Last night, I cracked into the lessons on one of the two groupons I bought. I didn’t really have time to explore both sites, so I started with the Center Stage Ukulele Academy. The reasoning for this is that I knew I was planning to watch a movie, and I also knew the first grouping of lessons would be some very rudimentary stuff that I probably wouldn’t have to pay very close attention to.

The lessons are broken up into Volumes (1-11), with Volume 1 containing some real absolute beginner stuff. Lesson one goes over just explains, for example, the different sizes of ukulele, what a nut is, what a fret is…etc.  Lesson 2 just tells you how to hold it. You don’t learn any chords until lesson 6.  Lesson 3 and 3A are about how to tune your ukulele. Lesson 3 goes over how to use a clip on tuner and a built in tuner. Lesson 3A goes over tuning by ear to a reference pitch.

Now, I really appreciated tuning being taught before you’ve learned how to play anything, because that was one thing about the Ukulele Handbook that I felt was really backwards. In the Handbook, tuning is fairly far into the book.  While I understand the value of jumping right into learning things, if your uke is not in tune, a beginner is going to think they’re an even worse player than they are! And, having an overview lesson on tuning the uke to itself early on is pretty important, I think. Maybe you forgot your tuner. Maybe your batteries died? Now, you could be like me and also have a tuner on your cell phone, but what if you’re running low on juice? We live in a digital age where you don’t necessarily need to know how to do anything without technology; there are apps for tuning, apps for calculating a tip… Heck, my phone remembers birthdays and events for me, because I am abysmally bad with dates.  I am a child of the digital age, for sure, but there’s also a value in being able to fix your tuning on the fly, which really isn’t feasible if you’re relying on technology to tell your ears what they’re hearing.   This lesson even briefly explained that you can use this tuning method to figure out which string is out of tune, since it compares the strings to each other, since you don’t want to end up tuning all of your strings to the out of tune string.  It’s a tuning method I haven’t explored much, because of all the ease of technology, but I should.

So, at first glance, I was thinking ‘if you had no other reference material, you could absolutely learn ukulele with only this.

Well….sort of…

Lesson 8 introduces your first song: You Are My Sunshine.  Now, maybe I’m being picky. I didn’t pay much for access to this, but I did pay for it, and while the ‘how to’ part of things I haven’t got a problem with, what I do find was lacking in terms of the lessons being ‘all-inclusive’ was that there was really no play-along with the song lesson. In fact, the instructor doesn’t even sing it to show you how the vocals and chords interact.

I get that this is the first lesson, but this is also the format used for all of the song lessons. So, you will learn a song, but it will be up to you to then go find that song to hear the entire thing and try to play along with it. Even the chord diagram you can download that comes with the lesson doesn’t have the words on it anywhere, so is really not a hugely useful diagram. I downloaded it, but did not save it, and instead went over to Ultimate Guitar to find a chord chart that had the words on it. I also had to go to youtube to find a version that used the same chords in hopes of finding one I can try to play along with to work on it.

So, when it comes to songs, you are going to have to use other material to supplement if you want to actually learn a song from beginning to end.

On the other hand, it was broken down in an easy to understand way. I have to give it that much. The split screen gives you a really good view of all the different angles of the instrument so you can really see what’s going on, which you don’t often see in a youtube tutorial. I can generally get by just fine without this, but I also know all of the chords used up to this point. I think it’s going to be especially handy when we get into material I’m less familiar with.

I didn’t end up getting through the full volume 1, at the end of the night, though I came close. There are 10 lessons in the first volume, and ‘You are my Sunshine’ was lesson 8.

As you complete each lesson, there is an option to mark off that you completed it.  I find this a bit odd, as I would have anticipated that when you finished a video, the site would just automatically do that, but I suppose it’s giving you an option, if there’s one you feel you need to revisit, to leave that unchecked.

There is a forum attached, but it is mostly dead from the looks of things, whether because there are very few members or very few ones inclined to socialize about their lessons, I could not guess.

As I work through the lessons, I’ll give you a heads up on how I feel about the site and overall insights, but so far, for my $15, it seems worth it. Is it worth full price? That’s something you would have to decide for yourself. But, I do feel learning music from videos rather than from books is a really valuable methodology, because you spend a lot more time listening, and music is about sound.

Hopefully tonight I will have some time to check out the other subscription, but so far have not even glanced at it.

Until Next Time, lessons are progressing in a more or less forwardly direction.