Disposable Method for Uke Mastery

This was posted on a couple of the ukulele forums by my friend Uncle Rod Higuchi and he’s given me permission to reprint it here in the Bi-Weekly Uke Tips. It’s a great method for beginners to make some really rapid progress.

Those of you who’ve been following the uke tips may see some duplication here (like, #1 for instance) but it’s a nice system so I felt ok with a few repeats.

Uncle Rod is one of the hardworking crew for SUPA (the Seattle Ukulele Players Association). This is a great bunch of folks and, if you’re in the area on the first Sunday of the month, you should definitely go and check ’em out.

A disposable method for gaining ukulele mastery for beginners
By Uncle Rod Higuchi

  1. Get around other uke players whenever possible. The uke-playing family is warm and welcoming, almost without exception.
  2. Make sure your uke is in tune before you play. I suggest using an electronic tuner set to A=440.
  3. Instead of trying to learn to play the uke and sing a song at the same time, try this. Write out the chord progression of your selected song on a separate sheet of paper. Use the “phrasing” of the chord progression as you find it on the original songsheet – that is, if the first line has only one chord, write only that chord name on the first line of your practice page. If there are any new or unfamiliar chords, draw the appropriate chord diagram ONLY at the FIRST appearance of the chord. In this way you’ll be exercising your hand-eye coordination while developing your muscle memory and finger dexterity when you “play” the practice page.
  4. Put away the actual songsheet with lyrics and work exclusively from your hand-written practice page which will have the chord progression of the song with a few chord diagrams for assistance. Strum each chord 4 times as you attempt to “play” the practice page WITHOUT reference to the actual melody of the song. Your goal is to make comfortable and smooth chord changes at a regular tempo. Go slowly at first. When you are able to go through the entire practice page WITHOUT STOPPING to change the chords, you’re ready for step 5.
  5. At this point begin HUMMING the melody of the song while strumming through the practice page. You’ll need to adjust your rhythm and tempo as you “play the page” that is, it won’t be 4 strums each. You’ll also be experimenting with the location/placement of the chords in relation to the melody of the song.
  6. Now, put away your practice page and return to the original songsheet with chords and lyrics. At this point you’ll have developed enough hand-eye coordination and muscle memory so that when you see the chord name, you’ll automatically form the correct fingering on the fretboard! Practice learning the lyrics and singing your song, slowly at first, until you’re comfortable playing and singing “at speed”. Also begin working on rhythm and strumming. Always work on strumming last.

This is a divide and conquer strategy vs an all out attack.

I believe that any beginning ukulele player, who disciplines him/herself to learn their next 5-10 songs in this manner, will build a foundation of uke-playing skills that will enable them to master the uke in relatively short order. NOTE: try to learn songs written in different keys (C, F, G, A, & D) as this will greatly expand your chord knowledge/skill.

I’ve entitled this “disposable steps” because once you’ve gone through this system 5-10 times, you can stop and simply play songs the way most people try to learn to play the uke – that is trying to play and sing all at once.

By developing a foundation of both knowledge and skill, you’ll be light years ahead of those who are continually frustrated by their slow progress.

Remember, do this with 5-10 songs then stop!

I hope this will enable you to begin to master the art of playing your uke.

Keep on keeping-on!

Uncle Rod Higuchi

(Note: This was originally published on April 9, 2007 as part of my “bi-weekly uke tips”)

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