The Merry Go Round

(An expanded and edited version of this post appears in Rhan’s new book, All In Good Time – a Book About Playing Music for the Aspiring Ukulele Player. It is available at: )


I had this thought the other day while teaching a group of beginner ukulele players.

Often, when a new player is learning a song, they feel the need to play every chord every time, and if they miss one, they want to stop the song and start over. This works if you are practicing by yourself (though I don’t suggest that way to practice) but if you are playing with anyone else, then you are stopping the song for no reason.

The best thing to do is to just stop playing, listen to the other players, get your bearings, and wait for the next opportunity to jump back in.

Like a merry go round at the playground.

Once you get that thing going around and around – let it go. If you miss jumping on where you wanted to – just watch it go, and get ready to jump on the next time your place comes around again. There is no need to stop it and make everyone start over – just watch it and get your timing right. Then you will be able to jump right on with little effort, right?

Music is like this at times. The beat goes on, as they say, and if you are learning about rhythm, and know where the “one” is, you can just take your time, hear where that “one” is, and get right back into the song with little of no effort.

At first – it may take awhile to jump right back on – don’t let that discourage you. It’s much like when you were a little kid on the merry go round. The more you practice jumping on and off, the easier it gets. And it’s fun, too. Sometimes the real fun isn’t going round and round all the time – sometimes the real fun is jumping off and getting back on again.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment.

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13 Responses to “The Merry Go Round”

  1. Annette Rodrigues Says:

    Great article. I’m practicing a duet with a great singer and we want to do Why do Fools Fall in Love on April 1? That’s a great song with great flowing fast chord changes, Singing and playing one sometimes misses a beat, but if we are both playing, I think we can pull it off.

    We’re going to practice the Merry-Go-Round method tonight.

    Thanks for the tips.

  2. Rudy Says:

    Very well put. I just wish we could put this out to more people. This stopping really puts the breaks on a group learning a song. I think if you need to stop the song it should be when you are practicing by yourself so you can go over the part you’re having trouble with as many times as you need.
    Thank you Rhan.

  3. Lor Larsen Says:

    I love this advice, Rhan, and have found it very true in my experience. While I’m sitting out and looking for my jumping-in spot, I’m still participating, still engaged with the song. I might be singing or keeping the beat with my body. Or maybe I’m strumming with the strings muffled or fingering silently with my left hand but not strumming. And of course listening, as you said. I’m getting ready to jump in! Keeping the song going gives me the support of its momentum. It can be useful to stop and figure things out sometimes, but not when I’m playing with people. Then, I want to be engaged with the song, enjoy the ride, and, as you said, look for that chance to jump back on when I fall off the merry-go-round.

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      You are saying all the right things! Keeping the beat with your body is still playing music! You know, the other thing about jumping off the merry go round, is that you can help push and make it even more fun for those still on!
      woo hoo!

  4. webmasterpluc Says:

    I certainly agree. We play a few classical numbers & other instrumentals with just sheet music in our club; if I ever get lost I always find myself biding my time before joining in again – just like you’ve described above. A perfect analogy!
    Thanks for that.

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      I love hearing this. Thanks for commenting. What is the name of your club and where is it?

      • webmasterpluc Says:

        Hi Rhan,
        We’re the People of Lewisham’s Ukulele Club (PLUC) & are based in Lewisham, south east London, England. We have folk come from all over London, Kent & Surrey to our free weekly open strumalongs (& sometimes visitors from overseas – our record so far is four holidaying Australians!).
        I’ve ended up becoming the webmaster & always have fun linking to useful sites like yours & producing articles to help out our group members & anyone else passing by.

      • Rhan Wilson Says:

        Wonderful. You know…. I send out a newsletter to over 600 people – mostly here in Santa Cruz, CA, but also to many ukers all over the world. I would love to hear from you now and then – I am sure we all would. Please check out: http://www.ukelist,com to sign up to receive it and send it a notice about your group or anything else ukable!
        Rhan Wilson

      • webmasterpluc Says:

        Thanks very much – I’ve just signed up & will have a good look round! Jeanette

  5. Clyde Ortego Says:

    Hey Rhan:

    Your advice is on the spot.

    WhenI started playing the Baritone myself and three other guys from my church did a skit in a show as a fund raiser and long story short,
    I did the same thing your advice said to do.

    I had no one to tell me what to do I just thought it was the right thing to do and listen to the other three and jump in when I knew they were in the same spot I was looking at one the song.


    Clyde Ortego

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