Think you can teach yourself to play ukulele? Music teacher Willy M. shares three reasons why it’s important to take lessons and learn about your uke with an expert…
A lot of people take a vacation to Hawaii or Florida or somewhere tropical and pick up a starter ukulele as a memento of their trip. They get home to Debuke, Montana, or Bangor, Maine or some other cold place where the people have never heard of a ukulele, and decide to start to learn how to play to remind themselves of the warm time they had in the white sand. They take the beloved souvenir out of its cardboard box as if it will magically transform their frozen world into a tropical paradise, only to strum that first tender chord and then realize that they don’t know how to tune the ukulele.
Strange unearthly sounds flap out of the loose strings, not the soothing music of the islands that you were expecting. This isn’t a solitary story. Unfortunately, many people have had this same experience, but fortunately for you, ukulele teachers are out there, waiting to help you sharpen your skills on this fun instrument. So I want to give you three benefits you will get from taking ukulele lessons.
Benefit Number 1 – You will understand the basic care for your instrument.
Your instrument is a tool for making music, but unlike a hammer or a screwdriver, if you just toss your ukulele in a box and leave it sitting in a corner, it does not hold up in the same way. Most tools you can ignore, but instruments like the ukulele need to be stored in proper places (usually a cool dry place, with little temperature and humidity change), they need new strings periodically, and they need to be tuned and played on a regular basis. They don’t like being left alone in their case. They want to be used. They long to make beautiful music, and all they need to do that is your loving touch.
A good music teacher will be able to help you with that. You will not only learn how to tune your ukulele, you will also learn how to keep it clean (not by taking it in the shower with you!), and how to string it and make any adjustments that it might need.
A good music teacher should also be able to make any more complicated adjustments, such as bridge or nut adjustments, to make your ukulele more playable. Sometimes your tuners need to be oiled, or even changed, your frets might need to bet sanded or replaced, or you might have a neck that’s out of alignment. A good teacher will be able to take a look at your ukulele and help you get it to be playable. They can also tell if your ukulele is a toy souvenir or a real playable instrument.
Benefit Number 2 – You will learn techniques to help you prevent injury.
I remember one of the saddest days of my life, at least it seemed like the saddest day at the time. I spent several years honing my skill as a musician. I practiced a lot, sometimes as much as eight hours a day! I worked on technique, I worked on scales, I worked on chords and even on songwriting! I lived, ate, and breathed music.
Until one day, my right arm started going numb. At first I didn’t think anything of it, until my teacher noticed, and recommended that I immediately see a doctor. I did, and found out that I had damaged my ulna nerve (similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but a different nerve).
My teacher caught the damage before it became permanent. There are a lot of injuries that you can develop as a result from improperly playing instruments. A good teacher can help you learn proper playing habits that will prevent you from injuring yourself. But sometimes even with proper techniques, with overuse, injuries can occur. A good teacher can help you know how to take care of yourself.
Benefit Number 3 – Expanded Exposure to Music
A good teacher can teach you everything they want you to learn. A really good teacher will teach you what they want you to learn, but will also care about what you want to learn. But a great teacher will explore new music with you, and will become a friend who can share a passion and love of music with you, inspiring you to be not just a player, but a connoisseur of good music.
One of the major benefits of having a teacher is to help shape your love for music. Most people want to learn how to play an instrument, but they haven’t developed a passion for listening to music yet. Until they find that passion they will never be able to be a real musician. A great teacher will inspire you to be a great listener of music, which will in turn help you be a great musician.
Having a music teacher will allow someone to speak into your life, guide you and help you find more music that you might love. A great teacher will help you explore the music of the people who influenced the people who influence you. And you will come out of the lessons a better person for having learned something new.
I could probably go on with a thousand reasons, but here are three good reasons for finding a good music teacher to help you learn to play the ukulele. Find your ukulele teacher now!
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston, NC. He is the author of the Dead Man’s Tuning series of mandolin songbooks, and is a former member of the American Federation of Musicians. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80’s. Learn more about Willy.
Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg