In this show Brad talks about the beauty of simplicity in learning ʻukulele. Introduce some Hawaiian style intuition into your practice and follow these tips to become more comfortable playing by ear. We explore the meaning and application of the saying nānā ka maka, hoʻolohe ka pepeiao, paʻa ka waha – look with your eyes, listen with your ears, shut your mouth.
*Edited slightly for clarity
Welcome to the Live ʻUkulele Podcast. In this episode we’re going to talk about Hawaiian style learning, which is basically, learning to play music by watching, listening – and that’s it. Not asking questions. That’s sort of the third part of the equation. My name is Brad Bordessa thanks for joining us here.
In Hawaiian style learning, a lot of times, as a student, you will roll up and you won’t get much assistance. And I definitely remember this from my time kind of jumping into the Hawaiian music world where things aren’t always spelled out for you. You’re always welcome to to play along and to be involved, but you kind of lose points when you start asking questions and expecting to be clearly told exactly what is happening. And so you learn very quickly that the rule in Hawaiian music is: na ka maka, which means look with the eyes, hoʻolohe ka pepeiao, which means listen with the ears, and paʻa ka waha, which means shut your mouth.
By following along kind of with this set of Hawaiian guidelines you will fit into a situation where you might have a chance to learn from somebody with a Hawaiian music background and um that Hawaiian style of teaching, because a lot of times in Hawaiian music, it’s kind of expected that you pass the knowledge down. Especially these days people have gotten a lot more open about sharing Hawaiian music – and in the old days you’ll hear about uncles who had their certain slack key tunings that they wouldn’t show anybody and they would detune their guitars when they were done playing so nobody could figure out what tuning they used. Or that the tuning was a family secret. And a lot of that is gone, from what I’ve seen, though I’m sure there are some old school guys who are still like that. That’s part of the beauty is that Hawaiian music is sort of this proprietary thing that, you know, it’s a certain sound that people achieve through whatever means they achieve it by and you’re only going to pick that up just by really paying attention. But for the most part, I’ve found that, especially in the past 20 years when like Hawaiian music workshops have become more prevalent, is that most people are quite willing to share what they know. However, there is a little bit of a rub and some friction that happens when you bring the people who often come to these workshops, who are Westerners from mainland United States or, say, Japan or whatever, and they come into these Hawaiian workshops where most of the instructors are Hawaiian – or at least people with a background in Hawaiian music – and they’re used to doing things a certain way, and the students are used to doing things a certain way, and a lot of times it’s kind of comical if you watch it from a removed perspective, but inside a classroom setting it can be a little bit off-putting for both for both sides.
So I’m going to try and dive in and hopefully shed some light on what this is and how you can use it to benefit. Because there is a whole lot of wisdom in this style of learning that I think is valuable for anything you learn, but especially in music. It’s a listening skill. …There are lots of blind musicians. You don’t have to see it, but to be a deaf musician… I think most people are only going to tell you one of those and that’s Beethoven or whoever it was – one of the classical guys. It’s just, it’s an auditory thing, and you don’t necessarily need to be told the answers if you know how to listen correctly. And certainly this takes lots of practice and time, but it can be done and I think you’ll find that people who who only exist in, say, the Hawaiian style of learning the ʻukulele, they play just as well as somebody who comes from a more Western background, but their strong points are going to be different.
And so just to give people an idea kind of the discrepancies I’m talking about, is that you come from a Western background, you’re used to seeing things written down all the time or explained or, “this is how it is.” Like, I imagine it sort of like high school math or whatever, where these are the rules and this is how it works, you know, fill in the questionnaire, the quiz, and get your grade. And it’s very constrained, very straightforward. Whereas Hawaiian style learning isn’t so much like that. There’s always room for interpretation. People do things differently and there’s no right answers. And it’s certainly encouraged that you sort of analyze and provide your own solution to the problem, if you will, and that if you play something just like somebody else, in a Hawaiian context people are going to be like, “Oh, well, you sound just like so and so.” But if you can bring your interpretation to the table, that’s where you, I think you become more respected as an artist or as a player because you’re in the style. You’re still in the genre of Hawaiian music, or whatever music style you’re playing. Because this is not… I’m presenting it in a Hawaiian music light, but it certainly doesn’t apply just to this genre. I’m sure there are many other styles where – especially the more folk kinds of musics – where, you know, you shut up, and you watch, and you listen, and you see what you can learn from that. But this Hawaiian style learning, a lot of times the players will be a lot more tuned in to jamming and being able to just hear something and play it. As opposed to maybe not knowing what the chords are. Like a lot of Hawaiian players, they couldn’t tell you what a G chord is if you gave that to them by name, but by sound you could play it and they would hear it and go, “Oh yeah, I can play that,” and they play it too on their ʻukulele. So it’s sort of two different worlds meeting. They both bring things to the conversation.
But today I want to give you some ideas how you can apply these concepts to your playing. Which, likely if you’re like most folks who are picking up the ʻukulele or playing, you come from a Western background and most of what’s available online kind of has that Western learning slant just because that’s how you present things on the internet, is either through words or through a video where people are explaining things. But let’s jump in and we’ll take nānā ka maka piece by piece and I’ll kind of give you some examples of how you can use each of those and apply it to your own playing.
So now nānā ka maka: Look with your eyes and watch. Many of us are used to having a sheet in front of us – and that’s certainly one way to use your eyes – but in my experience, that is not necessarily what this means in a Hawaiian learning context. When you watch in a Hawaiian learning context, you’re watching the next guy’s fingers. You’re seeing where he’s putting his fingers to make the sounds he’s making. But you’re not looking at a chord chart. So very simply, you could interpret this as just watching a youtube video. I’m kind of um going to keep this in a post-COVID light so it’s hopefully useful for people who are like staying home or probably won’t have the chances to get out to in-person jams for a while.
If you’re watching somebody play on a video, you pay attention to where their fingers are. And if you’re not super familiar with your chords, this might take a little bit of interpretation, but it’s just a different kind of interpretation, really, because when you look at a page and you see the chord name on the page, your brain still has to translate the pictogram that is the letter on the page into a meaning in your mind. And then you have to take that meaning and translate it into a movement on your fretboard. So there’s translation happening anyways and depending on how your brain works, it might be easier, it might be harder to actually look at somebody’s fingers on the fretboard and see directly what they’re playing. This can be useful too where, even if you don’t know the chord that the person’s playing, if they’re playing like a harder song than you’re currently comfortable with, you can still learn the chords. Whereas if you’re looking at a sheet and you see something bizarre that you’ve never heard of before and you certainly don’t know how to fret, you’re just kind of out of luck and you have to just guess or mute your strings or sit it out. But if you’re watching somebody’s fingers you can pick up on that. And you might not be right on – there might be a finger that’s off or two fingers that’s off, or you could just watch the whole thing. But at least you’re kind of getting an idea where on the fretboard the chord might be and what sounds it’s making in relation to where the fingers are. Because a lot of times when you’re looking at a page, you’ll find that you’re using your eyes instead of your ears and that as you’re looking at the page, you’re no longer listening as well as you would be if you were not looking at the page. So an interesting experiment would be just sit somewhere. Just your normal spot and listen and look around and see what you hear. See, I say it like that: “see what you hear.” That’s kind of like the opposite of actually what I’m trying to express. And then try closing your eyes and listen to the same things and see what you notice. I think for most people you will find that you hear a whole lot better when your eyes are closed and when you look at what somebody is playing on their instrument and you see where their fingers are on the fretboard you’re certainly not playing with your eyes closed, but, in my opinion, and from what I’ve seen, my feeling is that this is still better than looking at a song chart on the page. Because it seems to me like you’re hearing the music in relation to the actual finger positionings that are happening as opposed to looking at a page where there’s nothing really relating what you’re seeing to what’s actually happening and what you’re hearing. I mean, certainly you see a G chord on the page and, you know – maybe eventually you will you’ll hear that in your mind – but it’s certainly a more direct connection when you see somebody fretting a G chord on their instrument and then you’re hearing that and then you’re fretting the g chord on your instrument and you’re also hearing that. It kind of, like, doubles up the amount of mind-to-fingers connectivity that you have inside the instrument.
Something else that I found helpful in kind of my early days that goes along with watching, is that – and if you’re in a strictly ʻukulele setting or an ʻukulele group, you’re fine – but a lot of my upbringing was playing with guitarists as well. And so you start watching guitarists play and as you can certainly tell when they change chords just because their hands move and you can surmise that, “Okay, a chord change just happened,” even though I don’t know what the chord necessarily is on my ʻukulele because I’m watching a guitar. But if you do it enough or you take the time to kind of learn some guitar chords, as funny as it might sound. But that can really help you follow along easier. Obviously there’s some translating that is happening there. That is kind of like an addition and this is not something I would recommend for beginners; it’s enough to learn your own set of chords. But if you’re a little bit more advanced and you roll up at a jam where there’s a guitarist leading the song, then it might be a good opportunity to to dig in and check out what the the fingering patterns look like on the next instrument.
So after nānā ka maka, we have hoʻolohe ka pepeiao – which is the ear part. Listen with your ears. And this is where people, usually my students, start to kind of freak out on me. “Listen with my ears!?!? I don’t know how to do that!” But honestly, what I have found is that people who can get over the mental hump of turning their paper over or just getting into their own space, closing their eyes, whatever it takes, and just really tuning in, a lot of times they actually play better than when they have their eyes open and they’re, like, fully tuned into reading the paper. That’s my experience. If I teach people something without the paper and get them just using their ears and their eyes, that they play it a whole lot better than when I finally pass the handout around and everybody starts getting glued to the paper. Then the class progress kind of goes in the tank. And that’s not all the time, it’s not every situation, but a lot of situations that I’ve found. It’s always kind of a surprise because everybody’s so adamant about, you know, “Oh, is there a handout? I want a handout!” And the Hawaiian style guys are like, “No, of course there’s not a handout! That’s not how we do it!” But for the Western learners that’s a very important kind of… It’s a comfort thing. And then when you go and you kind of disprove that comfort thing in such an obvious way, it’s kind of surprising. And I always try and point that out to the students. It’s like, “You know, you guys sound worse now than you did five minutes ago before I passed the handout around!”
But anyways, what you can do to help your ears is – especially in this day and age – is run some exercises that have been crafted for online and also available as a phone app for your iphone or for your android device. I’ve got a few linked in the description of the podcast here, but I’ll kind of walk you through which ones you might try and which ones you probably won’t find quite as useful.
The first one would be interval ear training. And that’s where you’re listening to two different notes happen back to back and your job is to identify how far apart they are, just from listening. For instance, I’m on musictheory.net, but it just plays you two notes back to back and then you have the different interval options – which might look kind of daunting to somebody who is beginning because it won’t make a lot of sense. Like, there’s a unison, minor second, major second, minor third, major third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, tritone, etc… These are simply the distances between two notes. How they’re figured out is kind of a theory thing that you can do a little bit of background research on if you’re interested. But what you should know is that with these kind of things, the more you do it, the better you get. And if you spend your first 15 minutes doing it completely wrong, that’s okay. Because you’re probably seeing how the system works. All these are here, they’re kind of, like, scientific, if you will, assignments for each of the 12 notes in a chromatic scale going up from whatever the starting note is. So if you have the root note on one side and then an octave up, you have the same note but one octave higher that’s also the root. You have 12 notes in between. That’s what an interval trainer will help you hear is the distance from the first note to whatever the next note is.
But these these are fabulous exercises for allowing you to start really hearing the distances between the notes. And it’s a little bit sterile, you know, you hear it’s basically like either a canned piano sound or a sine wave tone that’s very boring to listen to, but even if you spend five minutes playing with this every once in a while, just by tuning in, that extra level to hearing and trying to to analyze exactly what the notes are doing… Just being able to hear, “Is it going up or is it going down?” That’s a big deal that people don’t really think about. So if you think that something is one way but it’s actually the other, you know. Until you start really diving in and hearing the things and comparing the two notes together, you’re not going to necessarily be able to correct that super easily, I guess.
So interval ear training: super great. Another one would be something along the lines of figuring out a melody. That’s sort of the next level from interval ear training is to begin figuring out what the melody is. Because a melody is simply made up of different intervals. So if you can hear the distances between the notes, you can figure out what a melody is very easily. In fact, if you know your interval sounds super well and you can, like, ace the tests and get a hundred out of a hundred every time you run through it, you could assume, with some practice, of course, that you could figure out a melody one note at a time and get it pretty much perfect all the way through the melody. Because all you’re doing is from one note you’re figuring out what the next interval movement is and from that note what’s the next interval movement and so on and so forth, all the way through the melody. That’s all it is. So if you get your interval ear training really dialed in, then melodies should be no problem.
I made a video a few weeks ago, a month ago by now, about playing melodies by ear. So if you’re curious about how you might get a little bit more practice at that, that would be worth a look-see on my youtube channel. I’ll put a link to that in the the show notes as well.
But a lot of times what people kind of envision playing by ear turning out like is being able to play chords. And being able to play chords by ear and hear the changes in a chord progression. This is definitely harder than learning your interval sounds and melodies, because when you’re playing just an interval there’s only one one thing changing. (I’m kind of throwing rhythm out the window here in this context because we’re just assuming that you’ll be able to follow along with the rhythm no matter what.) But with an interval you’re only hearing one note at a time. But chords, you have three or four notes happening at a time at a time. On ʻukulele you’ll have four notes usually happening at any given point and each note on every string that’s inside those chords is going to change a different interval as you make the chord change. So hearing those individual movements on each string is not super practical. Instead what you’re going to lean on more is sort of the overall tonality and feel of that chord in its place related to the 1 chord. And this is where, if you’ve heard people say “1 4 5,” that is the numerical place of the chord inside the key. So for instance, in the key of C, C would be the 1 chord and from there you would count up C D E F would be the 4 chord and then G would be the 5 chord. And those three chords are usually the most common chords you’ll find in a song. And so if you play a song that’s a 1 4 5 chord progression and you’re playing it in the key of C, your chords are going to be C, F, and G and these are the easiest chords to hear: 1 4 5. Which is probably why a lot of songs stick to them, is because, in your mind, it’s kind of easier to to latch on to what what the song is doing. So in a simple song you’ll have simple chords and they’ll be easy to hear.
Besides just pulling up a song and listening to a song and trying to figure out the chords directly from there – which is possible. The problem is that a lot of times when you’re listening to a song – even if somebody tells you, “Oh yeah, this song’s easy. It just uses blues 1 4 5 chords.” That’s great, but if the song’s in a weird key it might not fit very nicely on the ʻukulele and you might have a hard time following along with what’s happening – just because the chords are kind of difficult. For instance, if I was playing a 1 4 5 in the key of C: C, F, and G. That’s super different though than if I play in the key of B, which is just one half step down from C, but then I’m playing B, E, and F#, which are three fairly difficult chords on the ʻukulele. So if the recording of the song that you’re hearing is in the key of B, you have to play your 1 4 5 in the key of B, play B, E, and F#, which makes kind of… It adds another level of convolution to something that is already probably challenging your ears in just hearing the chord changes as 1 4 5. But if you look around, there are resources of different songs that are in certain keys. Like, for instance, just something that comes to mind that I know I have on liveukulele.com is a sheet for Down on the Corner by Credence Clearwater Revival. And I know that that song is in the key of C on the recording. So it’s a three chord easy song to figure out, but it’s also in the key of C. Which, kind of, you can have the easy level of 1 4 5 but then you keep it easy by having it in a straightforward key as well. So that would be one to check out if you’re familiar with that: Down on the Corner by CCR. Otherwise there are other ones and I’ll try and post some links to some recordings that you could play around with listening to and following along with.
But in the meantime, if that’s a little bit over your head, I found a great little exercise on Tone Dear. Tone Dear, as in “dear john.” And it’s a chord progressions quiz where it gives you four chords – or four places – in a chord progression and then it’ll play four different chords. And you you can assign different difficulties to the quiz and, in this case, I just brought it up so that it was just simple 1 4 5 chords and so I have choices. I have chord number one and it says “chord one” and this exercise is always 1 – the tonic chord – so it’s the 1 chord and then chord two I can select. And this is where I have to fill in the blanks. You can select the 1, 4, or 5 chord. Three: same thing. And then chord four again. So you listen to the progression, you try and hear the changes through the progression. And there’s actually an option to change the length of the progression. There’s actually an option to create, to change the amount of chords in the progression. So you could just have a two chord progression and listen for a change from one chord to the next which can be kind of useful, though I will say that your ear often does better if it has more opportunities to kind of latch on to the sound of the key. And even if you’re playing through a chord progression that you don’t – you’re not sure what the chords are – if you’re hearing the chords in the key, your ear is getting used to the sound of the key. So when it’s your turn to, say, fill in the blank, “Here, what chord is this?” You’re a lot more grounded in the sound of the key. Whereas, if you just hear two chords out of the blue: bum, bum, you might not have such a solid basis for making your educated guess.
But the option for customizing that is there and it’s really cool you can um change the different chords that are included in the options. You know, 145 or you could add the 3 chord or there’s even weird things like the 2 minor seven so you can, as you get better, you could practice hearing more like jazz chord changes. And yeah, it looks like it’s a great, great tool for those who aren’t sure kind of how to get into this crazy realm of just being able to navigate a song using your ears. So that as well. I’ll put in a link in the show notes on tonedear.com
And really playing by ear… Think of it like this: you’ve been playing the ʻukulele for however long it is you’ve been playing the ʻukulele and, for most people, most of that time will have been spent following chord charts or tabs or something visual, where you’re you go online or your teacher gives you a sheet for a certain song or a certain sound or a certain exercise, and you learn to play it kind of with your eyeballs. Hopefully in the long run you memorize it and you internalize it so that you don’t need the sheet up front. But you’re learning in that very Western style of looking and hearing with your eyes. Whereas if you go to a Hawaiian style gathering or a group of Hawaiian style players who have that background, they’re going to have spent much of their time away from the paper. It’s like, “Oh yeah, just play it like this.” And somebody will show you how it’s played and then you use your ears and your eyes to kind of figure it out and you correct as you go. Just to watch the differences between a child that’s been brought up, say, in like a Western music context and one that’s been brought up in a Hawaiian music context, you can just watch them, “Here play this!” And the way they react is so different, it’s so different. The one from the Western music background is going to be kind of like confused and not sure what’s going on. Like a deer in the headlights. Whereas the Hawaiian style kiddo is going to be like, they’re going to just instantly look at their ʻukulele and then look back to you and then look at what they’re doing and see if it’s right and see if the sounds match and see if they are accomplishing the task, which is to copy you exactly. It’s just you’re copycatting the person who is showing you the music and they figure it out just like that: by using their eyes and their ears. And it’s so it’s so interesting to see the difference.
But the bottom line that I’m trying to express is that you put so much time into learning with a piece of paper and in a Western context, if you put all that time into learning to play by ear and learning from a Hawaiian standpoint, you would be just as good at playing by ear as you are now at playing off of a paper. So when people say like, “Oh, I can’t!” it’s like, “Well yeah, of course you can’t!” You haven’t practiced it yet. You haven’t spent the time to teach yourself the skills that are necessary to achieve music in this way. And so that’s what I’m saying, is that for Brad, that is not a valid excuse. Sorry! Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. You do have the choice of being able to do this. You just need to work at it and give yourself the tools. Which, hopefully, I’m giving you some ideas and some ways and some resources to help you achieve these things.
A lot of times I try and kind of over-correct people back in the opposite direction because they’ve spent so much time learning in a Western way that I will encourage them to come back to kind of the extreme other side of the equation to playing just by ear, and making them memorize things, and making them figure it out sort of on their own. So that by the time they’ve spent a while playing like that, that kind of both sides of their playing abilities are a little bit balanced. And definitely don’t get the impression that I’m saying Hawaiian style playing is the only way to go. Or playing by ear is the only way and that being able to play off of a sheet is a bad thing, because it’s not at all. Especially if you go to, like, more of a classical background like Juilliard people who have graduated Juilliard. The fact that they can sit down and play an intricate piece just right off of the sheet music, one crack, no rehearsal or anything. That’s just astounding to me and it’s it’s such an amazing skill to be able to do that. A lot of people have that. They’re able to kind of live in that world, or at least know how they could practice the things to get into that world. But the other side of the coin where you’re playing by ear… It seems it’s a little bit more abstract and inaccessible to people who are used to doing things the visual way.
So finally I’ll try and try and wrap it up here by bringing the last piece of this which is paʻa ka waha: close the mouth. And basically what this is, is people ask too many questions. Like, I get kind of tired of it – maybe it’s because of all the time I’ve spent here in Hawaiʻi – but people ask questions that they don’t need to ask. If they would just pay attention and actually listen or actually look at something or watch, you might not even need to ask the question. And so it’s not isn’t necessarily saying like “don’t ever ask a question” or “don’t ever talk” or “don’t ever say anything, because you’re not allowed to,” or anything like that, but in my interpretation, it’s more like, don’t waste my time – as the teacher or the mentor or the person who is giving you the gift of music learning – don’t waste my time by asking me a question that you could figure out other ways. And you could figure it out in other ways that would probably be more meaningful for your experience.
A lot of times we’ll ask the question kind of as as a hope that there’s a shortcut to the destination. Spoiler alert! There’s no shortcuts really in music. And that by asking that you’re kind of cheating yourself of just trying it. Which in itself is a very valuable lesson! And it’s a very valuable experience to have in your tool belt of, “Hey, I tried this. And maybe I didn’t get it perfect, but, you know, I got a little better at trying this!” That’s what gets missed a lot of times I think, is that people – they’re scared to try things, but they don’t realize that in the trying there’s value. Just by just by playing it poorly or by messing up you’re learning a lot. You might not necessarily want to play it like that or might not want to repeat it, but totally bombing is great for learning. You learn so much by bombing. Like, especially when you get up on stage and you do it in front of a bunch of people! Tell me that doesn’t teach you a whole lot in one go. Like, you can practice in your bedroom for a long time, but then when you get on a stage or you know fire up your Zoom or whatever and perform for people, you learn so much more in such a short amount of time. It’s amazing.
If you get the chance to explore something on your own with your own interpretation and especially now in a time where a lot of people have so much free time and, you know, opportunities to just sit down and practice, kind of just go for it instead of going straight to Google and typing in “chords for Bohemian Rhapsody” or “picking tab for Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Give yourself the opportunity to try and learn it with your other senses. Instead of with going straight to the chart, see if you can figure it out by watching somebody play it, see if you can figure out how to play it just by listening. Like, if I Google “how to play Bohemian Rhapsody” – and this is an extreme example. That’s a super crazy song and it’s very very difficult – but if I was to boot up like the Queen Live Aid performance where they played – I believe it was Wembley Stadium? – and to sit and figure out how to play it from that where you’re just watching Freddie Mercury play it on the piano and listening to what he’s playing… I would almost guarantee that if you were able to figure it out, or if you were able to get it just kind of on. That would be so much more rewarding than going straight to Google and saying, “Auntie Google, what are the chords for Bohemian Rhapsody?” Right? Because you’re working to find the answer yourself and by working on it you’re learning many, many things that you can’t even really express – certainly I can’t on a podcast. But it is important and I don’t regret a single second of the time I’ve spent figuring things out by ear.
The first way that you can practice and apply what I’m sort of sharing with you is by turning on whatever your listening device is, whether it be an ipod, or your phone, or your turntable, or your cd player, and pull up the song you want to work on and sit and figure it out. That is really the best thing you can possibly do for yourself. If you’re not sure how, if you’re not sure how, you, just do it, just jump in. There’s nothing, you’re not going to break anything by trying. And just by trying, even if you get two notes of the melody – and you might only get two notes of the melody and you might feel super frustrated – but by working through it and finding all the possibilities that don’t fit, you’re crossing those all off of a big giant list of things that, in the future, you might have to work your way through. But instead of needing to work through every single possibility, next time you’ll know a little bit better what probably it isn’t. And, of course, a lot of these things you have to do multiple times to really kind of learn the lesson of, “Oh, it’s probably not that!” But even so, I would rather be working towards the goal of knowing what I don’t need, or what notes I probably will not play in this song than to go in every time and just be completely guessing. Because all playing by ear is is honing the amount of education in your guess.
There aren’t a whole lot of people who can play by ear so well where they know, they just absolutely know. There are certainly guys who can do that and I actually saw a a piano player the other day who was – he is a blind man, but he is a very accomplished session piano player in Nashville and I’ll put a link to the video in the description, but he is, like, uncannily blessed with perfect pitch. And the guy who recorded the video, he just put his hand down on the piano in just a random chord and the guy found it. He just knew exactly where it was. Without trying anything he just put his hands right where the chord was and it was unbelievable. And there are people who can do that! But for most of us, that’s not the case, is that you kind of, you poke around enough that you know what the options aren’t and that, you know, if it’s not this then I pretty much know what it’s going to be the second time. And so the faster you can get there, the more accomplished you might say you are at being able to play by ear. You know, like a lot of a lot of times when you’re jamming with people and it’s time to play a solo – like a solo is a great example of kind of playing by ear. You’re playing ahead of ahead of the curve by playing what you imagine in your mind and, you know, a lot of times you, if you’re practiced at it and you’re um, you know, comfortable, a lot of times you can play what you want, but a lot of times you won’t and you’ll end up like one note off from where you want to go. So you kind of correct as you go and maybe that wrong note that you played wasn’t what you intended, but it’s still sweet because it was a musical moment that got you to where you thought you were and you might along the way even discover things that are better than what you envisioned. And so by giving yourself the opportunity to take that journey is a really big deal that I think a lot of people are kind of, in the current scene, short-changing themselves on. And it’s unfortunate to see.
So I hope that’s interesting for some folks out there. I know a lot a lot of people don’t ever get the chance to really experience a Hawaiian style music situation, but there are places that sort of give you a look into that even without being in Hawaiʻi or being around Hawaiian music players or Hawaiian people. You can find this at like an ʻukulele club jam and, you know, maybe it’s going to be a while before you can get back together with your group, but, you know, that would be something to look forward to is is taking that opportunity of playing with people and being in a situation where you don’t actually know what’s happening, you don’t know the song, and trying to learn it Hawaiian style – even if you’re playing like Lay Down Sally, or something that’s very not Hawaiian. You could still learn it in a Hawaiian style way by not looking at the chord chart or, you know, don’t open your binder to the right page so that you’re not tempted to try and play with your eyeballs. And that, instead, you’ll challenge yourself to play with your ears by engaging more fully in the music around you and what other people are doing.
And in the meantime you can kind of get a bit of this sort of feel by watching like a video and playing along with a video of somebody who’s playing music. And it’s not live, and it doesn’t feed your soul quite as much, but the the lessons learned I think are are fairly similar because you’re still interacting by watching and seeing like, “Where are they putting their fingers for that one weird chord I don’t know?” And I think you’ll learn a lot and I encourage you to explore as much as possible because there’s really, there’s a lot of gold to be found in those moments where you really challenge yourself.
Thank you again for tuning in my name is Brad Bordessa. This is the Live ʻUkulele Podcast. I hope this gives you a little bit of inspiration for how you can bring a more intuitive approach to some of your playing. Remember, it’s not not this or the highway or that or the highway or anything or the highway, it’s just all part of the journey and that any bit that you can do is really going to just flesh out your musical experience and all options should be explored when possible.
With that said, if you like what you hear and you want to tune in next time, new episodes are published every first and third Saturday of the month. Please subscribe on your favorite podcast subscription service so you can catch the next episode as soon as it goes live. I’ll try and keep the ball rolling by talking about other topics that are of interest to me – and hopefully to others – and also to bring you some interviews with some of my hip friends, great ʻukulele players. I’ll catch you next time. Take care of one another and be safe out there. Aloha.