Practice can get a bad rap.
For me, it’s conjures up scary images from university of slaving away in a dark, sound-isolated practice booth that smelled like leftover body odor from the last person who was in there sweating it out.
A standard music practice room – what I like to call the “stink box”
Practice actually stunk!
However, I’ve discovered it doesn’t have to be this way. Practice can be fun, while also being intentional and focused, allowing you to achieve your goals of making the music you want to make on the ukulele.
However, most of us don’t know how to practice.
Effective practice that helps you improve starts with:
- Your Reason
- Your Place
- Your Focus
Let’s look at how to discover these and come up with a rock-solid method for practicing the ukulele.
Your Reason – Why You Play Ukulele
You must have a reason for why you practice.
What motivates you to play the ukulele?
For me, it’s to experience the joy of making music with others. It gives me energy and fuel. I’m happier when I’m making music.
For you, your motivation to play ukulele might be to win the heart of your crush. Others of you might want to be able to make music with your grandkids. Some of you have a lifelong dream of playing an instrument. Maybe it reminds you of that time you went to Hawaii. Perhaps you want to be a world-class performer.
These are great motivations to practice.
Think about and identify your motivation.
While some of us don’t have to think too hard about this, when you find yourself in a rut and discouraged, it’s important to remember why you play the ukulele.
Your Place – When & Where You Practice
While you have to start here, motivation isn’t enough.
Motivation can quickly wane when we face obstacles, like when you can’t switch chords in that one song without stopping. Discouragement can creep in when your fingers aren’t as agile as you want them to be to fingerpick that scale or solo.
When we don’t feel motivated, we can fallback on our practice ritual or habit.
A practice habit starts with two main things:
- When you practice
- Where you practice
The number one reason students tell me for not practicing ukulele is time.
We all have the same amount of time in a day, so if you’re saying learning ukulele is important to you, let’s get creative with it. Remember, it’s better to practice for just 15 minutes per day than having a marathon practice sessions for a couple hours every few days.
- Bring your ukulele to work to play on a break
- Set out your ukulele on a stand in the family room, so you’re more likely to pick it up
- Buy a ukulele case and take it with you when you’re traveling on the road
- Carry your ukulele in your backpack on campus
- Put your ukulele on a stand right by your bed so you see it first thing in the morning
I know for myself if my ukulele is in its case put up in my closet I’m way less likely to take it out and play. This is why I keep a ukulele on a stand in my office within arms reach, so I’m frequently reminded to pick it up and play. This is a powerful environmental trigger to make it easy for me to play ukulele.
It’s even better though if you can schedule your practice and have a dedicated space, such as a your back porch or a quiet room in your house without distractions. For me, my home office is the quietest and free from distractions.
Find your time and place to practice ukulele to create your practice habit.
Think about your time creatively and use the power of your environment to get into a creative mindset.
Your Focus – What You Practice
Have you ever had it where you pick up the ukulele and feel like you’re playing the same old things over and over again?
Maybe you’re a beginner and you feel completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ukulele lessons and information out there. Where do you even start? Maybe you’ve been playing for awhile and you’ve hit a plateau and don’t know how to get better. What do you do to break through?
It’s normal to feel in a rut as a musician or like you don’t know what to practice next.
You can have your motivation, time and place, but if you aren’t focused on a goal, you’ll start to feel like you’re peddling without a bike chain.
Your goal might be to play “While My Ukulele Gently Weeps”, but don’t forget to start small first!
So, what makes a great ukulele practice goal?
Let’s borrow from the SMART goal framework. A great practice goal for ukulele is:
- Specific. The goal is simply stated and easy to understand. Good, specific goals are: “I want to learn how to switch from a G to D7 chord while strumming a calypso strumming pattern without stopping,” or, “I want to memorize the C major scale in first position,” or, “I want to learn how to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
- Measurable. It’s clear when you have achieved the goal because a number is attached to it. “I will switch from a G to D7 chord to a count of four at 80 beats per minute on a metronome,” or, “I will learn the first eight measures of the intro to Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
- Achievable. Your goal is within reach and not outside the scope of your current ability. For example, if you’ve played ukulele less than a month, an unachievable goal and one not worth focusing on would be to play While My Guitar Gently Weeps as performed by Jake Shimabukuro.
- Relevant. The goal should be within the scope of your interests on ukulele. For example, if you’re interested in strumming chords and singing, then, learning the notes of the fretboard might not be relevant to how you want to play the instrument. That’s okay!
- Time-based. Every great goal has a time limit for when you should achieve that goal. I recommend making smaller goals for a two-week period to stay focused, motivated and inspired.
Focus your practice by writing out a ukulele practice goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
There is an art to creating effective goals on which to focus your practice.
For many ukulele players, it’s quite difficult to craft well-articulated goals that factor in your current skill level and where you want to be.
This is why having a teacher or a ukulele group is so important to help define those goals for you. Having a teacher allows you to spend your time focusing on what’s important – practicing your instrument. A great teacher will be able to understand where you’re at and suggest the right things to practice to help you make the music you want to make.
Many students have joined Strumming Tricks or Fingerpicking Tricks because they needed a step-by-step roadmap to learn how to play ukulele. All is there to help focus your practice on making the music you love.
Remember you’re not alone in your journey!
When you feel stuck in your practice, remember to find your reason, your place and your focus, and you are sure to experience the thrill of learning the ukulele.