Music Education, Play The Ukulele!

Setting Reasonable Goals

It’s not like I thought designing a course would be easy. When Jamie and I first decided to create a beginner’s class for ukulele, I knew I was in for a lot of work. Audio is my main focus, technologically, but I frequently dabble in video. Usually goofy little clips I edit on my phone. In this course, I’m assembling months worth of lessons into one package. That’s a lot of video. When I realized how much video, exactly, I panicked.

I encourage my students to take things slowly, to learn the three chord song before the twelve chord song. It never hurts to keep long-term goals in mind, but if you’re trying to reach that goal on the first day, you’ll only find disappointment. You’ll want to give up.

So when I set out to make a video series with slick edits and animated graphical elements and it didn’t look like the Michel Gondry-esque vision I had, and I realized my ten-year-old computer couldn’t handle even a fraction of all that video, I wanted to give up.

I didn’t give up though. I wouldn’t be writing this if I had. I’d be sweeping all the evidence of the project into a bag of rocks, renting a boat, and in the dead of night dropping said bag into the ocean.

Instead, I forced myself to step back and assess where I was and what I needed to progress. I had to examine my goals and adjust my expectations. While I am a creative person with big ideas, my experience in the field of video production is limited. That’s okay. I can still create a compelling course. I know I’m a good teacher. And I can convey everything I need to, and more, for these lessons to teach people how to play the ukulele. It may not have all the flash, the extra sparkles, or the cartoon gnome that introduces new concepts. A one-man Industrial Light & Magic I am not. No one is, and it’s unfair to ourselves when we set such unattainable standards.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard students who have been playing for less than a month mutter to themselves, “well, I guess this is a chord I’ll just never be able to play.” The excellence we hear on records, or see on YouTube, takes a lot of time and patience, and yet we often only see the result of hard work. As many times as I remind my students of this, I fall under the same delusions. Thankfully, my wife and business partner, Jamie, is there to remind me.

So I’m back on track. I’m filming, I’ve got a new computer on the way that can handle the editing, and I’m excited to share with you my excitement for the ukulele. And who knows, maybe by the end of it I’ll have figured out how to animate Pierre A. Diddle, the Drumming Dragon.

p.s. If you’re interested in some free tips, tunes for the ukulele or our joining our beta class when it’s ready, head here. Come join the Ukulele Village!

p.p.s. We’re giving away some lessons on Facebook if you’re interested!

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Music Education, Practice Tips

Developing Great Practice Habits

Anyone who picks up an instrument probably has some ambitious expectations about what they’re going to play. That is awesome and keeping those big goals in mind can be a good thing. But there are branches off the road to those goals that can lead to discouragement. With that in mind, I want to talk about practice habits and expectations of our practice.

Structure Your Practice Sessions

Most of us don’t have as much time as we’d like to practice. That just means we have to make the most of the time that we do have. Maybe you can only squeeze in 20 minutes of practice a day. Rather than sifting through your notes, playing a little of this and a little of that, having a schedule will help you focus on spending that 20 minutes wisely. For example, 5 minutes warming up with scales, 5 minutes practicing technique, 5 minutes working on your main goal song, and 5 minutes of free play to wind down. Use a timer! It’s amazing how fast 20 minutes flies by and it’s not uncommon to run out of time before you’ve even started!

Don’t Compare Yourself To People On The Internet

I have students who will tell me about someone they saw online playing the song they are currently working on SO FAST or simply WITHOUT A MISTAKE. YouTube is a fantastic resource for tutorials, examples, or just to see what people are capable of achieving. It can be inspiring if you have a “if they can do it, so can I” attitude. But sometimes when we’re struggling with a piece, watching people “show off” can be frustrating. We can’t forget that other people also have to practice and most people aren’t on YouTube showing you how many times they had to play that measure to get it perfect. We don’t all learn at the same pace and if you only have 20 MINUTES a day to practice you can’t hold yourself to the same standard as someone who practices 4 HOURS a day. It’s easy to tell this to ourselves but that alone may not relieve the impulse. Be aware of yourself and take note of what helps and what just bums you out. And that brings us to:

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

You are awesome. You work hard at your craft, always looking for new ways to improve your musical competency because you know that learning never stops. That doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally celebrate the work we’ve done thus far. Go back through your notes, or into a previous lesson book. Find a piece that looks easy now but you remember at the time how intimidating it was. Crush that song. Feel it bend to your whim, swing it where it was never meant to be swung, throw in some embellishments on the repeat because it would be utterly boring if you didn’t. How far you’ve come. This is cake and it’s delicious. And that song you’re working on now? The big one with all those flats? Pretty soon that song will be cake too. It just needs a little more time.

Samuel_Coleridge-Taylor, Tiny Village Music
Ukulele Performance

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

In honor of Black History Month, Ross’ weekly ukulele video series (follow Tiny Village Music or Ross Malcolm Boyd on Facebook to keep up with these) features Ross’ arrangements of musical selections by black composers.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a British composer, born in London on August 15, 1875. His father was a physician from Sierra Leone who, unable to pursue a career in Britain presumably due to racial prejudice, returned to West Africa, leaving behind his wife and son.

As a child, Samuel played the violin and sang with the choir of a church in Croydon. He was admitted to the Royal College of Music in 1890. A professor at the college, in teaching Coleridge-Taylor the music of Brahms, suggested that it would be impossible to write a quintet for clarinet and strings without being influenced by Brahms’s composition for that combination of instruments. Coleridge-Taylor took the assertion as a challenge and produced a work that received the respect of his professor and later audiences.

By 1896 he was teaching, conducting, and judging music festivals in addition to composing. His work was very well regarded, the most successful of which was The Hiawatha Trilogy (based on the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra: Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast (1898), The Death of Minnehaha (1899), and Hiawatha’s Departure (1900). Europe wasn’t the only place Coleridge-Taylor found success. He was welcomed during his tours of the US between 1904 and 1910. American musicians dubbed him the “Black Mahler.” He was invited to the White House to visit President Theodore Roosevelt.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, only 37 years old, died of pneumonia on September 1, 1912. He was survived by his wife, Jessie Walmisley, his son, Hiawatha, and his daughter, Gwendolyn, known as Avril.

Hear Ross’ ukulele arrangement of a selection from Coleridge-Taylor here.

#ukulele #ukulelesunday #blackcomposers#blackhistorymonth #samuelcoleridgetaylor#willowsong

Uncategorized

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s that time of year! Music is in the air, holiday lights and candles are sparkling, and children and adults are preparing to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and more. Ross and I have been recording some new music for gifts this holiday season, and we’ll be sharing videos in the coming weeks with some holiday music for all of you too. We’ve also been excited to promote our Holiday Special for new students.

Our students enjoy this time of year too. Many of them enjoy working on new holiday selections during December. We recommend that when you purchase a holiday book, you go with one that’s a little bit easier than your regular lesson book or studies. That way, you can sightread it (play it accurately on the first or second try) or at least learn it very quickly. No one wants to be struggling to finish learning a holiday tune in February!

There’s such diverse holiday music, in every style you can imagine. We’re making a playlist and it’s got everything from Nat King Cole to Kelly Clarkson on it! What do you like to listen to during the holidays?