New Year New Uke Goals

Every player begins the year with uke goals and plans for improving.  In regards to your ukulele playing, do you want to finally be able to play the music you love on an instrument you love?  Last year, less than 10% of people actually stuck to their new year's resolutions.  Even fewer acquired the skills they hoped for.

Luckily this year, with a little self knowledge, you can beat the odds.  Here are 3 simple things you can do today to help you achieve your ukulele goals in the coming year:

1.  Activate your "white belt" mindset (AKA learn like a baby)

Karate Kid Baby
Photo Credit: Laura Izumikawa
When you start learning anything, it's easy to see progress.

Before today, I didn't know ANYTHING. Now I can play 4 chords AND strum!

But after learning the basics, players often feel like their progress stagnates. Learning a new technique or a few new chords doesn't seem as monumental as it once seemed in the grand scheme of your ukulele journey.

In his book, Zen Guitar, Philip Toshio Sudo likens the musician's journey to that of a martial artist. In the beginning you wear a white belt, you learn and practice until your belt becomes black from experience. At any point you can wash the belt to reveal that it is actually white and recognize that so many ideas are still brand new to you.

Return to the beginning. Enter by form. Clean your dojo. As you have every day, tie on the white belt and empty your cup.
-Philip Toshio Sudo, Zen Guitar

Activating your "white belt" mindset requires looking at everything through fresh eyes, marveling at the way your mind and fingers are able to slowly learn and adapt. It means being open minded, searching for clues, and being excited at each piece of the puzzle that you unlock along the way.

This year as you learn more songs, techniques, chords, and picking parts on your ukulele, make it a goal to keep your "white belt" mindset activated by:

- going as slow as you need in order to learn
- not getting down on yourself or assuming that things should be easier
- really studying players you respect, mimicking their posture and movements
- really listening to a song, discovering nuances that you may not have noticed before and incorporating them into your playing
- going back to songs and techniques you've already learned, adding additional layers or making your playing more efficient

Many adults, especially those who have professional careers, seem to have a hard time learning ukulele. This has nothing to do with their mental capacity or musical aptitude. Most of their trouble comes from having the mindset that they are fully functioning, capable adults. But whenever you learn anything new, you are essentially a baby in relation to the new concept.

The "white belt" mentality means treating yourself like a baby - forgiving yourself for stumbling or falling down, giving yourself many chances to learn at a slow pace, allowing yourself to repeat mistakes without fear of judgement, soothing yourself and giving yourself time to grow. It's ok that you aren't an instant expert. No one ever is.

In contrast, kids seem to pick up ukulele quickly. But how much of that is simply because they don't feel the need to be perfect, don't judge themselves or their playing so harshly, and have unabashed enthusiasm for the music itself? As it turns out, the adults that pick up on ukulele the quickest are the ones who aren't afraid to play around like kids.

2. Build it in pieces (and repeat the hard parts)

Build Songs in PiecesLearning a song on ukulele can be a daunting task. If you look a the song as a whole, there are so many moving parts, so many chord patterns, so many things to forget. However, in your mind, if you build the song slowly in manageable pieces then string those pieces together, all of the pieces eventually make the song whole.

For example, the song "Smooth" by Santana ft. Rob Thomas. There are a handful of chords, several changing chord patterns, an interesting rhythm, a fingerpicking pattern for the verses, and a ton of picking parts. It would be impossible to get everything down in one shot, but learning the song in pieces (chords first, then chord patterns, then rhythm, etc.) and slowly putting the pieces together as you go makes the process doable and fun.

One particularly tough part is the rhythm of this song, which requires you to switch chords on the up beat. For many beginners who typically play songs where all of the chord switches are on the down beat, this is a new concept. But by breaking the rhythm into parts, practicing the parts, and slowly stringing those parts together, you'll get the hang of the rhythm in relatively no time at all. Check out Aldrine's explanation of the rhythm for "Smooth," broken down and practiced in parts:

Many times, people get discouraged when they encounter a part of a song that they can't play for whatever reason. Some even give up their dream of learning to play the ukulele over a difficult section of a song.

This year, make it a personal goal to break difficult parts of songs into manageable pieces:

-Identify difficult parts of songs
-Break the difficult parts into smaller pieces (groups of chords, notes, movements, etc.)
-Practice those pieces individually
-String the pieces together slowly and with persistence.

The more times that you engage in the process of breaking a challenging section down and building it back up again, the better you'll get at learning to solve these musical problems for yourself.

3. Lower your barrier to entry (make it easy and simple)

Make It EasyIn economics, the term "barrier to entry" refers to the set of various obstacles that prevents the average person from starting a particular enterprise. If your goal this year is to play your ukulele more, the very best thing you can do is to make it easy for yourself to get more practice time in.

Here are a few ideas on how to lower your "barrier to entry" on playing your uke:

- Schedule practice time (literally put it into your calendar and clear your schedule for it)
- Keep a "beater" ukulele (cheap uke that you don't mind banging around) out of its case and in places where you often have lag time (kitchen, living room, bathroom, etc.)
- Couple ukulele practice with something you do everyday. Ex. Practice for 5 minutes right after you brush your teeth
- Keep a chart of how many days in a row you picked up your ukulele and strummed it. Just one strum is enough to count! (But you know one strum always leads to another)
- Sign up for an open mic or schedule a "performance" of a song you're working on.

By making time for practice, using otherwise wasted time, coupling practice time with established habits, and making it easy to for you to "win," all of these little victories begin training your brain to see ukulele playing as part of your daily life. The final piece of advice, signing up or scheduling a performance, helps keep you accountable and makes it easy to motivate yourself to succeed.

Sign up for Ukulele Underground's Open Mic

-First Thursday of every month at 2:20pm Hawaii Standard Time
-Email us for more info on how to watch / perform / join the musical fun

Happy New Year, UUers, set your goals, aim high, and keep strummin'

-UU Staff


  1. Aloha and Mahalo for taking the time to write this email. Very inspiring and perfect timing. Open Mic sounds very interesting.
    Sign me up😉

  2. This Covid period has left many of us isolated, working from home, so I have put my time to good use doing exactly as you suggest. By breaking things down into smaller bites, and focusing on the hard parts, it has allowed me to discover the nuances of playing the song. Chords evolve from “finger positions” to hand “shapes” and are committed to memory more easily. Strumming becomes more dynamic, from delicate to bold. Chord progressions and their variations become surprisingly familiar as you move from song to song. The old clumsiness when hitting that first strum disappears as my confidence builds.
    The upshot of all this practice time is that despite my very limited vocal range, I’ve “found” my singing voice by transposing songs into a more friendly key, usually “D”, and somehow, it all has cumulated in me suddenly realizing that I can play many songs by heart, the best outcome of all. Mahalo, U.U.!

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