The advanced stage (in my opinion) encompasses a huge range of skill levels. When someone says they are an advanced ‘ukulele player, you automatically assume that if dumped onstage they would figure out how to make things work to their advantage. Just playing difficult songs perfectly doesn’t necessarily make you advanced. If you don’t know how the music speaks, you will still be lost outside of what you know.
Face it: at this stage, unless you have a mentor (or an exceptional teacher in your area), you are teaching yourself. This can be a good thing and also your worst nightmare. Even though there is an unlimited amount of material to learn, you have no idea what to work on or where to start.
I think the best part of teaching yourself is that you are forced to figure things out on your own and develop your own style. This curse of ‘ukulele solitude is a blessing in disguise because he who has his own style has a voice. If you ever wish to go out and perform you’ll already have your own signature sound that people will either like or dislike. This is better than sounding generic any day, in my opinion.
You will have to get used to learning from non-‘ukulele materials. The situation has improved vastly since I started playing, but there still aren’t many books to my knowledge that teach advanced ‘ukulele. That means if you don’t know how to transpose or read standard notation, get on it! Being able to move music around allows you to use any content that has been created for guitar or piano.
Listening is the best (only) way to learn music, so keep your ears open. If your go-to genres are getting old, try something diverse like Afropop or Indian music. Obviously there aren’t a lot of ‘ukulele players jamming with Tuvan throat singers, so find the inspiration in what the other instruments play instead. A different perspective can open many doors to new ideas.
In addition to listening to music, inspiration comes from living. Observe the beauty in the little things, talk to people and learn their stories, travel, get outdoors, appreciate what you have. These moments all have music to go with them, it’s just not all written yet.
Taking solos apart note by note is a great way to get ideas. It is also a way to improve your ear. I think the most important part of dissecting a solo is knowing it really well in your head from listening to it a hundred times (be able to sing most of it). Then, start at the beginning and work your way through. Most solos sound a lot more complex than they really are (but some don’t). Just take it slow. Even if some notes elude you, that’s okay; get a grasp on the melodic structure. A program like Transcribe is made to figure out songs by slowing them down. You can also use Audacity (open source/free) and its “change tempo” effect to get the same result.
Same idea as above, but now you are figuring out chords, structure and melody.
Jamming Your Ears Into Shape:
Imagine being able to jam with the big boys on a regular basis. Also imagine they were patient, willing to play a song over and over until you got it! Enter the wonderful world of recorded music. These days there are millions of songs at your fingertips or in your CD rack just waiting to deepen your understanding of music. Take advantage of this and play along. By doing this you are figuring out chords, melody, solos, feels, rhythms, and more on the fly. Plus, it’s fun!
Arrange Your Tunes:
This keeps songs unique. There are many, many recorded versions of any popular song. How come we don’t go insane from hearing it over and over? Arranging. Most everybody does the song differently and has their own version of how to play it. The intro, outro, and feel are the most important parts of arranging because, while you can give it your own spin, the melody needs to stay recognizable. Otherwise it’s not the song anymore. So what you do is basically write a new intro. Start with chords and find the melody inside them. Then you can go into the song that everyone knows.
Creating your own songs is one of the fastest ways to a distinct style. The reason being: unless you intentionally try to write a song like Jack Johnson, what comes out is going to be as close to “you” as it gets.
You won’t know the perfect song until you hear it so there is no way to teach this. All you can do is become familiar with sounds you like (chord progressions, melodies). I find that part of writing is getting inspired somehow, whether it is an event in your life or a place. Rarely do I get an idea for a song when I’m in my bedroom practicing. Usually it comes to me when I’m somewhere different – walking down the road, the beach, the park, anywhere – with ‘ukulele in hand.
Find your creative space and start throw ideas at the wall. Odds are you won’t like much of it at first. But keep going and finish some tunes just so that you can say they are “done.” Don’t be too picky. There’s a certain amount of purging you’ve got to do to get the junk out of your system and get to the gems.
Teaching is a very humbling experience because the students rarely have any idea what you are talking about. That’s why you’re there – to explain challenging things in as simple a manner as possible without attaching any judgement to the material.
Why teaching rocks:
- Seeing the joy on student’s faces as it all clicks.
- Your patience grows with every lesson.
- It makes you remember what it was like learning your first chord and helps you appreciate how far you have come.
- It’s fun! (Most of the time.)
- It’s a duty of sorts to pass the knowledge on.
My advice is go slow. The odds of you underwhelming a beginner is small and if you do it should be pretty obvious. If the student is just not getting something you have to think of a different way to explain it. Sometimes all it takes is looking at the subject from a different angle. Maybe you have to relate the idea to something or come up with a game or show it to the student on paper. Anything different.
I found a nice site a while back on teaching guitar. It can be applied to ‘ukulele easily so it’s a valuable resource: Teach Guitar.com.
Playing music in front of people can be a mixed bag. It’s fun to do and can be a great kick, but at the same time it is nerve wracking and a great host for butterflies before the performance. The first few outings are scary! (What are the chords again?) After that it seems to get easier.
For me, performing is what all the hard work adds up to. You practice and practice so why not share what you’ve been working on?
They say that a gig is worth many practice sessions. Nothing will make you step up your game more than being shoved up in front of a crowd.
By the way, don’t go in expecting to make a lot of money until people know who you are (and at the end of the day that’s not what it’s about anyways). You are learning from each show, so it’s like free lessons. Be professional and have fun.
This is by far the best book about music I have on my shelf. It is around 115 pages of intense material. All examples are written in standard notation, so you don’t have to transpose TAB. There are no real lessons, but many observations and ideas that guide you through the book. Advancing Guitarist is broken down into three sections. The first covers “The Approach” – fingerboard mechanics, open and closed position playing, intervals, modes, playing up and down a single string, etc… The second covers “Materials” – triads, diatonic four part chords, modes, chord type/modes, slash chords, pentatonic scales, voicings from the symmetrical diminished scale, etc… The third, “Commentaries,” is my favorite part of the book – the guitar’s complexity, harmony, tuning, harmonics, silence is golden, feeling “stale”?, no one knows what’s next, time, tempo, etc… If you sat down and worked your way through all of the material in this book, without getting sidetracked with other books or learning, the material would last years. At the same time, there are no “lessons”. So if you’re not very motivated this might not be a good choice. There is as much in this book as you would like there to be.
Learn About The Music Business:
If you ever have plans to record, tour, write your own songs, start a band, etc… you need to know about the music business – at least enough to reduce your ignorance in a certain area. This can be boring, but Everything You Need to Know About the Music Business does a great job of explaining most things you need to know in a fairly entertaining format.
Find The Pro’s Web Lessons:
There are many great artists (mostly guitarist) that have written lessons you can learn a lot from. Just Googling a specific non-‘ukulele music term is probably the best way to find these gems. Here are some that I have found. (Please get in touch if you know of any more!)
- http://www.vai.com/littleblackdots.html – Steve Vai’s interesting view on developing uniqueness and techniques
- Guitar World Lesson Archive – Eric Johnson’s pieces are great
Make Use Of Online Scale And Chord Generators:
These are designed for guitars, but can easily be used for ‘ukulele – just retune and use the bottom strings. Most have hundreds of weird scales and chords.
Don’t Be An Impostor:
Many people want to play like Jake, but why? Is it because he plays fast? Is it because he plays with so much energy? Is it because you don’t know what you want to sound like? At some point you will need to know how you want to sound. Because if you just try to play like Jake, you will end up sounding more like Jake then yourself. By all means learn from Jake’s playing – the dude is awesome, but don’t forget that in the end, the music is flowing through you. Learn from Jake and move on, learn from James and move on, learn from Herb and move on. Take your favorite part of the artist’s playing and adapt it to your playing. Then, once you have absorbed from your heroes and discovered what you like to hear in music, you can find your sound.
“Taking ideas from one person is stealing. Taking ideas from many is research”
Play From The Heart:
- The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten. This book is a huge resource of unconventional lessons. Wooten (bass player for the Flecktones) takes you on a journey through the life of a struggling young musician who is looking for his voice in the world. In the story, a mysterious man then appears and becomes a great mentor to help guide the poor chap in the ways of music. While this is a fictional story, almost all aspects of music are covered in a way that you have probably not seen before. Awesome.
- Groove Workshop by Victor Wooten. This goes hand-in-hand with Vic’s book, but overall is probably more valuable because you can see and hear what he’s talking about. It’s 2 discs and around 6 hours of video. The big picture lesson is divided into 10 parts, and NOTES are only one (the rest are things like: listening, feel, technique, tone, etc…)
- Multi-dimensional Miracles: Carlos Santana Celebrates The Power Of Intangibles. This is a fantastic article about spirituality in music.