MUGSTOP is a minimalist low waste, vegan and plant based cafe which hosts private music lessons and online ukulele lessons. Follow this blog where your ukulele and music questions answered by our experienced and qualified music teacher, Sammy.
As a human person who lives in a place in which I get to talk and meet with other human persons, the phrase ‘I wish I could play an instrument’ comes up all too often. Whenever I challenge this with the phrase JUST DO IT, I’m met with some classic answers such as “Instruments are expensive/learning will be too hard/my paws are too big and I’m actually a dog woof woof”. There is some validity in these claims (especially the dog one), but I actually think the ukulele escapes all of these prejudices and has the power to be the ultimate instrument for beginner musicians.
You can get a decent ukulele for £25
A big putter-offer of learning an instrument can be the cost, which in most cases is not cheap. Trying to buy a keyboard or guitar for under £50 will be damaging in the long run, as most I’ve encountered at this price point (source – years of teaching private students) suffer from problems that will cost more in repairs than they cost originally – and lets not begin to talk about drum kits……
Now let’s be clear – you’re not going to get ‘the best’ ukulele for £25, or if you’re already used to playing stringed instruments you may find it a bit cheap, but we’re talking for beginners here. I’ve used the Mahalo Soprano coloured ukuleles for my group & school classes for years, these ukuleles have seen many forms of public transport and bashes from tiny children, yet they have held up perfectly. They sit nicely in tune, they play well, and they sound and feel like a ukulele should. The newer ones even come strung with Aquila (good brand) strings, which make a huge difference to the sound.
They are so small (smol/små)
Errrrr…..what? Ok stick with me here – the ukulele being such a tiny, lightweight instrument really tackles 2 of the problems/complaints I hear when chatting to people about learning to play an instrument. The first one is this: I don’t have space for it. Well listen closely Harry Potter, because it really won’t take up any space. Hell, if you want to it can be put in a bag and neatly tidied away (I personally don’t recommend this – more on that later) so it takes up zero space. A piano/guitar/drum kit all can take up a good amount of space (guitars are the most practical for this) and can put people off, but the ukulele is so super tiny that they won’t be a nuisance – they even look pretty good hung on a wall.
Problem number two, which is a tricky one but works surprisingly well with our little friend: I don’t have time to practice. Now, unless you’re a working parent who has to look after their children and manage EVERYTHING on your own, I’m going to call bullshit. We all have time, it’s just spent on other tiny things that sap it all away. To be good at practicing (check it – there are good and bad ways to practice) you need to do it little and often, not once a week but for an hour. It is 100% more beneficial in learning to play for 5 minutes 4 days a week than 20 minutes once a week, and that’s due to muscle memory. The clue is in the name – memory. If I asked you to memorise a sentence for me over a week, what would you say is more effective, spending 5 minutes everyday reminding you of said sentence, or leaving it to one day and spending 25 minutes on it? Practice works the same, and so needs to be treated like it.
Due to the ukulele’s size, it’s easily transportable – whether that’s from room to room in your home, or whether that’s in the car/transport to work. It can come with you most places, which sort of gives you a lot more opportunity to get that 5 minutes of practice in. Putting the kettle on? Go get the ukulele. Running a bath? Go get it. Waiting in the car? Bring it. Lunch break at work? Bring it.
I mentioned earlier that whilst it can be easily tidied away, I wouldn’t advise it. The main reason is that when you’re a beginner, you might not be used to dedicating time to practice, and until it forms as a habit, it’s actually difficult to remember to do it (life is pretty busy and we have lots of things to remember). Basically – out of sight, out of mind. If the tiny instrument can be placed somewhere that’s in your line of sight daily, it’s very hard to forget about it and is much more likely to be picked up and played, and then you get better faster harder stronger.
The skills and knowledge learnt is applicable to other instruments
Now, a super excellent fun thing about music and music theory is that it is universal across all instruments – let me say that again. IT IS A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE/THEORY ACROSS ALL INSTRUMENTS. This means that if you learn how chords/theory/reading works for a ukulele player, it will be no different to that of a guitarist/pianist/flautist/drummer etc. This means that all that hard work you put into this instrument will aid your learning in another instrument, the obvious hard part is learning the physical aspect of techniques etc on the new instrument.
It’s not an accident that most musicians play more than one instrument, and it’s because of the underlying theory that links it all together and helps you to think and problem solve as a musician. The learning curve on a ukulele is quite small, unlike other instruments which want your ears and hands to die for weeks before you achieve a slightly acceptable sound. This makes him a much friendlier way of kicking off your learning, even if you don’t want to necessarily stick to the ukulele but want to learn guitar etc in the future.
They’re a very inoffensive instrument
Drums – loud. Pianos – loud. Guitars – loud. Ukulele – not so loud. You get to keep your neighbours and not have family members/roommates plotting your demise, which is a vital part of a healthy relationship.
If you’re reading this and are on the fence, it’s part of your bucket list, it’s a life long fantasy of yours – just do it. Learning new skills is such an important part of keeping you alive, and the longer we postpone learning, the harder it gets. Keep your brain fit and look/feel cool whilst doing so – I really believe that everyone should try learning an instrument, and the ukulele really is an excellent way to get that done.
If you ever have any further questions regarding this topic or more, then please hit me up on firstname.lastname@example.org - or you can find me on Twitter @sammydamacy
A: Ah Youtube – Youtube is the Nintendo Wii of the social platforms – there are some real quality, excellent learning tools and video on there, but trying to find them amongst all of the other questionable videos is simply draining and very hard work.
Youtube is great
I freaking love Youtube. There are some amazing people out there on Youtube doing excellent ukulele based tutorials/music based things and the fact that people have access to this (for free) is outstanding - I’m positive it has probably helped a lot of people get into learning an instrument, and at the end of the day I’m all about that – education shouldn’t be viewed from a business perspective, and I don’t think teachers are competitors to one another. I know that when I’m writing out a lesson for a student I will look on Youtube and see how (and if) someone else is teaching the same song, to see what their ears have picked out or how they are describing certain aspects. Unfortunately what I find more often than not, is that the information being given out is just plain wrong.
Youtube is confusing
Anyone can upload to Youtube, and finding good, correct information really is a coin flip – you technically don’t need any qualifications to be a private music teacher, and you definitely don’t need any to upload videos to Youtube. Thankfully qualifications don’t spell out everything, but experience usually does. In my years of teaching I’ve been presented with questions from students that I never really considered myself, or had to re-explain a concept that I thought I had broken down perfectly. The fantastic thing about teaching is that as a teacher you learn just as much in a lesson as the student does, as everyone is put together slightly differently and so processes information and concepts uniquely to themselves. I’ve found through videos that often in tutorials something has been brushed over/rushed and it has had a negative effect on the student as they just end up stuck – then relying on someone else in the comments section to help explain.
Youtube is limited
Teaching on Youtube may not be someone’s full time job, meaning that the student can’t always rely on the teacher for new content/answers to questions when stuck/general guidance. In order to learn best we need to carefully calculate a path to follow – that’s why all systems in Colleges/Universities/School are based on this (I can say this having taught in all of them). Progression is the most important thing for us when learning, otherwise we get burnt out and the content can be too difficult without first having encountered something else vital (like a certain technique/chord/theoretical explanation). All the students I’ve met who were ‘self taught’ from Youtube could play, but needed severe corrections in a lot of their technique and a lot of times had to be taken right back to basics.
So why should I learn you from you, video man?
I am not claiming to be better than everyone you can find on Youtube, as that would be disgustingly arrogant and wrong in some cases. My experience and passion however very much lends to learning from me – as I’ve mentioned I’ve taught in most levels of education, as well as private teaching for almost ten years now (alright Grandad).
Two of the things I can offer you is what we all spend our money on – convenience and value. I have put together many, many lessons in my online ukulele course and laid them all out in step by step courses that I reckon are pretty damn easy to follow. This is the exact same content that I’ve used with my private students over the years, and as I write all my own sheet music/lessons, the content is constantly being updated – I’m still discovering even better ways to explain techniques and ways to practice them. You get to learn great songs whilst practicing vital techniques and learning how to read music – I want you to be a massive success in the music world, and that’s how I’m going to treat you. The price of these lessons per month is the same price that I (and most private teachers) charge per hour privately – so I like to consider that some damn good value.
Sure, I’m asking you for money whereas the kind folk on Youtube aren’t – but I’m providing sheet music/tabs and mp3s for every ukulele lesson, and you’ll find the Youtubers who do offer sheets are protected behind a paywall themselves (Patreon).
Youtube is great
I freaking love Youtube. It is the most accessible hub of video based information we have, and it’s all free free free. There is so much incredible content out there by people who put so much time and effort into it – it’s sort of unreal, and I have definitely used it successfully as a learning tool. The one advantage I have though is that I can tell the good content from the bad as I’m experienced in my field – but for beginners, how can you tell? Sadly you can’t trust likes or comments, as I’ve seen many videos with thousands and thousands of thumbs up and positive comments – but the content is wrong. Wrong chords, wrong timing, wrong notes. And who could blame them – because hearing subtle differences and being able to tell is not something I’d expect even out of intermediate/even advanced players.
Youtube is perfect for learning a particular song, or a particular riff. But that’s it. For learning proper technique, musical knowledge and understanding? It’s possible, but you might have to spread yourself out over many teachers on Youtube – if you’ve got the time and patience, go for it. For those who don’t and just want the confidence to find good content and learn ukulele from the comforts of their own home – I’ve got you.
If you ever have any further questions regarding this topic or more, then please hit me up on email@example.com- or you can find me on Twitter @sammydamacy
When looking into purchasing your first ukulele, you really have 3 options – Soprano, Concert and Tenor. Each of them are played the same, use the same chords and are tuned the same, meaning you could pick up any of the three and have pretty much the same learning/playing experience – so what are the actual differences between the three, and which one is best for me?
Best for children/beginners/easiest to pickup
I’m going to say that the most common ukulele is actually a Soprano – they’re the smallest and generally cheapest option. For kids Soprano ukuleles are perfect, as they aren’t too large to wield (ever seen a small child try and hold a regular guitar?) and are available at very accessible prices (we’re talking as small as £15-20).
So what about you, the person reading this? Let’s assume you’re not a child (can you say titmouse without giggling?) and that you’re a regular non-musical person looking for their first ukulele. A Soprano ukulele would absolutely fit your needs, and are a perfect intro into playing a stringed instrument without feeling completely overwhelmed or frustrated. Soprano ukulele’s are great for everyone except for:
People who are quite tall/have large hands. Sopranos are small and so have the smallest neck and fret size – if you have large hands this can prove to be a little too fiddly
People who already play a stringed instrument and wish to play more advanced solo content on the uke – you may find the lack of frets and small neck limiting to your needs
Whilst a Soprano is a perfect choice for beginners/kids/average hand sizes, those who fall out of this category are probably better off with our next size – Concert.
Best for adults/musical people/time to dedicate to learning
The ukulele that I (and Effi) both play is a Concert ukulele, and I’ve found that it’s the most common amongst my adult students. A Concert ukulele is slightly bigger than a Soprano and so can be more comfortable for adults to get to grips with, and can cater for some more serious/advanced playing thanks to the larger neck. Concerts will be more expensive than a Soprano (both Effi and I play Kala ukuleles which were around the £100 mark) but you can get a Concert anywhere from £50/60 plus.
If you think you’re going to be dedicated and stick with learning the ukulele and have the cash then a Concert is my utmost choice – but we still have one more to talk about.
Best for people who already play a stringed instrument/more virtuoso playing/want the biggest ukulele
Here we are – the Tenor ukulele. A Tenor ukulele is the biggest of the three, and a really, really big jump from a Soprano. Due to the much larger neck and fret size, I never advise Tenors to beginners as they aren’t the most welcoming – not quite as bad as guitars are, but still nowhere near as friendly as a little Soprano. I play a Tenor ukulele as do a few of my adult students, and whilst they are certainly much better for more advanced pieces (larger neck/more frets/better clarity of sound) if you don’t already play a stringed instrument (guitar/violin/ukulele) I advise ignoring these guys. If you’re super serious about learning and never want to upgrade your instrument (ie. Never buying a new one, good luck with that) then maybe check out a Tenor, but for most of you who are just starting – don’t.
I’ve decided on what type of Ukulele, where should I buy one from?
Please please please please for both my sake and yours go to your local guitar shop (you definitely have one) and purchase a ukulele from there, instead of online. Why not online Sammy? Do you hate the internet? WHY DO YOU HATE THE INTERNET?!
When a ukulele is sold in a guitar shop, it has arrived at the shop, been taken out of the box, checked over, tuned, played and then put on the wall. This instantly eliminates two of the biggest problems I always come across from your Amazon/Argos ukuleles: tuning and intonation.
TLDR: Guitar shop ukuleles have been checked over and stored correctly and safely so they won’t have unfixable issues related to tuning that ukuleles that have lived their life in a box can have. For the sake of a little bit of money, this is a massive no brainer – it’ll save you from having to pay that same guitar shop to fix your ukulele in the future.
Do I need anything else?
Some ukuleles come with a gig bag, if they don’t it’s advisable to buy one if you’re taking it out and about (ukuleles enjoy a brief walk in the park so it can socialise with other ukulele friends). If you’re not, I advise buying a guitar/ukulele stand instead – putting your instrument somewhere on display not only looks great and shows people how incredibly deep you are, but it encourages you to practice as it’s never out of sight – you cannot escape the sad, puppy dog eyes of an un-played instrument.
You will definitely definitely need a tuner, however if you own a smartphone (iOS or Android) then you can download actual decent ukulele tuners for free – that way you also carry it with you everywhere, like some sort of perfectly tuned ukulele ninja.
Some people play ukuleles with a plectrum/pick, ukulele plectrums are different to guitar as they are gigantic and made of felt – personally I think a ukulele is played best without one, but I’ll leave that up to you.
The actual most important thing I recommend is that you find yourself a good teacher – they will keep you on track and you will find yourself improving without having to do the research and wasting time watching bad tutorials.
I also heard there’s a pretty good teacher who has an excellent knowledge of the ukulele and his hat collection is to die for – maybe check him out?
If you ever have any further questions regarding this topic or more, then please hit me up on firstname.lastname@example.org- or you can find me on Twitter @sammydamacy