Learning to (Fender) Play the Ukulele
My experience with the Fender Play App
When you've been toying with the idea of purchasing a ukulele for over a year, there is no greater job perk than to find an email in your inbox with the subject line, "Can We Send You a Free Ukulele?"
Yes! Yes! Oh YES PLEASE! I'LL DO ANYTHING!
And can you believe it, all I had to do was agree to take ukulele lessons via the new Fender Play app and give it a review here. Seriously, dream come true!
The ukulele Fender sent me is their Venice Soprano model, which you can purchase at shop.Fender.com for $59.99. I was even more excited when it arrived, and I saw that they'd sent the Cherry (red) version, which is about the shade of the hair color I've desired ever since watching Run, Lola, Run in German class in college.
Without knowing much about ukuleles or having tried other, more expensive models, I can say that I have really enjoyed getting to play this one, although I wish it stayed in tune longer. The tuning pegs slip pretty easily, and I'm hoping my husband can look into getting them a little tighter.
Maybe I should name her Lola?
Now, onto the Fender Play app, which has options for learning both guitar and ukulele, depending on your interest.
Introduction to the Guitar version.
The Fender Play app helps users learn a new instrument via a series of videos that take them through the fundamentals of learning an instrument, from tuning, time signatures, etc., to chord progressions and strum patterns. Interspersed between the more fundamental courses are song courses, so from the very beginning, you feel like you are really learning to play music! And, as you can see below, there are five different levels, which helps break up the series into shorter goals.
The videos themselves are pretty short, usually around 2-3 minutes. Some of the song videos are longer, since you have to learn multiple parts of the song before putting it all together--but even those top out at about 15 minutes. This means that, even if you don't have a lot of free time, you'll probably be able to watch at least one Fender Play video each day. I leave my ukulele at work so I can snag a few minutes in the morning before getting started for the day (and to minimize the chances of Joss doing something tragic to it!).
Singing "Happy Birthday" to TulsaKids after completing Level 1.
There are at least four different video "hosts," and they all do a good job of clearly explaining the next step. As someone who has grown up playing music--violin, piano and guitar--some of the lessons were a bit too easy (for example, learning the difference between half, quarter and eighth notes), but of course these are very important lessons for a brand-new musician to learn! If you are a seasoned musician but new to the ukulele, it would be easy to skip the lessons you don't need and move on to, say, learning new chords.
One thing I did not know about the ukulele prior to my first Fender Play lesson is that the bottom (fourth) string is actually a higher note than the third string, which is different than the violin and guitar and any other string instrument I can think of. So that took some getting used to, and also means that none of the chord fingerings I know from guitar translate to the ukulele. (Yes, the guitar has six strings to the ukulele's four, so they would probably have been different anyway--I just didn't expect all the ukulele chords to be so unfamiliar! Which just goes to show that there's something for everyone to learn on the Fender Play app.)
I also like that there's a separate "Songs" tab on the app homepage, so if you want to skip ahead and learn something with which you could impress your friends, you can do that easily. Each of the song videos starts out by making sure you know the necessary chords before putting the chords together. Songs include traditional songs like "Amazing Grace" and pop classics like "Fever," "Let it Go" and "Have You Ever Seen the Rain." While there is a pretty good song library available, of course it would always be nice to see more!
As of writing this, I am midway through Level 3 on the app, so I have a way to go before finishing all five levels, but I feel like I've learned enough about the app to know what to expect in the coming courses. The only two negative things I have to say are that sometimes the app doesn't seem to track my progress accurately--right now, it is showing that I am 25% of the way through Level 1, 75% of the way through Level 2, and 1/15 of the way through Level 3, even though I should be 100% through Levels 1 and 2 and about 50% through Level 3. Maybe it resets itself if you go back and play older courses. The other negative thing is that sometimes, when the video hosts set the beat so you can begin strumming, the beat gets noticeably slower once the playing begins, presumably so that a novice can keep up better. But it makes for awkward timing every now and then. Minor quibbles.
Regardless, I would recommend the Fender Play app to anyone wanting to learn ukulele without spending money on lessons. If you decide that more ukulele is something you need in your life and want to try the app, take advantage of the 30-day free trial!
Finally, to prove that I have progressed from being a ukulele no-nothing to a Level 3 ukulele novice, here is a (rather melancholy) song I wrote after hearing about Anthony Bourdain's death, approximately at the end of Level 2. So even with just a few chords under your fingers, you, too, can start your songwriting journey! (And maybe embark on your music-video-recording-and-editing journey, too--where's my app for that?! ;)
And because I am a proud mom, and I'd rather end on a positive note...here is Joss singing the first song that (to my knowledge) he wrote! Please enjoy "Song About Cars," as sung and played by Joss Matrim Rittler on a Fender ukulele: