First, learn the song in increments. The best way to do this is to learn one measure, then the next, then put them together. Breaking the song down into manageable chunks will help you learn it quicker, and keep your motivated to learn. That’s going to help for the next part.
Once you can play through the parts you want to work on, you’re ready to bust out that metronome.
Start slow. Use the tap tempo feature on your metronome to see where you’re at now. Let’s say that’s 50bpm (Beats Per Minute). You’ll want to get at least 80% of the way there at that tempo. You want the tempo to be the main challenge, not the part itself.
Then start to move up in increments of 5bpm. Your next step will be 55bpm until you have it relatively down. Then 60bpm, and so on until you’re at your desired speed.
This progression could take a while depending on where you are in your playing, where you’re trying to get, and how much you practice.
Just make sure you’re not sacrificing quality for speed! It’s ok to go back to a slower speed if you need to. If you end your practice session at 70bpm, don’t be surprised if you need to start back at 60bpm the next day when you play the song. Even the pros have to warm up.
Over time you’ll find that you:
1) May not need to warm up for that song or section, or
2) You will start at a faster BPM when you pick up your ukulele
Unless you’re working on something super complicated, a few minutes a day should be enough. Your practice routine doesn’t need to be a 2-hour woodshed session to be effective. But that’s another article.
3. Relax (Your Mind and Body)
OK, raise your hand if any project you’ve ever worked on got better when you were frustrated?
Just as I thought.
And so it is with ukulele. If you’re struggling with something and get frustrated, take a break. Either move on to something else you know, or put your instrument down and do something else for a while.
This mental reset will do wonders. I promise.
It’s also important to relax your body. Seriously. If any part of your arm is tense, you won’t be playing at your best. New things tend to confuse our muscles so we naturally want to tense up. That’s another reason starting slow is so valuable.
Find yourself a good chair to practice in, get comfortable and sit with a good posture. Don’t hunch over. Get comfortable so you don’t get fatigued just by sitting. Then try to loosen up. If you don’t mind looking a little goofy, you can limply hang your arms to the side and wiggle them like they’re spaghetti.
If you’re getting physically tired, take a break! It might feel like you’re slacking, but these breaks will let you play longer, and you’ll be much happier.
(Secret pro tip: If you’re working on something new, play it right before bed. It doesn’t have to sound good or necessarily even be in time. Playing the part right before you go to sleep helps your brain ‘reconcile’ the task. You’ll have a better grasp of the part the next day, which will help you work on the speed part.)
4. Slow And Steady
Another ‘slow’ reference in an article about speed. People don’t go from beginner to amazing overnight. I hope this emphasis is encouraging and relieving to you.
When you first start playing ukulele, it seems that you’re constantly progressing. You’re learning chords, maybe a few scales, you pick up speed along the way. You can start to play songs well. You have all of this momentum and you can’t wait to get home and practice.
But then there comes a point where you start to level off. It seems like you’re not learning as quickly as you were. And you start to get discouraged.
This is completely normal! If you were to graph out your progress of learning any skill, it would look something like this: