Armelle Europe is a ukulele player from the Burgundy region of France. She hosts the popular Ukulele & Languages blog, a website dedicated to the ukulele and the role it plays in different cultures.
1. Do you find any similarities similarities between learning to play a musical instrument and a language?
Yes definitely. My approach to learning to play the ukulele is not so different from the way I start learning a new language. Learning a new language is as much a visual as an auditory experience for me. When learning a new language, I often start by listening to children songs. Words are usually rather easy to make out and you get to learn basic vocabulary. The fact that children songs have melodies that stick in your head is a great help. You assimilate the words by trying to reproduce them when singing along to the song. To consolidate what I have learnt this way, when I know a song off by heart, or I should say, off by ear, I need to see the written words. Then I can associate sounds to written words and deduct the pronunciation logic, thus making sure everything will be stored in my long-term memory.
Once I have explored children song, I find folk music is a natural progression as you tend to have clear and interesting lyrics and the background music often consists of an acoustic guitar which makes it easier to hear what is being said. (More about language learning here : http://ukulelelanguages.com/language-fun/learn-a-new-language/
With the uke it is more or less the same but you have to add an extra dimension : transferring the sound to your ukulele through your fingers. When I began learning the uke on my own, I started by listening to ukulele songs or covers I liked that were easy to play (few chords, simple chords). I listened to the songs many times so as to really know what they should sound like.
I then looked for the chords to the songs on the internet, selecting the easiest version and tried to play them, working on chord changes so as to make them as smooth as possible. Once I feel comfortable with chords and chords changes I tried to improve the musicality of what I was playing.
This is where tools like Audacity became very handy as I got to listen to what I was playing. I have often been surprised after replaying something I had recorded. This was
not the way I heard myself play. This is a tip I found in Al Wood’s Ukulele 101
ebook, a great starter pack for anyone new to the ukulele. Audacity
can also be handy for language learning, if you record yourself speaking, you’ll spot the things you have mispronounced and correct them very quickly.
2. Can you describe the biggest hurdles you’ve overcome so far in learning the uke?
As the ukulele was my first music instrument, I was a complete music dummy so the first big hurdle has been to be able to de-synchronise my hands, learn to make chord shapes with my left hand while strumming or finger-picking with my right hand.
The second biggest hurdle was to learn to follow a steady rhythm and not rush through a song. I am still struggling with that one. This is where playing on your own shows its limits. I have recently converted a friend to the ukulele. Unlike myself, he has solid notions on music theory and has played several instruments before. His approach to ukulele learning is very different from mine. While I am focusing on the sound and the musicality of a song, he is intent on breaking down the song and dissecting its rhythm before working on the musical side of things. I have to concentrate on the rhythm much more when playing with him and this has been a considerable help.
As far as finger-picking
is concerned, I find it rather difficult, when reading tabs of arrangements I have never played before, to know when to use which finger of my left hand, and to force myself to keep certain fingers down for a few notes rather than releasing the note immediately after playing it. This, I find, takes a long time to learn and a lot of practice.
All in all, the amount of music related things you can learn is rather overwhelming. I know for a fact that after a hurdle is overcome, there will be a new challenge and this is exactly what makes you progress. Perseverance and the will to succeed are the biggest help.
3. What’s been your motivation for starting your website Ukulele & Languages?
I started my website Ukulele & Languages
because I was exceedingly frustrated not to make use of my language skills at work (I have a full time job) and also because I needed to create a project that I would own entirely, something I was passionate about, an outlet for my creativity and a great way to feed my curiosity about the world. A project for which no one would point its finger at me for not fitting the mold. Ukulele & Languages is a way to document ukulele playing around the globe, network with like-minded ukulele players from different backgrounds and cultures, find out about different customs, legends, beliefs of people from different countries and see how different cultures affect the style of music, all seen from a ukulele perspective. The research I need to do for my ukulele World Tour
posts is really captivating. I often wish I had much more time to dedicate to it.
Ukulele & Languages is also about sharing the things that helped me learn the ukulele : great blogs, online resources, relevant video tutorials and interviews of key ukulele players to find out about useful tips. Besides, it is a way to keep track of my own ukulele learning process
. All this in the hope that it will help and encourage other ukulele players learning on their own.
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, Armelle Europe