You Deserve to Know the Truth

I often get a bit critical when it comes to discussing play-along groups – specifically ukulele dominant gatherings and their leaders.

While I absolutely love the community that is created by the legions of adventurous and enthusiastic uke players, many of whom are for the first time in their lives discovering the joy and pure pleasure of playing music – I sometimes cringe when I hear a group leader dispense incorrect advice and instruction.

“But what’s the harm,” you might ask, “as long as everyone’s having fun?”

“That is absolutely true,” I say to myself. But something nags at me. An inner voice tells me that it is important to point out when incorrect information is being inserted into the DNA of these minds starting out on the musical trail.

I have solved the dilemma of how to dispense correct information to these groups: I lead workshops at uke events, and I started my own weekly workshop/performance group in my home town – The All In Good Time Orchestra.

But I have been struggling with how to answer the question of why do I feel the need to “put the train back on the track.”

Because the train has fallen off the track. The train that was on its way to a wonderful musical destination fell off the tracks somewhere near the station from where it just departed. No one was hurt, thankfully. In fact, no one even realized that they had stopped. They just started playing where they were – but never moved on.

Again you might ask, “So what’s the problem with that?”

The problem is that some of those people wanted to continue their ride. They were hoping to join others at the other end. They wanted to learn how to play with the native music speakers they admired and hoped someday to be.

Imagine taking a language class in preparation to travel to Mexico city and you find yourself in a classroom of people being taught by someone who simply adds an “o” to every word and calls it Spanish.

“I have to go to the bathroom-o.” “Where-o is the library-o?” “Muchos grass-ias for your help-o.”

I imagine it could be a fun class, but imagine your embarrassment when you actually get to your destination and say that out loud. You would be wishing someone had spoken up in class and pointed you to a better teacher.

You may not be planning a trip to Musicland, but you may change your mind. You may want to “speak” with other musicians in actual musical language – not some localized pidgin concoction that is shared by only a few.

You deserve it. You deserve to be led in the right direction with the best information you can get.

10 Responses to “You Deserve to Know the Truth”

  1. Walt Says:

    Very well said

  2. Jeff Says:

    How did you know my secret language-o?

  3. Sam Says:

    I can’t speak for others, but for my own learning process, I could use some examples as to what is ” incorrect advice and instruction” as it relates specifically to the uke, not adding o’s to Spanish words. What is it? Wrong chord shapes, wrong rhythm, or such. I would like specifics. Thanks,

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Thank you for commenting and for asking for clarification.

      My article wasn’t intended to provide examples, but rather to explain why I feel it is important to do so when needed. My book, blog site, and videos and are filled with information I’d like people to know.

      My comparison to a bogus Spanish language class is just that – a comparison to illustrate why it’s important to teach correct information when possible.

      Now, with that said – if you have specific questions about music, please ask.

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      And yes, the information I spoke of often is: wrong chord shapes/names, rhythms, and performance etiquette.

  4. Jerri Says:

    Thanks for your comments, Rhan. I agree, it’s great to see so many first time players pick up a Uke and start playing, but it’s so frustrating to see people content to put their charts on their music stand and never move beyond it. Music is that and so much more!

  5. Stanley Sokolow Says:

    Rhan, I have a music theory question for you. When I look at some song charts with named chords and their fingering diagrams, I notice that the same fingering shape on the same frets will sometimes have different names in the same song with the same key signature. For example, in the Lyle Ritz Ukulele Jazz book, the song “Embraceable You” has an Abº7 and an E7b9 with identical shapes and placement. Why does the same chord have different names in the same song?

    • Rhan Wilson Says:

      Stanley – The Uke Guru just answered a very similar question in the newsletter I send out every week. This is what he said, and hopefully, it will answer your question:

      Dear Uke Guru,
      How come an Am7 is played the same way as a C6? Aren’t those two different chords? Help me understand.

      Ann Versions

      Dear Ann,
      Great question. Let me see if I can explain:

      If we were to look at the notes in a C6 chord, you would want: C E G A. C E and G are the three notes to make a C chord, and the A note is the 6th note of the C scale, thus adding the 6.

      An Am7 chord is made up of the notes: A C E G. A C E are the notes to make up an Am chord, and the G note is the (*flatted)7th – thus making an Am7 chord.

      Now, notice that the notes of both chords are the same. The order they are played isn’t that important, and being a uke that only has four strings, there aren’t as many choices to use to get those particular notes.

      So then, what’s the difference? Why call it one way or the other?

      Because, if I were to play a bass and I played an A note, it would make that chord sound like a minor chord, whereas it I were to play a C note, it would ground the chord as a major.
      It’s contextual, and important to name it correctly.

      Similarly, a diminished chord can also be called by any one of FOUR different names. Look at a chord chart and see that a Cdim is the same as an Ebdim, F# dim, and Adim. That’s because they all have the same notes. It is important here as well, to know the “root” of the chord – the note that the bass will play, as that will lean the sound one way or another.

      The Uke Guru hopes this helped.

      The Uke Guru

      • Stanley Sokolow Says:


        Thanks for your reply, but I still don’t understand why in a single-instrument (ukulele) arrangement of that song (no bass instrument) there would be different names for the same chord in different measures. Maybe I’ll never understand without a deep dive into music theory, which is not how I want to spend my time, but looking at other music forums where similar questions were asked, I found a recommendation for the book “A Player’s Guide to Chords and Harmony: Music Theory for Real-World Musicians” by Jim Aikin. They said it is a practical approach to modern music, not deep into classical music theory. Are you familiar with that book? Do you also recommend it as a help to understanding what The Uke Guru means by “It’s contextual, and important to name it correctly”?

        Meanwhile, I’ll just keep learning how to play without understanding much of the theory beyond such things as chord progressions 1-4-5 and 2-5-1, scales, etc.


      • Rhan Wilson Says:

        Thank you for asking and wanting to understand this subject better. There are others, I am certain, that need to understand the very same thing, so I am happy to discuss this further here in this blog.

        Let’s for the time being, dispense with the idea of “ukulele” arrangement, or “guitar arrangement”, or any other instrument specific arrangement, and instead think about a song, and how to inform a potential player what the words and chords are. We can use the simplified chords-over-words style of music sheet for this example.

        It doesn’t matter what instrument you are playing – if the song calls for a C chord, then any instrument that is being used will want to play a C chord: piano, uke, guitar, glockenspiel…

        So let’s imagine a song that calls for a C6 chord, and then an Am7 chord. Those are two very different chords: major vs. minor, however the individual notes contained in each of the chords is the same.

        “Then how are they different,” you might ask.

        The C6 chord is rooted with a C note on the bottom: C,E,G,A – this giving it its major sound. An Am7 chord is rooted with the A on the bottom: A, C, E, G, thus giving it a minor quality.

        So now let’s go back to the song sheet with those two chords. Those are the chords for the song- no way around that. Now, let’s move on to what instrument you will be using when playing the song. With a piano – you have the opportunity to play 10 notes at once – both hands, 10 fingers. You can arrange any particular chord in many ways: inversions, they are called. On a guitar with its six strings – one can also play any particular chord several different ways. Either way, the chords remain the same: C6 and Am7. Whether or not a bass player is accompanying you or not is not the issue. The chords are the same.

        Now, moving on to the uke: there are only four strings, so our variations of notes are limited. There may be only one way to use the four strings to include the necessary notes we need to make up the recipe for a particular chord. And as some chords have the same notes, it’s possible that two different chords can be shaped the same way, but they are not the same chord. That is just a coincidence.

        So even if it’s a “uke” arrangement – it should still notate the correct chord names. It would be a disservice to call them the same name simply for convenience’s sake. It would also be inaccurate, and that’s what the point of this blog’s article was about: the need to not “dumb-down” music for the ukulele. One might put a little note to remind oneself that those two chords use the same chord shape, but please – call them by the right name. After all – a bass player, guitar player, piano player, or another instrument might want to use the same music as you, and they would need to know the correct name of the chord, as it would direct them to play it properly.

        And what is a “uke arrangement” anyway? Music is music, and the only uke specific arrangement I can think of might be a tabbed out song that directs the player as to how to finger the chords specific to the uke – but the chord names would still need to be accurate.

        And this would be a good thing to learn. Too many uke song sheets are incorrect because the authors of such are not experienced enough to be making them in the first place, and when notified of simple mistakes, the tendency is to write them off as “We’re just uke players and we just want to have fun. We don’t need to know that stuff. This will sound good enough.”

        I hope this explanation helps a bit and if not – I am happy to continue this discussion.

        On a side note – a simple, basic theory class or lesson would be helpful to anyone wanting to know more about music. It’s not necessary to be a pro at it – just some basic knowledge is all it takes. I hope to be planning a class in Santa Cruz soon.

        Rhan Wilson

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