How to Practice

Preliminary remark

Beforehand I want to make clear that I don’t believe to know the perfect method for practice. If anything, I want to argue that something like this doesn’t exist at all. Humans are too different for that — what works for one player, may fail miserably for another one. Thus, I just try to collect some general advice that proved to be useful from my point of view. At any rate you should give your own thoughts on your practice method.

At the end of the day, all this can’t replace a good teacher. Unfortunately I don’t know many good ukulele teachers. In case of doubt, you can try to transfer virtues from guitar methods to the ukulele. However, the ukulele is a self-sufficient instrument — not everything which applies for the guitar is adequate for the ukulele.

Observe yourself while practicing, and consider the results from time to time. Are there any problems slipping in? Which kind of practice do you enjoy most? What aids your progress? Always look for new sources and alternative approaches and techniques — nobody has a monopoly on the truth!

1.) Practice to make music

The most important rule for practice — and this is my very personal belief — is: Make music.

I know many technical exercises and directions which solely target to train and optimize certain motion sequences. Surely this objective can be accomplished hereby. Admittedly, whoever concentrates only on this kind of exercises, may gain the ability to perform runs and scales at imposing speed. However, it might happen that he fails to learn to make music. Reeling off perfectly uniform notes at high speed can also be done by a computer — why should one strive to copy that?

In my opinion, it’s much more important to play musically. Every single note you play should contain something which no computer can provide: A little piece of love, passion, enthusiasm, or whichever emotion impassionates you.

Whoever wants to make music the same way he does his tax declaration, should let it alone.

Just like all technical abilities, musicality is something which has to be learned. And the best way to learn it is by making music. Whatever you play, whatever you practice, always remember that you want to make music, not just produce notes or complete a finger training.

2.) Practice regularly, but not excessively!

While learning an instrument like the ukulele, the body undergoes a physical adaption. The locomotor system accomodates to the new challenges, and the finger tips will build calluses. Certain muscular groups will be built up. All of this requires time — and regularity. Thus it is much more sensible to practice briefly but regularly, than trying to win trough by brute force, if something doesn’t work out immediately. If something hurts, stop practicing for the day, otherwise injuries may happen.

Who only practices once a month for a whole day will never make good progress. On the other hand, who practices every day for a quarter-hour, will soon perceive playing as natural and easy.

3.) Practice easily and with pleasure!

While practicing, you are basically training everything simultaneously what you are doing. This also applies to looseness or uptightness, and even a bit how you perceive the situation. If practice always means effort and struggle, you will downright train to associate this mindset with playing.

Therefore it is better not to take practice too doggedly. A few mistakes are not the end of the world. If something absolutely doesn’t work out, it’s better to try something different. Perhaps just play a bit around or try something new which you enjoy. That’s all better than getting wound up in an exercise. Maybe it’ll work better after consulting your pillow. Or maybe you’re practicing something which is a bit too advanced yet — in this case you should reconsider your practice plan.

Whatever you’re playing or practicing — always avoid tensing up, and always strive for an easy and relaxed posture. If the excercise you’re playing doesn’t allow for this, because you don’t have the physical prerequisites so far, it is too difficult yet and should be postponed.

4.) Practice slowly!

One of the biggest mistakes is to practice at a too high tempo. When beginning to learn a new piece, the regular tempo is a lot too high at the beginning. Practice so slowly that you can easily play every single note precisely, easily, beautifully and with feeling. Only if you can play the whole piece slowly without problems, the tempo may be increased step by step. However, make sure that you don’t loose the easiness of the slow paying, and don’t slack off — don’t allow mistakes or uncleanliness to creep in.

5.) Don’t practice mistakes!

If you play the wrong note, the worst thing you can do is to stop and repeat from the beginning with the same tempo, and then run into the same mistake again. If this happens, and you repeat it again and again, you’ll be practicing the mistake. And if you work yourself up into a frenzy, you will unnecessarily tense up. You should definitely avoid this situation.

6.) Practice in sections!

So what should one do? It’s easy: Just practice the the difficult sections individually. And that slowly, precisely and correctly, and within their context. That means: Begin a few notes before, and end a few notes behind. A large piece of music should be divided into sections, which you can practice one by one within their context.

If you can’t get a section right, you should consider that the piece is possibly too difficult yet — maybe it’s more sensible to play easier pieces for now.

7.) Practice tempo slowly!

Is there a section which you can’t play fast enough? Don’t worry, this happens to me all the time. Building tempo takes time. You can’t enforce it. However, you can support it. In order to play cleanly at a high tempo, the motion sequences have to be optimized perfectly. Therefore, especially the fast sections of a piece should be practiced very slowly, so you can control the motion sequences precisely and fluently. Only if you can play a section flawlessly with good and fluid motion sequences — so to speak in time lapse — it is sensible to increase the tempo step by step — but never so much that mistakes or inaccuracies begin to creep in.

Maybe the whole piece is too fast at the beginning — definitely avoid playing at a too high tempo. It’s not sensible to practice a section in a tempo you can’t keep up. Playing a pices slowly and correctly will help on. Playing at a too high tempo, and thus stumbling all the time, won’t.

8. Practice playing in time!

When auditioning, it’s much more annoying to stuble or completely loose track of a piece, than just playing one or two wrong notes. Therefore you should always practice to play in time and to keep track, even if you’re playing a few mistakes. Don’t stop, keep the tempo and keep playing! Practice the difficult sections lateron.