Updated: Feb 8, 2021
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I received possibly the most thoughtful secret Santa of my entire life this year.
My brothers girlfriend drew me (which I would consider to be the short straw!) and she absolutely ACED her job as my Santa. For those who prefer to watch rather than read - watch my YouTube Post on this topic!
Note from the Editor: Since posting this blog, I've become an Amazon Associate. Some of the links in this post are to help you find starter equipment, and I've added a link list at the end (with different links to different set ups, for different budgets.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
I was presented with a pre-loved Kala Makala MK-S Ukulele, a beginner’s book and two vintage 19 George Formby music booklets! There are so many reasons why I love this gift. The face that it is second-hand makes me happy because it is re-using things instead of buying new. The uke's age and ‘used’ status meant that a quality brand fit within the Secret Santa budget. The actual instrument produces a gorgeous sound. The George Formby reference is double, in that I had recently been teaching my gorgeous little niece to sing ‘I’m Leaning on a Lamp-Post’ during our lockdown video calls. I also had a bit of a hang-up about singing jazz in my northern accent, and often said I would sound like the George Formby of jazz!
Well, now I’m certainly a step closer to living up to that moniker - and I actually couldn’t be happier! I have begun several failed attempts to lean sight reading, piano and guitar. It feels like, in the ukulele I’ve found an instrument that I ENJOY practicing, and get pleasing results relatively quickly! If you’re interested in ‘Making Tracks’ by getting more involved in music making, but perhaps you are a bit nervous or new to playing instruments - I would definitely recommend that you consider the Ukulele as a path into music-making!
In the three weeks since Christmas, I have managed to pickup the basic chords for strumming through about 15 songs! Of course, I have to concentrate very hard, and it takes a lot of attempts before I can play and sing at the same time for a whole tune. But it’s SO damn satisfying! Plus, family members have remarked that, unlike other instruments, it’s not torturous to live in the same space as someone practicing. The instrument has such a gentle, mellow tone that repeating the same song over and over is more meditative than annoying! The thing is so small it just sits on the end of the couch, on hand for a little practice in the morning while my brain and body wake up, or while watching TV, or just on a little five minute break from work.
The model I have is the Makala MK-S, which I believe is a great starter model that would see me well into the invested stages of my hobby. Cheaper makes from other brands can lead to issues with tuning and the ‘voice’ or tone of the instrument. When the music doesn’t have great tone, it can sound disappointing and lead people to loose patience with their practice.
I also highly recommend the book that I got with it, ‘The Ukulele Handbook’ by Gavin Pretor-Pinney and Tom Hogkinson. The book is a perfect beginners companion, with a brief but engaging history of the Ukulele, feature pages on famous Uke players Songbook, and Chord Finder charts inside the fold-out cover. Apart from this, the book is split into 6 weeks of development sessions that you can take at your own speed. The sessions over selecting your instrument (if you haven’t already), tuning, finger placement, chord families, Understanding tabs, strumming and finger-picking and finally changing strings.
The lessons are accompanied by songs that have been selected to practice the particular focus of the week. There are also song-list suggestions throughout the book, picked to give you fast and satisfying results with just the first two or three chords that you master.
The other tool that I found really useful is the ‘Ultimate Guitar: Chords and Tabs’ app. This might be more popular with people who are just past the complete beginner stage, though it does ask you a few questions before you start the app - so I’m wondering if the app is intelligently tailoring suggestions to me?? The app gives you access to over 1.4 MILLION sets of tabs - some for guitar, some for ukulele. Nearly every song I’ve searched has chord charts for each of the different instrument types. The charts are written and submitted my the apps user community, sometimes there can be the odd slip up, where the author’s chord choice might not be as you imagine or want the song to sound - but it’s pretty rare. The app also includes am instrument tuner, human pitch practice, chord libraries, progressions, metronome and (as I selected beginner in the opening survey) beginners course and video tutorials. When you are starting to get handy with a certain song, you can send a ‘Shot’ (a small video of your performance) to share with the player community if you’re feeling brave enough! The app is a subscription of £19.99 each year - but I would say I’ve already had several lessons worth of help and development from it, so it’s well worth the investment. There are lots of other apps available - if you can highly recommend one, do get in touch, as I’d love to hear!
I'll post a video of a song as soon as I think it's fit for public consumption!
As always, comments and feedback are very welcome!
Item Links to get Started Fast.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Small Fry (Lowest Cost) on Amazon: Kala Makala MK-S Ukulele, Ukulele Only
Medium Mahi-Mahi: (Medium cost) on Amazon: Kala Makala MK-S with Carry Bag and Tuner
Big Kahuna! (Flash Your Cash) on Amazon: Kala Makala MK-S inc HARD Case, Tuner, Polisher Separate Tuner on Amazon: Martisan Clip on Digital Tuner Works for Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Violin, Ukulele, Mandolin - Battery Included
Spare Strings on Amazon: Ernie Ball Concert/Soprano Nylon Ball End Strings (Key of C)
Brill Book on Amazon: The Ukulele Handbook (Pretor-Pinney & Hodgkinson)
There's an App for that!: ‘Ultimate Guitar: Chords and Tabs’ (No Affiliation - Just love it!)