New to the ukulele and curious if you’ll need to learn scales? Music teacher Aaron B. shares the pros and cons of studying ukulele scales…
The ukulele is mostly a chordal instrument and usually does not play solos or single note melody lines. So, the use of scale patterns on the neck is not essential. However, knowledge of scales and harmony is absolutely essential in the comprehension of music.
Scales help us understand which notes work well together and why. Each key has its own innate “emotional quality” which can be used to create a mood or atmosphere. Think of scales as colors on our palate, which can be used and blended on the canvas of music, painting a masterful and uniquely expressive picture of the thought or emotion we wish to communicate.
I often hear students say “I don’t need to learn that stuff, it inhibits my creativity,” or “I just want to play free,” or “ I want to be unconventional”. My response to these points is this:
- That’s like an author or poet saying “I don’t need to learn spelling or grammar” or a molecular biologist saying “I don’t need to learn molecular biology.” Understanding scales and how music is put together can only help you as you learn to play the ukulele.
- If you look at the great players of unconventional music, most of them have formal music training and if you ask them, they’ll tell you the best way to be free musically is to free yourself from ignorance. Listening to their music without knowledge of scales or harmony, it may sound random, but I promise, as your understanding of music increases, the mysteries will reveal themselves to you.
- If you don’t know the rules, you can’t break (or even bend) them. You just end up going through a lot of effort to come up with something basic.
Scales help us to understand the music we hear around us as well as in our heads. You can always know them and not play them, but playing them without knowing them is much more difficult.
So, do you need to learn ukulele scales? Not necessarily (but it definitely can’t hurt). Do you need to have a general understanding of scales? Absolulely. Try playing them on the piano or guitar. It’s not important to be able to burn through them at lightning speed, just be familiar with the intervals and textures. What emotions do each key and scale (and each mode of that scale) evoke? You’ll be on your way to a new world of expression and comprehension no matter what instrument you play!
Want to learn more about playing the ukulele? Sign up for lessons with a ukulele instructor today!
Aaron B. is a guitar, drum, music recording, and songwriting teacher in Brighton, MA. He’s been a full time professional musician for more than 13 years and has toured all over the world performing with many music icons. Learn more about Aaron here!
Photo by laurent.breillat