Written April, 2009
After spending years lurking on the internet observing ʻukulele players and learning, I have come to the conclusion that the two ends of the patience spectrum are:
- “I got my first ʻukulele today and I practiced, why can’t I play like Jake?”
- “I have been playing ʻukulele for two months now and I’m still having problems holding “C” – am I improving?”
This might seem funny, but I’ve seen it over and over again.
I have been playing ʻukulele since 2005 and I still can’t play as well as I’d like.
[My new podcast episode focuses in on part of this dilemma and how to practice more effectively.]
To get where I’m at I’ve had to practice. I could get better if I practiced more, granted, but I also feel like I have to process music and everything in my head, so I need to have time without practice (at least that’s my excuse!). To think that you are going to play ʻukulele like Jake after your first day is naïve. To think that you will play like Jake after your first year is ridiculous. To think that you will ever play like Jake is not being true to yourself – you’re not Jake. Sorry, it’s just not going to happen. Every person has their own touch, but that’s getting into style…
What bugs me a lot is when someone asks something like, “What’s the easy way to play E?”. The answer is: “There is no easy way!” The only way to get hard chords or passages under your fingers is work and practice. I had to do it the hard way, Jake had to do it the hard way, why should someone else receive a “Get out of jail free” card?
I wonder, would you like to wake up one day and be as good as Jake? It’s kind of far out, but just pretend. What would you gain from instantly being good? Would it be better than practicing for 20 years? Think about it.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to wake up as good as Jake. It’s not something that would be on my “three wishes” list. Why? My reasoning is that you wouldn’t understand what you were playing and you wouldn’t have your own style. You could play all the cool stuff, but if you don’t understand it because you didn’t practice, where would you be? Practice is what gets the info into your head. Part of being a good musician is being able to play music. Pure technical skills are useless if you don’t have anything to say musically. If you don’t have a chance to learn where everything goes, what good are instant skills?
There will be a point when you won’t know what to learn – what to work on. It happened to me about a year and a half into my playing. It was like my music stopped; I was in a rut. How do you get out of such a rut? I think it has to do with rearranging your brain. You need to see things from a different angle.
Music isn’t a competition. It doesn’t matter who can play “wipe out” the fastest.
It’s about hearing.
Really, that’s the most important part of music.
I believe that this level of “stuck” is the turning point. It’s like walking along the edge of the cliff – you can‘t see too much. You have to jump off the cliff to see everything (please note that I don‘t mean literally – just mentally). Once you “jump off” and can see the whole cliff face and land below, you will have thousands of things to practice. The most helpful info on this site about getting out of a rut is “Ukulele for Advanced Players” and “Finding Inspiration”. The bottom line is: you have to push aside the voice in your head (you know, the one that says “You’re good already”) and think: “What do I need to learn? What don’t I know?”.
Don’t practice what you know. Practice what you don’t know.