Jeff West asks:
Aloha Music Guru… Our ears are our most important musical tool. So I have my beloved ukulele in my hands — what’s your advice for becoming one with the instrument, i.e. how do most people learn to play by ear so that they can begin soloing. Or what might you advise to someone to develop their feel?
When I was a young, aspiring guitar player, I had an effect called an Echoplex, a gadget that could record whatever it was that you just played, and repeat it over and over. (Nowadays, we have “loopers” that do pretty much the same thing.)
I would play two chords back and forth (ie. Am and D) in a simple rhythm, and it would repeat those back to me for as long as I wanted. I could then practice soloing over those two chords. Because the tempo of the playback was consistent, it also helped me to listen and not rush.
And because I wasn’t trying to play a whole song, l was free to explore and experiment with different scales, or to just make up my own that sounded right to me.
I could also play another rhythm part that could accompany the first one. This helped train my ear to listen while I played.
So there are a couple of ways you can do this same practice – if you have a looper, of course, you can repeat what I have told you.
If you don’t, then get a recorder of some sort, record you playing a simple rhythm for as long as you can (10+ minutes – be patient and just do it) and then play back to it, or get a friend to play with. Decide together that you will practice playing rhythm and soloing, and take turns for an amount of time before opening up the books and playing songs. You will both benefit this way.
Why do this?
Because, in my experience, when you become one with your instrument this way – practicing simple rhythms – when it comes time to play songs, you will have already become familiar with the chords and chord sequences and will have leads, doodles, and accompanying rhythms to work with – all planted in your brain, and you won’t have to even think about it after awhile. You will begin to hear familiar combinations of chords and will need to rely less on looking at the book.
Your uke will be connected to your brain and will begin to talk to you when no one else is listening.