This week marked the start of my ukulele endeavour to learn two songs by November. The first song I want to learn is “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, as it only has three chords so is a good beginner song. For my second song, I am hoping to learn the ukulele version of something a little more advanced such as “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers. I have no idea if my goals are achievable, as I have never played a string instrument before. I am hopeful and planning to work hard, but we will see how it goes. Luckily, I have an incredible network of support within my cohort made of people who either already know how to play the ukulele, or who are also learning.
During the school week, I was able to attend a ukulele tuning session offered by Dr. Prest and learned how to tune my instrument. We practiced tuning both by using a piano and singing, as well as by using two different websites that she provided as resources. I now feel much more confident about doing it at home. She also explained that the way my ukulele is strung is for a high g rather than the lower g that most are strung to. This is due to the thickness or rather lack thereof, of my g string. The information was very helpful because due to my current beginning level of knowledge I would not have known, and most likely would have been tuning my ukulele wrong.
On Saturday I had my first proper practice session learning the chords for “Twinkle Twinkle”. The three chords that I need for the song are C, F, and G7, which I have made and attached visual representations for using Google Drawings. C and F are the most straightforward, and easiest to position my fingers on the fretboard for.
G7, on the other hand, is trickier. It requires 3 fingers, and the placement is very close together on the small fretboard of the ukulele.
As I mentioned before, I have never played a string instrument. Thus, I am lacking in dexterity, or finger flexibility. Visually, the chord seems easy enough, but then when I go to play it I have a hard time slotting the ring finger on my left hand (3) behind my middle finger (2) in a timely fashion. I think the main struggle is that I have to fit them both in such a small space without touching the string between them that my index finger (1) is on. I am able to get my fingers into the correct positions on the fretboard eventually, but it requires quite a bit of cognitive processing and maneuvering. I am hoping that with a lot of practice over time I will be able to make the transition smoothly without so much thought.
I also discovered that when I strum with my thumb I tend to miss my bottom string. I do not know why or how, but I cannot consistently include it in my strum. So, I have started using my index finger to strum. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of people teaching how to strum, and my impression from what I watched is that there is no single correct way of strumming. Two that I found particularly helpful were by Cynthia Lin and Elise Ecklund. Everyone seems to strum slightly different depending on what is most comfortable for them. In terms of practicing, I think I will continue to use the index finger method that I discovered, but I plan to ask the other people in my cohort who are learning how they have been strumming to see if I can gain any more insight.
Continuing on the subject of fingers and chords, it turns out when you aren’t used to playing, your fingers get incredibly sore from holding down the strings on the fretboard. I was only able to practice for about an hour, because after that my fingers were so deeply grooved that it hurt too much to keep playing. I am writing this the day after, and while the marks are gone my fingers remain quite sore. I know that over time my fingers will develop some strength and that I will be able to play for longer, but until then I will have to take into account my limits and try to space out my practicing to allow time for my fingers to heal.
Overall, at the end of my first week of practice I now know how to tune my ukulele, the chords that I need for my first song, the finger positions for the chords, and other logistics about strumming and finger strength that will be useful going forward. The plan for this next week is to continue practicing my chords, my transitions, and to also start looking at sheet music rather than just a list of the chord progressions.