You’ll build knowledge about music that will help you learn whichever instrument you decide to stick with.

If you like music and you have an organized approach to learning, you will be successful. And,  you don’t need to read notes to play an instrument. It helps, but you can learn to play first and then decide later if you want to read notes. I’ll give more information about learning to read music notes in the 2nd article of this series.  

Listen to a lot of instruments and see which ones you like best.

It’s a good idea to listen and familiarize yourself with different kinds of instruments. Try listening to a variety of styles of music to expose yourself to a lot of different types of instruments. You can listen to musical instruments on Youtube. Green Bean’s Music has a nice series that plays short samples of each instrument. 

group of musical instruments
Woman with piano

Think about the following things…

What kinds of sounds do you like?

Do you like loud sounds? Or, do soft sounds give you comfort? Are you happy hearing the low, deep sounds like a roaring lion? Or maybe you prefer high sounds such as twittering birds? Think about which instrument sends tingles up and down your spine. You will be successful with an instrument that “speaks” to you.

What kind of music do you like?

Folk music? Indian ragas? Rock and roll? Hip-hop? Ragtime? Blues? Classical? Think of your favorite songs and which instruments are in those songs. This will help you decide what you want to play.

Do you like electric or acoustic music?

The kind of music you like will help you decide what instrument you want to play. An electric instrument can be played silently with headphones, which can be a big benefit if you are sharing space with others. And even if you prefer acoustic music, many instruments such as keyboards and guitars are also available with electric versions. 

How much space do you have in your home for a musical instrument?

Is space an issue? Would a grand piano take up your entire living room? Do you want an instrument that is portable? 

Do you want to play with others?

Do you want to be part of a band, orchestra or music club? Think about the instruments you can play with other people. Or, do you want to make music by yourself?

Girl playing violin

How much are you willing to spend?

Do you need to follow a budget? Are you in the market for something decent for under $200? Or, can you spend several thousand dollars on your new hobby?

Which instruments fit you physically?

Are you a large or small person? Do you have big or small hands? Being able to comfortably hold an instrument will make it a lot easier to play it once you have it.

Narrow down your choice of instrument

Once, you’ve thought about the above issues, decide what instrument family you like. The instrument families are: strings, keyboard, brass and woodwind, and percussion.  Common stringed instruments are violin, guitar, bass, ukulele. Common keyboard instruments are piano and organ. Common percussion instruments include all types of drums. Common brass and woodwind instruments are flute, clarinet, and trumpet.

So, let’s say you’ve narrowed your choices down to stringed instruments

You love guitar and the soulful sound of the violin. You think it’s really cool the way the bass provides the foundation for the song. So now it’s time to pick out a stringed instrument.

Here are some issues with these musical instruments

Guitar– Big with 6 strings. Chords are hard to change and the strings hurt your fingers.

Violin– Produces a beautiful sound when played by an expert, but it can squeak and scratches when played by a beginner. It’s hard to get the right notes because there are no frets. The bow is really difficult to manage. It’s EXPENSIVE.

Bass-Huge! An acoustic bass can take up a lot of space in your house. And if you want to take your bass with you to a group jam, you might need to get a larger car to carry it in. 

But I don’t read notes!

Never fear, you can learn to play an instrument first. Check out the 2nd post in this series to find out more about how reading notes fits in with learning an instrument. 

Man playing string bass
woman playing ukulele

 

7 Reasons why ukulele might be the right musical instrument for you

  1. The ukulele is smaller than the guitar. It has only 4 strings, rather than 6. This means the chord shapes are easier than on guitar. Also, ukulele strings are nylon so they don’t hurt your fingers, unlike metal guitar strings.
  2. There is no bow, so you don’t have the awful screeching sound that comes with beginners on the violin. And there are frets, so you know where to put your fingers. In fact, the ukulele sounds pleasant when you strum it.
  3. You can take a ukulele anywhere. It’s accessible and portable.
  4. The ukulele is acoustic, so you don’t have to worry about it being too loud for your neighbors.
  5. You can get a decent ukulele for under $200, so it is an affordable instrument. Once you have your first ukulele, you can learn to play and decide if you like it or not. For the cost of a ukulele, an instruction book and an online course, you can be off and running without breaking the bank.
  6.  The ukulele comes in many sizes, so you can find one to fit you. You can even get small, colorful ones for your kids so they can play too.
  7. Since ukuleles are quiet, you can play them with other people. It’s not like the guitar – a room full of guitars would be overwhelming. People play ukuleles in clubs and sing along.

What are the next steps? 

Read the next post in our series about learning to play a musical instrument without reading notes.

If you’re sent on ukulele, decide what size of ukulele works for you. You can read more about ukulele sizes here. 

Decide whether you would rather have private lessons or learn from a book or online course. 

If you decide to get started by yourself with a book, you might enjoy our reviews of the most popular ukulele books here. 

 

I Don’t Read Notes. Can I Learn a Musical Instrument?

I Don’t Read Notes. Can I Learn a Musical Instrument?

Lots of people ask “I don’t read notes. Can I learn a musical instrument?” We’re here to reassure you. You definitely can learn a musical instrument without reading notes. That’s because knowing how to play music does not mean you need to read music notes. 

In fact, playing without sheet music is called ‘playing by ear’. Musical notes are like letters or syllables in speech. Melodies are built out of notes just as words are built out of letters. Think about learning to talk. Once you knew your syllables and letters, you probably never thought of them again while talking. You just think about what you want to say. And you didn’t learn to talk by learning to read first.

We humans played music for centuries before the current music writing system existed. The oldest musical instruments are bone flutes that are between 40,000 and 60,000 years old. But written music as we know it today was developed and refined by European church musicians in the middle ages.

dog with music notes
They didn't read notes

There are many famous musicians who didn’t read music. Here are three: Paul McCartney, songwriter Irving Berlin, and opera star Luciano Pavarotti. While these folks didn’t read notes, they all were successful in a variety of musical styles.

Speaking of styles, there are many musical genres that have a learning by ear approach. (See below for more about other styles of notation). In rock, hiphop, and blues no one plays from sheet music. Many folk genres around the world also rely mainly on playing and teaching by ear.

Even some classical musicians are taught without notes using the well-known Suzuki approach. This method includes printed sheet music books but there are also recordings. Children are expected to learn to play their pieces by ear with the help of parents and teachers.

 

Why would I want to learn to read notes?

You may be wondering why anyone would go to the trouble to learn to read musical notes. Well, there are a lot of useful things that musical notation does for you, the music student.

Being able to read musical notes is as useful to a musician as reading words is to you in your daily life. Forget about writing the next great novel. Imagine how difficult it would be to not be able to write a shopping list or read a text message from your friend.

If you are able to read music notes means that you can learn a song without having heard it before. If you can write musical notes, you can jot down ideas you have for a new song. then you can share them with others who read notes. – your teacher, your music club mates, or perhaps the band you’re starting in the garage.

And reading notes means that you can create, record, or learn more complicated music. That’s why students of genres like jazz and classical often invest the time to learn to read music notes.

woman with music notes on old piano

How do music notes work?

Musical notation developed over centuries. Which means that it is complicated and sometimes confusing. But, if you are learning a fretted instrument like ukulele or guitar, you’re in luck! These instruments have several different types of notation available. That means if you are a person who says “I don’t read notes” they are some of the easiest instruments to learn.

Here they are in order from least to most difficult.

Lyrics and Chords

Lyric and chord sheets have the words written out like a poem with chord symbols written above the words. Sometimes the chord symbol is a letter and sometimes it is a chord stamp. A chord stamp is an image that looks like graph paper with dots on it. Chord stamps are used for ukulele and guitar players as a diagram of how to play a chord.

Reading lyric and chord sheets is a type of music reading. The great thing about them is that you don’t have to read formal music notation. They can work well if you know how the melody of the song goes.

The downside is that you have to know the song to be able to play it from lyrics and chords. That’s because just looking at the lyrics and chord stamps does not tell you how the melody and rhythm of the song go. So, if you don’t know the song, you have to learn how it goes by listening to it, often many times. This can take a long time.

And sometimes the chord symbols are not correctly placed, so you have to be able to hear when to change the chord. Finally, before you can use lyrics and chords you have to already know how to play chords and keep a steady strum going.

Ukulele tablature

Tablature (tab for short)

Tab is a sort of road map that shows you where the notes are on your instrument. There is tab for guitar, ukulele, wind instruments and even piano. Tab is not that hard to learn to read and is very useful for guitar and ukulele. Read our post about how to read tab here.

In the image of “Yankee Doodle” to the left, the tab is the bottom set of lines with the numbers on it. The top set of lines with black and white circles is standard music notation.

A big downside to tab is that it is specific to one instrument. So if you write something in ukulele tab and hand it to a clarinet player, you will only get a confused look. Another issue is that it is not that easy to notate the rhythm of the song in tab. Read more about tab notation and rhythm here.

Standard Music Notes

Standard musical notation is universal for all instruments. It is a diagram of the sounds that should be played. It shows whether the sounds should be high or low which musicians call ‘pitch’. It also how long or short in time the sounds should be, which musicians call ‘duration’ or ‘rhythm’.

It takes the longest time to learn to read because it shows the most information. We can pick up a sheet music written in standard notation hundreds of years ago and know how to play it. Melody, harmony, rhythm, articulation and expression are all clearly notated. So, this kind of notation is the most powerful, but also the most complicated. You can learn what you need of this type of notation as you go.

Music notation developed over time and has many odd things that take a while to learn. Music notation is complex so that it can express complex ideas. There is a lot of visual information on a piece of sheet music and it can take a while to get used to decoding it. Once you understand what sounds are being called for, you also have to learn how to play them on your instrument.

On the bright side, if you learn to write music notes on the staff, you will be able to communicate with other players. You can hand your music to someone else who reads music and they will be able to play it on their instrument.

Should I learn notes at the same time as I learn my instrument?

Learn a musical instrument faster by not learning notes first

Get off to a faster start by focusing on playing

Most people who begin to learn a musical instrument are surprised at how difficult it is. So it’s best to start with an approach where you can feel successful early on. Your early successes will motivate you to continue playing. That’s why we recommend not worrying too much about reading notes at the beginning of your journey.

New research shows that multitasking is actually less efficient than doing one thing at a time. The brain can only handle so many new skills at once. Learning the coordination of how to play an instrument is plenty to focus on at first.

To play any musical instrument you will need to coordinate body parts in new ways. To play a wind instrument you’ll need to sync breath, mouth, tongue and finger movements.

To play guitar or ukulele, you’ll need to coordinate your hands to do two different things at the same time. You might also need to add singing to the mix. Plus remembering the words. To add in learning music notation can create an overload which will slow down your progress.

So, here’s the answer to the question “I don’t read notes. Can I learn a musical instrument?”: Yes, but timing is very important.

When is the best time to start learning to read notes?

When people can recognize what song you’re playing, you’re ready to begin learning to read music.

An added benefit: developing your ear

Think of the way children learn a language. They listen, then they speak, and only much later learn to read. They learn to speak by first listening carefully. If you learn your instrument this way, you will learn to listen carefully too. Since music is all about sound, it’s always a good idea to develop your listening skills.

All the above notation systems as valid, depending on what you’re trying to do. So, yes learn to read music if you would like. Once you’ve learned to read notation, you’ll be able to learn new songs more accurately and quickly. And you’ll be able to play music with others which is one of the great joys in most musicians’ lives.

Let us hear from you

Where are you in your musical journey? Have you learned to read music notation? Do you feel it helped or slowed your progress? Let us know in the comments below.

What are the Best Christmas Gifts for Ukulele Players?

What are the Best Christmas Gifts for Ukulele Players?

So, you’re wondering what are the best Christmas gifts for the ukulele player in your life? Here  are 30 ideas  for things your loved one might be excited to find under the tree. We’ve listed the approximate price to make it easy to stay within your budget.

FYI Ukulele Sisters gets a small commission for purchases made through links in this post. The commission doesn’t affect the price you pay.

Practical Ukulele Christmas Gifts

Here are some suggestions to help your loved one be more comfortable and sound better as they make music.

1. Music Stand - $25

A sturdy, high quality music stand is a great place to store music. And it’s a lot more fun to play ukulele if books and music sheets are not falling on the ground all the time.

2. Clip-on Tuner - $15

A clip -on tuner makes it a snap to get a ukulele tuned up and ready to rock out. Snark Tuner is the go-to brand for clip on tuners.

3. Capo - $10

Ukulele capos make it possible to adapt sheet music to different keys. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that means. You can learn more about it with our post about using a capo.

4. Ukulele Strap - $10 - 20

Slip into something more comfortable with a ukulele strap. Having a strap to hold up the ukulele makes it much easier to play the ukulele.

There are two kinds. One of them goes over your head and does not require an end button. The advantage is that you don’t need to take your ukulele to the shop to get an end button added. The disadvantage is that you still have to keep a hand on your ukulele to make sure you don’t drop it.

The other kind of strap needs a button installed onto the ukulele. The strap is then attached to the button which means you can use your hands to do something else and not drop your ukulele. The downside is that you might need the help of a music store to get a button added to your ukulele. And some people don’t like how the buttons look.

Oldtime Music has published a nice review of the top 7 ukulele straps. 

5. Chord Chart - $10

A ukulele chord chart to post in your practice space will make it easier to quickly find the chord shape you need at the right moment. We like this laminated ukulele chord chart.

6. Felt Picks $10 - $15

If your ukulele player does not like using their fingers to strum and is worried about damaging their uke, a felt pick could be the answer. This combo pack of a capo and felt picks is a great deal.

7. Humidifier - $15

Ukulele humidifier. Many ukuleles are made of wood, which prefers a modest and constant humidity level. If you live in a dry climate or have a lot of drying indoor heat in the winter, a ukulele humidifier is a MUST. Unless you really like buying ukuleles…

8. Ukulele Stand - $25

Ukulele stand: Having your ukulele out of its case and ready to grab for a quick practice session is makes it much easier to fit music into your daily life. This zebra wood stand is good looking and a good price too. 

9. Wall Mount - $15

A wall mount also makes it easy easy to grab a ukulele, but it also turns your musical instrument collection into a decorative statement.

10. New Strings - $10 - 15

Strings wear out over time and need to be replaced. Having a spare set is a great idea. Aquila is a standard string type that lots of folks use. Be sure you get the set of strings that matches the size of ukulele belonging to your musician.

Soprano strings

Concert strings

Tenor strings

Baritone strings

Fun Ukulele Christmas Gifts

Enough with practicality! What about some playful, fun gifts for ukulele players?

Ukulele Christmas ornament – there are a lot of cute ones out there. We liked the strumming Santa and the blown glass ukulele with flowers.

11. Ukulele Christmas Ornaments - $10 - $15

There are a lot of cute ones out there. We liked the strumming Santa and the blown glass ukulele with flowers.

12. Hawaian Shirt - $35 - $50

13. Lei - $15 - 75

And what is the perfect accessory for your Hawaiian shirt? Why a lei, of course. If you’re going with fresh flowers, your local florist might be able to deliver something or get in touch with the Hawaiian Lei Company

 

14. Ukulele T shirt - $15 - $25

If your loved one isn’t much for collared shirts, how about a Ukulele T shirt? Our favorite is the one with cats found here. There are also fun “ukulele girl” shirts out there.

15. Mug - $15 - $20

If a shirt isn’t in the budget, how about a mug with ukulele chord stamps or fun sayings.

16. Socks - $15 - $20

Ukulele socks are another affordable choice. From colorful to neutral there are a lot of choices.

17. Hat - $15 - $20

If your loved one likes to cover his noggin there are a lot of cute choices available. We liked this neutral one and this more colorful one too.

19. Fun Ukulele Case - $25

Sheet Music is Always a Great Christmas Gift

Of course, we are authors so we are biased. But most players will always be happy to have new tunes to try. Do your best to buy something at the right difficulty level and when in doubt it’s best to get something easier rather than harder. It’s not so fun to get a new book and not be able to play any of the songs in it. 

20. 21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way - $15

by Rebecca Bogart and Jenny Peters. This book is for someone who has never played ukulele before. It covers five basic chords (C, C7, F, G7 and Am) and three fundamental strumming patterns by working through the six days and 40-plus lesson videos.

21 Easy Ukulele Songs for Christmas ukulele book cover

21. 21 Easy Ukulele Songs for Christmas - $15

Also by Rebecca Bogart and Jenny Peters. This book features great sounding yet easy to play versions of classic carols. It’s intended for beginning ukulele players who have learned the C, F, and G7 chords and a few basic strums. Includes a free video course.

22. 21 More Songs in 6 Days - $20

by Rebecca Bogart and Jenny Peters. Your uke lover will learn the most important intermediate ukulele chords, how to fingerpick melodies and accompaniments, and new fancier strumming patterns. Plus, this book has an introduction to blues improvisation and basic music theory. 

23. Learn Easy Ukulele Chord Melody Today! Online course - $100

If your ukulele player has been complaining about wanting more variety in her playing, she might love the gift of our chord melody course. It’s only for sale through Dec. 15, but once purchased can be accessed any time.

25. Hymn Kits - $250

For those who love playing sacred music, our hymn kits will give them lots of tunes and skills for making great arrangements.

26. The Daily Ukulele - $30

by Jim and Liz Beloff. This fabulous book is full of good songs – most of the recent tunes are from the 60s and 70s. There is no lesson information, but if your uke lover knows five chords, they should be able to tackle some of the songs.

27. The Daily Ukulele Leap Year Edition - $35

by Jim Beloff. More fabulous songs from Jim. This second volume has more modern tunes by groups such as Black Keys and Green Day.

28. Easy Songs for Ukulele - $10

29. Fiddle Tunes for Ukulele - $15

Also by Lil’ Rev. Great little guide to old time familiar tunes arranged for ukulele.

30. Disney Hits for Ukulele - $15

23 songs included. This book is for someone who’s played for at least a couple years.

We hope you’ve found some gift ideas that will work for you in this post. Do you have a great idea we didn’t mention? Let us know about it in the comments below. Thanks for reading and happy holidays!

Embrace the Joy of Music by Learning Ukulele

Embrace the Joy of Music by Learning Ukulele

Right now as many of us are sheltering in place, we have time on our hands. Several folks are learning something new. They are embracing the joy of music through learning the ukulele.

When you learn like a child, you can lose your inner critic. As adults we often berate ourselves when we don’t learn right away. We allow our expectations  to get in the way of learning. 

If you are willing to learn like a child, you will do something over and over again until you get it. Anyone who’s watched a baby learn to walk can see the determination of the baby in developing this skill. Well, that’s what learning ukulele can be like. You can become so absorbed in what you’re doing, that your mind becomes free of all the stresses around you.

 

Embrace Your Inner Child

I recently gave a lesson to someone who wanted to return to her ukulele. She described her day job as giving her inner PTSD.  She wanted to get away from that. She felt that playing music would help her access her joy.

Laugh at Yourself

During the lesson many  things that went wrong from breaking a string to messing up reading lyrics in a song. My student was laughing at herself before long and had returned to the joy that children have when they are engaged with learning something new.

The Ukulele is Soft, Gentle and Rewarding

At school, I teach children one of the hardest instruments around, the violin. However, the kids don’t get frustrated. When their sound is screeching and out of tune, they look at me and say, “Why is it doing that?” The child’s not causing the noise. Rather it’s the violin that is screechy. There is no inner criticism, simply an observation.

So, I answer the question. I explain how they can fix it. The child says, “Oh, I see” and tries again.

We’re lucky that the ukulele is much more forgiving than the violin with its beautiful gentle sounds and soft strings. The ukulele will reward with all of its joy and gentleness.

Children are used to learning new things. They’re used to being beginners and trying until they get it.  Along the way, they experience joy in learning.

So now, in this time of sheltering in place, embrace your inner child, and try something new. Pick up the ukulele, embrace the joy of music, and learn how to play. You’ll be glad that you did.

 

Red River Valley is one of the songs in our classic book, 21 Songs in 6 Days!

Click the button link below if you don't have this beginner ukulele book yet.

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Bondi Ukulele – The Power of One Ukulele

Bondi Ukulele – The Power of One Ukulele

rythm and reason

At 21 Ukulele Songs, we love music because we know what an important role it plays in society. We cannot imagine life without music and always make our best effort to promote it. This is the reason we’ve partnered with Bondi Ukulele – to help support their Rhythm and Reason Initiative.

Rhythm and Reason Initiative by Bondi Ukulele

Bondi Ukulele is a unique company that makes and sells all things ukulele, from ukuleles to tuners and straps. We find the folks at Bondi Ukulele different from other ukulele companies in the following ways:

  • They make affordable instruments without compromising quality.
  • Most of their ukulele products come packed with all essential accessories so you don’t go looking for them elsewhere.
  • They hold your hand as you start the ukulele journey by providing support via videos, Skype lessons and learn-to-play books.
  • They have a genuine interest in giving back, especially through the Rhythm and Reason Initiative.

Bondi’s Rhythm and Reason Initiative is a program aimed at getting music into Cambodian schools by adapting and producing music that all kids can enjoy. Bondi empowers teachers with a ukulele, know-how, and ownership to ensure a self-sustaining educational program. For every Bondi ukulele sold, a percentage is contributed to putting a Cambodian school teacher through a special ukulele training course. Getting this training allows the teacher’s students to have music as part of their education.

Unveiling the Ultimate Bondi Ukulele Starter Kit

Jenny got her own Bondi Ukulele starter kit package. To give you a sneak peek of what to expect if you get your own, she posted the video below.

As you can see, the starter kit is just wonderful. It has all you need to get going in one package!

Play Your Part

We think the Rhythm and Reason Initiative is an awesome program and we were eager to be part of it. (Full disclosure: We are receive a small commission from Bondi if you purchase your starter kit through the link. The commission does not affect the price you pay.)

So do you want a fantastic ukulele complete with all necessary accessories while at the same time contributing to a worthy cause of bringing music to Cambodian classrooms? Look no further. Follow the link below and play your part.