Performing BUM, John Low, 2020

Practice Rulz? Experienced performing BUM, and NUMB BUMS band leader, John Low gives us rules for effective ukulele practice!

Effective practising

Know what you need to practise and why.

Firstly, what NOT to do with your valuable practise time. Don’t just sit down for 30 minutes with your uke and play pieces of music you may enjoy playing. While there will be some benefits to doing that it may be a long time before such practising results in an improvement to your general playing.

Repetition

Note that repetition is the path to improvement. But only if a correctly played passage or executed technique is repeated more often that an incorrect one. Therefore start off practising at a speed that allows you to play correctly and only then increase the speed. Don’t waste time practising your mistakes.

Practising could be divided into three main categories:

  • Working on techniques
    • chord changes
    • strumming/rhythm patterns
  • Learning new material
  • Consolidating and preparing

Working on Techniques

Chord Changes

If you are working on improving a technique associated with chord changing, say a chord change from Bb to Eb, start by playing 4 or 8 beats on the chord of Bb, repeat on the chord of Eb then repeat the whole process. Use simple down-strums and practise at a tempo that you can play without error or pauses no matter how slow that tempo may be. Only when you can regularly and consistently accomplish the chord change should you consider increasing the tempo or reducing the number of beats between chord changes. Then you can consider the chord changes within the context of a piece of music you may be attempting together with the rhythm patterns that the piece may impose.

Strumming & Rhythm Patterns

If you are attempting to master a particular rhythm or strumming pattern, in the beginning concentrate on the rhythm and don’t complicate things by introducing chord changes. Stay on one chord until you’ve ‘got’ the rhythm. Only then try to keep the rhythm while you change chords using a simple progression (I use C Am F G7 as my first port of call). Then move onto more complicated chord patterns in the context of the piece you may be attempting.

Learning New Material

If learning new material, identify problems in the first play-through and solve them one at a time. Trying to solve more that one problem at a time is not an effective way to utilise your practice time. Solve one problem then move onto the next one. Where possible practise difficult passages or techniques in context. In other words incorporate the chords coming before and after the problem area as you become more proficient.

Consolidating and Preparing

If you are preparing for a performance (at a jam, concert, ‘open mic’), and you play through a new piece without error once, don’t imagine you’ve ‘got it’. If you can do that a number of times in succession without error, not only in the solitude of your own practice area but in environments where other things might be going on, you are probably getting there. Performing brings its own pressures, and if you are in that space, the aim is to get it right every time. Finally — don’t ignore the ‘easy bits’ when you practise. They have a habit of causing grief, especially when you start to relax towards the end of a piece.

Good luck, and happy strumming, picking, tapping and/or singing.
John Low