Author Archive | nick cody

The BIGGER Picture….

I set up the Original Ukulele Songs platform almost exactly two years ago to explore the interest in artists creating original music. This was always to be part of a much bigger project and not limited alone to any one instrument.

Much as I love the ukulele as an instrument, I am increasingly aware that the image of the ukulele in the public domain is not always a positive one and it many instances can be quite the opposite. In the last two years I have come to realise that there are many superb artists who are invested in creating original material. There are also many who see the ukulele as more of a focus for social meet ups and that of course is totally valid but quite different.

Many who play the ukulele love mass strumming, sing alongs, uke festivals and all such activities. There’s a genuine demand for all of these activities, but the focus is not really on the creation and delivery of music. While many have embraced the OUS platform, there are understandably those who prefer to play cover versions of existing well known previously recorded material. Most ukulele festivals prefer to book artists who play cover versions and there’s very limited opportunities for the public to hear anything new. I fully appreciate the commercial considerations in shifting tickets for such events, but remain surprised at what I see to be a really missed opportunity in reaching a wider audience. There’s an enthusiasm simply for the instrument itself which inevitably is not shared by a wider public. I even hear the term “non ukers” used by people suggesting very much an “us and them” scenario. This is fine, BUT lets remember that the appeal will only ever be to a relatively small market…

My interest is to take what I have found in the OUS experiment and create something much bigger that maintains the focus on quality of material. This is never going to be for everyone, but  am delighted to discover I am not the only person with such an aspiration. In 2018 and 2019 I’ll be rolling out a much bigger platform that explores bring the very best music to a much wider audience. In the meantime special thanks to everyone who continues to support the OUS platform and makes this such a great place to visit, whether on FB or here on this site.

4

Does it really have to be a ukulele? by Percy Copley

I was lucky. My first instrument was the ukulele. From a young age I began playing songs I found in old song books with ukulele chords printed over them. I played along with dance bands and Formby 78s and had a great time. I didn’t realise I had found myself in the era that suited the ukulele so well and the ukulele suited that era too. As I then branched out into other types of songs and music things became a little more complicated. Songs were in odd keys, didn’t have the chord windows printed on them, and I seemed to be missing something. But I carried on regardless as it all seemed to work out in the end.
Then one day I found myself in a jazz band. The ukulele worked ok but I was missing that banjo sound. I realised that I needed something different. A different instrument perhaps…
So I found myself with a banjo. A big one. I actually ended up with a 5-string before I got myself a four string tenor. And so I embarked on the trail of different instruments for different sounds and different music styles. Later followed the 5-string banjo, guitar, and mandolin – and bagpipes.
The ukulele is often promoted as some kind of magic instrument that can do anything. In some ways I agree – up to a point. In the same way you could say the guitar is good for everything – up to a point. The ukulele is a great tool to strum chords on and accompany a song, happy or sad, fast or slow. It can also be finger-picked to produce melodic lines and song accompaniment. Its portability and adaptability make it a great tool. But sometimes you just need something else.
When I first started using the guitar it seemed to be rather like a ukulele with two extra strings on. I was not at ease to start with. It seemed huge. I subconsciously avoided the big thick strings on the bass side. But sometimes I realised that that big guitar sound was something else. I began to use more bass notes. Different kinds of chords. I started to play it like a guitar. It was a whole new instrument, even if it did have some similarities to the ukulele. In fact those similarities hid the difference. Strumming a Beatles song just worked better. I had also been playing round with the 5-string banjo which eventually led me into the bluegrass, folk and country world. Later on I started on the mandolin. I wanted a way to play fiddle tunes without a fiddle.
Each instrument has its sound. Its place. Its uses. Some overlap. There are some things I do on the ukulele that I do on the banjo and visa versa. Some on the mandolin and guitar. And so on. But there are also many things that I only do on one instrument.
It all comes down to personal choice and judgement. The sound I want, what I want to sing to, what I feel sounds best for the song or tune.
People often ask me which is my favourite. Impossible to say. I don’t have one. They all have their place, their job to do. I recently did an evening where I played everything on the ukulele. Most was absolutely fine, if a little confusing sometimes. However there was the odd occasion when I thought “this really sounds better on the guitar”. Or banjo, or mandolin.
Sometimes the sound inspires a song to sing. Whether self written or not. Songwriters get their inspiration where they find it. Sometimes an instrument or a sound can unlock something. A big fat D chord on a guitar can sometimes open up the mind more than a C chord on the ukulele. Or a fingerpicking ukulele riff feels better than on the mandolin. They all appeal to different sensors in the brain. And on some occasions that can lead to something I wouldn’t have found with a different instrument.
This is not to put down the ukulele or any other of the instruments. Quite the opposite. It makes me realise the strength and value of each instrument, and encourages me to make choices based on what is best for the sound and the song, rather than insisting it has to be  all on one instrument. The more instruments you can use comfortably and well then the more strings you will have to your bow as a performer and a writer.
The one down side is making a choice for a gig. If you play fifty songs on twenty different instruments it’s going to be a hard gig! So I try to keep it as simple as possible. It is great for an audience to have variety, especially if I am solo. But too much messing about taking instruments off and on, tuning, sound etc can be a bore for any listener. So I try to use each instrument for several songs in a row if possible. And limit it to two or three instruments. (Travelling is a great decider for how much you want to drag around!) The songs are more important than showing off how many instruments I can cram into one set!
Ultimately it comes down to this. I love my instruments. I like to have several out at a time. Sometimes I reach for one more than another. I get a feeling for one for a song or maybe another. Sometimes I might try the same song on different instruments. But I don’t feel I must impose one instrument on myself more than another. I love the ukulele. But sometimes I just have to use something else.
So – ukulele was my first instrument. But it is not my only instrument. And they all feel better for knowing each other.

 

0

You Can Die From Over-Exposure by Mike Turner

I have a friend who runs a local “listening room” venue. A few months back, he booked in a very popular local singer/songwriter, and looked forward to a standing-room-only crowd, at $15 a head.  But come show night, only about 10 people showed up for the performance.

Could it be because the performer had three other shows that week at local bar venues, for free? How many of his fans made the choice to see him that week for free, over a burger and beer, versus for a $15 ticket price?

Another friend completed a recording of his latest original song, and uploaded it to his Web-based audio platform. He posted the link to social media, and looked forward to growing his “viewed” and “liked” count. But after a week’s time, only a handful of people had listened to the cut.

Could it be because within a half-hour’s time, he posted the link to 15 different singer/songwriter groups on FaceBook? I saw them all in my news feed – how many times do you suppose I listened to the track?

The truth is, our music is a commodity. And whether we’re looking for a monetary payout for consumption of your product; or streams, views, likes and shares, flooding the market and overwhelming our fan base can be a poor strategy.

Let’s take the listening room example. The singer/songwriter has a large local fan base, and is popular on the local bar circuit. So, the marketing strategy for the listening room gig should be different from his normal bar show. Maybe he bills it as an, “all original,” night; or promises to debut some of his latest stuff; or works up a special merchandising tie-in for the event. He needs to give fans a reason to attend THIS show as a special event, even if they just saw him in a free bar gig – otherwise, he risks fans skipping the pay-to-attend event, in favor of the next night’s bar gig.

An alternative would be to branch out a bit locally – if he does a lot of bar gigs in one local town, forego the listening room gig in the same town – find a venue a town or so over, where he can attract some fans from town “A” as well as some from town “B.”

In the audio release/social media example, the singer/songwriter could stagger his social media posts to 2-3 a day. He still reaches the same audience, but at a more measured pace – and, for those fans who are members of multiple groups, there comes a better likelihood that they’ll give multiple listens to the track as it appears in their news feeds over successive days. In fact, given the way that FaceBook news feeds work, if I belong to, say, 10 groups, and my singer/songwriter friend posts to all 10 groups within a few minutes of each other, there’s a fair likelihood that the posts will become “buried” in my news feed, and I may not see them at all!

I have a third friend who is a prolific songwriter – he’ll record and post 3-4 new songs every day. I’d love to listen to them all – but the truth is, when 4 songs by this guy appear one after another in my news feed, I might listen to one or two, and then I’m a bit burned out on him for the moment. Will I circle back later and listen to the remaining tracks? Most likely not – particularly since tomorrow, there’ll be another 3-4 new tracks in my news feed (how in the world he has time to do all this is beyond me). Far more effective to post one, or at most two, a day, and then not every day – I’m far more likely to listen to all of them as they cross my virtual “desk.”

You see the point. Over-saturation of your fan base works to your detriment – folks will skip your live show if they know they can catch you a night or two later, and particularly if they can do it for free versus a ticket price for admission. On-line fans will listen to a song once if they see it posted on multiple sites on the same day, but perhaps give it multiple listens if “prompted” to do so every couple of days in different groups they subscribe to. And they’ll listen to more of your songs if they’re not bombarded with them hour after hour and day after day.

There’s an old saying in the theater – “Leave them wanting more.” That’s good advice when it comes to strategizing how you roll out your on-line and live performances.

Because remember – you can die from over-exposure.

0

Original Ukulele Songs – Two year anniversary

Almost exactly two years ago I had the idea to set up the Original Ukulele Songs platform. In November 2015 in a conversation with my dear friend and band mate Jessica Bowie I lamented the lack of original ukulele music online and at “ukulele festivals” There were occasional glimpses of some original work, but there was an ocean of cover versions that flooded the internet.  I remember saying “I simply cannot bear hearing yet another version of “You are my sunshine” To clarify, I don’t hate cover versions of classic songs BUT, those classics were once original songs and without artists taking the time to craft original material all we are left with is endless recycling of original material.

I started OUS by setting up the FB platform that I described as “Phase 1” of OUS. I was surprised at the amount of attention we received even in the first few months. Even though I clearly stated that all material needed to be ORIGINAL, in the first nine months we had endless posts from uke artists that would posts the same cover versions to every single uke FB group. This meant a certain amount of polite culling and after a while it settled down and we started to build some momentum. I commented “When  we hit 1000 subscribers, we’ll start phase two” Inevitably folks would say “What’s phase 2?” I replied “When we hit 1000 members, you will find out”

I’m acutely aware that FB is a useful medium for discussion, but its a company in its own right and its better to own your own platform. With this in mind with my tech guy Alun Richards we set up www.originalukulelesongs.com. The purpose of this central site was to create a platform that would showcase the best artists that originally posted on the FB page. Each artist would have their own page and at that time I had no idea about how this site would grow, The emphasis was on gathering together many skilled artists from all over the globe. One of the first videos that really caught my attention was Alan Thornton’s “Mary’s moving on” I thought “wow, this is really great!”  The FB page became and remains a daily inspiration and Alan has become central to the OUS platform.

I have been blown away by the terrific quality of music that is now on this site and the daily postings on the FB page.

 

At the start of 2017 I wanted to start exploring creating better live opportunities for original artists. With this in mind OUS sponsored a stage at the GNUF ukulele festival in Huddersfield. The stage had a four hour 20 min slot on the Sunday of the festival and we had seven artists to play in that period. I chose four of the artists and the material was very well received.

This response inspired further thinking for developing bigger opportunities for live playing and I’m running some beta tests which allow for better artist exposure. Prior to the festival I offered an open house to artists and we had an excellent attendance highlighted with the superb Victoria Vox and Jack Maher playing in my kitchen. These folks are the OUS artists for 2017, smart well delivered music at its very best.

Special thanks to all those who have supported the platform to date and all those who have contributed articles to the site. We are a small but mighty growing group. We now have 100 artists on the main site and over 3000 members on the FB page. As I always say “Its our site, I simply direct traffic” I’m now looking at expanding the platform in 2018 with live showcases in the UK and overseas where the wider public can experience the power and inspiration that stems from the mighty uke.

6

Listening Rooms and House Concerts by Mike Turner

Two emerging trends here in the United States, offer options for writers seeking venues for the performance of original songs: the “listening room,” and “house concerts.”

It’s a sad fact that live venues most often available to local writer/performers – restaurants and bars/pubs – are not optimal for the performance of original music. Why? Because such venues are not primarily dedicated to music performance, and not all patrons are primarily there for the musical experience. Restaurants, bars/pubs and the like exist primarily for eating, drinking and socializing. Live music, when offered, is principally there as an adjunct to those activities – “background noise,” as it were. Yes, live acts are used as a draw for patrons – but the primary business of these establishments is eat/drink, and truth be told, that’s the major reason most patrons are there, too.

So the audience is automatically focused on things other than music: their food, their drinks, their family and friends. They’re not primarily focused on the music; they’re certainly not focused on lyrics and music they’re unfamiliar with, or have never heard before. Cover tunes they know and can groove along with may, perhaps, temporarily distract them from the primary reasons they’re present. But songs they’ve never heard before? It’s possible they’ll listen – but it’s just as likely that they’ll push the music to the background and focus on other things.

So, if restaurants, bars and pubs aren’t the best venues for those of us performing original tunes, what are our options? What venues can we find where the focus is on the music and performance?

Here in the States, two options have developed: the listening room, and the house concert. A listening room is a business venue – perhaps the basement or back room of a restaurant or bar/pub, perhaps a room dedicated to the purpose – that is set aside to present artists in an environment where the focus is on a respectful, attentive audience experience. Generally, no food, or the most basic of snack-type foods (chips/crisps, etc.) and only a minimal bar (beer/wine/soft drinks) is offered. Patrons are actively discouraged from talking, texting, etc. while the performance is underway. The setting is designed to be intimate – seating typically might accommodate 40-50 patrons, although some are larger – and to facilitate a closer connection and interaction between performers and audience.

Because the listening room is a business, there’s usually a set admission price, often termed an “artist donation.” Some listening rooms pay the full gate to the artist; others have an agreed-upon split to help the venue cover costs. Generally (though not always) the venue keeps the full amount of bar receipts. The artist typically will be given a small table to display “brand” items (CDs, DVDs, posters, etc) for sale, with the artist keeping the receipts. A key concept here is that the venue will expect to make money to cover costs and expenses.

A house concert, by contrast, is a private function hosted in a private residence (or, more rarely, in a venue such as a reception hall, rented expressly for the purpose). The host is typically a fan of the performer, and networks with other fans to provide a core audience. The key concept here is, “private function.” Attendance is by invitation only. The “house” typically does not provide food or drink; audience members may be encouraged to bring a dish to pass, pot-luck style, and to bring their own beverages. Like the listening room, the “house” will suggest an “artist donation” from attendees, but it is not mandatory – a key point in the US, which helps to avoid potential tax and business implications for charging admission. Unlike the listening room, the “house” makes no money from the event – proceeds from the “artist donations” go to the artist.

Publicity may be split between the venue and the performer – but it’s important to note that operators of listening rooms and house concerts, will expect the performer to work her/his fan base in the area to bring in attendees. House concert hosts in particularly, since they typically are fans of the performer, will network with other local fans to build a core audience for the show. But the room/house operators will be keeping their expenses to a minimum, so artists are expected to bring a good part of their audience to a given venue for their show.

You can sense that these are more guidelines than hard-and-fast “rules” for either type of venue. The important points of distinction are the “business” character of the listening room, versus the “private function” character of the house concert. Audience size is limited to, in the case of listening rooms, what the fire marshal allows for occupancy of a given room; and for house concerts, what the house will reasonably hold (and what the neighbors will reasonably put up with!).

Both of these types of concerts are trending “up” here in the US. Both overcome the typical issues of a restaurant/bar/pub. The concert is specifically dedicated to the music. Distractions such as food/drink service are kept to a minimum or eliminated altogether. Patrons are encouraged to focus on the performance and discouraged from talking or engaging in other activities that distract from the performers. Interaction between artists and audience is facilitated and encouraged.

Listening rooms and house concerts are not just for local performers. They are increasingly being used as platforms for regional, and even national, touring artists. An artist doing a tour of major cities in a region, can look for listening rooms in intermediate cities to set up gigs between tour dates. And artists are using social media platforms to find fans in smaller locales to host house concerts. In some cases, the host may also provide meals and a couch to crash on, to hold down the artist’s expenses.

The result is rewarding for both artist and audience. I’ve performed my original songs in both bars/pubs and listening rooms, and attended small house concerts. The experience is like night and day. As a performer, in the listening room/house concert environment, you can more directly engage the audience with comments about your songs, banter, and more emotional input in your performance. And you can far more readily gage audience reaction – which songs connect, which songs perhaps need more work. As an audience member, you can actually listen to the songs, hear and understand the lyrics, catch the nuances of performance, feel a direct connection with the artist. The musical experience is enriched for everyone involved.

There is ample information available on the Internet about how to set up a listening room or house concert experience. Both are viable options for writers looking to showcase their works to audiences who are there to listen. Consider the listening room/house concert options when planning your future gigs.

8

Finding Your Muse by Jon Rissik

 In my experience there are three key components to writing an original song; the instrumental arrangement, the vocal melody and the lyrics. In order to create something that works as a coherent whole, these three elements need to have both an individual power and the capacity to work together to form something stronger.
Unsurprisingly, many of the songwriters I have spoken to feel comfortable with one of these components more than the other two. Personally I find that writing instrumental arrangements and vocal melodies come quite easily. My ukulele playing gets me by, but has its limits and although I am constantly trying to stretch myself, I find that putting together interesting chord progressions is a relatively simple task. The same goes for finding a melody. Although I am more confident in my singing than my playing, I really know the tones and range that suit the limitations of my voice. I also know the style of songs that I want to perform. That’s not to say I am constantly ‘playing it safe’, but that I know what I like and I am at that stage in my songwriting – and life in general – where I can write for myself first, and then hope that others like it. So, if arrangements and melodies are a relative box-tick, where do I struggle? You guessed it – I am lyrically challenged. How often do you really listen to the lyrics of a song? Others I am sure will disagree, but personally I find that the melody and overarching tone of a song are the components that excite me – or turn me off – to a piece of music.
Conversely, I am rarely either instantly put-off or attracted to a song because of its subject matter, lyrical wizardry or clichéd couplets. For me, if the arrangement and melody is the skin of the onion, the melody is the first layer beneath that, critical to the overall sensory experience, but not the first flavour to reach the mouth. So if they matter less, why do I find lyrics so darned hard? Why can I nail down a melody and arrangement in an hour, and yet find myself pouring over the accompanying lyrics for weeks! Well, I think it may have something to do with age and circumstance. Let me explain: Some of the most memorable popular lyrics ever written were born out of the passions of youth. Those years when love burns brightest, when pain cuts deepest, and when there is a naivety of the wider world. Stevie Wonder wrote ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright)’ at the tender age of 15, Kate Bush penned the hauntingly beautiful ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ when she was a mere 13 years of age, and George Michael famously wrote his most enduring song, ‘Careless Whisper’ – including that sax intro – as a 17 year old in Bushey, Hertfordshire.
Okay, so these three artists possess songwriting and performing abilities that sit beyond my wildest imaginings, but I reference them to illustrate the point that very often artists write their best material at a young age, when they feel emotions most acutely, when their well of creativity is at its most full and when they quite simply have lots of stories to tell. Fast forward over the careers of many successful artists and how often will you hear it said that although the body is willing and the raw talent remains undiminished, the creative juices have stopped following. I believe that one of the causes of this is security, be that financial or emotional. I am 48, and I consider myself to be very lucky. I am thankful to have a pretty good job and a loving family. I find writing about finding love, or losing love, or generally being down-on-your-luck to be challenging as a result. I just can’t fake it with any conviction. It feels false to me and therefore I think that any audience I play to will see it as such. The same goes for what could be described as ‘angry’ or rebellious songs. I might have written a song about the current US President (‘Ship Of Fools’) but that’s almost too easy a target. In general I struggle to write songs about ‘The Man’ because in many ways, I am The Man – privileged and middle-class. My life is far from perfect, but I am very content, and that’s not a condition that makes for dramatic, autobiographical storytelling. I need to find my muse – my source of inspiration. The well is pretty dry and I need to find a new source. It would be great to read other people’s thoughts in the comments section below. Am I alone in struggling to find lyrical inspiration in my late-forties?

 

3

Nick Cody

As well as being the founder of The Small Change Diaries, I also write uke based original material for solo and other projects. I’m interested in well considered lyrics and strong melodies. I’m a long time fan of the singer songwriter tradition and am known for championing the cause of ORIGINAL MUSIC. My work takes me all over the world and this means I get to play with many great musicians as well as having the chance to view and often buy many superb instruments

www.nickcody.co.uk

0

Wow 97 original artists now on the main OUS site

These last two weeks have seen some of the fastest growth with OUS. The FB page continues to attract members and crucially this site now has 97 original artists with their own pages. The OUS platform will be two years old next month and is unique in bringing together the very best original artists from across the globe.

In a world of cover versions its truly rare to see and hear so many performers that focus on creating original material. Bravo to everyone who has contributed to date making this a great place to showcase the ukulele as being a great instrument for creating inspiring, entertaining, original music.

I’m currently looking at live opportunities for OUS artists. Its clear to me that many of the traditional outlets don’t really showcase original talents in the best light and its time to explore better models for performances.

0

OUS Artists of the year- Victoria Vox and Jack Maher

The OUS platform is 2 years old with approaching 3000 members on FB and 92 artists with their own pages on the main site. Its a wonderful creative space for original songs.

Each year I have decided to announce an OUS artist/artists of the year and the winners for 2017 are Victoria Vox and Jack Maher.

This previously unreleased performance was done in one take in 2016 in my kitchen in the UK and this is what OUS is all about, smart, brilliant melodic music brilliantly performed. BRAVO Victoria and Jack and for those watching and listening here’s a clip that can now be enjoyed by everyone.

Also check out http://originalukulelesongs.com/victoria-vox/ and http://www.victoriavox.com/

If you get a chance to see these guys live, grab it.

0

Some thoughts on learning to play the uke from the internet by Phil Doleman

First of all, I’ll come clean; people pay me for ukulele lessons, and they buy my book. I have a vested interest in persuading people that it is best to seek out tuition! Of course it is perfectly possible to learn how to play the uke for nothing, using nothing but the internet to guide you, but it is a minefield. Here are a few thoughts I’ve had when browsing the internet recently.

 If you choose to learn from the internet, you need to be very discerning. YouTube, Facebook, etc. has no quality control. There are indeed wonderful free lessons available, but I frequently watch or read ‘lessons’ which are disseminating bad advice or which are completely incorrect. Of course, if you are a beginner, how can you tell what is good and what is bad? The easiest way is to do your research, ask around of ukulele forums, seek out players that you know have a reputation. Another way, which is a lot more long-winded, is to compare lessons. Don’t just take the first search result as gospel, see what others have to say on the subject. The third way is to get a teacher and ask them!

 In the last week, I’ve seen people ask for advice on Facebook groups and be told completely the wrong answer, and have that poor information backed up by people saying things like, “do it your own way, there’s no wrong or right! It’s the ukulele, just play!”. Now I don’t mind how people play the ukulele or what they want out of it, but as far as music is concerned (and the music made on a uke follows the same rules as music made on any instrument) there is absolutely right and wrong! I’ve watched people told to miss out a hard chord, or substitute it with one that is in no way a suitable substitute. I’ve looked at sheets downloaded from the internet to find that they are completely wrong. The problem is not only when people take this at face value, it becomes and even bigger problem when, as the internet and social media encourages, that misinformation is then shared. The odd thing is that this doesn’t seem to be the case with other instruments as it is with the ukulele. As a player of the banjo, I rarely see banjo players telling other would-be banjo players to skip the hard bits, in fact it’s more often the opposite; practise and you’ll get it!

 There’s something else at work here, too, though. Let’s take a little trip back in time to when I was a teenager learning to play guitar. If I wanted to play a song I had on record (vinyl!) I could either work it out myself, by ear, or go to the music shop and buy the score. The score was usually in the ‘piano/vocal/guitar’ style, which meant is was essentially a piano arrangement of the song with chord boxes over it. At best this served as a rough guide, as it didn’t show the guitarist how the guitar player on the record actually played the song, so even with the score (if indeed there was one available), there was still a certain amount of working out by ear, lifting the needle of the record over and over again to try and catch that tricky bit. It took time, it was laborious, and there was no way to check what you were doing as there was no internet. We frequently got it wrong, but then would play it in front of another player and they might correct us, or we might see the performer play it on video and see their hand go to a different place to us on the neck. This sounds awful compared to the world of instant gratification we see daily online, but it wasn’t. This was learning; this process was invaluable. As we worked out songs, we trained our ears, we learned new fingerboard patterns, and, yes, we learned theory as we started to see that certain chord patterns occurred over and over again. We were even training ourselves for the time when we would get up and play with others by playing along to the record. Recently, someone asked about coming to an intermediate workshop of mine. They told me that they were worried it would be too easy as they had been playing for a month. A month! People are constantly told that the uke is easy, and of course physically it is much, much easier to get a pleasing tone out of a uke on day one that a violin, trumpet, or flute, but once you get playing, well music is music! Yes, a three chord song on a uke is easy enough to learn, but so is a 3 chord song on the piano! What isn’t so easy is to understand what you are playing and why, to go beyond reading the little pictures of chords, to jam with others, to compose songs, to really play music.

 So what can a teacher offer that the internet can’t? Firstly, a teacher will find out where you are and where you want to be and plan a route to get you there. In doing this, they’ll also know what kind of things you need to know that you don’t know you need to know (I’m starting to sound like Donald Rumsfeld)! They can repeat, rephrase and re-explain anything as many times as you want, and can present you with learning materials that are suitable for you and correct (unlike so much of the material available for free online). On top of a that, a teacher offers a two-way learning environment, meaning that while you play, the teacher will listen and observe, and be able to correct poor technique or spot those tiny mistakes you didn’t notice. A teacher will stop you cherry picking the easy stuff, but will introduce the tougher aspects gradually at an achievable rate and will be able to adjust that difficulty to reflect how easy or hard the student finds it. Your teacher will also be there to answer any questions between lessons. Finally, having regular lessons gives you a deadline (the next lesson), and having a deadline is a great motivator for practice. Yes, you also have to be discerning when finding a teacher. Look for recommendations, look for reputation, and yes look online for free content that the teacher provides as well. Remember that anyone can call themselves a teacher (I witnessed someone go from non-player wanting lessons, to a ‘teacher’ with a professional-looking website in a matter of weeks).

 I understand that lessons cost money, and that one lesson can cost more than a beginner uke (the disadvantage of ukes being relatively cheap; the same price for cello lessons doesn’t seem like much of an outlay when you’ve spent thousands on a cello!) but it’s worth mentioning that, although we love our instruments, they are just boxes with strings on. The real value in an instrument is being able to play it well, and the real value in being able to play is boundless; a new and rewarding social life, the pleasure of being able to entertain yourself and others, the ability to express yourself in a new way, the ability to play with others, the appreciation of your audience, maybe even paid gigs! I know people with 20 or more ukes who tell me they don’t want to spend money on lessons. That’s like owning a Ferrari but begrudging paying for a driving instructor!

Check out www.phildoleman.co.uk

11