S2E21 – Jeff Peterson

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A mini lesson on technique, dynamics, and phrasing from a master player.

Video of Jeff’s Lesson Demos:

Find more of Jeff’s teaching on Ukulele Corner

Episode resources:


Edited for clarity.

Brad Bordessa (00:02):
Aloha welcome to the Live Ukulele Podcast. My name is Brad Bordessa and you’re listening to the end of podcast season. This’ll be the last episode through the end of the year when we’ll get started again on the first and third Saturdays of January of next year. Gonna take a little bit of a break and get ahead, take some time off of thinking about podcast stuff.

Brad Bordessa (00:32):
But this episode is going to be great. I’m really excited to share with you an interview I did a couple of weeks ago with Mr. Jeff Peterson. I saw him at the beginning of September at Uncle George Kahumoku, Jr.’s Slack Key and Ukulele Workshop, where we had the chance to jam a little bit and teach classes, you know, kind of in the same spaces. Overlapping and seeing each other from a distance. And I sat in on a couple of his classes just for a moment to see what he was up to. Always super interesting because Jeff comes to Hawaiian music with kind of a little bit more of a classical background, so to speak. He’s done a lot more, maybe traditional study than a lot of Hawaiian musicians you run across. So he has this real informed approach to music. And it’s always fun to hear somebody who can explain things so precisely and so accurately. I think that’s one of Jeff’s… You know, out of all his great teaching abilities, I think that is one of the most interesting things that he brings to the table, just as him and kind of his unique thing.

Brad Bordessa (01:47):
Some or the majority of this podcast interview, I’m going to throw up on YouTube via our Zoom recording capture so that you can see what Jeff is talking about. Some of the podcast he goes into kind of explaining things, and many of the things are hard, if not impossible to explain, you know, just via audio. So being able to see things will be helpful. And Jeff said, yes, we can throw up a video of this so that you guys can benefit from seeing him play and demonstrate these things as well. So go over to my YouTube channel and be sure to check that out. If you’re so inclined, otherwise just use your ears, follow along as best you can and enjoy it that way.

Brad Bordessa (02:39):
I’d like to invite you to please subscribe on your podcast service of choice. Going to be off for a month and a half here, but there are lots of back episodes, if you haven’t listened to everything already. This is not timely material I’m producing here on the podcast. Hopefully it’s evergreen and will be interesting to listen to five years from now. So there’s lots of backlog at this point of different subjects and interviews I’ve done. Please go back and have a listen and see what you can learn from some of those older podcasts that might not come up so early in the feed.

Brad Bordessa (03:17):
And if you want to support the cause, go check out the store at liveukulele.com/store. It’s where you can find all of my instructional eBooks and my course on playing Hawaiian style 6th double stop harmonies. And of course Live Ukulele is also the home to many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many free lessons and tabs and songs and all that good stuff. Please check it out and I will hush up now and let you guys move on to the interview. Thanks for tuning it.

Brad Bordessa (03:55):
Well, welcome to the podcast, Jeff. Thanks so much for being here.

Jeff Peterson (03:59):
Oh my pleasure. Yeah. Good to see you again. And we had so much fun on Maui recently at George Kahumoku’s camp, and finally got to play music together again, which was really exciting.

Brad Bordessa (04:07):
It was. It was beautiful to see all those people and make the music community style again.

Jeff Peterson (04:12):
Yeah. Yeah. And I thought that the students learned a lot. They really took away a lot. We as teachers, we learn from each other and getting to wake up every morning, around 5:30 and pour outside and Led Kaapana’s out there playing under the tent. Yeah. That was so much fun, those morning kani ka pila. Amazing. That was a highlight for me, for sure.

Brad Bordessa (04:32):
Yeah. Well, just be in such close proximity to those guys and getting the up close, that lesson, the impromptu lesson from those guys is such a treat.

Brad Bordessa (04:44):
Folks who are familiar with Hawaiian music and other things might be wondering why Mr. Jeff Peterson is on the ukulele podcast. Can you talk a little bit about your background with the ukulele and kind of how you came to the play it, or if you played at first or what your story is there and then how you kind of got into teaching ukulele?

Jeff Peterson (05:03):
Sure. Yeah. Yeah. So I grew up on Maui in a town called Makawao and we used to have ukulele classes I think starting about fifth grade when I was in Makawao elementary. And actually Bla Pahinui was living on Maui for a time and he would come and do this afterschool program. So some of the first lessons I ever took, I was starting to play guitar and didn’t own a guitar, but I owned an ukulele and my dad played a lot of music and everything, but having a teacher was really exciting. And it was, you know, we’re just kids. So Bla would come and tell stories about his family. He’s a son, of course, of Gabby Pahinui, one of Gabby’s sons and he would share songs and have everybody strum along. So that got me really inspired.

Jeff Peterson (05:46):
And then, and then a good friend of my dad’s from Haleakalā Ranch was named Eddie Wilson. And he was an amazing ukulele player. He also is interesting. He played ukulele and trumpet really well. Those were his favorite instruments. He could play guitar and he would love singing songs and everything, but he was a phenomenal ukulele playter. And that really inspired me. And so he was a mentor. And so, yeah, I’ve always played ukulele and I’ve focused on slack key for most of my recordings, but I’ve recorded… I think the first recording I did I recorded with Amy Hanaialiʻi on her album, ʻAumakua. And then with Matt Catingub with a whole big band, I think that was back like 2005 or so, or 2006. Used to play a lot of pops concerts. And, but I never did… I’ve never released an album of just featuring ukulele. I have it on sometimes on tracks and, you know, mix it in. But that’s something I’m definitely working on.

Jeff Peterson (06:44):
I’ve been working on a lot now with teaching, writing down a lot of arrangements and repertoire, which has been great fun. But yeah, I’ve been teaching ukulele as long as I’ve been teaching guitar. So it’s now it’s a little more formal and I have the Ukulele Corner website where students can, you know, have a full curriculum of lessons and live classes. Over the last 20 years or so I’ve been writing down a lot of slack key trying to transcribe the tradition. I think it’s best learned by ear, but it’s really nice to have it as a resource to have it written down. And when I work with students, I try to get them off the music as quickly as I can so it’s internalized. And have them listen, if it’s, let’s say a transcription of one of my recordings or another artist, I have them listen to the recording so that it, you know, becomes something that… You cannot write down phrasing exactly and feel, and timing and all these little nuances, right?

Jeff Peterson (07:49):
And so I’ve been trying to do the same thing with ukulele. Writing out a lot of Hawaiian songs. I’m almost finished with a Hawaiian book. I published a classical ukulele book over the past year, taking a lot of the repertoire from Spanish guitar and Bach and other composers from Renaissance era to modern era. And I had really a lot of fun arranging all that for ukulele. It took a couple of years and I have… I’m still going where there’s so many great pieces that I want to try to work on. So it’s always been a good challenge for me to try to find ways on the ukulele to play some of this music.

Brad Bordessa (08:29):
And so, yeah, at the workshop I had a chance to look through your, your new book, which is huge. There’s a lot of material in there. But, but seeing the Ukulele Corner and the book and kind of how it’s laid out, there’s kind of the very staggered skillset that you work through. Could you talk about how that kind of factors into your teaching style and how you grade different levels of skill?

Jeff Peterson (08:52):
Sure. Yeah. I find a lot of students will get overwhelmed because there’s so much content out there now online. So having like a pathway that you can just stick with something and feel that you’re making progress. And it feels really good when you can play something that feels like, yeah, this is under my fingers instead of trying to play things that are really out of reach, but you like them. It’s good to have those as goals. So I created a curriculum where it’s first starting at beginning level where students gradually work their way through, there are eight grades for that classical repertoire book that I worked on.

Jeff Peterson (09:28):
And I taught for many years at the University of Hawaiʻi in the guitar program. And so it’s based a bit on some of the methods that I had learned. I’m very fortunate, I’ve had some great teachers over the years. I went to USC their music program. And then I’ve studied with Lisa Smith, a musician here in Hawaii. She studied for many years with Peter Moon, but also with Pepe Romero for about 15 years. So her understanding of, you know, phrasing, technique, and interpretation with classical music was amazing, but also her understanding of Hawaiian music was great too. So that’s always, that was a really big inspiration. And it’s unfortunate, I think that not many people really know about her. She was this phenomenal talent here in Hawaiʻi, but she had an injury and stopped performing probably back in like the mid nineties. And she’s featured on one of the Eddie Kamae’s documentaries about slack key. It’s called the Hawaiian way. She’s interviewed a little bit and kind of plays just a touch, but it’s not much, I wish there was more documented of her amazing player. She’s still teaching. She lives now in California and everything.

Jeff Peterson (10:42):
I’ve put together the way that I teach, it’s based on things that I found for me personally really shaped how I learned and also how from all the years I’ve been teaching, what works well with students. And so I’ve found that having a path to follow is fun. It’s rewarding as you, you know, you gradually make your way through and that you won’t be overwhelmed with content or material that’s beyond your playing level.

Brad Bordessa (11:15):
And so how do you judge where folks are at, or how do you help them get into the right place, when you’re say like at an in-person workshop, as opposed to having access to all of Ukulele Corner, all of your video resources.

Jeff Peterson (11:28):
Yeah, I think… I’m sure you know too, when you teach a workshop and there’s a room full of different students at different levels, I always try to have lessons that have many components. So let’s say if it’s a Hawaiian song, the beginners can just strum the chords, even if it’s just strumming like downstrums. The little bit more, you know, students that have moved a little further along then they could play some rhythmic patterns maybe that they’re strumming. Then the ones who’ve worked on fingerstyle could do fingerstyle accompaniment. All leading towards more advanced players who could play an actual arrangement of the song.

Jeff Peterson (12:01):
So I always try, when I teach group classes like that, I try to have different levels of, you know, for different players from different levels, I’ll still have something to be engaged in. Often I’ll just start before doing a solo arrangement, just teaching a melody. Just a single note, simple melody, and then seeing how then that relates to chords. And there’s so many things you can talk about and I’ve found that… Sometimes in group workshops, if I get too heavily into theory, right away, things get really dicey, right. Unless it’s a class specifically about like, okay, this is how, you know, fingerings of a C major scale or something or how it applies to a chord progression. But I often try to stay away from a whole lot of theory in group settings. But I think it’s really fun to talk more about interpretation, musicality, and expression, because that’s something that everyone can appreciate, whether you can do it yet or not. It’s a pretty immediate response. Okay. Yeah. Playing softer there and slowing down a little bit and, you know, doing something with a phrase is something that anyone can think about. And then later on, try to develop a way to express that through the technique that they use.

Brad Bordessa (13:21):
Nice. Well, do you have an instrument sitting around so you could play us something?

Jeff Peterson (13:26):
I do. Sure, sure. Yeah.

Brad Bordessa (13:27):
Yeah. I’d love to hear what you’ve got.

Jeff Peterson (13:31):
Sure. So I’ll play thinking of what I just mentioned about the idea of taking classical pieces from Spain and applying them to the ukulele. There was a great composer Francisco Tárrega, and he’s one of the fathers of modern guitar playing. He’s written some really amazing pieces and I’ve written out a bunch that I haven’t published yet. There’s one called Recuerdos de la Alhambra, which is this really beautiful tremolo piece. but one of my favorites is called Capricho Arabe and it pays homage to the influence of the way the guitar came into Spain through the Moorish culture. And if you look back far enough, that goes back to the middle east and an instrument called the oud. If you’ve ever heard, really cool sound. Fretless, right? Imagine playing a fretless ukulele, that would be something really cool. But anyway, so I took this, this piece that’s inspired by that sound, but in, you know, his own way of writing from like 18th century, mid 18th century into early 19th or early 19th century into the 20th century style. And it’s so it’s a piece called Capricho Arabe.

Brad Bordessa (19:16):
That’s crazy, man. That’s one of the most impressive, interesting things I’ve heard on ukulele in a long time.

Jeff Peterson (19:22):
Oh, thank you. Yeah. You know what’s so great. There’s this amazing, unbelievably beautiful repertoire that is completely possible. And I think that’s something that really excites me about the ukulele. There’s so much room for a new repertoire and I really love different styles of music. I love jazz ukulele. That’s something that I explore a lot. I’ve studied for many years with Benny Chong. He lives down the street from me here. I had a mentorship program with him for a couple of years through the state foundation with Ian Sullivan, who is a student of mine, when I taught at University of Hawaiʻi. And Ian’s doing brilliant things with arranging. Iit’s fun to draw on different resources that are out there and see how they work on the instrument. And so for me, it’s been a great challenge and it’s been really exciting.

Jeff Peterson (20:12):
That was with a low-G tuning. Other things work better with high-g. I love experimenting with open tunings. Like I do a lot with slack key guitar. That’s a whole nother sort of, you know, direction to look into; playing Hawaiian music in some of the different open tunings. I know that Led Kaapana often will play… The most common thing to do is just take the high string down a whole step. But from there, there are many other variations you could do with some pretty interesting tunings. And it just, it creates a different resonance and different possibilities on the instrument. And there there’s so much that’s there that hasn’t been explored.

Jeff Peterson (20:48):
And I apologize for anyone listening, if you hear some leaf blowing going on. The neighbors are having some work done. I’m in Kailua on the island of Oʻahu. I grew up on Maui, but I’ve been living on Oʻahu for a long time. I always really enjoyed the music scene on this island. And although of course, you know, everything these days is more online. But there’s some great venues here and recording studios. And I’m happy that I’ve been on Oʻahu for a while. I’ve been able to meet people like Benny Chong and Led Kaapana and be friends with them and get to hang out and spend time with them.

Brad Bordessa (21:27):
Well, there’s so much to unpack with a song like that. But I know something that you talk about a lot is phrasing and it doesn’t get a whole lot of attention with ukulele. But you are able to really express it. I won’t say in a more obvious way, but it’s just like, it’s just something that you kind of capture with your music is that one moment you’ll be playing really quiet and the next it’s like cannons going off, it was like, wow, how does he even get that much volume out of an instrument? Can you talk about phrasing and how kind of you interpret it on the instrument?

Jeff Peterson (21:36):
Yeah. So I think the first thing to explore with how to create phrasing is to just experiment with sound on the instrument. And for example, if I grab my ukulele and I look at the way that the string vibrates, there’s a common tendency to play with the thumb, which I love doing to play melodies. And you’re going to get… If you’re just using your thumb, you’re could get a flesh sort of sound or you can get a nail sort of sound. And right away, that’s a huge difference. So first step for me is the difference between just a flesh tone and then a nail sound. But I find that if you use all nail, it sounds very thin and brittle. So I make sure that, you know, after I do yard work in my yard, I file down my nails and I use this, it’s called Tri-M-ite sand paper. And you can get it…. There’s a website called Strings By Mail. They have some ukulele products there. But it’s really inexpensive, good thing to invest in. You can find it at hardware stores too, but it’s basically really fine grade sandpaper.

Jeff Peterson (23:02):
By doing that and also by creating a ramp in my nails from left to right, because I play finger style with a thumb index, middle and ring often, the hand naturally falls at a diagonal to the string. So if I play off the middle of the string and you only hear nail, or if you’re using a thumb pick, you’re only going to be able to get one sound. It’s going to be loud and it’s going to be very powerful. But as far as nuance, you can’t get that whispering, warm, beautiful. We call it tasto or dulche – sweet sound. You’re going to get a really driving bright sound. So I have like a EQ on a stereo built-in to my nails.

Jeff Peterson (23:45):
So if I play off the center of the nail, I’ll play the high string, it’s going to sound a little brittle. There’s a lot of trouble there. And so, because I have a ramp from left to right, what I can do is I can still get the volume of the nail, but hit the fingertip, which adds warmth. So when I start leaning to the left, it gets rid of some of that high end. And so that’s something I experiment with. If I’m doing a melody and I want it to be sweet, I can use that side of the nail. If I want it to be bright, I can move closer to the bridge and I can play more off the middle of the nail. I love warm, beautiful tone with melody. So I’m often leaning more to the left than I am to the right, but it is an option that I can get that sound.

Jeff Peterson (24:47):
Another thing is if you’re using your fingers, the direction of how the string moves can really affect the tone. I always try to think of the string vibrating instead of away from the fingerboard and back, if you do that, it’s going to hit the fingerboard. If you try to play loud and you get a snapping sound. If you press into the string. I think of it as the weight of the finger into the string, and then follow through towards the back of your hand. So it vibrates instead of towards the neck, it vibrates like parallel to it, basically. Directly up and down towards the ceiling and the floor. Then you can play loud without getting that sort of snapping sound. And so most times I’m going for that sound.

Jeff Peterson (25:28):
Sometimes I might want like a bluesy sound. There I’m pulling up like crazy, right? It is for an effect, but that’s a very, you know, unusual. So the bluesy sound, I’m really getting under the string and pulling up, but usually I’m trying to press in and then move towards the back of my palm. And I think of what I was taught like Pepe Romero’s philosophy is to use the back knuckle instead of the middle knuckle. A lot of people play with the right hand behind the string your playing. So the only way to get the notes to ring is to pull from the middle knuckle. That tends to pull the string more up so you can’t get as much volume. If you get your hand more forward so the back knuckle, which I mean is like the middle part of your hand. If you put that flat against whatever string you’re going to play, come straight up in the air, then curve your finger, then you’re ready to move directly towards the back of your hand. And I can get a warmer sound that way, instead of having to pull up on the string, like this.

Jeff Peterson (26:34):
People listening, it’s gonna be hard without a visual to see, but that’s the idea of it.

Brad Bordessa (26:39):
Yeah. Well, we’ll see, I might throw this up on YouTube as a bonus little mini Jeff Peterson lesson, if you don’t mind.

Jeff Peterson (26:45):
Yeah, sure, sure. Yeah. So that’s something I teach I teach a lot of, is how to use your hands, how to set up your right hand so that then you have a range of expression that can come through through the music. And then it’s the idea of consistency. If you’re alternating index and middle. Having it been like it’s from the same source instead of one loud and one soft, unless you want to work on accenting and bring out certain things. Another thing that I think is really important is balance between accompaniment and melody. If I’m going to play something that has separation of parts, being able to bring the melody out above accompaniment would be really nice. I’ll grab my high-g. I was just teaching… A student asked earlier today to learn “Akaka Falls.” So we just came up with an arrangement and we tried it in a few different keys. Key of C seemed to work nicely. We tried F and G as well. But if I’m going to be doing a melody, I’ll do some accompaniment around that melody. And I’m going to try to make the accompaniment softer than the melody.

Jeff Peterson (28:19):
I’m going to crescendo here to make it stronger. Now I’m even strumming to make this more dramatic. Now I’m decrescendoing, softer.

Jeff Peterson (29:02):
So the melody is very obvious where it is. So I’m finding these other notes, these passing notes in the middle very lightly. So that’s a concept that I like to work a lot with students on is having a separation of parts. If there is an accompaniment in the melody, instead of playing every note with the same volume, I have separation. It’s really hard to do, right, if you’ve tried this before. So it takes not applying it to a piece right away, but doing some exercise, like, okay, how can I play with each finger? Let’s say, I like to, you know, if we’re going to use four fingers, What if I want to play louder with the thumb or index, middle, ring.

Jeff Peterson (29:49):
Just getting control so you can play louder with any given finger and just in isolating things that are new like that away from pieces. Just work on them in simple exercises. Get rid of the left hand so you can just work on open strings with the right hand. Then when it starts to feel better, then you can start to apply that, put it together.

Brad Bordessa (30:11):
Nice. Well watching you play. I know that you’ve had some injuries struggles in the past with your technique and your body positioning. But you’ve really worked to improve your technique. And now it’s like, when you play you are like the relaxed man when you play and everything looks so effortless. And I know that’s because you’ve worked on it. And a lot of people don’t do that. They cramp and they crunch and jam everything together. Do you have any tips for finding those more effortless poses?

Jeff Peterson (30:45):
Yeah. So the philosophy that I studied that really, really helps and a couple of things to think about right away is just how are you sitting with instrument? How is it supported? And the main thing that I find with ukulele is like, how do you hold the neck up unless you’re using a strap or something to support the instrument? The common tendency is just to use the V of your left hand to do this, but then how can you move around? Right? You have to then put pressure here, then move your hand and back. So the first thing that I try to find is a way to have the instrument stable, where the left hand is very free. And that’s the first way that you can start to relax the left hand, is to have not have to feel like you’re supporting the instrument.

Jeff Peterson (31:30):
And so I use… Like right now, I’m using this little footstool thing here. And just by lifting up the instrument a little bit, it helps. Some people just cross their leg or they use a strap. There’s a strap that goes underneath here. There’s one that attaches to here. There’s a contraption, it’s called the Neck Up. And there’s one called the A-frame that you can actually… There are suction cups that you stick on the bottom. And instead of the neck being down here, it pops up about here. Having the neck a little bit higher makes it easier to access up and down. If it’s low, you’re going to tend to want to bring your shoulders in. And so I try to think of open shoulders. Sometimes I’ll remind myself as I’m playing and just open my shoulders back like that. It feels so good. And it’s so healthy for, you know, your playing.

Jeff Peterson (32:17):
Then I also think that whole philosophy I mentioned of where your motion is coming from in the fingers. And a big tendency with the left hand is to have the thumb up here and have the hand curved so that the pinky and the third finger are really at a disadvantage. So what I usually have students do is put your third finger parallel, perfectly parallel with any given fret. Let’s say if I’m in first position at the first fret, my first finger, I’ll go to the third fret. What I tend to see usually is there’s a space on the high string where the fingers leaning back. To correct that you just move forward so it’s perfectly parallel. Have your thumb behind the second finger, right about in the middle of the neck. Then just slowly start to curve your third finger until you’re on the high string, right in the fingertip, all of the other fingers fall into place pretty well that way. Now you’re getting away from this angle and you’re going to be able to play much more balanced with these two fingers.

Jeff Peterson (33:14):
These fingers are usually have an easy time, right? Because the index finger is super strong. And second finger, they’re close to the fingerboard. Pinky can be like completely useless because it’s straight up in the air and it’s way over here and having to reach. So by getting the third finger lined up… I think of it as a fan shape. The pinky’s actually… My callus is on the right hand edge, index finger’s on the opposite. So you see my hand kind of fans out. Now, when I play, I’m going, instead of moving my fingers up, I moved them in towards the back of the hand. And it’s the same usage of the back knuckle instead of the middle knuckle. If you try to move your hand like this, versus like this, there’s so much more relaxation, strength, it’s a whole, it’s a different set of muscles. So if you use that, you’re going to be in good shape.

Jeff Peterson (34:04):
Right away I notice a lot of students get into trouble because what if you have to play a D chord, for example, with all these notes in a row. I all the time slide my thumb sneaks up over the top. Whenever you have more than one finger on the same fret across strings, use your forearm and you rotate like this, and then you’re back to this position. So something that’s overlooked, there’s often the thought that in order to change, you have to do this, change your wrist position, but you can change your forearm and keep your fingers relaxed while you do that. If you get your wrist really bent, another thing that’s hard to do is bend your wrist and try to move your fingers. It feels completely useless and adds a lot of tension. So I try to keep my wrist fairly straight here. A little bit of a tilt is all right. And then I use my forearm when I need to have, like, let’s say a G7 to C, that’s a really good example. You can work on swinging back and forth so that the tendency is just to leave the finger like that. And then your pinky is a little bit out of position. So I think of that left-hand setup and everything else falls into place pretty nicely after that.

Brad Bordessa (35:12):
Wow. I think I’m getting a lesson here. I didn’t invite you here to give me a lesson, Jeff. I love it though. I’m learning all kinds of things and seeing how you talk about these different concepts and present them. It’s all super interesting and valuable.

Jeff Peterson (35:29):
Cool, cool. Yeah. And the thing is that that many different things work for different people. There, isn’t just one way of doing things. You know, if you could play in the other position I mentioned, it’s still be relaxed and it sounded good and it’s working for you. It’s great. There are just certain things, like in order to play that, that piece by Tárrega that I played earlier, there’s some big stretches and they don’t feel like big stretches if my hand is parallel or even swinging this way where I’m actually almost touching the fingerboard here. Then I can reach these crazy long chords. I do all the stretches with index finger as much as possible and not with a pinky. That’s strong, this is weak. So that’s something that… This hand position will help with that a lot.

Brad Bordessa (36:08):
Interesting. Cause I’ve in the past encouraged folks away from like reversing their fingers when they play a G chord, you know how people play it, like, backwards?

Jeff Peterson (36:18):
Like this? Yeah. Instead of… Yeah, G chord is a good example. Two fingers on the same fret. So you can swing back for that.

Brad Bordessa (36:25):
You would never swing forward though for that.

Jeff Peterson (36:27):
Not forward. Yeah. Unless actually, you know, if you’re going to be grabbing a higher melody note, you could possibly do it. And so yeah, you want to just practice being flexible while still being relaxed. And I have students try to do vibrato with chords and if you can relax your hand enough to do vibrato with chords, then you start to get more comfortable with this concept of using the forearm rotation.

Brad Bordessa (36:50):
And are these things that you cover in Ukulele Corner’s material?

Jeff Peterson (36:54):
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And it’s fun. I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from students. And so I keep adding new lessons and building the repertoire library and things. And so it’s a balance of… It starts with a strumming fundamentals course and then it gets into fingerstyle technique. A lot of things that we talked about: hand set up, getting tone, playing single note melodies. Then it gets into the graded repertoire. And it’s not just classical. I have a lot of Hawaiian repertoire and pop tunes and folk songs and things as well. But I find the classical repertoire is a really good way to test out your technique and then whatever other music you want to play, you’ll have that expression in your hands. And then it can really, you know, it will transform a lot of things that you might usually do.

Jeff Peterson (37:42):
So yeah, I have, I have the curriculum set up our first works on just musical terms strumming, then it gets into fingerstyle technique. And then it just goes through these grades and a process of learning that… Different students can spend, you know, different varying amounts of time… But it’s intended to be not learned right away. It’s a gradual process so that when you’re through with each unit – there are 20 units – you feel really strong about your planning you feel good about.

Brad Bordessa (38:16):
And is that all under a single membership for folks who want to join?

Jeff Peterson (38:21):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it’s a membership. There’s quarterly or annual membership and there are live sessions I teach that are for the members. And then I have an archive in a forum where the students can share videos with each other and get in touch with each other with questions and topics and things. But in there I have an archive of all the live classes as well. And those are usually once a month, sometimes twice a month that I do the live classes.

Brad Bordessa (38:51):
Nice. Sounds like a fabulous opportunity.

Jeff Peterson (38:55):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s been fun and I’ve learned a lot. I’m working with a great musician. Another teacher I had was Ben Verdery and he’s a phenomenal classical guitarist. He wrote a column for Guitar Player magazine for a long time, the classical column in there. And one of his students is named Simon Powis. And so Simon started this guitar website called Guitar Corner, Classical Guitar Corner. And so I have a guitar website for learning slack key, but I love the way he presents his class. He has his doctorate from Yale in pedagogy and teaching. And so I’ve learned so much from him about the… Everything from like psychology of students and learning and how to just set up a good curriculum, but also technical things with the website. He’s really good with that. And in marketing and things that I’m really bad at. So I’ve learned a ton, so it’s been really good for me.

Brad Bordessa (39:54):
Nice. And how does the contents of the book overlap with the course material?

Jeff Peterson (39:59):
So, yeah, the book is an outline of the eight grades and 20 units that are presented. And so the structure of the course is built around having the ability to play those pieces, but also a number of other pieces in different styles for students that aren’t just interested in classical. So for example, the very beginning of the book, it starts with like, “Ode to Joy” and playing some single note melodies. So in order to get to that level there, I cover, you know, basic music notation, reading tablature, or an F and C scale in first position, playing single notes, alternating index and middle, using the thumb. And then it just gradually goes through steps where by the end you have a full range of understanding of chord names and playing by position, different parts of the neck, have a decent understanding of music theory, and then understand all the things I talked about, about articulation and interpretation of music and then how to have relaxed hands and good tone. Those are the constant goals.

Jeff Peterson (41:05):
So I cover all sorts of different topics along the way. And the end of each unit of the 20 units ends with a practice routine. So that gives students a very clear path. Okay. Things we talked about in this unit are all organized with these points that you can continue to strengthen and touch on that are reflected in the lessons that come before it. So each one is like… Literally like exercising, you run through about this 10 minute routine. And I have it with a metronome marking and everything, and I play. They’re play along. So the students can play along with the practice routine.

Brad Bordessa (41:42):
Nice. Could you share one of those pieces so people can hear what they might expect.

Jeff Peterson (41:46):
For a practice routine?

Brad Bordessa (41:48):
For one of, one of the pieces that they might yeah. Work through?

Jeff Peterson (41:52):
Sure. Yeah. So let’s see. I have the book near me, let me play… For example, to work on arpeggio technique, playing across the strings with fingers. And then also to work on what’s called a repeated note is called a pedal tone. And there might be melody notes that are around this. So these are two of the topics in this piece and also what are called terraced dynamics. Playing loud, and then suddenly soft. Instead of gradual, which usually phrasing you try to have these nice arcs and curves, but on repetitions of certain parts of this piece, there are some arcs and curves. Other times there are terraced dynamics. Suddenly loud, suddenly soft. And to build up to this, there is…. A minor and then E7, but this E7 shape becomes a movable interval that moves around. So I teach a lead up that gets into some of those shapes, how they relate, how to connect these two chords.

Jeff Peterson (43:03):
There’s also this idea of using parts of a chord. So there’s an E7 here and you’re going to notice, I can use my third finger and pinky. A lot of students really struggle with this. They want to use these two fingers. And so I try to do some exercises that just get this sort of, I call it the ladder exercise, you’re just climbing up and down across the strings, trying to keep the pinky from freaking out and trying to run away. And so getting that comfortable is a really key part of this piece.

Brad Bordessa (43:35):
So here’s the piece, it’s a Jose Ferrer. He was a great, another one of the great Spanish composers. This is like early, about 1890s, early 1900s when this was composed.

Jeff Peterson (45:24):
So another thing that I did in that piece is a rubato playing. Playing out of tempo. And so I work a lot with students… To start with just trying to get a steady tempo is such a challenge, right? That’s the biggest issue often with playing a piece like this is connecting one chord to another, not having those starts and stops along the way. But at this level, this is, you know, about halfway through the course that this piece comes. It may be a little bit further on than that, but it’s to the point where there’s been development of being able to play consistently in time, and then you can try to make it more expressive and elastic. And I love playing music that has that. There’s breath. That is a big part of the music. It’s not just playing it one way every time. When I repeated this phrase, the second time I played a lot faster than I did it the first time. And it moved a lot more. The first time I really worked through sort of a rubato way of playing.

Brad Bordessa (46:26):
How do you help students go from finding time at all and then moving into that without it being just like a way to cheat the actual time.

Jeff Peterson (46:38):
Yeah. So kind of talking about how phrases work and the typical idea is you’re usually not going to stop in the middle of a sentence. I relate it to speech. And so, you know, first you can speak very measured. I am saying something, whatever the rhythm might be. Speaking in time is one concept, but then taking a pause and thinking of how you take a breath and another thought comes in, it’s usually not in the middle of a thought, it’s at the end of thoughts. So find where those thoughts are.

Jeff Peterson (47:13):
So if I’m playing the first phrase, that’s a thought. There’s another one. This is moving. That’s a bigger thought. Here’s the first thought. That second one. Last time, moving. So this piece is broken into two short phrases then a long phrase, two phrases, short phrases and a long. So by starting to understand where the phrases are. It gives you more of a concept of how you might do this. And so what I’d have a students do is learn the passage perfectly in time without a break. I always try to start there so you have a point of reference. If you start trying to play rubato in the very beginning, you’re not going to have a concept of… It’s going to be all scrambled. So now that that’s feeling… Once it’s feeling in time, I’m going to push through, let’s say the second phrase, I’m going to play the first one a little bit in time.

Jeff Peterson (48:34):
So it’s kind of just experimenting with it. Finding ways to do it. It is sort of, if you can sing something, if you can speak it, you can start to feel the way that the phrases are. And so sometimes I have students just try to look for where phrases are and try to figure that out. I do, you know, I have to say that I do spend most of the time with students… This is the fun part and the most exciting thing for me as a teacher when it gets to this point, but it takes a while to get there. And so I mainly have… The first thing that I have students do, if they’re just playing melodies, is work on playing some control of loud and soft. Or articulation. Playing short or long.

Jeff Peterson (49:15):
But I think it’s really important to start with developing a good sense of time. And that’s one of the longest, hardest things to do when you’re playing music. So I try not to rush the idea of phrasing, but when I see like the, you know, the little light bulbs going off in students’ minds, when this is starting to connect, it’s the best feeling on earth, it’s the coolest thing. And then seeing students take it and run. So that, then there’s a way you can start to come up with your own concepts. Well, I didn’t think that phrase was… I want to do faster and slower or… You know, changing it around in a way that suits you. I think that I always try to leave that up to the student.

Brad Bordessa (49:53):
Awesome. Well, that is just a wealth of information you’ve shared and I’m sure there’s so much more on your Ukulele Corner membership is the website just ukulelecorner.com.

Jeff Peterson (50:06):
Yep. That’s it. There’s also a YouTube channel that has tons of lessons if people want to see my teaching style and pick up some things they’re there. If you join the mailing list, you’ll get a series of lessons there as well. And so yeah it’s Ukulele Corner on YouTube and then ukulelecorner.com for the website.

Jeff Peterson (50:28):
And the books are available on the website in spiral bound or on Amazon for like, you know, people who use Amazon, you can get it there. But the only thing is it’s not spiral bound. I kind of prefer, it’s easier to open books when they’re spiral bound, right?

Brad Bordessa (50:42):
It’s like when He Mele Aloha switched to the perfect bound. It’s like, oh no.

Jeff Peterson (50:47):
Oh, when they didn’t have that. Yeah, yeah. Right. Impossible. That’s a big book.

Brad Bordessa (50:53):
Kani ka pilas changed forever.

Brad Bordessa (50:53):
Right on. Well, thanks so much, Jeff, for joining me.

Jeff Peterson (50:59):
Yeah. Thanks for having me. Thanks for all you’re doing. I loved seeing you on Maui and it’s great to hear what you’re working on and get to play music with you. I love your creativity.

Brad Bordessa (51:09):
No, thank you so much. Well have a great day and I’ll catch you down the road.

Jeff Peterson (51:14):
Sounds good. Take care. Aloha.

Brad Bordessa (51:16):

Brad Bordessa (51:19):
Definitely take a moment and go check out ukulelecorner.com. You’ll see that the quality is fabulous. The teaching, as you heard, is impeccable. Jeff just has a way with explaining things that’s really fabulous. And go, you know, at least sign up for the mailing list, check out his free lessons, if not joining the membership. It’s good quality content, happy to recommend anything that he does.

Brad Bordessa (51:49):
And if you haven’t caught it already, I’m going to put at least a portion of this podcast, the Zoom video capture of our interview, up on YouTube so that you can see some of the demonstrations that he’s giving and what he’s talking about when he says “putting my finger here” and you don’t exactly know what “here” is via the audio, but being able to see it will help those that want to take advantage of what Jeff was sharing.

Brad Bordessa (52:16):
Thank you all for tuning in. The next episode is going to be published on the first day of the new year. January 1st is a Saturday. So that’s the first Saturday. Happy new year, everybody! We will return with a brand new Live Ukulele Podcast episode. The best podcast with the worst name, tell your friends!

Brad Bordessa (52:44):
Anyways, wishing you all a very happy holidays. Take care of one another out there. Play your music, enjoy life, and I’ll catch you on the other side of the year.

Brad Bordessa (52:56):