Beatnik (aka Nick Night) is the creator of the Speak Ukulele Course, an interactive approach to ear training and chord study. He’s on the cutting edge of new instructional materials for the ukulele. You can try to keep up with Beatnik’s seemingly unending stream of new ideas at Ukecanplay.com.
1. What is the premise of the Speak Ukulele Course?
Speak Ukulele is an interactive, multimedia course designed to dramatically improve chord fingering, comprehension and retention, as well as improve one’s ability to recognize chords by ear.
For many years, I was the lead game designer and director of production at a children’s educational media company. We created interactive “edutainment” content for partners such as Dr. Seuss Enterprises, National Geographic Kids, Garfield, and all the first-tier children’s book publishers. This is where I learned about how the brain stores information, how to get the information to “stick” and also how to deliver the lesson in a fun, engaging approach. Because the content we were creating, though aimed at kids, could teach anyone – in fact, many adults were using our games to learn English as a second language!
I took this experience and used it to tackle one of the most difficult challenges all of ukulele players face – how to remember chords – the fingering, the names, and how they are supposed to sound. I did this by using tools found in language courses. When you learn a second language, you need to “cross-pollinate” three essential types of information to become fluent. You need to be able to understand the sound of the language (hearing the word spoken), the look of the language (reading the written word) and how to create the language (speak the word correctly). I realized these are the same three skills needed to “speak” music – hearing the chord, reading the chord, and creating the music physically.
Speak Ukulele is a self-disciplined course, meaning “you get out of it what you put into it”. The interface gives you a number of ways to study, and then test your retention of the information. It can randomly or sequentially display the chords, and you can choose how to engage with them.
- Hear the chord isolated, and try to recall the name and/or the fingering to create it.
- Hear the chord and see the fingering and try to determine the name of the chord.
- See the fingering isolated and try to recall the name of the chord.
- See the chord name isolated and try to recall the fingering on your instrument. …and all the other variations, depending on the area you wish to focus on.
Some people have mistakenly claimed that this is just a fancy chord finder. I’ll admit, it does include a fancy chord finder! You can access 168 chords, their fingerings and hear them played slowly and in a strum pattern. But that is not what the course is all about – it’s about creating associations, or links, between different types of human memory. You don’t have to think about how to ride a bike, you just do it from memory created by physical activity. You recognize people you haven’t seen since you were a child because of our incredible visual memory patterning. And you can recall the melody of a song that was popular when you were in high school, because of aural memory recognition. Scientists still do not know much about the human memory, but it is a fact that we all store our sense memories in different areas of the brain.
When you combine these different types of memory relationships, it forges a deeper, longer lasting impression and facilitates learning. That’s why it’s easier to learn the words to a song than it is the words to a speech. I can only get as far as “Four score and seven years ago… something… something… all men are created equal.” But I know the words to every hit song from 1975-2005!
When you just grab a chord sheet and get the “quick fix” for the information you need, it gets stored in your short-term memory – like a telephone number or someone’s name you just met. You need to make a conscious effort to get a long-term memory, and that’s what this course is designed to do. And by making the learning process fun, you will practice more and thereby learn faster. What could be better?!
2. What is the difference between learning the “right way” and the “wrong way”?
Ah, you are referring to a statement from my presentation about the course. I state that there is actually a “right way” and a “wrong way” to learn something, and learning the wrong way actually makes it harder in the long run. What that means can be illustrated by this:
“Practice Makes Perfect”
Wise advice, right? Well, in fact, it’s terrible advice! Practice does NOT make perfect – Practice makes habit.
The better advice would be:
“Perfect Practice Makes Perfect”
If you try to learn something wrong, you will only develop habits that will inhibit you from ever learning it correctly. It will take longer because you will have to “unlearn” the bad habits you’ve memorized and replace them with proper habits. We see this all the time in sports, where people teach themselves how to pitch a ball, or swing a bat, or even swim. Not only do they risk sports-related injuries from improper technique, but they can never achieve that “professional” level of accomplishment. They have created a ceiling to their performance, and can only break through it by re-learning the skill from the beginning.
In regards to learning ukulele chords, the wrong way is to look at a chord chart full of information and hope you will remember it in the middle of the song you’re learning. The right way is… well, um… in my humble opinion, the Speak Ukulele course.
3. What is the Ultimate Ukulele Tab Book?
The Ultimate Ukulele Tab Book is another really exciting project we have in production right now! It’s a revolutionary new way to view ukulele tab and chord sheets online, along with special dynamic chapters that will always be updating themselves and offering new information. The application presents itself like a digital book, with a full color cover and flippable pages.
The current method of looking at tabs, chord sheets and notation is pretty painful. I’m sure you’ve experienced this – first, you search websites and finally find a song you want. Then you click a link, download a PDF file onto your computer, find the file, open it with Adobe Reader – and THEN decide if you like it. Plus, each file you add eats up precious hard drive space.
The app we are creating will stream the information to you and present it as a realistic page in the digital book. You can look at over 1000 songs without downloading any of the files – plus, we will be adding new “modules” regularly so that your collection grows and grows!
If you decide you like a song, you can choose to save it to your hard drive for offline viewing. That way, you only download the files you love – plus, you can print any page whether streaming or not. Also, the entire book will be able to be organized and rearranged using tags, titles and other parameters. So, you could arrange your book into categories like Hawaiian, Rock, Folk and Classics, and the pages would now be in that order. Or, you could change the order by favorites, and have all your personal favorites together, right up front where you can find them! And so on.
Finally, inside the book there will be special pages exclusively for users. These streaming pages can only be seen when using the book, and will offer articles, breaking news and special discount codes for many uke-related purchases.Tags: 3 Questions Interview, Beatnik