Last week on The Ukulele Underground Podcast we were fortunate enough to have the Maui-based ukulele virtuoso, Andrew Molina, as a special guest. Andrew will be answering YOUR questions live this Friday (March 19th @ 2:20pm HST) in the Ukulele Underground Live Coaching Zoom room for UU+ Members.
Among the many quotable highlights from the podcast episode, Andrew outlined his Top 3 TIPS to Ukulele Excellence that ukulele players of all skill levels can utilize to become better musicians:
1. "Tunnel Vision"
With any endeavor, the act of setting goals is important to keep you on track. Andrew's best advice for ukulele playing is to clearly define what you want to achieve and have a positive mindset toward that aim.
Here's what Andrew had to say:
"Before you start learning anything, it’s important to know where you want to go. You want to make sure that what you’re learning applies to your journey … Sit down and reflect on: “What do I want to get out of this journey? Do I want to take it to the open mic? Do I want to learn classical? Do I want to learn jazz?" And I want you to "tunnel vision" on that specific goal you have, instead of learning ukulele just because you’re learning it.
You want to be very specific about what you learn. And it saves a lot of time - we want to work smart, not hard - so you want to [focus on] what YOU want to learn as an individual. And there’s a thousand answers out there, I have my goals, Aldrine has his, everyone has their own … Don’t do it because someone tells you to do something … learn it because you truly want to. When you can add your passion into learning, then nothing’s going to stop you."
For more of Andrew Molina's advice for beginners, check out [47:12] from the original Ukulele Underground Podcast Episode.
2. Break Out of The Box
In contrast, sometimes as ukulele players we tend to get too focused on trying to be exactly like other ukulele players that we admire. During the podcast, Andrew admits to having been really inspired by players like Jake Shimabukuro and Aldrine early on in his ukulele journey. However, to grow as a musician and strive for ukulele excellence, Andrew also mentions that it is important to break out of the "ukulele" box. Exposure to various genres of music and high level players of other instruments can push your own ukulele playing to new places.
About this, Andrew says:
“For inspiration, I mainly look to guitarists now. Like, I’m a big John Mayer fan, so through the quarantine, I actually arranged a lot of his songs on ukulele … Even for me just getting out of the “ukulele” mindset helped my creativity, so listening to some of these guitarists really helped me to expand as an artist.”
But even while breaking out of the box, Andrew defaults to TIP #1 when setting up goals and adapting new music to his ukulele playing. Here he talks about his low G ukulele arrangement of John Mayer's "Your Body Is A Wonderland":
“It took me two months to arrange this piece and it’s not like I was slacking. I would literally take the ukulele into the bathroom, because of the acoustics … and I remember I would practice for like a couple hours a day, only on this one song … Eventually when I got it to sound the way that I liked, it was just like, “ok that took a lot of time.” … Going back to when I was a kid and learning “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and a lot of Jake’s arrangements, it required me just to practice over and over, but this was like in its own realm. I was like “wow, even to this day, after all this training, I still had to put in this much time.”"
In the end, a positive mindset and "tunnel vision" work ethic pulled him through. See Andrew perform his ukulele arrangement of "Your Body Is A Wonderland" here.
3. Get EXCITED When Things Get TOUGH
Finally, in order to really strive towards ukulele excellence, Andrew's advice is simple: get excited. Any goal worth achieving and any journey worth embarking on has challenges baked right into it. If you can accept beforehand that challenges will arise, but that through determination you will be able to overcome them, you are bound to succeed.
Andrew explains that you have to focus on your desire rather than the challenge:
[For me] “It was that desire that started first, like “I don’t care what anyone’s going to say, I don’t care if it’s hard, I’m just going to do it because I really want to.” I think if we can start changing our mindset of achieving to something like, “Ok I’m going to do this” versus “Oh, wait, can I do this?” I think that’s a big deal and that’s not really something that’s talked about in general in ukulele … It goes beyond the physical ability, it’s really the desire and the mental [attitude] behind it as well.”
He goes on to explain his mental relationship to challenges:
I love challenges like that. I love being pushed, I love worrying about “how am I going to do this?” … I know there are a lot of people that don’t like the challenge, but that’s something that I encourage you to [do is] get excited when something is hard. Because imagine the gratitude you’re going to get when you achieve that goal and you achieve whatever you’re going to get from this tough challenge.”
And for those of you who want to follow Andrew's advice and participate in an OPEN MIC, join us every First Thursday of the month at 2:30pm Hawaii Standard Time in the Ukulele Underground Open Mic Zoom Room. Remember that Hawaii doesn't observe Daylight Savings Time, so adjust accordingly.
Also be sure to follow Andrew on Facebook and Instagram. Have fun on your ukulele journey UUers, remember to "tunnel vision," break out of the box, and get excited! If you do, there will be many excellent things in your ukulele future.