S2E13 – Resources & Tools

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A few recommendations for great learning tools and how to use them to study ukulele more efficiently and easefully.

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Transcript

Edited for clarity.

(00:02):
Aloha, welcome to the Live ʻUkulele Podcast. In this episode, I want to share with you some different learning resources or some tools, some different assets that can be useful along your ukulele journey as you go through your study and practice.

(00:23):
The Live ʻUkulele Podcast is supported by my 6th Sense course, and also the different eBooks that you can find on liveukulele.com/store. These range from a couple of encyclopedia-like technique guides to help you get your posture and different fretting and strumming techniques really dialed in, along with my popular ʻUkulele Chord Shapes book that shows you how to move chord shapes across the fret board and create a bit of a mental model in your mind. And also my newest offering, which is the 6th Sense video course, which shows you how to play double stop harmonies in any different scale you want to play and how to use these harmonies to outline melodies and also songs. And there are some Hawaiian song examples to give you some ideas for improvisations. So go check out any or all of these if you want to support the cause. Some great information there, and your money goes directly to supporting the podcast and the other content I create for LiveUkulele. com.

(01:39):
So when we talk about resources, a lot of times folks think of like a YouTube video or a book that you might buy. Different, like learning materials. And those are definitely something that I think I’ll touch on by the time we get out of this episode. But what I’m more interested in talking about are some of the tools and how to use tools as resources to compliment your study. And I think the first thing that we can talk about…

(02:07):
Well, we could talk about the instrument, but that’s already been done a million times. Get an instrument that makes you happy, that plays well, and plays well. That’s really all that matters. Because sound is subjective. Looks are subjective. Everything is subjective, except the fact that it has to be easy to play. It has to be set up well. So if you get a great ukulele that’s set up poorly, it’s not that great because it’s hard to play. And if you get a crappy ukulele that’s set up great and it’s easy to play, you know, that might even be a better option. So it really… Price doesn’t matter all that much. What does matter is how easy it is to play and how much you connect to the instrument. So find something that is satisfying for you and learn to play on it. You can really go a lot farther with any instrument than you might think is actually possible.

(03:00):
But beyond that, the next thing that is sort of an asset to an ukulele player is a tuner. And as far as tuners go, pretty much any electronic tuner you can get these days is going to be incredibly accurate compared to anything that’s been available in the past. All these need to do are just get your strings in tune.

(03:21):
And something to think about when you are tuning is that this technology was not available even all that long ago. And that while these days it’s sort of expected that everybody just has a tuner and puts their Snark on – or whatever tuner you have – puts that on their ukulele, uses that. That wasn’t the case… In order to play an instrument back in the day, you had to learn to tune it by ear or with a pitch pipe, which is kind of still by ear. So next time you clip on your tuner, appreciate that. That that is a quality of life improvement that has sort of reduced the barrier to getting into playing music these days is that electronic tuner.

(04:03):
But as far as which tuner you should use, they all pretty much do the job as long as they’re accurate. But I find that it’s worth, you know, spending $20 on a higher quality one, than trying to get like a $10, cheaper one, because just overall, the higher quality one is going to be easier to use in the long run. It’s not going to run through battery quite as fast. It’s going to tend to pick up notes on a wider variety of instruments. Because most of these electronic tuners are clip on. Right? And that is what I would recommend is a clip on tuner because it actually feels the vibration of the instrument. It doesn’t try and hear it. So you could tune in a relatively noisy environment, as long as those noises aren’t getting into your instrument and creating a vibration in your instrument. So that’s the practical way to go about it. But with some cheaper tuners, they’ll find like dead spots on the headstock. So if you clip it on and it won’t pick up a string or reads the wrong note, or it reads a harmonic note, that can be kind of frustrating. And a lot of times that can be alleviated by just having a higher quality tuner.

(05:17):
So I’m really a big fan of the the planet waves NS Micro – or NS mini – tuners. I’ve got the clip on one and it’s really small. You can pretty much leave it on all the time. It doesn’t get in the way. And there’s also a sound hole one if that’s more your cup of tea. Those are really great. But like I said before, any of these is going to be millions of times better than, you know, using a pitch pipe or whatever, if that sort of a thing doesn’t really suit your fancy.

(05:49):
But as a resource an electronic tuner, in my opinion, isn’t super useful. It doesn’t force you to lean on your own musical sensibilities enough to really be a learning instrument. It’s a reference, but I have yet to really see a situation where myself or a student have benefited from using an electronic tuner as a learning tool. But what is, is a more old school version of tuning that utilizes either a pitch pipe or a tuning fork. Because these devices rely on the player to create an input with their ear and adjust accordingly and to close that gap to match the string with the reference pitch. And so if you’re just starting out, if you’re just beginning, just use your electronic tuner. That’s great. It’s a good way to get started. But if you’re maybe an intermediate player and you want to improve your ear, I think one of the best ways you can do that is by forcing yourself to start tuning by ear a little bit more. And, you know, if you want to start a little bit easier, try a pitch pipe. That will get you basically the same end result as tuning your ukulele relative to itself. But it’ll be from a static point on each string where you have G C E A pitches that you reference and you can match each string to that precise pitch, as opposed to tuning each string to itself where if one is off, then the next one will be off and so on and so forth.

(07:45):
That’s sort of where the tuning fork comes into play. The tuning fork is… Usually it’s an A=440hz pitch and you tune the – string to that. And then you tune the rest of the strings to the A-string. I did a whole live stream on this, on my YouTube channel a number of months ago. Basically the whole lesson was 45 minutes of how to tune and how to tune by ear and some different tricks I’ve picked up along the way. So if this is of interest to you, that might be worth checking out. But definitely as a resource and as a learning tool, whenever you’re challenging yourself, at least a little bit, you’re going to be learning more. Just tuning your ukulele with an electronic tuner. It solves too much of the puzzle for you to actually be internalizing any kind of musical skill or musical hearing. So try a pitch pipe or an electronic tuner to get a little bit more mileage out of that.

(08:50):
So if a tuner is a reference for pitch, the metronome is a reference for time. And the metronome is probably my favorite resource that… I feel like it’s very underused. But I feel like the people who do learn to use it are the ones that just do so much better as far as timing goes. And in lot of my classes when I teach… Like I’m thinking, especially of when I teach at Uncle George Kahumoku’s Slack Key and Ukulele Workshop over on Maui and I’m teaching one of the week-long skill courses. Like the intermediate class or the advanced class all the way through the week. And we meet five times and we kind of consecutively build on the content. At the beginning of every class, they sit down in the class and for the first five minutes, I just put the metronome going and I teach them how to clap with it. And it sounds easy. It sounds boring. But a lot of people can’t do it. And a lot of people get frustrated with it. And a lot of people resent it because they can’t do it and they don’t understand it. But then by the end of the week, they’ve kind of come to understand it. And they’ve gotten to a point where they actually enjoy it. And I’ve heard a lot of people actually say, “you know, that metronome stuff we did, that was one of my favorite parts of your class.” So that’s kind of fun to hear. I hope it doesn’t just mean that the rest of my classes were worse.

(10:25):
But the metronome is a reference for time and you can get an app. I believe Pro Metronome is available for iOS and Android. It’s free. You can get a pro version or a fancy version, an upgraded paid version. You don’t really need it. It does just stuff that only in a drummer would really benefit from, in my opinion. But it’s good stuff. And this is where it really becomes a resource because it’s untapped potential, I guess, is how you could think of it. I’ve done a lot of video lessons and live streams and written articles on how to use a metronome and some different ways that I like to use a metronome. And certainly there are lots of other people who’ve done the same thing.

(11:19):
So I won’t belabor the point of how to use a metronome, but it sounds like this. They don’t all sound like that. This is just the one that I happened to have. I actually, I felt like it would be nice to have a dedicated metronome. And after doing some research, I learned that the old-school back and forth tick-tock pendulum metronomes are not super accurate. And for the price, it just makes more sense to get a dedicated metronome. And so I got this, it’s a BOSS DB-30, and it’s a little handheld thing it’s smaller than a cell phone and that’s all it does just metronome stuff. I’ve really enjoyed having a dedicated device, as opposed to just having an app on my phone. I’m kind of old school and I like a tactile dedicated device. And it has other features that are kind of nice. Like it has a volume knob actually on it. And then there’s like actually a tactile tap tempo button. So you can change the tempo by tapping at the pace that you want the metronome to click at. But an app will do the exact same thing.

(12:51):
But with this, you can either play your songs and reference your songs, or you can just practice playing on the click or in between the click or on and off the click in different ways that are specifically metronome practice. Or you can just use it as general, like here, I’m trying to play what I already play, but more on time and more conscious of being perfectly in rhythm, all of which are very, very useful.

(13:25):
So I feel like the tuner and the metronome are both kind of no-brainers, but this next one is something that I think more people would appreciate and be excited about if they knew about it or ever thought to look for it. Because it does exist. And that is a program or a piece of software that will change the tempo of an audio file or change the pitch of an audio file. Hopefully both at the same time. The first program I really used extensively for this is called Anytune, but it’s only available on Mac. It is still a great piece of software. It’s free on iOS, I believe, but the paid version on like Mac desktop is like 25 bucks or something. So it was a little bit of a steep bit of an entry fee. But actually I was just looking around and found PitchSwitch, which is available for Windows and Mac and it’s free. Or at least the trial is free and it looks like it does pretty much what you would need it to do.

(14:32):
But the idea with this software is that you are just slowing down a song or speeding up a song to match… Usually you’d be slowing down a song, but you can use that slow down feature to learn how to play it along with the recording. Like a lot of times when I’m transcribing or… I talked to Dominator in a past podcast episode about his usage of Transcribe!, Which is another piece of software that does this same thing. I don’t know if it does pitch these days, but it does do slowing down. But you can use this to hear notes that are played quickly and to really determine exactly what is going on, where you would probably just be guessing if you could only hear it at the original tempo. And also what this does is it allows you to play along with at a tempo that’s comfortable for you. So I’m going to boot up Anytune and load up a song so you can hear the effect that it has on the song where you, where you can slow it down, speed it up. And then I’ll talk about changing the pitch in a second.

(15:42):
So here’s a song off of my album If Only called “Atlas” that I’ve got running through Anytune. Not sure how the sound quality is going to be. I’ve got it piped directly in from a line line input from my laptop. But what I can do in here is… I have two main controls and that is a tempo control that’s going to change the percentage of the tempo that it’s playing back at, and also a pitch control. But let’s look at tempo first. So right here, this is the original one-to-one tempo. But if I start to drop that down, it starts to drag. And you can really pull this down a lot before you start losing quality and you start getting too many artifacts. It starts to get kind of crackly and crunchy because there’s just not enough sonic information to make it go that slow. But here’s like the solo. And this is where this would be helpful. I’m playing too fast to hear the individual notes, but if I slow it down, it’s easier. Whereas if I’m back at a hundred percent, it might be too fast to figure out. So like for that bit. It’s kind of at that speed, but if I slow it down to like 60%, you can really hear what’s happening there. And that’s where that is super, super helpful for figuring out a song is you can…

(17:55):
Actually, with Anytune… Anytune is really kind of superior to the the PitchSwitch or pretty much any other apps I’ve seen that does sort of the same thing. Because it allows you to set ranges and markers, and it allows you to kind of like… It’s more of a practicing tools like, okay, I want to learn to play this exact section and I’m going to play it back at 60% and you can make it just loop that section over and over and over until you figure it out or until you’re able to play along with it. And then you could increase the speed slowly or whatever you need to do from a learning standpoint. Other programs just allow you to change the pitch. They don’t necessarily allow you to place a marker. And this PictchSwitch looks like it does the basic features well – actually it sounded like the sound quality of the PitchSwitch when I dropped the tempo down was actually better than Anytune. So if you’re looking for like a really clean, crisp signal that doesn’t have as many artifacts, that might be the one to check out.

(19:01):
The other feature of one of these programs is the pitch feature. I’m going to put the time back to a hundred percent. But just say that this is not the right key for me to sing in, or I’m listening to an old recording that’s down a half step and I want to play it in normal tuning. I can compensate for that and adjust with the pitch shift feature. This is what you can adjust it beyond semitones, but the default is just one semitone or one fret per plus or minus.

(19:42):
So here I’m down one semitone and we can get the monster vibes going and voices sound terrible, but the instruments still sound kind of believable. So this song is in the key of F. If I want it to be, this would be, this is down three semitones. So it’d be in the key of D. If I wanted to play the song in the key of D to match my voice, I could learn to play the song by playing a long with this D-tuned version with the recording so I have the context of the music around me. It’s just helpful to be able to be in the musical situation and be kind of part of the band, but still be able to play in the key that you want to play in. That’s sort of the beauty of it is being able to change the pitch.

(20:41):
And a lot of times songs that you hear on the radio or songs that are popular that you want to learn, they’re usually not made for ukulele. They weren’t written considering ukulele friendly keys. So if you’re working and struggling to play a song in the key of C#, you know, if you can offset it by a fret with the program and drop it down to the key of C, that would sure be a lot easier to play on the ukulele. So that would be something to consider as well is it’s just a real nice resource for kind of leveling the playing field as you’re learning songs. And this isn’t necessarily the be-all, end-all practice tool, but as far as actually learning songs and being able to play with songs, this is… It’s a lot of fun because it’ll take something that is recognizable to you, but then it will bring it into a key that’s a little bit happier either for your voice or for your ukulele playing. And it also forces you to kind of think about transposing a little bit and be more mindful of the keys that you’re playing in.

(21:55):
Anytune is available on iPhone and other iOS devices. There is one for Android called Music Speed Changer, and then there’s also this PitchSwitch, which I just downloaded and found. And it seems to do pretty much the same deal for Windows and Mac.

(22:21):
Moving right along on our collection of learning resources and learning tools that you can use to help your experience along and maybe simplify or streamline your ukulele studies. Next on the list is a voice memo app or some sort of a recording device, just a handheld recorder. Because inspiration strikes at the funniest moments. And if you’re at all inclined to be writing music, doesn’t matter what level you are. Anybody can write a song. If you’re inclined to come up with something or you do come up with something it’s really super important to have a way to capture that right at your side. Because so often I’ve had great ideas and it’s like, “oh, I’ll remember that later.” And I don’t. It just goes away. It’s kind of like when you’re sort of just looking at the edge of a new song and you just sort of start to see it and just play it a few times, it’s sort of like a dream. You wake up and the longer you’re awake, the more you forget and the harder it is to remember what the dream was. And it’s kind of the same for music.

(23:38):
So what you want to be able to do is have a voice memo, have a handheld recorder, put it going like, okay, here’s my new idea. And boom, just bang it out or just put it going if you’re on, like, “Hey, I think I’m writing a new song,” kind of an inspiration flow. If that’s coming out of you, you just put it going and then at least it’s captured there. And if you do forget, you can go back and listen through it and remember what you were playing. That’s super important.

(24:10):
But in addition to capturing inspiration, what you can also do is you can record yourself just playing something that you’re working on learning and use the voice memo as a critiquing tool. And this is a really big deal. Right? This is sort of the equivalent of looking in the mirror at your ukulele playing. And the first time you do it, it’s going to be a little bit uncomfortable. Okay. That’s my warning – my disclaimer with this bit of advice. There’s probably no more valuable tool that you could have for giving your playing context in your own mind, then listening back to yourself play. Cause it’s absolutely honest. When you’re existing in your own mind, and you’re listening to yourself, play live, your brain is sort of playing tricks on you and convincing you it sounds one way or another. And I think that especially for beginners or intermediate players, your brain actually plays more tricks on you and the better you get, the more you realize “Haha, yeah. My brain’s playing tricks on me. It doesn’t actually sound that good,” kind of a thing.

(25:25):
So that when you go back and you listen to yourself playing a song from a recording, you’re no longer in that live space where you’re thinking about playing the song or you’re flowing or you’re doing any of those things. You are listening to it as a third person in the room would be listening to it and not as the creator. You’re detached from that creation moment. And so hearing music like that, you’re going to hear all the flaws. You’re going to hear the things that you did, right. That you thought you did, right. But more than anything, you’re going to hear things that you kind of go “Wow. Is that really what I sound like? That doesn’t sound as good as I thought it sounded.”

(26:10):
And to a certain extent, this can be just like the microphone on the recording device. It can sound a little bit more sterile and less pleasing than just having, you know, two human ears in a room with the instrument and being in that close proximity of the instrument and feeling the instrument vibrating on your body. That really is a huge part of the enjoyment of playing. And when you take that away and you hear it just from the perspective of the microphone in the device, it’s hearing in a much more narrow field of hearing. Field of hearing. Is that even a thing?

(26:49):
But when you hear that back… It’s like the worst possible situation for hearing yourself. And so if you can make yourself sound good on the voice memo, you’re probably going to sound pretty darn good in real life as well. So anytime you’re not sure if you’re playing something right, get out the voice memo, record yourself, playing the thing you’re not sure about. And then listen back. You might find that, “Oh, that’s what it sounds like? I think I’m actually doing it the way I want to be doing it.” Or it might just be like a big slap in the face of like, “Oh my gosh, that’s so bad. I’m not even close. I really need to work on this a lot more.” But it’s really super interesting if you can kind of harden yourself to, to look in that mirror, that audio mirror of hearing yourself play.

(27:49):
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(28:53):
And so I’ll finish up with one more thing. We could talk about actual instructional resources, but I think they kind of speak for themselves really. It’s just like at the very beginning, I said, the ukulele is mainly just use your own judgment. It’s a personal preference, as long as it plays well. Same thing for the instructional material. It’s going to be pretty obvious what really turns you on and makes you excited about playing and studying and practicing. It’s like, if you sign up for a video course or you get a book and it’s just like, “This is awesome. I want to learn to do this. And I’m going to spend a lot of time doing this,” then that’s great. You should definitely spend the time that that deserves and, you know, get as much as you can out of that. And also use that as kind of a guide for what you should look for in the future. Maybe more instructional resources from that teacher or from that book author or from the publisher.

(29:51):
The only thing I will say regarding instructional resources is use them to their fullest extent possible, at least from where you’re at at any given point. So often, and especially with the internet era where Google can find you anything just in a couple of keystrokes, it’s super easy to study ukulele in a very kind of ADD way. And this isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s really hard to establish solid goals and to achieve these goals, if you’re always ping, pinging around to different instructional materials. And if you can just find one that really kind of gives you a lot to work on and a lot to practice and it’s, you know, well-rounded for presenting the concepts that you are interested in at a given time or the concepts that you feel like you should be studying at a given time. Really just stick with it and try not to get distracted by random YouTube videos or whatever. If you have something that is quality that you can sit and work with, I would encourage most people to, you know, dedicate yourself to one or two things at a time instead of spreading yourself so thin and learning 10 songs at once and 10 different techniques at once and this strumming thing and that strumming thing. Cause if you learn so many things in you’re spread so thin, not a lot of it sticks. And so if you really just kind of hone in on one resource at a time or one book at a time, or maybe even just one chapter of a book at a time or one passage from a book. You know, if you’re working through like Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele by Daniel Ward, you know, if you work yourself through one piece out of that book, that’s a big project in itself. And that’s great if you achieve that, then maybe it’s time to work to sidestep to a different resource. But if you start something in that book and then you start something in another book and then you start something in another book or start a video course, then you’re getting kind of spread thin. You know, try and find a happy medium of how much you can manage on your plate at once for the best amount of retention.

(32:15):
But here we go. The last resource that comes abundantly to mind or the last tool or asset to a studying ukulele player is your mindset. Is that corny? Sounds kind of corny when I say it out loud. But by having the right mindset can really either make or break the efficiency and easefulness of your practice times and of your study and of your improvement. Because if you’re the kind of person who approaches something and says, “Oh, well I can’t play that quite right yet. Let me dissect it and figure out what it is that is making it sound wrong.” If you can do that and break it down and figure out what it is and find joy in that, you’re going to be way ahead of your peers.

(33:14):
Because so many people kind of resent the idea of practice. They resent the idea of being bad. That’s a problem when you’re just learning to play ukulele! Or even if you’re good at ukulele, but you’re studying and working on something and you get frustrated because something’s not as easy as you hoped it would be, or your chops, aren’t where you want them to be and it’s frustrating. It’s really a huge asset to be able to have a good attitude about what you’re doing and to find joy in the fine tuning of the details and figuring out what actually makes it tick or what makes it work.

(33:31):
You know, I feel very blessed that I’ve gotten to a point with my playing, where I kind of just get a kick out of playing notes that sound nice. And so if I’m learning to play something or working through something, I can play it as slow as I possibly need to play it to actually make my fingers go there and it all just sounds nice to me. And it’s all enjoyable because I’m just trying to play each of those notes as cleanly and as nicely as I can. And each of those notes are beautiful music by themselves. I don’t get worked up about the fact that like, “Oh, well, I’m only playing it at half speed. I should be playing it at full speed.” Try to not let that backseat voice in your mind, drive the bus. You know, put them in the passenger seat and let them kinda stay on the side, but really, you know, find the joy in the little moments of improvement.

(34:52):
And when you really dial something in, or you realize the solution to your problem and the steps that you need to take to achieve that, get to a point where you can appreciate that for what it is. Because that is going to be one of, if not the biggest assets that you can give to yourself as you study and you play is just that pure joy of being able to just play music. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you’re just working on it, even if it’s not where you want it to be. Just like, okay, in this moment, I am playing this because it’s part of my journey as a musician and someday it’s going to be even better but right now this is enjoyable. This is nice because I’m actually… I get to sit with my ukulele. I get to stimulate my mind by thinking about these musical things. And I get to create music, even if it’s at half tempo or 75% tempo or in the wrong key, or my fingers are nowhere even close to being able to play that fast yet and I’ve got to practice some scales in the meantime instead. Whatever your path may be, try and become as at peace with that path as you possibly can, because if you can enjoy where you’re at in the moment, you’re going to be much, much more content with what you do play and you’re not going to always be antsy and looking forward to the future when you might be able to play it, but you also might just continue to be antsy because you’re always looking ahead to the next thing. Just find that joy in the moment. Borrow that little bit of Zen Buddhist mindset. It really is a great place to be as opposed to all worked up all the time about not being able to do something.

(36:50):
So that’s my spiel. The Live Ukulele Podcast is published on the first and third Saturdays of every month. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Sort of just a random collection of musings regarding some things that I’ve used over the years. If you have any ideas for episodes or things you want to hear me talk about people you want to hear me interview, please shoot me an email, brad@liveukulele.com, and let me know. I’m always open to suggestions and it’s nice to not have to dredge the bottom of my brain to try and come up with something new to gab about.

(37:33):
As always, if you want to lend your support, please share the podcast, share liveukulele.com with your friends. And if you want to go above and beyond, you can check out my 6th Sense course or any of my eBooks. All those proceeds go directly towards supporting the time I put into this podcast and all the other content I create. It’s more straightforward than Patreon. Let’s just put it that way.

(38:02):
So until next time, I hope you’re all well out there. Go play your ukuleles. Enjoy the summer weather. Be safe, take care of yourselves, and I’ll see you in the next episode. All my best, Aloha.

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

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