Have you heard the saying, a dream without a plan is just a wish? Don’t waste your time wishing you knew how to play the ukulele—make a plan!
One of the biggest challenges beginning ukulele players face is figuring out how to get in the habit of playing consistently. Tomorrow I launch a new weekly series to help with this issue. I’m calling it Habit Hacks, and every Thursday I will post tips to help you build and maintain a consistent ukulele practice (and I’ll explain why I refer to it as an ukulele practice). Check back here tomorrow for Habit Hack #1!
Happy New Year!
One of my goals for 2019 is to post more consistently on the blog, and in preparation for all the new content coming this way, I’ve implemented some big changes on my main blog page. On the old blog, there was no search function and the posts were listed in an endless scroll, which wasn’t terribly user-friendly. With this new design, I’ve added a search bar in the sidebar, changed the layout so it’s easier to see more posts with less scrolling, and (toward the bottom of the page) highlighted posts by category for more browsing:
You’ll also find these buttons down toward the bottom of the page, making it easier to browse posts by topic:
Coming Soon: More Content!
I’m enjoying the last few days of my kids’ winter break, so starting next week I’ll be posting with more regularity with video tutorials geared for beginning ukulele players and more habit hacks and tips to help you stick with your ukulele practice. And I may make a few more design tweaks to further improve the usability as I get used to the new layout.
Happy New Year, and happy strumming!
PS: I run my website using Squarespace, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to start a blog or website. It was relatively easy to make these changes with my absolutely non-technical background.
My primary goal for Musical Mama is to share the joy of making music, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities I had to do just that. If you engaged with me in some way, whether you took lessons from me, attended a workshop, read a blog post, watched a video, or purchased one of my books, THANK YOU!
2018 has been a big, exciting, and challenging year for me. I’m usually too eager to start working on the next new thing to look back on the past, but I’ve been encouraged by my husband and a couple of friends to do a little reflecting. So, per their request, here’s a look back on some of my milestones from the past year. Here are four “hits” and two “misses”:
O, Come All Ye Faithful is about 300 years old. Did you catch that? THREE. HUNDRED. YEARS. OLD. Its melody is beautiful and feels like a precursor to the songs that came out of Appalachia (one of the places of origin for modern American music). Perhaps that’s the reason why I tend to prefer more stripped down interpretations of this song and/or have a country twang to them. Whatever the reason, it’s a fun one to sing and strum. Enjoy!
If you enjoyed this video, please consider buying my Christmas songbook or my how-to book, Let’s Play! The Ukulele Handbook for Beginners (both are available in digital download and paperback formats). Your support makes it possible for me to share high-value content for uke players for free here on the blog. Thank you, and happy strumming!
True facts: I once dressed up as Elvis for Halloween (in my early 20s), I once road-tripped to Graceland by myself (also in my 20s), and I even had an Elvis lunch box once upon a time. You might say I’m a fan of his (you’d be right). In this video I contain my impulse to do an Elvis impersation as I sing his hit, Blue Christmas. I’ve paired it here with a strum that incorporates rests (down-rest-down-up-rest-up-down-up). If that strum’s not in your toolbox yet, just strum down-up-down-up.
If you’ve been watching the other Christmas videos I’ve posted, you may notice that these songs have something in common: they’re all arranged in the key of C. If you were performing for an audience, you probably wouldn’t want to play your entire set in one key because things would start to sound a little repetitive but for hobbyists, spending time with one key can make a lot of sense. The more you play in the key of C (or any key, for that matter), you’ll start to notice that some chords keep appearing over and over, revealing some of the patterns in popular music. You’ll also train your ear to hear the relationship of the chords within a song, and that helps you lay the groundwork for playing songs by ear. The key of C is the easiest key to play on the uke, so it’s the friendliest key for beginner’s to start playing in. My ukulele handbook for beginners and my Christmas songbook include guides for transposing songs into different keys.
Related link: How to Figure Out the Key of a Song
As we get closer and closer to Christmas, I am sharing some play-along videos of songs included in my new book, Oh, What Fun! Christmas Songs for Ukulele. Yesterday I shared the upbeat, jaunty tune of Jingle Bells, and tonight I’m sharing a dreamy waltz: Away in a Manger. Away in a Manger is in 3/4 time signature. and that means we have to strum (and count) in sets of three. You may find that you’re so familiar with this song that the rhythm comes naturally to you, but if it doesn’t these video posts can help explain things:
If you enjoyed this video, please give it a like and subscribe to my Youtube channel. And please consider buying my Christmas songbook (available as a digital download and paperback). Your support makes it possible for me to share high-value content for uke players for free here on the blog. Thank you, and happy strumming!
Did you know I wrote a Christmas songbook? It’s called Oh, What Fun! and it includes the chords and lyrics for thirteen popular holiday songs. I’m currently working on recording, editing, and uploading play-along videos for every song in the book, and thought I’d share some of the videos here on the blog on the days leading up to Christmas. All of these play-along videos are formatted with the chords and strum pattern shown at the beginning of the video, and as I play you’ll see the chords and lyrics big and bright on the right-hand side of the video.
Jingle Bells is a song almost everyone knows, and that makes it an ideal song to strum and sing with others! Play along with me, won’t you?
PS: You can adjust the speed of the video by clicking on the Settings icon, then clicking on Speed. If you’re a beginning uke player, you may want to slow it down to .75 or .5 speed. Happy strumming!
Mitch Chang is an ukulele teacher, an event producer, and the brains behind the the Los Angeles International Ukulele Festival. Mitch’s vision for the festival “is to make it as easy as possible for families and ukulele fans of all ages, interest, and ability levels to discover/rediscover the ukulele where they will be supported and encouraged,” and he delivers! It’s an all-day extravaganza of performances, workshops, and fun. I taught beginner’s workshops at this year’s festival, and I was so impressed by what I saw that I wanted to learn more about the man who made it all possible. Thank you, Mitch, for giving me a peek behind the scenes!
Wondering what to get for your favorite ukulele players? Choose something that supports their love of music! Here’s a roundup of some practical and thoughtful gifts that do just that. All of these items are available from Amazon Prime (at the time I’m publishing this) for $25 or less!
A Cute Tuner
A digital clip-on tuner is the fastest, most accurate way to tune an ukulele, and every uke player needs at least one! I have several myself, but I might start playing favorites if I had one as adorable as this!
Rock and Roll Tuner
If the owl is too cutesy for your uke player’s tastes, perhaps this glow-in-the-dark rock-and-roll tuner makes more sense? I think it would be perfect for gigs or just jamming with buddies. And btw, these tuners work for most other string instruments, not just ukes!
Picks are a nice option for guitarists who are used to using picks and for beginners who have difficulty strumming with their fingers and/or thumb. These felt picks come in a variety of color combos and are gentle on ukulele strings.
A Fun Travel Case
I saw so many playful and well-reviewed ukulele cases available on Amazon Prime! A colorful case like this would be such a fun conversation piece at the next uke group meetup!
A Display Stand
I encourage my students to take their ukuleles out of their cases as soon as they get home, because it makes you so much more likely to pick it up and play. An attractive wood stand such as this one turns any bookshelf or table into a uke display center. Stands are perfect for anyone, but especially nice for renters or chronic furniture rearrangers (like me) who can’t commit to the wall-mount hooks!
A strap can make a big difference in one’s playing. This option requires no drilling and it fits all ukulele sizes and shapes, including soprano, concert, tenor, baritone, pineapple, and even the UBass.
A Music Stand
It’s common for uke players to bend over their instruments to get a better look at the song they’re playing. Setting the songbook (or iPad) on a proper music stand ensures better posture, which dramatically impacts one’s overall playing (and singing, too).
The ‘Ukulele: A History
Educate your uke player! It’s great to know how to play the uke, but it’s also valuable to know a thing or two about its history. Here’s part of the description from the book’s product page on Amazon: “Since its introduction to Hawai‘i in 1879, the ‘ukulele has been many things: a symbol of an island paradise; a tool of political protest; an instrument central to a rich musical culture; a musical joke; a highly sought-after collectible; a cheap airport souvenir; a lucrative industry; and the product of a remarkable synthesis of western and Pacific cultures. The ‘Ukulele: A History explores all of these facets, placing the instrument for the first time in a broad historical, cultural, and musical context.”
Music plays a joyful role in the Christmas season, and it’s a wonderful time of year to sing, strum, and make merry with friends and family. My new holiday songbook includes an Ukulele Chord Chart for Easy Transposing, tips for singing, strum patterns for playing in 4/4 and 3/4 time signatures, and the chords and lyrics for thirteen classic Christmas songs. Available in paperback for $10, and as a digital download for $8. Order by Saturday, 12/15/18 to ensure delivery before Christmas!
This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
If you’re looking up chords and lyrics online, or playing along with Youtube tutorials, the time signature is a piece of information that is frequently left out, so I created the post on Feeling the Difference Between 4/4 and 3/4 Time Signature to help you figure it out on your own. It includes a video tutorial featuring a song that switches between the two time signatures to help you understand how they differ. And in my post from yesterday, I included another video tutorial with three beginner strum patterns for playing in 3/4 time (commonly referred to as waltz rhythm).
Many popular Christmas songs are set in 3/4 time, and I’ve been compiling this list as we listen to holiday music at home. Whenever I hear a song in 3/4 time, I make a note. Can you think of any I missed? Let me know in the comments!
A List of Christmas Songs Set in 3/4 Time
Christmas, Don’t Be Late (The Chipmunk Song)
Christmastime is Here (from Charlie Brown)
O Holy Night* (this is technically in 6/8 time signature, but you can get away playing a waltz strum with it)
O Tannenbaum / O Christmas Tree
We Three Kings
We Wish You a Merry Christmas*
What Child is This
* indicates a song that is included in my songbook, Oh, What Fun! Christmas Songs for the Ukulele
PS: One of my guilty pleasures is watching old Christmas specials on Youtube. Here’s a gem, featuring Andy Williams singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”:
As always, happy (waltz) strumming!
This post excerpts content from Part Three of my book, Let’s Play! The Ukulele Handbook for Beginners.
Let’s begin by defining some basic music terms:
A symbol used in sheet music to indicate the number of beats per measure of music. A song’s time signature determines which strum patterns you can play.
One unit of music; one grouping of beats
4/4 Time Signature
The most common time signature for Western music. A song in 4/4 time has four beats per measure and is counted 1 - 2 - 3 - 4, 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 . . . 4/4 (“four-four”) time is also referred to as common time because it is the default time signature for pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop, country, folk, etc. 4/4 time is the time signature you are most accustomed to hearing and, as a beginning musician, it’s the time signature you are most likely to be playing.
3/4 Time Signature
The second most common time signature for Western music. A song in 3/4 time has three beats per measure and is counted 1 - 2 - 3, 1 - 2 - 3 . . . 3/4 (“three-four”) time signature is the second most popular time signature for Western music and is frequently referred to as waltz rhythm. When we play in 3/4 time, we count in groups of three (not four), meaning we must alter our strum to suit the rhythm.
In the following video, I play through three beginner waltz strums:
Your primary goal in making music is to maintain a steady beat. Start with variation A to create a nice, basic rhythm as you familiarize yourself with the new count. When you’re keeping a steady beat and appropriately managing your chord changes, give variations B and C a try.
One of my favorite things to do is simplify music theory to make it easier to understand, and I hope this post has helped simplify time signatures for some of you! If you’d like to learn more, please check out my book, Let’s Play! The Ukulele Handbook for Beginners. Happy strumming!
I’m happy to announce my first-ever sale!
Use the promo code BLACKFRIDAY to receive 30% off Let’s Play! The Ukulele Handbook for Beginners. This offer is valid for both versions of the book—paperback and digital download— and this sale will run all weekend long, expiring Sunday 11/25/18 at 11:59 pm. Happy shopping!
My family and I are coming down to Southern California for Thanksgiving, and I’m so happy to announce that I’ll be leading two ukulele workshops while I’m in town! If you live in LA or Orange County, please come join me. The workshops are only $20/person, which is such a good deal! Here are the details:
Let’s Play! Your First Ukulele Lesson — Sunday, Nov 18, 2018 from 2-2:50 pm
AT OPUS MUSIC, 2219 TORRANCE BLVD, TORRANCE, CA 90501
I specialize in teaching people with little to no previous musical experience how to get started playing the ukulele. Regardless of your musical background, I’ll teach you how to play your first three chords and we will play four songs together. Here’s the workshop description:
Experience the fun of playing the ukulele in this workshop designed for brand-new players. Learn the basics of strumming and playing chords and start making music! No previous musical experience required. This lesson will cover the materials and songs from Part One of my book, Let’s Play! The Ukulele Handbook for Beginners (no book purchase is required).
Christmas Songs for Beginners — Sunday, Nov 18, 2018 from 3-3:50 pm
AT OPUS MUSIC, 2219 TORRANCE BLVD, TORRANCE, CA 90501
Does it feel a little bit too soon to be talking about Christmas music? That’s kind of the point! Join me for this festive workshop on the Sunday before Thanksgiving so that you’ll be ready when it’s officially time to trim the tree! Here’s the workshop description:
Get your uke ready for the holidays with this fun and festive workshop. We'll strum and sing several beginner-friendly Christmas songs so you can make merry and fa-la-la all season long! Prior to the workshop, I will email you a PDF of all the songs we’ll play.
No uke? No problem! If you click on the Register Now button, you’ll also be able to pre-order a starter ukulele kit, which includes everything you need to get started: a soprano ukulele, a digital tuner, a gig bag, a strap, and a copy of my book!
Have a question about either workshop? Ask away in the comments.
PS: A big thank you to Mitch Chang for helping me set these up.
SF Uke-toberfest is an annual ukulele festival in San Francisco, and it consists of a day full of workshops, a marketplace area, and an evening concert. I was there with my fellow uke-mama Ashlee to host a Musical Mama booth in the marketplace. This was my second-ever festival, and I knew the vibe was going to be different from my first festival. For starters, Uke-toberfest is smaller, held indoors, and takes place in a completely different city with a completely different culture.
My day started before dawn, when I woke up to get ready, load up the car, and deal with a few surprises (like my son’s bloody nose!). Once things at home were under control, I drove over to pick up Ashlee, and we made our way up to San Francisco. WHAT. A. FUN. DAY! Most of my time was spent at the MM table, where I got to engage in some really great conversations with some of the workshop leaders, other vendors, and many people attending the event.
At my booth I had my book, free chord charts, free ukulele coloring pages, and a new offering: ukulele starter kits featuring Ohana ukuleles. Two highlights were the man who bought an ukulele starter kit for his sister (I won’t name names, on the off chance I’d blow the surprise, but seriously— what a sweet brother!) and Roxanne, a woodworker who bought the turquoise ukulele starter kit because she had been looking for a new hobby. Other highlights include getting to chat with Craig Chee, Ukulenny, Patrick and Eric from Kala, and the many, many kind folks who stopped by the Musical Mama booth.
I offer a heartfelt thank you to everyone I met with yesterday, and a big hug to all who purchased my book! NB: If you bought my book, please make sure you read the introduction to find the URL for the play-along videos.
PS: We recently set-up our kids with email accounts so they can stay in touch with family members, and that means they can also send a select few of us messages from the family laptop. They kept my spirits up by sending me texts like this throughout the day:
Are you going to Uke-toberfest? The second annual festival, hosted by SF Uke Jam Leaders Cynthia Lin and Ukulenny, is happening this Saturday 9/27/18 in Japantown in San Francisco. The event consists of a full day of workshops covering a wide range of topics targeted for a variety of skill levels, followed by a concert that evening.
I’ll be there with my uke mama friend Ashlee, representing Musical Mama in the marketplace area. The marketplace is free and open to the public, so come check it out!
Big news! Beginning this November 2018, I’ll be offering ukulele starter kits featuring Ohana Ukuleles! The ukulele kits will include everything a beginner needs to get started making music, including:
Soprano ukulele (wood tone or turquoise)
Soft backpack-style gig bag
Let’s Play! The Ukulele Handbook for Beginners (my how-to book designed for brand-new players)
Ohana Ukuleles is a family-owned company based in Long Beach, CA, and I’m thrilled to be working with them. Ohana has a long-standing reputation for building instruments that are both high-quality and affordable. The Musical Mama ukulele starter kits will be available for sale starting in November, just in time for the holidays. I’ll even be offering gift wrapping services, to make giving the gift of music even easier!
Stay tuned for more details…
In honor of #ukesnotnukes, I’m sharing a free download of the chords and lyrics for Stand By Me in two different keys. I’ve seen a lot of Youtube tutorials for this song in the key of C, but I just can’t hit those high notes! Singing this song in the key of G is much more comfortable for me, especially on days like today when I’m recovering from a cold and shouldn’t really be singing at all!
If you’re a brand new player, first try playing this song in the key of C, simply because the chords are easier. If you’re already comfortable playing the C, F, G, and Am chords, give this song a try in the key of G! Then compare the two. Which key feels better for your voice? Being able to play a song in different keys is a really valuable skill for anyone who likes to sing. So much of being able to sound good as a singer is knowing what keys are comfortable for your vocal range.
Looking for an easy-to-read guide to the ukulele? Check out my book, Let’s Play! The Ukulele Handbook for Beginners!