Have you listened to the Satellite Sisters podcast? It’s hosted by a trio of real-life sisters who cover a variety of topics, including pop culture, current events, and travel. Their website refers to the show as “a pep talk for modern women,” and it’s a fun blend of news, conversation, and humor. While listening to a recent episode, I laughed out loud when I heard co-host Liz Dolan refer to her physical fitness mantra as being “Operation Sea Turtle,” and I immediately wanted to steal it for myself and my ukulele students! I think it’s such a good mindset for beginning musicians (or anyone learning a new skill). In my book I mention that there is no real mastery of an instrument— no matter how proficient you become at playing the ukulele, there will always be more to learn. Isn’t that liberating?
While I hope you’re finding time to play regularly, there’s no need to rush things or feel frustrated by the rate at which you’re progressing (and there’s certainly no need to compare yourself to others). Play when you can, appreciate all that you’ve learned so far, and—please, oh please—play for the joy of it. This is not a race. This is Operation Sea Turtle!
Why do you play ukulele? Is it to fulfill your creative side? Are you role modeling for your children? Is being a musician an important part of your identity? When we fall out of the habit of playing regularly, sometimes we can get motivated to begin again by reminding ourselves of why we started playing in the first place.
I first started playing the uke because it was a creative outlet I could enjoy while hanging out with my young children. Now I play for a whole host of reasons, but I’m curious— What’s your reason for playing?
There’s a lot of tedious work involved in running a small business, and it can be easy for me to let the mundane administrative and bookkeeping tasks take up all the real estate in my brain. I sometimes need to remind myself to tend to my creative side. I think musicians can fall into similar ruts, so today’s Habit Hack is your reminder to not get stuck playing the stuff you’re always playing. Sometimes we need to up the ante. What sounds totally scary to you? I dare you to do it!
Here are some ideas to inspire you to be bolder with your uke practice:
I had quite the a-ha moment when I heard the saying comparison is the thief of joy for the first time. I was a new mom feeling envious of all my mom friends who seemed to have their acts together better than I did, and it became a maxim I repeated to myself often. I still sometimes need to remind myself of the perils of comparing myself to others, and occasionally I find myself sharing this piece of wisdom with my students (usually in group lesson settings!).
Close friends and family members know that I love to tidy. I read organizing books for fun, I enjoy cleaning out closets, and I get energized by finding new homes for the things my family no longer needs or uses. An organized life makes for an easier life, and an organized music system makes for easier playing. There’s nothing more annoying that trying to find a lost song sheet or not being able to find your beginner’s handbook!
Make playing your ukulele easier by taking a little time to organize your materials with these tips for organizing your printed chord sheets, songbooks, and digital files…
Here’s a quick hack for you today: Listen to your favorite songs and try to figure out what makes them appealing to you. What can you apply to your own playing? If you keep yourself open to inspiration and are willing to experiment, you may surprise yourself by creating something brilliant!
This week’s habit hack is one I use a lot. If I’m feeling grumpy, annoyed, or sad, I can usually lift my spirits by playing my ukulele or listening to some of my favorite songs. Music’s ability to impact our emotions is one of its most magical properties— why not take advantage of its power? The next time you’re feeling low, pick up your uke and play (and sing) for a few minutes. Or listen to some of your all-time favorite songs (maybe even a guilty pleasure or two!). Dance or sing along, and see how you’re feeling after a few songs. I’m willing to bet you’ll perk up a little bit!
PS: This also works as a parenting hack! I will have my kids choose songs for us to listen to when they need a mood boost, and it never fails to cheer them up. (Will it still work when they’re teenagers? 🤷🏻♀️ Parents of older kids, let me know!)
If you’re a new ukulele player trying to play along to a Youtube video, you may have been frustrated by how fast-paced some uke tutorials can be. That frustration usually stems from the fact that you’re comparing your abilities to someone (the Youtuber) who’s been playing for a lot longer than you! The ukulele has a reputation for being an easy instrument, but after you experience the high of learning your first few chords and playing your first few songs, you start to realize that there’s a lot more work to be done if you want to develop as a musician. So pause the video. Allow yourself the time and space to work on the techniques in the video at your own pace. Then try playing along with the video at a slower speed. The fabulous Katie from One Music School has a video that walks you through how to adjust the speed on any Youtube video:
Keeping a steady beat is your primary goal when making music, but it can be a challenge! Beginning musicians often start out playing at a moderate pace, then gradually increase their speed over the course of a song. It’s only normal—one of the skills we must develop is the endurance to play for longer periods of time. Playing with an even tempo is just one more aspect of your playing that needs some attention, and playing with a metronome is an effective way to improve your consistency. Download a free metronome app on your smartphone or open this free one in your web browser. Enter in a reasonable BPM, put in your earbuds, and get strumming!
Ukuleles are quite portable as far as musical instruments go, but there’s another instrument you’re always in possession of— your voice! So why not sing while you play? Every time you sing, you’re training your ear to hear the melody (even if you’re stumbling to find the right notes) and paying closer attention to your tempo. My own experience has taught me that a voice is like any other instrument—just as your uke playing can improve, so can your singing. So give it a try. You’ll probably have more fun if you do!
Having trouble carving out time to play your ukulele? Maybe you’d feel more motivated if playing it wasn’t a solitary activity. Here are a few ideas to help you make your practice a more social experience:
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!
I've noticed that the most important part of music making tends to get overlooked by new players. And I get it. Beginning musicians have a lot to keep track of. It's a challenge to learn how to play chords, strum, and sing all at the same time! But if you want your playing to sound smooth and skilled, you will have to . . .
Keep a Steady Beat!
Many beginning musicians start strumming a song at a moderate tempo, then speed up as they play. Another common mistake is to play quickly but slow down for chord changes, zig-zagging the tempo up and down for the duration of a song. These are dead giveaways that you are a new player! So what can you do about it? Here are five tips to help you improve your ability to strum at an a consistent speed, no metronome required: