How best to develop ukulele skills?

There are many reasons why people enjoy and play music. Some people are happy to learn to  strum a few chords and there’s definitely a place for that. Others like group strum alongs which can be terrific social events. Many ukulele and other niche festivals can be social meet ups and places where people would rather jam that actually listen to seasoned performers. A major ukulele social media site ran a poll where only 22.8 % of those polled would attend an event to see experienced performers v 52.9 % would prefer to jam with friends. Online there are lots of people asking questions about how to develop skills and the advice can be at times “questionable” at best although well intentioned. Phil Doleman wrote a great article on this very subject here 

In the UK there’s a great interest in promoting ukulele festivals and festival style events with one happening almost every 3 weeks, often with the same core artists. Some of these events have workshop opportunities for learning usually in a 60 minute or 90 minute format. In the past these snapshots have been a lot of fun, but of course there’s only so much you can do in this limited period of time. Memorable ones to date include a claw hammer introduction from Aaron Klein and a rhythm workshop by Phil Doleman. My observation in recent years is that many workshops are not fully sold out even though the actual festival is fully subscribed. This again reconfirms that the festival format is often focused on social interactions rather than learning.

The more intensive learning retreat model is in my view a much better way to develop skills for the following reasons. Firstly those attending have committed a period of time (usually a weekend) solely to musical learning. This makes such events a real immersion process. I have personal experience of attending two wonderful Martin Simpson workshops. This would typically be for a maximum group size of 30 attendees. During this time, we each have a unique opportunity to ask questions and learn a huge amount about the technical aspects of learning but also many other aspects of performing. The frame of the learning environment means students can really forget about worldly activities and only focus on music.

In the UK Sorefingers  have ab excellent reputations for providing excellent learning for students. Both Phil Doleman and Percy Copley are teachers with this group. In June this year Matt Stead is providing a very welcome new learning initiative with a residential ukulele retreat that looks very well organized with some really excellent teachers. See

OUS is all about creating NEW ORIGINAL MUSIC. Musical education is a key element in making this possible and in my view investment in developing such skills is time well spent. We never stop learning and being in the company of music professionals is only going to help with that process.

4 Responses to How best to develop ukulele skills?

  1. Kristy 5th January 2018 at 2:57 pm #

    I have never heard of these learning workshops. I am off uke festivals this year to concentrate on writing, and i’m not very social anyway. But if anyone knows of any of these actual ‘learning’ festivals I would be very interested in that. Let me know.

  2. nick cody 5th January 2018 at 3:17 pm #

    These are not usually described as “festivals” but more as music retreats. Having attended a few I think they are brilliant for people who want to develop skills

  3. Alan Thornton 5th January 2018 at 3:26 pm #

    I forget which famous writer, when asked how to improve as an author, answered,”write, and write and write and write”.
    I think that, in a similar answer to how to improve as an musician, someone might answer, “play, and play… but do so alone, and challenge yourself. Also, improvise when playing with other people or groups. Strumming chords you read from a lead sheet will only get you a short way down the road.”

    • nick cody 5th January 2018 at 5:39 pm #

      I agree 100% but there does seem to be a lot of enthusiasm among many (not all) uke players to resist any kind of musical development and creating new music. There’s a real joy of exploring what the instrument can do and how it can be used to express a wide range of music styles

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