Ukulele skills development anyone?

Five years ago I first picked up a ukulele, having bought a wonderful Collings pre production concert uke in New York. After 18 months of playing around with it, I decided to get some proper instruction. I eventually found a local teacher, but I was amazed at the lack of available teachers for a 1 – 1 basis.

I have often blogged about how the uke can be mostly a focul point for social meet ups and strum alongs and there’s definetely a place for that. In fact this Friday I’ll be sound engineer for a local uke group playing an evening of cover versions. I’ve done this many times before and its a fun night.

I also read today that Sore Fingers were struggling to get more than four people to attend their skills development workshop in 2019. They need a minimum of ten people to make a class viable and so far only four have shown definate interest. In a country where there seems to be a “uke festival” every few weeks, this seems like a terrible response but it does confirm my theory that many who pick up the uke, do so just to learn a few chords and strum along with friends. Most festival acts play cover versions and some attempt the comedic quirky route which personally I’m not a fan of, but there seems to be a real appetite for that. Yes, there are some workshops, but these are usually 60 minutes only and at the last one I attended the presenter commented “I really thought we be a lot further on than we are” during his slot, clearly surprised at the lack of musical skills from the audience.

There’s a lot of uke discussion online and an abundance of questions asking for advice. Many seem to think that watching youtube videos is the way to go, but I would always advise seeing a live human being. Phil Doleman remains a beacon of hope for ukulele education and wrote an article for the site here –

Matt Stead also is a driving force in teaching the uke in the UK and his Uke Room is a great place to learn and develop skills. You can find him here

Overseas James Hill has been a driving force in showing people the possibilities for the instrument and is once of the few ukulele players that crosses over to attract wider publci appeal.

Personally I think the ukulele is a brilliant instrument, and my hope is that the UK ukulele community can generate enough enthusiasm so a 2019 Sore Fingers workshop can take place. I guess we’ll know by the Friday deadline…

11 Responses to Ukulele skills development anyone?

  1. Ellen SJ 28th November 2018 at 9:28 pm #

    Following with bated breath! Yes, I quickly got bored of the 60 minute workshop format and really want the opportunity to develop skill intensely over a number of days. Like you say, I guess we’ll know by Friday.

    • nick cody 28th November 2018 at 9:50 pm #

      60 minutes is IMO way too short to teach a group anything meaningful, BUT many of these uke festivals are IMO pretty hyperactive with 20 min set times. I’m amazed there is not more interest in musical education, but it seems that for many (not all) the uke is more like a prop in a social meet up rather than a musical instrument. Too harsh?

  2. Verity 7th December 2018 at 6:18 pm #

    I think there’s a big difference between a 60 minute festival workshop, and a lesson. In the former I think one would aim to cover quite a lot of ground to give attendees a good flavour of the subject and a bunch of pointers as to what they could do to improve their skills, through practise, on an ongoing basis (at any rate, that’s how I approached the two workshops I ran at IoWUF this year).
    A lesson, on the other hand, would be just a part of a medium to long-term commitment to teach at a progressive level from absolute beginners up to an advanced skillset, depending on the starting point of the ‘pupil’.
    As regards a strumalong, at Wight Ukers we introduce 5 or 6 new songs each month, aiming to practise them with a view to being performable (if we like them) by the end of the month. A couple of easy ones which everyone should be able to ‘get’ quite quickly, a couple of more difficult numbers using a wider range of chords or more unusual chords/keys, and then one or two which will be a real challenge. If you push yourself outside your comfort-zone, that zone gets bigger!

    • nick cody 7th December 2018 at 6:26 pm #

      I think there is a place for both learning environments, but I truly hope there is more enthusiasm for skills development. SoreFingers will be a litmus test for this…

  3. Verity 8th December 2018 at 10:54 am #

    I’d love to do a SoreFingers, but it’s a substantial outlay in both time and money, neither of which I have in abundance at present! And I would guess that that’ll be the case for most people. If you only get 20 days leave a year from work, committing to a week uses a quarter of that; if your family/spouse doesn’t come along it’s time you can’t spend with them; if a partner comes then it’s double the cost…
    You’re always looking at how events come together, Nick; I reckon if something so obviously desirable can’t attract 10 punters, then there’s something wrong with the model. Suppose that SoreFingers, instead of being a week, ran across 3 weekends over a couple of months?

    • nick cody 8th December 2018 at 11:06 am #

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with the model as this event has been running sucessfully since 1996!

      The lack of uke interest highlights IMO the difference between the uke enthusiasts and many musicians who are more focussed on musical development. There is no right or wrong but its more an observation that for many (not all) the uke enthusiasts are focussed on social meet ups and group jams than musical development. There is also an amazing amount of politics (both in the open and behind the scenes even more) in uke circles which also limits appeal to a wider public.

  4. Phil Doleman 8th December 2018 at 12:15 pm #

    The Sore Fingers model is incredibly successful, and it does in fact run twice a year, one is a week (Easter) and one is a weekend (October). They get hundreds of people attending both events, more attendees than many uke festivals get. The thing is that the uke is an outlier at Sore Fingers, it’s not really considered a traditional bluegrass/ old-time instrument. Every banjo/ fiddle/ mandolin/ etc. player I’ve encountered knows about it and has probably attended at some point. Many ex-students are now very big names. It’s a music education camp, so not aimed at uke players in particular, and I can’t imagine they would feel the need to change in order to accommodate uke players!

    The reason it runs for a week at Easter is because they bring in top American touring musicians to teach, many of them quite famous, Grammy-award winning players who you simply can’t get all together in one place unless it’s for a decent amount of time and you can pay them well. If it were over many weekends, it would be impossible to get the calibre of teachers. It also takes place in a boarding school, which is perfect (accommodation, food, well-equipped classrooms) but of course it can only happen when the children are away on holidays as it takes a day or two to bring everything in, set it up, and tear it all down again before the children return.

    In the US there are similar things to Sore Fingers, but aimed at uke players (I’ve had the pleasure at teaching at the West Coast Ukulele Retreat, and it’s several days of full timetable lessons, with some of the sessions carrying over 3 days, so there’s room for development outside of the traditional 1 hour workshop).

    Matt Stead has done a similar thing at the Uke Room and it was really successful.

    • nick cody 8th December 2018 at 12:40 pm #

      I have never attended Sore Fingers but I have done a few Martin Simpson weekend workshops and I can 100% vouch that this kind of musical immersion is vastly better as a learning opportunity.

      Matt Stead is also doing great work in this respect, but I still am surprised at such little interest.

      I’m seeing a decline in uke festival interest which is not surprising in these economic times and when they are almost all (there are some exceptions) running to the exact same template with the exact same artists.

  5. nick cody 8th December 2018 at 1:53 pm #

    I don’t know if this is a UK behaviour, but there seems very little enthusiasm for really exploring musical development within the uke enthusiasts. I even heard one promoter describe a number of superb technical respected artists as “boring” while at the same time booking people for main stage with very basic skills and only a few months experience of the instrument! Each to their own, but its certainly not to my taste. Phil Doleman’s books are excellent and essential for anyone wanting to do more than strum a few chords

  6. Candace Bloom 9th December 2018 at 9:36 am #

    I do have a Uke Beginnings class in Amsterdam for 7 years dedicated to basic skills and reading.. The program is ongoing and is complete with curriculum I I created with my background as a teacher for string educator. I hosted weekly strum and sings here in Amsterdam for 7 years and was truly disappointed in the level of skills and am happy that many have taken my course and now continue support the initiate. My course is perfect for travelers and can be attended daily for one – six hours of sessions per day. I f you don’t finish the sessions we can continue through fb or on a return visit.. We also include a performance canal cruise with this new Ukulele Club of Amsterdam membership.. So sen me a message or just sign up. At

    • nick cody 9th December 2018 at 9:46 am #

      Thanks for the reply. I’ve done some research and it really seems that many (not all) uke enthusiasms neither want to watch/listen to skilled performers and/or develop musical skills. I am genuinely quite surprised and even had one festival organiser insist that festival attendees couldn’t concentrate in watching an act for more than 20 min max, which IMO is pretty tragic…

      Fortunately there some beacons of hope out there including MUMF festival, Phil Doleman and Matt Stead’s initiatives and of course the OUS movement

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.