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How to Pick the Best Ukulele Teacher for YOU

When you’re searching for an ukulele teacher to guide you on the path of learning to play, you want to hire somebody who’s great at what they do.

The problem is that there are lots of BAD instructors out there.

But why spend your money on them when you can, in this time of the internet, do research or take world-class lessons from anywhere?

In this article I’m going to share some tips on searching out an ukulele teacher who can help you become the best player possible.

Should I Take Ukulele Lessons?

I’m going to provide advice for private lessons here. If you want to participate in group lessons or a video course, some of the concepts still apply.

Whether or not you should take private lessons with an ukulele instructor is mostly a personality thing. If you have the opportunity and the means, private lessons can catapult your progress.

Some people require guidance to improve. Others are more self-driven and can see the path themselves. If you’re not sure you like the idea or can’t justify the expenditure, take a look at these lists.

Private lessons are probably a great fit for you if you:

  • Thrive in structured environments
  • Like being given explicit, personalized directions
  • Enjoy learning skills in social settings
  • Have a hard time sticking to self-imposed goals
  • Appreciate the accountability of attending a regular class

You are more likely to succeed studying on your own if you:

  • Can easily plot a clear step-by-step course for success
  • Resent playing by anybody else’s rules
  • Are self-driven and focused
  • Tend to feel like you can DIY everything

Some people only excel with private lessons, others can work more autonomously. Only you know what’s best for your personality. If anything, try it! Taking lessons with a good instructor is rarely a waste of time or money for anybody.

What Makes a Good Teacher?

Before we get started, it’s good to spend a moment thinking about the qualities that make a great teacher.

More than anything, a great teacher makes you want to learn! If you find a real needle-in-the-haystack uke instructor, he or she will inspire you to want to play better – and want to put in the practice that playing better requires.

A good teacher will present the right information at the right time, with as little bias as possible.

What you need from them is an intelligent, measured approach with sequential progress. They should be able to analyze your playing and quickly build a lesson plan to help you get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible.

They should be encouraging, but realistic. By incorporating constructive criticism with a little tact, a good teacher can keep you honest without destroying your self-confidence.

A great teacher for one player might not be a great teacher for another. Stylistically, most instructors have a specialty. This should match the student’s interests whenever possible. If you want to learn Hawaiian-style swing playing, a teacher who specializes in reggae isn’t going to be very useful.

Good players don’t always make good teachers. Good teachers aren’t always the best players. That said, you do need to find someone who outpaces your own playing skills significantly.

The best teachers are competent and well ahead of their student’s skills. The more time someone has spent playing the instrument, the more confident you both can be in their lessons.

Beware the teacher that abuses their time on the soapbox with excessive opinions or irrelevant topics. All you need from a teacher is the minimal amount of bias required to steer you away from pitfalls, not a sermon.

Can You Learn Uke From a Guitar Teacher?

Here’s a common theme:

“I went to my music store to look for uke lessons and they said ‘Sure, we have a uke teacher!’ but it turns out he was mainly a guitarist who knows a couple ukulele chords.”

It bugs me when long-time guitar players play some uke for a year and then market themselves as a “pro ukulele teacher with 20+ years of experience,” or something similar. You see it all the time, and, while music is universal, the heart and mindset of each of these instruments are really very different.

I feel like an ukulele student is best served learning from a real-deal ukulele player. A guitar student is best served learning from a real-deal guitarist.

Can you still gain something from guitarists and other instruments? Absolutely. I’ve probably learned more from studying guitar players over the years than ukulele players (in my own personal study, not through lessons).

But I never would expect a random guitarist to know the intricacies of the uke or that they could teach it. It’s not the same, no matter what they might tell you.

I would look for a real uke teacher first and, if you’re totally out of luck, it might be worth digging into the local talent pool of guitarists who have diversified to ukulele.

With that said, there are guitarists in the ukulele world who have “naturalized” so-to-speak. Kevin Carroll, Del Rey, and Daniel Ward come to mind. They have put in the time to understand the instrument as a unique entity and have earned their strips as bonafide uke players and teachers.

In-Person or Skype/Facetime/Zoom?

If you have a choice, I feel like an in-person lesson is ALWAYS better. Having the spirit of the teacher in the room with you is a completely different experience than trying to learn long-distance.

The main benefit of an in-person lesson is being able to experience it in 3D. If you’re not sure exactly how to do something, you can move your vantage point until you see exactly how you should be playing it.

Likewise, the teacher can observe your playing from any number of angles instead of only one.

Second to that, being in the same room allows you to play along with your teacher and get live feedback. There is no way to truly play together on a video chat (the physical limitations of an internet connection imparts excessive delay unless you’re in the next city); somebody always has to follow.

Because of this, it’s very difficult for the instructor to lead and also give criticism on timing and other aspects of expression when they are hearing a delayed version of what the student is playing.

There are a couple advantages to online lessons.

The first is that you can access a much larger pool of teachers than you probably can locally. You can pick and choose the perfect match for your style.

The second is that you can record the lesson easily for later reference. On most platforms this only takes a couple clicks to set up.

You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons for yourself, but, for me, it makes the most sense to try and find a perfect teacher who can give you in-person private lessons before going the internet route.

I always get asked for recommendations so here are some webcam uke teachers who I know do good work or get great reviews.

  • Matt Dahlberg
  • Aaron Crowell
  • Kevin Carroll
  • Bryan Tolentino
  • John Nash

Conclusion

There are no rules and everyone has personal needs from their lessons.

The main thing is that ukulele lessons make you want to play and want to improve. The lesson simply facilitates this.

brad bordessa avatar About the author: Brad Bordessa I’m an ‘ukulele artist from Honoka’a, Hawai’i, where I run this site from an off-grid cabin in the jungle. I’ve taught workshops internationally, made Herb Ohta Jr. laugh until he cried, and once jammed with HAPA onstage in my boardshorts. More about me