Let’s Talk Tech
In Search of the Wild Ukulele
by Alina Celeste
While I am often peppered with questions about YouTube as a revenue source or avenue for exposure, I am frequently surprised by how few people appreciate it for what it really is: the best resource for self-driven learning EVER.
It’s true! Type any subject into YouTube’s search bar and you will find myriad reviews, tutorials, histories, and homages. YouTube has made learning more accessible and more possible for everyone with Internet access—a number that grows every day. In only the past six months, I myself have learned how to clean stains off my refrigerator door (long story), how to tie a tie, what Mi’kmaq sounds like, and of course, how to play a song I couldn’t get out of my head.
Speaking of songs, YouTube is one of my first stops when looking for music and folk songs. I love member Dany Rosevear’s channel, as well as the Smithsonian Folkways channel. But even more importantly, YouTube is also great for music lessons! A lot of my own ukulele learning has been done with YouTube, and there are several channels devoted to it.
Ukulele is an especially good instrument to learn via YouTube, because the instrument itself is small enough that no special angles are needed when filming, and simple enough that you can easily see what the performer is doing with their hands. The best videos are made by artists who truly enjoy what they are doing and have a charming on-screen presence.
There are videos for players at every level. Beginners can find basic things like how to hold the ukulele and first ukulele song, and more advanced skills like chucking or blues and lick fills. I’ve collected seven channels devoted to ukulele that I particularly enjoy. They are shared below with descriptions of what you can find on each channel and links to some of my favorite episodes.
Bernadette Teaches Music is a wonderful, quirky little channel aimed at beginners. Ms. B is a music teacher in Okinawa, Japan, and she shares her love of the instrument on a frequent and regular basis. One of the things I really enjoy about her channel is that she also devotes time to things like making your own straps and a Ukulele Buying Guide. Her videos are simple and well produced, and she often has really fun hair.
Cynthia Lin Music is hosted by San Francisco–based jazz musician Cynthia Lin. Her channel has more performative videos, with some lovely covers as well as original tunes and even music videos. She has a playlist with numbered lessons and always provides songs with which to practice new skills and chords. She provides free downloadable PDF chord charts of her tutorials to help you practice until you’re comfortable enough to sing along with her. She also has a lovely singing voice and her videos are aimed at those who wish to sing as well.
The Ukulele Teacher, based in Los Angeles, is an exhaustive channel created by John Atkins. It’s full of popular songs, classics, and even some vlog-style videos. For absolute beginners, there is a video devoted to how to sing and strum at the same time. Atkins has a very spontaneous approach, so his tutorials feel casual, like you’re hanging out with a friend who can really play.
One Music School offers ukulele tutorials of the newest pop songs on the radio and tips and tricks on how to play, as well as a playlist with practical and basic advice on caring for your instrument. Katie Denure, the teacher behind the videos, has a more formal approach to her lessons, so if a tighter structure appeals to you, she’s a great one to start with. In addition to a lovely voice, she has a clear and concise way of explaining chords and tablatures, or “tabs,” which can be tricky for those just starting.
Uke Like the Pros is a straight-up educational channel by veteran teacher Terry Carter. Videos display chords in real time, and in the longer and more advanced tutorials, Carter demonstrates licks and finger patterns as well as tabs, which show you exactly where to play notes on the fretboard of the ukulele. He focuses on classic rock and pop songs, but also spends time on music theory and skills like sight-reading.
Connor Berry also provides chords and tabs that simultaneously appear under the video of his actual playing. This channel is solely for instrumental work and for the more advanced player. Connor doesn’t sing and he doesn’t waste much time with filler. If you just want to sit and stare at somebody’s fingers until you’ve mastered it, Connor is your guy.
Ukulele Underground’s channel is also designed for the intermediate or more advanced player, with many play alongs and short videos on techniques and tricks. The UU website was created a decade ago by three musicians “with the purpose of helping to grow the next generation of ukulele players throughout the world.” Their pop song tutorials are not watered down, so you’ll need a strong grasp on chords and chord switching. Their popular Friday Jam series focuses on classic and retro songs like “Fly Me to the Moon” and Hawaiian songs like “Ehu Girl.” Many different musicians are featured in their videos, so the channel is not dependent on just one personality.
Each of these channels offers something unique and original. The different styles and perspectives make it easy to find the system or personality that works best for you. Most of them take, and even ask, for requests, and all are enthusiastic musicians and educators. This is by no means an exhaustive list— that would easily take up this entire issue! But it’s a good place to start, and will certainly provide countless hours of entertainment and education for those bitten by the dancing flea, the ukulele.