Location of Ritz Music
88 Sheen Road
Richmond TW9 1UF
I approach my uke teaching very much in a ‘not just for Xmas’ kind of way so outside of the actual lessons themselves am always more than happy to help people with things like ‘what are the best ukes to start with’, ‘how much should I spend’, ‘How do I put new strings on’ etc. So I thought I’d include here some of the regular questions that come up from people on my courses or considering joining.
Can I join in a beginner’s group class if I’ve no previous musical experience?
YES! Most of the people who join my ‘Absolute Beginners’ classes, have never played any sort of instrument before and they always can play at least four songs by the end of just the first lesson.
What’s the advantages of doing a group or one to one class?
From all the people I’ve taught, it’s just a personal thing around your learning style preferences really. Some seem to be more confident and enjoy the chance to cover the basics (holding, strumming, chord shaping etc) in the one to one atmosphere so they have the space and full attention of the teacher to get things right. They then maybe join a group class after that. Others seem to just love the buzz that there can be in a group and want to ‘just go for it’.
Some people also start with a group and then if they want to maybe explore certain styles, say blues, jazz, caberet etc will then go for one to one lessons to develop the particular techniques for those.
Maybe the best way is to try both and see what suits you best, though group sessions tend to be more cost effective and the session price is usually quite a bit cheaper.
Do I need to own my own ukulele?
Not straight away necessarily. As I teach at a music tuition centre connected to a music shop, we always have loads of ukes around for people to try out to see how they get on. However, as practice is the key to improving, I’d strongly suggest purchasing as soon as you know you are going to keep going to take it up long term so you can practice the stuff your learn at the lessons at home.
What size of ukulele should I buy?
If you are an adult, for me it’s definitely either the ones known as a ‘tenor’ or ‘concert'. (Which is just a bit bigger than a ‘concert’, with the smallest being a ‘soprano’). And if you are new to playing any stringed instrument then go for a tenor. The reason for this is at the early stages of playing, people are understandably finding it all a bit ‘fingers and thumbs-ish’ and as the tenor is that bit larger they have a more room to get their fingers in the right place on the fret board (the long bit of the instrument where you make the chords general with your left hand).
The other main advantage of the tenor is a practical one in that as most ukes don’t come fitted to play with a strap stud to support a neck strap to support it while you play and the tenors sit more comfortably on your lap which again means you don’t have to worry about supporting the instrument as ‘another thing to do’ while you are learning your first chords, strums and songs.
What if I’ve already bought a Concert or Soprano?
Absolutely no worries at all and you’ll enjoy your learning experience in exactly the same way. As your teacher I would make sure I stay attentive to supporting you at the lessons if some of the chords are a bit more of a challenge on the smaller size ukes.
How much should I spend?
Needless to say this is always down to people’s individual budgets, however from all the people I’ve taught most people who start with the very entry level ones which tend to be around £20, find themselves wanting to upgrade pretty quickly. There’s no doubt that they look fun in the bright colours and they really can do an okay job but one of the main downsides is that they tend to slip out of tune quite easily. This can then really make people think they are not playing things right as the sound they are hearing is not totally in tune but actually it’s the instrument. So if you can push the budget up to above £40 your learning will progress much faster and be more of an enjoyable experience.
Also even if you do want to spend a bit more, try a load out as there are some really great ones on the market for under £90!
Why not a ‘baritone’?
The biggest of the uke family apart from the ‘U-Bass’ (ie a ukulele bass).They are tuned completely different to the Tenor, concert and soprano so unlikely the teacher will have mixed chord sheets available at a standard beginner’s class. So playing in groups and using the same chord sheets can be an issue.
However, as they are tuned the same as the top four strings on a guitar, if you are already a guitarist you can switch to a baritone in a jiffy!
Just as a side issue, I personally also play a baritone but with a special set of strings which are ‘tenor sets for baritones’ which means you get the lovely rounded sound of the baritone but you can just play the exactly the same chords as they group and use the same song sheets – very handy!
Which uke to buy if my kids wants one?
Unless they are already musicians probably playing another stringed instrument or you know they are 110% committed, I’d suggest one of the fun coloured entry level ones. However, if you are near a music shop, go in and ask the people there to try them out to get you the best one from their stock. They absolutely are NOT all the same quality. I’m currently teaching at a school who were donated 40 of these ukes of the same brand and the quality really differs instrument to instrument and also how they stay in tune. Just anecdotally and I’m defo not saying this will always be the case but just from this batch the orange ones seem to be the best by quite a way! Maybe someone out there is the twittersphere knows the reason…? A uke mystery…..
What if I’m keen to learn the banjolele?
The chords are exactly the same as the other ukes but a few different strumming patterns to master, particularly if it’s ‘The George Formby’ style you are keen to learn.
One thing to mention is that they are much louder instruments so you might need to be just be a bit vigilant you’re not playing too loud that others sitting near you can’t hear what they are doing….but you’d be more than welcome in any of my classes!