Taking ‘Ukulele Lessons: Get the Most Bang for Your Buck

As a teacher, I do my best to make learning the ‘ukulele fun and informative for all of my students.

But I’m not magic. Even though I am hired as the person to oversee the “knowledge transfer” process, I can’t conjure up pure skill and beam it into the student’s head. If I could I would have already made my millions.

Since neither the teacher or student are magic, here’s how I feel any student can increase the productivity of their lessons, no matter who they are studying with.

But first, you’ve got to:

Find a Teacher

This can be as simple as searching online, looking at the bulletin board at a music store, or asking your local ‘ukulele club. There are more people giving ‘ukulele lessons every day and even more are learning to do so through the great JHUI teaching program. It’s just a matter of time before someone shows up in your area.

More ways you can find an ‘ukulele teacher are:

  • The official JHUI Teachers Directory. These folks have completed levels 1, 2, or 3 of the JHUI training course and are going to be well versed in a traditional teaching style pioneered by Chalmers Doane and James Hill.
  • Asking on Ukulele Underground. The folks on this forum come from all corners and can probably point you in the right direction.
  • Searching Craigslist isn’t the best way of finding reputable folks, but it might give you a starting point at which to vet some names.

If you live in a remote area there just might not be any teachers. That’s a bummer. But it’s not the end as long as you have an internet connection.

Many folks give Skype or Facetime lessons. The most well known are Matt Dahlberg, Sarah Maisel/Craig Chee, and Aaron Crowell. The main thing is to find someone that has a playing style you like. Matt does solo arrangements of more contemporary songs, Sarah/Craig do more jazzy stuff, Aaron is probably best for Hawaiian style ‘ukulele. It all depends what you want to learn, but definitely don’t go into a lesson with a blues player hoping to learn Hawaiian music. More instructors can be found, again, by asking around, or by searching Google.

If you don’t think you need private lessons, there are numerous online courses that you can subscribe to for a minimal monthly fee. This is cheaper than in-person lessons, but is also less personalized and limited to the current library of videos. I explore my favorites more on my page of ‘ukulele lessons – which, BTW, has a lot of great stuff too! Your progress with this style course could also probably benefit from the tips below.

Pre-Lessons

Find a teacher that suits your style. Do you want a strict, 6-hours-a-day-of-practice sort of teacher or would you rather just have some guidance while strumming through Jack Johnson tunes on the weekend? Not every teacher excels at the same things. Look for somebody who plays in a style similar to what you strive for or like.

Set some realistic goals or expectations. Make some short-term ones and also some long-term ones so you can evaluate your progress. It helps me a lot if a student shows up with a clear idea where they want to be in a few months or a year. Then we can be working on specific things that will move them closer to the goal. Examples:

Good, specific goals:

  • “Be able to easily add the chop strum to pop songs like I’m Yours.”
  • “I want to show up at a jam and just play without needing any sheets.”
  • “My goal is to get to a point where I can arrange my own solo jazz pieces.”

Less helpful, vague goals:

  • “I want to be really good at the ‘ukulele!”
  • “Learn lots of songs.”
  • “Teach me to play like Jake.”

Make a list and see what you come up with!

Before The Lesson

Review what was covered the following week and what you have practiced. How did you do? The hope is that you have gotten comfortable enough with the current assignment(s) to move onto something new.

If you are struggling with the material after sufficient practice then you might want to use part of the lesson to discuss tips, tricks, and/or alternatives to make it easier.

Prepare some questions about what you’ve been working on. Surely there is some part of the past week’s material that you could further improve? Questions let you guide the lesson to areas that you find interesting or important. It’s also a chance to solicit opinions about strings, new things you’ve been working on independently, or something your saw Jake do in concert. Just try to keep the random questions in their own section of the lesson.

Tune your ‘ukulele right before the lesson. Time is money and the minutes it takes to tune during a lesson can be used in more valuable ways.

During The Lesson

Be prompt. If the lesson is at 11am, be there. Time you miss is time lost with every professional teacher.

Have everything you need with you and organized or within your reach – ‘ukulele, tuner, sheets, stand, iPad, etc… It helps keep the flow going if you don’t have to dig through your case for that missing song sheet.

Take notes or record the lesson. Music is hard to remember and you’ll thank yourself later.

After The Lesson

Practice, practice, practice.

Without working on the materials or techniques presented in the lesson you won’t be ready for the next one. The more you practice, the better you get and the faster you progress.

Ask your teacher if it’s okay to ask questions by email between lessons. Obviously be respectful of this privilege, but I’m usually happy to give a tip if it means my student will be further along by the next lesson.

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