Ukulele Playing VS Practice

In order to improve, how much do you need to practice? The answer: a lot less than you may think …

You’ve been playing the ukulele for over a year. In the beginning, you quickly learned a few chords, figured out how to strum, and began playing along with some of your favorite songs. You learned a LOT during that first month of ukulele immersion, but since then you don’t feel like your playing has really improved much.

I want to sound better
I want to be able to perform in front of others
I don’t want to be tied to the sheet music
I want to be able to figure out songs on the fly
I want to improvise my own solos

If these thoughts sound like you, what you really want is to improve. They say that practice is the one sure-fire way to improve, but how much practice do you need? 10,000 hours?

The real answer is less than 30 min per day.

However, before we move further, there is an important distinction that must be made between the terms Playing and Practice. Oftentimes people use these interchangeably, but in order to improve you need to know the difference. The specific differences between these two terms are highlighted in 3 key areas: Time, Structure, and Focus.

1. Time

Ukulele Practice Time: 30 MinWhen you are PLAYING songs, you typically don’t need to keep track of time at all. Find a song you like, play along with the chords as best as you can, and when the song is done, move on to the next song. You can do this for as long or as short as you want, simply having fun playing music.

In contrast, a single PRACTICE session should take less than 30 minutes. During that time, you will isolate specific movements, techniques, and sections of songs to maximize your learning. While you can’t overdo playing, you can overdo practice. Keep your practices short, structured, and focused.

2. Structure

Ukulele Practice StructureThere is very little structure to PLAYING songs - simply jump right in and play. You may want to come up with a list of songs you want to play and go through them in order, especially if you’re playing with others, but that’s not necessary. If you’ve already done your practice, playing is free-form, expressive, un-structured fun.

When it comes to PRACTICE, structure is key.
- Start with around 5 minutes of warm up exercises to help loosen the necessary joints and get the blood flowing to your hands.
- Next move to around 10 minutes of technique practice, chord switching, or scale practice related to the specific part of a song you ultimately want to tackle. For example if you’re having trouble with the picking part for “Let It Be” by the Beatles, in the Key of C. You would probably practice the C scale on the E and A strings. Because the picking is based off of these notes, knowing them frontwards and backwards will really help you with the picking.
- Finally, spend the remainder of your practice session tackling the specific part of the song that you’re having trouble with. In the example of “Let It Be,” only practice the picking part that you would like to improve on by correctly repeating it over and over again.

3. Focus

Ukulele Practice FocusWhen PLAYING songs, you need a small amount of focus in order to stay on task. However, it is actually more beneficial to focus less on details. This means feeling your way through the song, allowing your muscle memory and unconscious mind to kick in and do things for you. It’s like driving a car - if you focus too much on exactly how much pressure your mid foot is applying to the gas pedal, you might miss your turn.

This is why you need PRACTICE time to really zero in on specifics. If there’s a part of a song that always trips you up, pick it apart and isolate the exact movement that is tough for you. For example, if you always have trouble during a part of a song that moves from F to Bb, figure out why. Is it the movement of your thumb from the side of the fretboard to the back of the neck? Is it when placing your pointer finger down to bar the Bb? Try to make your movements as efficient and fluid as possible by drilling specific motions during your practice session. When you can do them without thinking during practice, you won’t have to think about them at all when playing.

Setting aside a little bit of time to practice every day is a sure-fire way to improve as a player. If you keep your practices short (less than 30 min), structured (warm up, related techniques, individual section practice), and focused (down to specific motions), you will steadily move toward your goals. Practice should be concentrated, playing should be fun. Know the differences, do both regularly, and if you have any questions, send a message! We’re always here to help you out. Have a great one UUers, keep strummin’

Aloha,
-UU Staff

To get your ukulele PLAYING on:

Check out our massive library of Ukulele Play-Alongs and Aloha Friday Live Jam episodes.

For examples of PRACTICE sessions:

Watch our complete UU+ Practice Sessions course.

Comments

  1. Really appreciate your feedback Iwalani & Peggy! Yes, the best way to stick with an area of interest is to feel like you are progressing. Keeping it simple and breaking goals into measurable, achievable pieces is a great way to fuel progress. And the payoff is having more fun playing! Let us know if you have any other questions or comments, keep strummin’

  2. This blog post is brilliant because of the simplicity in the explanation and the graphics selected to help create a visual memory of how a person should practice. I greatly appreciate the link to “3 Legendary Warm-Ups.” Just as vocal warm-up health is important to the longevity of a singer’s talent, warm-ups are important for our ability to improve and maintain our standard of playing into our “golden years.” The beaker graphic gives a fresh twist on the usual pie graph that is everyone’s “go-to graphic.” Well done!

  3. So helpful, thanks. I teach a small group of people and haven’t been able to get across to them to practice scales, break down a song and go over the difficult passage. This will help me and them a lot.

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