A lot of people play the ukulele because they eventually want to play the guitar. The ukulele, after all, seems like a stripped-down version of a guitar. It doesn’t have quite the range and deep nuance of a typical guitar, but you’d be surprised as to the kind of music you can make with a ukulele.
In fact, one of the most popular videos on YouTube from the past was a guy playing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean on the ukulele. That’s how versatile this small stringed instrument can be. It isn’t just used to play Hawaiian music. The ukulele can more than hold its own when compared to other stringed instruments.
Still, if you are looking to learn to play the ukulele, you don’t want to run into a wall. A lot of newbie musical instrument players automatically believe that they can play the same kind of music as their favorite musician.
This is how it plays out: You see somebody play the ukulele, and you automatically assume if they can do it, you can do it too. While that is a good attitude, keep in mind that those people have already put in the time, effort, and focus on being good at what they’re doing.
Don’t let your eyes fool you. You have to also put in the same amount of practice. But you end up jumping in with both feet, and you hit wall after wall. Before soon, you get so frustrated that you give up.
You have to have the right strategy. Playing the ukulele can be a lot of fun, but it can also be very frustrating if you have the wrong strategy. The key is to play easy songs to learn on the ukulele. Here’s how you do it.
Start with the basics
The first thing you need to do is pluck the strings. Keep plucking them one by one. Get used to the sound. Next, pluck them in combination. The key here is to get to the root of the basics.
Ask yourself, “What sounds can I make with this one string?” Nail that down and move on to the next string. The key here is to develop an ear for the basics. Sadly, so many people looking to learn the ukulele just blow past this.
When they see the ukulele, they automatically assume that it makes a certain sound because they’ve heard somebody play it before. Absolutely wrong! The sound you heard was made by somebody else. That’s not your music.
You have to take ownership of your equipment by making sure that every single sound that you make with it is truly yours. The best way to make this psychological link is to just go through the process of plucking each string and nailing down the sound in your mind.
Figure out its diversity. Unpack its richness and depth. Unravel its mysteries. Once you feel that you’ve gotten the handle of one string, then it’s time to move on to the next one. That’s how you make progress with any kind of stringed instrument.
What makes the ukulele so awesome is that it makes this whole process so easy because it is unassuming, not very intimidating, yet so simple. But don’t let that simplicity fool you. It’s capable of very deep, rich, and highly textured music.
Permit yourself to start with the basics. You’re not wasting your time. You’re not going around in circles. Instead, you are trying to become emotionally familiar with the sound that you personally make with this instrument. This is how you make it your own.
This is a necessary step because this goes a long way in removing emotional barriers to mastery.
When you’re playing any kind of instrument, don’t think that you have some sort of schedule to keep. Worse yet, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re running some sort of race. Sure, you’ve seen your uncle or cousin play the ukulele, but they make it seem so easy. You may be thinking, “I should be able to master this instrument as they did.”
That’s wrong thinking. Different people learn different things at different times. Some learn faster, others take a little bit longer. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is you figure out your own learning schedule. Don’t rush.
Only you will know when it’s time to move on to the next step. Focus on mastering the basics first.
Learn to improvise
One common mistake people learning to play any kind of musical instrument is the idea of “sticking to the rules”. This is wrong. While it’s true that when you play an instrument, there is such a thing as the “right” or “correct” sound. Nobody’s going to argue with that.
But the way to produce that sound involves making a lot of mistakes. This is called improvisation. If you allow yourself the space and freedom to improvise, you will learn what you need to learn faster. But if you feel that you have to color within the narrow lines, so to speak, it’s going to take much longer.
It’s easy to see why. You’re holding yourself back. Your mind is not free to roam and make random associations. Believe it or not, that’s how people learn. They learn by improvisation. People looking to assemble stuff often learn by taking stuff apart.
The key is expanding your range and being completely comfortable with the learning process.
Easy songs use basic arrangements which can be improvised
The great thing about using easy songs to learn on the ukulele, like playing Happy Birthday chords on it, is that there’s a lot of room for improvisation. In fact, Happy Birthday chords on the ukulele are so light-hearted yet familiar that you can keep playing them again and again.
This goes a long way in helping you learn to play the ukulele. The piece is not so complicated you feel intimidated. Also, you can easily tell if what you’re doing is wrong. Happy Birthday, after all, is a very popular song. You get the best of both worlds.
You get something fun and easy to play while, at the same time, you have a clear idea of what that song should sound like when you play it on the ukulele. You produce fun and familiar tunes while understanding firsthand that the ukulele is actually capable of producing a rich sound.
Mastering simple, familiar tunes help you remain motivated
When you play simple music like Happy Birthday on your ukulele, you remain motivated. You feel that even if you make a mistake, you can quickly recover from it. You can’t underestimate this factor because if you feel that you can easily fix your mistake, this enables you to take on more and more complicated pieces.
After all, the more you practice, the better you get at whatever it is you’re practicing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re practicing ukulele, fixing things around the house, or doing things for work. Repetition leads to familiarity, and familiarity eventually leads to mastery.
Keep improvising to improve your range
A lot of people automatically assume that when they improvise, they’re not really learning. This is the wrong mindset. When you improvise, you’re actually building on what you already know. You are also tearing down the walls of any kind of emotional limits you put on yourself.
When you improvise, you know that you’re going off-script. You know you’re trying to do something new. So there are fewer limitations, and you’re more likely to discover new connections. Eventually, you’ll be able to connect the dots and become familiar enough to master whatever pieces you want to learn.
Improvising on simple chords will enable you to bring out your ukulele’s best sounds. You have to give yourself permission to learn. Once you give yourself permission, this opens the door to mastery. That’s how it works.
Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” mentioned a study on how people master anything. It turns out that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be really good at any one task. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be basketball, the practice of law or medicine, or anything else. You have to put in the time.
Sadly, suppose you pick the most complicated musical instrument that you can get your hands on or, in the case of the ukulele, picking the most complicated pieces. In that case, you’re putting unnecessary roadblocks in front of you.
This emotional intimidation that you set up will eventually come to bite you. You will become frustrated, and pretty soon, if you’re not careful, you will give up. You just don’t see your goal being worth it.
By using the right strategy and picking easy songs to learn on the ukulele, you set up an easier path to mastery. You’ll be able to put in the time to practice and practice some more until you get to where you need to go.
The way to do this is to remove all emotional roadblocks that will lead to frustration. You are in control of this process. This advice doesn’t just work on the ukulele. This advice pretty much works in all areas of your life.
You are far more in control than you give yourself credit for. Make the right decisions.