Ukulele Secret #8: Cross Training, with demonstration videos


I recently read a forum post with someone inquiring about an unusual instrument (harp ukelele, but that is not important). It seemed like every other reply was something like “I would never play that!” or “What’s the point?” or “That is stupid.” I am paraphrasing but that is the general feeling I got.

On the other hand, there were some folks, like myself, that were excited and intrigued and even wanted to get one in their hands. That’s more like it! To me, at least. I am always curious to try some new kind of instrument.

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Which brings me to Ukelele Secret #8: Cross Training

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If you ever get the chance to pick up a new (to you) instrument, I highly recommend doing so. Whether “picking it up” means buying one or just trying it out at a friend’s house or a music store, do it!

And I am not talking about trying different ukuleles. Do that, too. But I mean different INSTRUMENTS. Like a banjo, mandolin, sitar, bass guitar, venezuelan cuatro, hammer dulcimer, violin (wince).. etc. These are all stringed instruments but don’t stop there…

Try a piano or keyboard. Learn how to do a triplet or paradiddle on percussion. Get shakin’ with a shaker. Try like heck to get a good note out of a bamboo flute. Pluck a kalimba (thumb piano). Make a sound, make music with whatever you can get your hands on.

After all, you are a musician.

It might sound less than pleasing at first (starting something new always has some learning curve) but spend some time learning a few chords or fishing for a melody.

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Getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing.

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Gosh, why?? Well, because of the different tuning, different sound, shape and feel, new musical ideas emerge that would not have, if you stuck to just one instrument. You don’t have to master it, just noodle. Your brain gets exercised and your creativity gets a boost that you can bring back to the uke.

It will make you a better ukulele player.. maybe even a badass

I am not blowing smoke here, either. I speak from the mountain. I currently own, play, or have played all the instruments mentioned above and gained a level of proficiency with them as well.

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Listening to different kinds of music fits into cross training, too. You don’t have to go buy K-Tel’s Top Hits but just be curious. Try to play something that was originally played on a different instrument. When I was 16 or 17 I transcribed Frank Mills’ Music Box Dancer, a piano song, to classical guitar. I loved the melody so much I just HAD to learn it. So I taught myself.

Which brings this stream of consciousness to my next secret.

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Play anything. Any type of music.

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Don’t limit yourself to “ukulele music”. That’s what’s fun about being a musician. But if you haven’t tried it, there are TONS of resources, tabs (even on this site) for ‘different’ kinds of music to play on the ukulele. Al Woods, proprietor of Ukulele Hunt is one of the best examples of a musician turning the ukulele into a black hole and sucking every kind of music into it.

And if you’ve come to know me even a little, you can see I love to play a great variety of music and flavors.

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So.. here is an example of the joy I get playing different kinds of instruments. It’s a bluegrass classic called Blackberry Blossom. Rhythm guitar is in the left speaker and melody features mandolin, ukulele and acoustic guitar. I am by no means a master of any of these instruments but just getting through a song like this is really fun.

And now for something totally unrelated.. well, not totally. I wrote and recorded the music, played the instruments, except the electronic drum loop, for this self shot and edited video, featuring me enjoying another hobby of mine. Hula hooping.

Get creative!


10 responses to “Ukulele Secret #8: Cross Training, with demonstration videos

  • Melinda

    Thanks for this post. Picking up new instruments makes me grow. I’m on a kazoo these days, and while some people scoff, it’s quite a good harmony maker to the uke. Peace!

  • P.J.

    I agree with you. The same folks who made the “rude” comments probably get really upset when guitarists do the same thing re: ukes.
    I say if you like it, play it!

  • Al

    Thanks very much for the mention! I, obviously, completely agree with you. I’d like to expand the genres I cover on the blog even more if I can. I’ve been thinking about doing a post on Congolese Soukous.

  • adam

    just picked up the mandolin a few weeks ago, i’m hooked! always looking for new styles of play and how to make my uke sound, non traditional. thanks for the upadates! i really like the way your break things down. i’m not a beginner at the uke(only 1 yr exp but i play every day), but i’m new to being a musician/style of play and music etc(not much guitar background besides theory)

  • My Sweet Ukulele

    Excellent post! Love the music (and video) for the hula hoop video. You are a badasss hula-hooper šŸ™‚

  • ukulelesecrets

    Melinda – anything can make music. Fun, huh?

    PJ – Unfortunately I used to be one of those guitar snobs that didn’t understand the musical potential of the ukulele. I have seen the err of my ways…

    Al – Indeed the ukulele would be well suited to the Soukous. I’ve experimented a little with some of those happy sounds.

    Adam – Excellent.

    My Sweet… – Thank you. And nice blog!

  • alec

    I had a dream two nights ago that you updated your blog…

    • Susan

      Hi yes lots of tips ,smiles right-ons.but most jeah havn’t hula-hooped for 30 years *{}*what would be your tiptop secert to begin again ! I will look for my hoops today-suggestion of make? Thanks for all ,’ šŸ™‚
      Like of course with 2 !!

  • joan

    I LOVE to hula hoop. And, now I am loving learning to play the uke! Thanks for this site.

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