Aloha! Let’s talk about musical goals! It’s important to have musical goals. After all, if you don’t you end up wandering aimlessly and, while Tolkien said that not all who wander are lost, the vast majority are and when you’re lost, every step in any direction feels like a mistake and a step wasted. How do you know if you’re making progress anywhere if you don’t have direction and if you do stumble on an achievement of some kind, how do you know where to go from there – where that information can springboard you to next?
No, what you need – what we ALL need – is a map.
And while this is applicable to any musician playing any instrument, I’m going to talk specifically about the ukulele and a guy named James Hill.
Hill is an accomplished musician (not just on ukulele) who has made a name and career for himself as a player, sure, but probably more as an instructor. Where some people would be keen on hiding their own playing secrets, Hill displays them proudly so people in the crowd or the viewers watching his videos can unlock their own potential.
And he brings a map.
His map is a figurative one in his course The Ukulele Way, which is online and offers you lessons in the form of breadcrumbs, one leading to another with a blend of videos and written instructions. There is also an option to buy books with the instruction, but you’re missing out on the videos and those are pretty vital because we aren’t just talking about learning Top 40 songs you’re already familiar with, but learning techniques and how to approach music itself. The end goal – the thing all of his students are marching toward – is the ability to play rhythm, harmony, and melody together at the same time. To be the true solo musician. Of course you can use this information to play WITH people, but you won’t HAVE to have them with you to play music that sound complete, filled-out, and satisfying. Nope, that’s all in your hands.
The videos he uses are short and easy to follow. The homework for the lessons is easy enough and you find yourself… not breezing through the lessons, but not being hung up on them for too long and your progress is barely noticeable until you look back at where you’ve been and see just how much you’ve improved at a subtle pace.
But how can you look back if what we’re talking about is figurative? Well, that’s accomplished by his actual map. The course has a visual representation of the lessons you’re going through and the milestones attached. The whole course is broken up into six areas, shown as different colored lands, and a meandering dotted line through each lesson within each land (or level). Once you reach the end, you should be a pretty huge beast on the uke.
What happens, though, if you’re more… single minded? What if you just want to get a style or genre down instead of the whole instrument and music? Well, Hill went through and selected the lessons in different levels that would help you get to that goal so you could skip the rest. This way, if you want to learn just jazz, you can. Or you can learn classical (or close to it). Want the blues? It can happen.
But what do you do if you don’t even know why you picked up the ukulele? Maybe you were convinced by watching happy friends play theirs and you wanted to be a part of that, but now that you have it you’re confused about what you even want to do with it. Hill thought of that as well and came up with the navigator. The navigator is a two-part quiz that has you rank different goals, discover your strengths and weaknesses, and then figure out how much time you can dedicate to the instrument before moving on to part two which is all about organizing your goals into different time periods (short, medium, and long-term goals). Goals and people change, so these aren’t written in stone but just the act of writing stuff down can make a powerful impression in your brain and if that’s the thing that motivates you to find out what you want and how to get it without putting too much pressure on yourself, I’m all for it.
You can even use the navigator to print out charts for logging practice time, assessments, and even a Master Class Group where you can upload photos and videos for encouragement and (constructive) criticism by Hill and others.
Speaking of motivating, let’s go back to that map idea. Maps, graphs, numbers, and charts are all pretty powerful things when it comes to psychology. I remember, when I was a kid, ending up at a group event kind of like a religious Boy Scouts. People had to memorize scripture and go through lessons, working their way through a map and earning patches, badges, pins, and all that along the way. I have never been particularly religious but when I saw the map, I don’t think I had ever wanted to do anything more. I mean, there was a goal, there was a path, there were rewards along the way, and at any point in time you could look back at all the places you’ve gone through and feel the progress associated.
Or, put another way, if you do all sorts of exercising but don’t write down your gains, it’s easier to get discouraged because you don’t know the progress you’re making.
We as people want to close circles, fill charts, and reach goals. Life just doesn’t really give us that option very often. Yes, when you go to work you know there’s a vague rank structure that begins with intern and ends with CEO, but there’s no clear way from one to the other and that is more than a little frustrating. So when something like this comes along that gives you something awesome (ukulele), shows you a path to total musical domination (or at the very least a great level of understanding), and even presents a colorful, easy-to-understand visual representation of the places you’ve been and the places (and goal) you’re heading toward, it’s easy to be motivated.
Adding to this motivation is the community atmosphere offered by the website. To me, this is the biggest selling point of having the course online. I’m the type of individual that would prefer to pay for a book with the lessons on an included DVD so I can backup the videos to my phone and take the books with me on the road where the internet is sometimes scarce but 1) most people don’t worry about that, and 2) I would miss out on the online community of fellow students and Hill himself. There’s a very supportive nature about it and it feels like a good place to be and stay motivated. When you’re learning it’s easy to get discouraged when you see amazing people and you often see amazing people on the internet. YouTube is full of virtuosos. But when you meet someone along the way at a similar place as you – or maybe just above or below where you are, everything feels more attainable. Things are put into perspective and you can feel better about yourself.
Oh, and did I mention the price? Well, before I talk about the price, I should mention that you can visit the site and see 11 videos for free to get a good idea about what’s offered inside. You can also join for free and access the community, but to get to the lessons and tools offered, you have to pony up the dough. In this case, $9.00 a month. You can pay an annual cost as well, that doesn’t feature a discount – it’s just a matter of convenience. Personally, I think $9.00 is a very fair amount for the type of quality you get in the course and even if you visited for just one month to try it out, you wouldn’t be out very much money for your experiment. My only reservation is that you can go back to one-time purchases whenever you like, regardless of the gaps between sessions where subscription models are constantly being paid for, but perhaps this is also a good motivator for students. Perhaps knowing something is always there makes you take it for granted and give you no sense of urgency where a subscription makes you want to learn more to feel like you’re not throwing your money away. I just know that the course is worth more than $9.00 a month for the quality, thoroughness, and consideration of the material you’re getting and I’m happy that the $9.00 covers everything the website has to offer. Binge learn all you want!
All in all, Hill really figured out all the motivators, potential potholes, and the psychology to the students and developed an amazing course. The content is great, the path is clear, you can jump around it if you like, you can chart your progress, you can figure out your goals, and you can talk to other people when you feel like it. Yes, a book with DVD would be nice, but with every day that goes by the need of hard copies because the Internet is unavailable is becoming less and less of a worry. I was so impressed with the course and its one-stop-shop feel to accomplishing my own music goals of being a chord melody guy that can listen to songs and be able to interpret and play them with my own style, understanding the inner workings of the music so I can bend it as I see fit, that I just have to subscribe. It’s just too great of a course to pass up.
Don’t believe me? Visit The Ukulele Way, take a look at the free videos, join the community, maybe sink $9.00 for a month of instruction and then see how you feel.
I bet you’ll love it.