Tag Archives: lessons

How to practice effectively [video]

This is a short video from TED Talk on how to practice more effectively. It includes some useful tips & really interesting information based on what we know about the brain & how we learn tasks.

This ties-in with my previous blogs on rehearsal & my own (admittedly rather limited) research on music and the human brain [see previous posts]. Let me know what you think!

If the above video doesn’t work, here’s a link so you can access the short TED Talk video on YouTube.

Enjoy! xx

Ukulele Problems: Tuning

Ukulele beach(pic courtesy of ukulelemusichawaii.com)

So you’ve bought your first ukulele & learned a few chords. But now you’ve noticed that it’s gone out of tune. No matter, you have a tuner, you tune up. Done. But after a pretty short time, it’s out of tune again. Why?

I get this query a lot from my new ukulele students. Just as they are getting started with their first steps into music-making on this instrument, they become frustrated with it’s apparent lack of tuning stability.

New ukuleles come with new strings, which haven’t been ‘played in’. Just like a new set of strings of a guitar, they need to be ‘stretched’. As ukulele strings are made from nylon, which is a very flexible material, this is even more apparent.

The quickest way to to this is following these basic steps:

  1. Tune your ukulele
  2. Take a hold of the strings & gently pull them up, away from the fingerboard, repeating across a few different parts of the string (see an example video here)
  3. Re-tune the ukulele
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 until re-tuning is no longer required

Hey presto! problem solved! Your ukulele should now not only remain stable after playing, but also hold it’d tuning better when travelling (though extreme changes in temperature will still cause the strings to expand and contract).

The video included via hyper link in point 2, above (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=px0ds0T3ric) is one of many available online to help you better visualise what I mean by stretching the strings. It’s not as difficult as you might think!

Other things to remain mindful of:

While stretching the strings is by far the most common solution to fixing a consistently out of tune uke, you may still notice occasional tuning issues. Perhaps simple, mostly open chords sound correct, but those with three or four fretted notes, or barre chords, have one or two out of tune strings when played. More perplexing, this can happen when the open strings are still correctly tuned up.

The problem? In this case, it’s intonation.

Provided you have a decent instrument, where the frets are set up and spaced correctly (watch out for the false economy of the bottom range ‘budget models’), then this can easily be fixed by paying close attention to how you fret the notes. You may find, on new or more interestingly shaped chords, that you are pressing down too hard on certain strings, pushing that note slightly out of tune with the rest of the chord. Some positions might require you to stretch or bend a finger in a way which means it is not sitting behind the fret as per the standard method. This too, can be fixed with a little bit of practise, and a small amount of mindfulness. Happy Uke-ing!

Book Review: Higgledy Piggledy Jazz for Classical Guitar Ensemble

Higgledy Piggledy Jazz is the brainchild of teacher and composer Elena Cobb (http://www.elenacobb.com/index.html), who is on a dual mission to introduce more Jazz into children’s learning, and make it fun at the same time. As well as her books for Piano, Elena also has versions for guitar and alto sax students, and it’s the Classical Guitar Ensemble book I am reviewing today.

Ten of Elena’s Piano peices have been arranged for a combination of duo, trio and quartets and set in order of technical complexity. The scores are clear and easy to read, with each part clearly marked*. The first few peices in the book are variation on Blues in C and very simplistic. The main melody is one Jazz lick repeated and varied for the chord underneath. The accompanying parts are equaly repetative, and any player beyind the initial stages will quickly bore of it. My suggestion to teachers would be to rotate the lead between players, provided all of them were at the same technical level.

On the plus side, as the book progresses there are some interesting musical ideas, and the three guitar players Elena has called in to arrange these peices have done a good job here. I really feel the intermeadiate peices work better. My personal favourite is ‘Polka Butterfly’, a charismatic duo which would stretches students into a new style. As mentioned before the page layout is clean and easy to read, and I love Elena’s mission to introduce classical players to the swing rythym, something not widely present in the classical guitar repertiore.

My one suggestion would be to include a page at the front to explain notation and guitar-specific symbology (such as the fingering labels and guides for which string to play certian notes on). I appreciate that this book is primarily for teachers, who would provide the guidance on these things to young students, but it would serve as a useful look-up reference page when practising at home.

All in all, this is a useful book for teachers who are looking to encourage their emerging classical guitar students into exploring new styles and mpore contemporary ways of playing. It is also a valuble tool for young ensembles. One of classical guitar’s downfalls is that so often it is a solo venture; it’s uplifting to know tha Elena is working to ensure young students of the guitar do not feel that isolation, and her book will go a long way towards that end. Highly recommended for any classical crossover teachers of children.

[*N.B. – There is also a Tabluture version of this book, for children who are still coming to grips with reading music]