The Hawaiian ukulele is a beautiful instrument that has recently become very popular owing to its portability and ease of play for those wanting to learn a musical instrument. It’s a great accompaniment instrument for those who love singing too. Today there is a proliferation of ukulele sing-along groups everywhere due in part to the ukulele’s ‘friendly’ nature. For many, the enjoyment of playing music, singing and making friends among like-minded folk is just plain fun!
Aside from good company, being able to strum and sing a simple song with the ukulele is simply gratifying. Beginning with just a few simple chords, you’re suddenly ushered into the world of music. Wow, where was I all my life? Stepping into music territory is indeed exhilarating but can also be challenging at the same time. Grappling with chord formations on its tiny neck and having to flick its four strings with your fingers whilst singing at the same time can be a nervous affair for avid beginners. Even for those who have been playing for some time, they still wrestle with some common issues (see below).
10 Common Problems Beginners Struggle with:
I can’t remember my chord fingerings.
My chords sound muted when played.
I Can’t change chords on time.
My fingers and hands hurt when pressing chords.
I can’t play with a steady tempo.
My hand feels tense when strumming.
My body aches after playing for some time.
I can’t coordinate strumming the rhythm and singing at the same time.
I get confused when attempting to play a rhythmic pattern.
I have difficulty keeping my ukulele in a stable position when playing.
Overcoming Your Struggles: Proper Technique
Most people who picked up the ukulele did so informally and have never learnt to handle the instrument properly. The ukulele’s ‘toy-like’ appearance causes it to be perceived more as a casual instrument over ‘serious’ ones like the violin, piano or guitar. Hence, technique is often overlooked and neglected in the process of playing leading to the problems above. Admittedly, the word ‘technique’ can sound quite foreboding at first for those who want to just dabble in music for fun. Where have we heard this word, 'technique', before? Perhaps when learning to ride a bicycle? Or to write with a pen, to kick a football, to type, to walk, run, jump, swim etc? Probably all of the above! Yes, technique is virtually required in everything we do but what exactly does it mean in music?
The Oxford dictionary defines technique as:
A way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure.
A skillful or efficient way of doing or achieving something.
In other words, musical technique means performing a required musical task efficiently. Developing technique will give you the ability to exert optimal control of your instrument, letting you produce your intended musical objectives more easily. With a good technique, your music will sound much livelier and you will be more relaxed strumming and singing on your ukulele too.
Acquiring a good technique should begin as early as possible to avoid developing bad habits later on. This involves training your hands and fingers to perform specific movements to have proper control when playing your instrument. Over time, muscle memory and finger independence will naturally develop. This will free you from unnecessary tension and anxiety when playing.
If you haven’t looked into this, it’s not too late to start working on it now. Start today and you'll surely reap the benefits of a good technique and enjoy making sweet music on your ukulele for years to come!