I got a ukulele for Christmas this year. Typical for me, I’ve been interested in learning the ukulele or the mandolin for a long time but didn’t act. But getting to play my friend’s uke this summer, got me hooked. It is quirky and lively like I dreamed, so I put it on my Christmas list.
I took the route of the same friend and began the YouTube 30 Day Ukulele Challenge from Bernadette Teaches Music.
I didn’t know where to begin but Bernadette does. On Day 1 we learn the parts of the ukulele and things we’ll need for the course. We are given a to do list, a guide to practice, and how to build the habit. Best, we’re given access to the .pdf to print out all the “study guides” for each day. Bernadette tells us about herself too. She comes right out of the gate as user friendly! The bonus video tells me how to tune my uke about which I’ve had some trepidation With a digital tuner, it’s easy peasy. At least a lot easier than trying to tune my son’s old cello.
After spending Day 2 learning how to hold the ukulele I was happy to make a little noise on Day 3 where I was taught the chromatic scale C to C going up and down. I did make a little noise or a lot of noise depending on how close you were to my noise. Off and running!
How to read chord charts and tab? You’ll find out on Day 4, in case you were wondering. I’d heard of chords charts from the two years in 7th and 8th grade when I learned acoustic guitar. Now I know tabs. Are you curious?
Day 5 is a focus on getting a clean clear sound from our strum. In other words, making the uke sound good. We strummed Row Your Boat on the C chord. Unfortunately, I trimmed the index finger and thumb on my strumming’ hand. My uke ain’t sounding so good. Homework: practice the C, Cmaj7, and Am chords.
One-finger chords, or the easy chords, are undemanding but I’m finding it hard to move from one chord to the next. It’s awkward but it’s only Day 6. In the printouts there are flashcards to cut out to practice these chords: A, Am, Am7, C, Cmaj7, C7, and F.
Days 7 and 8 went well together because one was easy and the other got challenging. We practiced form and positioning on two-finger chords by playing the F and the A. But the next day was our first song and first switching chords. No it wasn’t Hot Cross Buns but right up there on the simple scale was Mary Had a Little Lamb. Scoff if you want, but there is technique to be mastered in chord switching and ya gotta start somewhere!
I’m filled with anxiety looking at the printout for Day 9: playing three-finger chords. She gives us 7(!!) three-finger chords to learn. I’m not thinking I can do it but I’m also thinking that this course will get harder so just learn it.
On Day 10 (one-third through) we’re learning a song with easier chords than the previous day but there’s three of them. But the song, You Are My Sunshine, can’t be a more benign, friendly song that you don’t realize that you have to progress to G7 (a 3-finger jobbie). That won’t take anyone’s sunshine away!
Come at me, Day 11, I can switch chords clumsily and slowly. But I’m doing it! So learning to “strum with style” was nuttin’. The funnest strums were the slap/up and slap/down. Slapping is fun.
Mary Had a Little Lamb returns on Day 12. We ain’t strumming today though yesterday we strummed and slapped the heck out of our ukes. Today we’re plucking the notes instead of strumming the chords. We learn to read tab which is like the training wheels of reading notes. Bernadette assumes you know the notes for treble clef, which I do. Every Good Boy Does Fine and F-A-C-E Spells Face. Our homework is to make each note have a clear tone.
I had a breakthrough today which is better than a breakdown. And (Day) 13 is supposed to be unlucky! Bernadette taught us a strum sequence to play with Twinkle Twinkle. The breakthrough wasn’t with the strumming but feeling a lot less awkward with chord progression. In other words, my fret hand was smooth. I still gotta practice that D DU strum pattern.
Today I learned to chuck! Oh, that’s just ukulele jingo for a strum pattern where you rotate your wrist quickly and use the back of you thumb to stop the vibration of the strings. The chuck gives the strum a percussive sound like a snare drum. Who knew all the great sounds I could make on Day 14.
Chucking was a cinch compared to Day 15‘s challenge: playing the song Imagine. I’m not a big fan of the song being more of a Twinkle, Twinkle or You Are My Sunshine kind of girl. But it’s cool reaching out beyond the 3 or 4 main chords and also learning some chord changes that will require some practice.
Happy Birthday! Not me but I’m learning the song. Something practical. Something fun. I’ll use it. Once I memorize it. It’s a tab or plucking song and since it’s Day 16 she threw in the term fermata. Ooh la la!
Day 17 should be called the Ides of Uke Challenge for its tips on how to play some of the hardest three-finger chords. She gives at least 4 ways to play the very difficult D chord. I’m more confused than ever. Beware the Ides – someone’s going to get hurt.
Beethoven, baby! We learned the tab play or plucking version of Ode to Joy. I was happy to see her add saying the notes we’re playing not just the tab. Tab seems like the training wheels. When practicing, I played Ode to Joy better than Happy Birthday. Twinkle Twinkle is coming along pretty good.
We’re getting a little music theory on Day 19. We learned the notes of the C major scale and how it relates to the C major chord. A chord has four notes, and the notes on the C major chord are the first, third, and fifth notes on the C major scale. Same rule applies to other scales. But it’s too heady for me to think about now.
What better way to celebrate being two-thirds done with this course than with some styling. Bernadette taught us the PIMA pattern. Thumb or Pulgar down on G string, Indice or index strums up on the C string, up with Medio or middle finger on E string, and up again with the Anular or ring finger on the A string. P-I-M-A. And the picking is done over the sound hole. Yes, I remember that term from the first day. This whole ukulele thing is going to require a lot of small muscle coordination and I’m better at the large muscle coordination. Chucking is easier, for sure.
Day 21 and my filing system is useless and my desk where I watch the YouTube videos hosts an assortment of the printouts and none of them are in order. It’s sorta chaotic and I can find things because there are only 21 sheets and I don’t really use the ones from the first 4-5 days. After this lesson, I’ll straighten things up. Or I’ll chuck! We learned six strumming patterns which consist of patterns of down and up strums, you know, as advertised. It doesn’t sound hard but it’s easy for me to get off beat when changing chords. We learned these strums: down, ballad, mariachi, island, Bernie, and Riptide. Party on!
Bernadette makes it looks easy. I know that but after watching and practicing Day 22‘s video of learning Have You Ever Seen The Rain, I said to myself, “You don’t get it!” So I watched it a second time. Now I can proudly say, “I kinda get it.”
On Day 23 ever the easy lessons are challenging. We learned how tho play the half barre chords, where one of your fingers holds down two strings on the same fret and your middle and ring fingers have to maneuver (awkwardly) to press strings on other frets. Did I say awkward? Phew! But I did learn some music theory along the way. The half barre C major chord follows the chromatic scale and if you move all your fingers one fret towards the sound hole, voila! you’re playing the C sharp chord, then the D chord, etc.
Sometimes I look at the printout for the upcoming day before I watch the video to see what I’ll be learning and Day 24 says Music Theory – Roman Numerals. I enter the video mildly freaked out. Some singers or musicians say they want to sing the song in the key of C because it’s better for their voice. If the song is in the key of G, the musicians will have to transpose the chord progression so the remaining chords in the song are aligned. Our homework is to transpose Mary Had a Little Lamb which is on the key of F and has the progression of the first and fifth chords (I and V in Roman Numerals). I sort of get it, and I’ll leave it at that.
Challenges have to be fun sometimes too. That’s what learning Stand by Me was today. It’s Day 25 and apparently I’ve learned enough to play this song. And I admit that after practicing a few times it sounds pretty good. Not ready to go on the road yet, but it sounds like a song.
Five days left! I can do this! Day 26 should have the warning of music theory because she’s trying to get music theory into us by teaching us how to pay the major scales on the finger scale. We start with C of course. On the tab it’s training wheels. I’d no doubt be as successful playing the notes. Maybe someday…
Day 27: 20 of our favorite chords which when learned will allow us to play almost any song. Some are easy, and I already know them. Others are going to take a lot of practice and contortion.
I feel like I’m in the home stretch, Day 28 out of 30. Nine-tenths done. The promise of learning Somewhere Over the Rainbow looming greatly. I may be ready. It depends on the chords I’ll need, the strumming pattern, and whether to chuck or not. The video was helpful. Bernadette explained four chords that are most commonly used (phew, cuz I know them well), and the progressions used, and the songs that use these progressions. The C – G – Am – F progression allows you to play Don’t Stop Believing and Can You Feel the Love Tonight. With C- Am – F – G progression I can play Every Breath You Take and Baby by Justin Beiber. I have to practice moving more smoothly to the G chord.
Today was super fun and I felt mildly successful playing Billy Joel’s Piano Man. Well, it is Day 29 so I should know a thing or two. But there are a lot of switches to G chord which is reliably a challenge. We’re playing this song one three beats instead of four. I went to the ultimate-guitar-tab site to get the chords for the whole long song. It’s really fun! If we don’t want to tackle the song yet, practice switching chords on three beats. I’ll do both!
Day 30!!! And I don’t think three explanation marks are overdone. It’s the stuff dreams are made of! It’s the big dance number! And we are learning the ultimate ukulele (ooh-koo-lay-lay) song: Somewhere Over the Rainbow by IZ. Warm up your “Ooh, ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh, ooh-oohs,” it’s coming. If I can learn these chords and the progressions and the island strum pattern. And as this challenge has progressed, the daily printouts are taking over my desk so maybe I’ll be playing Somewhere Under My Desktop.
I found a chord more challenging than the G: the Em chord. Actually the G isn’t hard to play, it’s hard to switch to from 2-finger chords. But it’s difficult for my fingers to get to the Em and more difficult to make it sound good. But this song is within reach with lots of practice, and that’s encouraging.
Well my ukulele journey has begun and my 30-day challenge has ended. This has been a great foundation. It’s all up to me now, to practice and study and watch more videos. I really recommend this option for beginners. I’ll try to keep my nails in ukulele mode. I’ll try to practice something everyday. I’ll try to play Happy Birthday with zero mistakes. And I’ll try not to sound too pretentious by overusing the Hawaiian pronunciation of ukulele.