If you want to play the ukulele, you’re going to need to practice! Music teacher Willy M. shares his top 10 favorite ukulele practice tips to bring out the musician in you…
Everyone wants to learn to play an instrument like the ukulele, but for some of us it’s hard to find time to practice it. There are days when you really want to practice, but by the time you finish doing all of the things you “have” to do, you’re too tired to pick up your uke.
Well, this article will change all of that! Here are 10 tips that will help you have your best ukulele practice, so that you will stay motivated to learn more, play more, and continue to have fun as you learn how to play the ukulele!
1. Keep your uke in an accessible place.
Put the ukulele right next to your favorite chair, out of its case. That way, when you get home, your ukulele will be within easy reach.
2. Get a second ukulele.
Find a beater ukulele that you won’t mind if it gets a little damaged. Keep it in your car, within easy reach. If you’re sitting in your car waiting to meet up with a friend, whip out your ukulele and play it for a bit.
Other good times to play would be when you’re waiting in line at a drive-through or play a song or two right after work before you drive home. Just don’t practice during your morning commute on the freeway!
3. Get a third ukulele, and keep it at work!
Yeah, that’s right. Keep it at work. Everyone has some time during lunch or their 15 minute break.
If you really want to earn some brownie points, explain to your boss that playing the ukulele is a great stress reliever, and buy your boss a ukulele too. Offer to teach them a thing or two about the ukulele, and that will force you to keep on your toes, as well. For under $100, you will be outfitted with all the ukes you need to get the job done!
4. Teach ukulele to your friends.
That same strategy works well with your friends, too. Find a friend, and offer to teach them how to play the ukulele. I have found that with every instrument I have ever wanted to play, the moment I offered to teach someone else what I knew, I was inspired to learn more.
5. Soul search.
Now that we’ve covered those simple steps, I want you to also consider how you practice. It doesn’t matter how much you practice if you’re not practicing effectively. In order to practice effectively, you need to do a little soul searching to figure out why you want to play the ukulele and what you want to learn.
Once you have your goals figured out, then focus on practicing the things that will make you achieve your goals. Don’t waste your time trying to play Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” if what you really want to play is Tiny Tim’s version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”
6. Make several practice sheets.
On your master sheet, keep notes like chord diagrams, strumming patterns, and, of course, lyrics. If there are other things you want to keep in mind, like a fingerpicking pattern or something of that nature, then write it down, as well. Make several copies of this master copy and keep it wherever you keep your ukulele.
Also, keep it in random places, like taped to the bathroom mirror. You’ll be surprised how it will inspire you to achieve your goal. Once you start getting a few songs down, the experience will snowball, and you’ll want to play more and more songs.
7. Put yourself in situations where you will have to play your ukulele.
Volunteer at your church to play the ukulele for the kids or at a local school or library. Tell your friends you’ll go to an open mic night with them.
If you get into these types of situations, you will have a concrete reason to practice, and when you practice, you will practice what is practical. Learn the things you need to know to pull off the situation you are volunteering for. If you are going to play four songs, practice those four songs.
8. Practice the chord changes for your songs – forwards and backwards.
Write out the chords for the songs that you are planning to do. Practice jumping from chord to chord. Then change up the pattern.
If you have four chords, play them in order: 1, 2, 3, 4. Then change the order to 2, 1, 4, 3, and then to 3, 1, 4, 2, etc. This will force you to make strange jumps that you might not normally do.
9. Practice arpeggios with the chords of the songs you are playing.
Write those chords out, and this time, try different picking patterns, or try playing a scale over the chord.
10. When learning a new song, always isolate the very difficult passages, and play them forwards and backwards.
I always have my students start a few measures after the difficult passage, then add a measure before with each pass through.
So, if measures 20 and 21 are difficult, I have them play measure 24, then 23 and 24, then 22, 23, and 24, then 21, 22, 23, 24, and so on – until they have about three or four measures before and three or four measures behind the difficult passage.
This will help you really perfect that difficult part and nail it. It also helps to play the song at the speed at which you can play the difficult passages. Don’t try to play it too fast, or the difficult passages will jump out at the listener like glaring mistakes.
So, those are 10 tips that should help you when you’re learning how to play the ukulele. If you found this article helpful, leave a comment below and let us know how your practice is going!
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 80s. Learn more about Willy here!
Photo by Debby