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How I Started Learning the Ukulele

Populele 2 Ukulele
I've wanted to learn to play an instrument for many years. Specifically the guitar but have never really done anything about it beyond buying one book (literally years ago), complete with DVD, teaching the electric guitar, that I've never opened.

In October of 2019 I happened upon the Populele 2 Ukulele through an email promotion from shopping site Gearbest (#notsponsored but links to the Populele 2 and Udemy are my affiliate links).

I can't say I've ever wanted to learn the Ukulele, because it seemed like a dinky little instrument, and not particularly thought of as 'cool'. However, the Populele 2 Ukulele has a fairly unique, eye catching design, in two colors (black or white) that doesn't immediately scream 'UKULELE'.

That aside what really caught my attention is the ability to link the ukulele to a dedicate phone app that teaches you to play using fun games and lights on the ukulele's fretboard showing where to place your fingers as you play. It all looked easy and I felt this could be a great way to start learning an instrument... that's kind of like a guitar, right?



As it turned out, although the phone app is supposed to work on both Android and iPhone, Google Play wouldn't even let me install it on any Android device I own despite all of them having a version of Android higher than the minimum requirement.

I was able to install the app on my partner's iPhone but that's not exactly convenient for me to keep using her phone every time I want to practice.

Fortunately the Populele 2 is actually a proper ukulele. You don't need the app or the lights on the fretboard to play it. Since it's my first ukulele I don't know how it compares to others but the build quality is good and it sounds great once you've tuned the strings. Pretty much as good as any ukulele I've heard while learning it.

I decided I was going to learn to play it anyway. I now know there are a lot of free video tutorials by various music teachers on YouTube but my first idea was to go for something more structured with one of the many ukulele courses on Udemy (a site where you can learn almost anything).

Udemy is constantly running special offers where you can purchase courses for under US$20.00. After a bit of exploring I settled on a course called The Ukulele Academy: Play Music Today!

This course by music teacher, Andrew J. Smith, caught my eye because the first item on the 'What you'll learn list' was...

Learn how to play ANY song without other tutorials.

How could I pass that up!

Andrew's course is very good. His video tutorials are great, he's very positive, encouraging, and interested in teaching you the basics of playing the ukulele. Each lesson section is short with the majority being 20 minutes or less. I committed myself to completing the course by doing one lesson every evening, just before going to bed. It took me about a month to complete all the lessons.

You could conceivably get by with the knowledge Andrew's course teaches. By the end of the course, I had learned a lot but could barely play anything that sounded like a song.

There are two reasons for that:

  1. Learning a musical instrument is like learning to swim. You can read and understand all the steps in theory but the only way to progress is by actually practicing what you've learnt.
     
  2. Andrew's course only teaches two songs that, while being great for beginners, neither are contemporary, or even that fun to play. (They're fun in that way that singing 'Happy Birthday' at your friend's birthday party is fun, nobody really wants to sing but you do anyway).
As I said, his course is great, I'd highly recommend it as a starting point, but it doesn't teach everything about playing the ukulele. I decided to dig around to see what YouTube had to offer.

Fingerpicking

After doing nothing but strumming in Andrew's course, learning how to do basic finger picking was a real change of pace and made me feel like I'd progressed just that little bit more.

Katie Denure, from One Music School, has a short video that teaches basic fingerpicking patterns that you could supposedly use for any song (I don't know enough about music to apply them to any song, so I guess?). It's a great lesson, and easy to pick up.

Katie only uses three strings in her lesson so if you wanted to go a little further Ukulele Go has a really quick lesson here that shows how you might incorporate all four strings into your fingerpick.

Percussive Ukulele

Percussive playing is when you drum on various parts of the ukulele's sound box to create a drumming sound as you strum. I haven't practiced this a whole lot but you can introduce some really interesting sounds into a song with percussion. Bernadette Teaches Music has an excellent Percussive Ukulele video for beginners that covers quite a bit in about ten minutes.

30 Day Ukulele Challenge

It was at this point I discovered Bernadette's 30 Day Ukulele challenge which I'm currently about halfway through (and taking longer than 30 days because I keep repeating large chunks of it just for the practice).

The challenge is for complete beginners who've never picked up a ukulele before, so you could conceivably start your own journey here. Bernadette is a professional music teacher and the challenge is not only free but also includes a comprehensive, printable, reference companion document (that I'm using quite a lot, so well worth downloading).

Possibly the only downside to the challenge is having to learn a few children's songs (the obligatory 'Mary had a Little Lamb' that seems to be a staple of any musical instrument course) but by about the halfway point you'll be learning John Lennon's, Imagine - and you'll be glad for having learnt the children's songs first by that point.

---o ---o--- o---

That's my ukulele journey so far. I'm not learning the ukulele for any reason other than for me. I'm not planning to perform, join a band, or anything like that. My only real goal is to be able to pick up the ukulele and play something that sounds like I know what I'm doing.

Doesn't even have to be a full song. If I can just improvise something that sounds like music I'll be happy.

There are a couple of songs I'd like to learn that I think would be fun to play including; Kermit the Frog's, Rainbow Connection (which I thought would be much easier than it is), and George Michael's, Faith (I just like the sound of the guitar in that song). Yes I know neither song was played on a Ukulele but follow the links to videos and you'll see they sound great on a ukulele.

Currently, after three and a half months, I can play bits of music, (I'm all over fingerpicking Mary had a Little Lamb), and can play a really bad version of Imagine but I'll get there. I'm practicing every second evening at the moment because my left hand fingertips get sore holding down the strings on the fret after a while.

Still, it's fun, and I do enjoy finishing my day by tinkering around on the ukulele.

Comments

  1. Hi, long time no read! I wondered what had happened to the Newsletter. The ukulele now, certainly looks like none I've ever seen! I only know the 'old school' one from George Formby films! I think you might have heard of George Formby but most of the people below fifty might not have. Have you seen any of his films? I think they might have been made in the 40s, but I and my family saw them in the 50s and early 60s. My Step Father used to like to watch them on a Sunday afternoon and as we were all in one sitting room (it wasn't a live-in kitchen) we all had to be quiet while it was on. They weren't bad films though. Quite funny for it's time, black and white of course, but then so was the telly.

    You probably know his possibly trade-mark song, 'When I'm Cleaning Windas?' (windows, but the dialect word must be used) Have you tried that one? I wonder if any of the films are on YouTube or even the vocalisation? I know the chorus words, but no doubt you can get the words off the 'net. It was considered a 'risque' or 'naughty' little song for it's day! ( to quote some of the chorus, 'if you can see what I can see, when I'm cleaning windas!') It goes on to elaborate a bit. Good fun really, he was pretty big then.

    John Lewis radio host on 6pr in WA, midnight to 5-30am on week-days, who I know you have heard of, plays the ukulele. He brings it in sometimes to do a song. I think he's self-taught. There is actually a group in the suburb of Thornlie, if it's still going, that does ukulele sessions each week.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I bought this ukulele partly because it doesn't look like a standard ukulele but otherwise it sounds like any other ukulele I've heard.

      I have heard of George Formby, I used his Cleaning Windas song briefly in an animation several years ago (plenty of his songs are on Youtube, just search his name). I'm nowhere near good enough to play songs as up tempo as his on a ukulele yet. John Lennon's Imagine is hard enough and that's a fairly slow slong.

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    2. I was going to tell you that I'd put a reply on here, as I think it was just before you went on your cruise, but you've caught up now. (I should maybe change my name to Mum70s now :-) ) I looked for George Formby straight after doing the post and found heaps of him. I'd forgotten how good his songs were/are! If you quickly scan through some of the comments of the songs, they are all favourable, even from 20yrs old. One song called, 'Happy Go Lucky Me' is really catching and really cheers you up. I think he was playing the banjo on that though, which he does also. You can watch a whole film if you want.

      Unfortunately, I can't listen to anything at the moment as my computer has something wrong with it which is affecting my speakers. I thought it was my speakers at first but it isn't. (more on this on our group site, which I haven't got round to doing yet) So, I'm speakerless at the moment! My computer man is flat out 'til next week, so am waiting for him to come to see whether it a hardware prob or a software one. I'll ask about my web cam too incase that was something to do with it, but my speakers were working OK then.

      I see on the song about 'Cleaning Winders' (that's how I should have spelled it I think as it looks more right) on YouTube they had put 'Windows' but that's wrong, as I said, it has to be in dialect. There are quite a few of hi songs with the banjo. One song, called, 'I Should Never Have Joined Up' is pretty catchy too. He's dressed in navy uniform and doing a bit of a dance to the crew's delight! They really warm to him during that! I think it might be from a film but the segment is there in its entirety. Really cheers you up too - a 'feel good' in today's terms as they say. :-)

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    3. It's really surprising what you can find on Youtube in the way of clips and video filmed well before Youtube became a thing. Always worth a search.

      I did listen to a few of George's songs with most being upbeat and humorous. He was quite a talent.

      Anyway, hopefully your computer sound issue is either solved or not far off from being solved given it's almost a week since you posted your reply.

      Delete
    4. Glad you listened to a few songs, and hopefully the ones I mentioned. I thought Tommy Steele maybe did a version of 'Happy Go Lucky Me' but maybe that line just appeared in one of Tommy's songs.

      Computer not fixed yet, as my computer man still hasn't got back to me. I'll give him 'til Thurs when I'm going to be at home then I'll ring him again. If he fobs me off again, I'll know he's playing 'silly beggars' as it's been about 2yrs since I've needed to contact him and he was a bit miffed about something later on the 'phone when my comp was fixed, but some other little thing that he said he couldn't fix for whatever reason. Might be still nursing that grievance so then I'll tell him that if he doesn't want to come he should say so and stop wasting my time!

      Then I'll ring a lady I've seen in the free newspaper who does mobile call-outs with no call-out fee. The bloke in the repair shop down the road who also builds comps, has to have things taken to him which Carl would do but I'll ring this other one first if my comp man is being 'funny.' I'll get an explanation put on our group about my speakers/comp etc. Not got to it yet. When it's fixed, I'll go and listen and watch some more George Formby! I've looked up a bio about him which says, 'troubled star' I think the words were. Might look to getting it.

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    5. Such a hassle finding good computer technicians. Glad I've rarely had to go there.

      As I said I did listen to a few George Formby songs, but can't remember which. Probably that one where you said he plays the banjo because he was playing the banjo in one I listened to. I was actually more focussed on watching his hands play his instruments at the time than the songs themselves.

      Just started to get back into learning the ukulele after an almost two weeks break (thanks to the cruise we went on). Surprising how quickly you forget the various note finger placements, but more so the names. Had to go back to the earlier lessons to revise.

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    6. I've got my speakers/comp fixed, but I'll give details on our group site, which I still haven't managed to get to. I got this lady who seems quite good. More on that later in group site, as this is about George Formby and ukulele not comps etc so must keep on track and not bore other people.

      Glad you listened to some of George's songs. I haven't got back to them yet, as I kept forgetting to put my speakers on as they have been kept switched off, so have to get back into my Start-up routine now! (did get listening to some Cliff though because of ads on FB I think who give you what they have seen you interested in, more on that another time)

      Pity you had to nearly start over again. Perhaps you can do about 20mns or so each day. (like to hear more on your cruise, perhaps in an email, I've still one of those to do about various things!) Jon Lewis of 6pr hosting from midnight on week-days isn't a pro, he just self-taught himself. Doesn't play anything fancy. He used to bring it in to play some for an elderly lady every now and again, but she died awhile ago so he doesn't bring it now unless someone mentions it. Perhaps I should ring him and tell him about you, he may remember you from his Newsletters he used to do on the email but doesn't do them now. He got married about 5yrs ago to a lady of foreign origin, (I say this because I can't remember where she comes from) who I think he met while doing his latin dancing that he likes.

      All for now then. Will have to get back to George sometime.

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    7. I didn't have to start over completely after a two week break from learning ukulele, I just had to go back and revise. Mainly for note names and finger placement. Prior to that I was practicing every night for about an hour.

      There's just a lot to commit to memory, and you're trying to play without looking at your fingers too so you get that muscle memory.

      I don't think John Lewis needs to know about me playing the ukulele. I'm not looking to perform or anything it's just something I'm learning for me.

      Delete

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