Center Stage Ukulele Academy: Some First Impressions

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.

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6 thoughts on “Center Stage Ukulele Academy: Some First Impressions

  1. Its funny… your comment about being a child of the digital age and our dependence on technology makes me wonder when things like Google glasses will move over to ear pieces that speak to the glasses and let us know the specific frequency of tones we’re hearing. Everyone will have a false sense of perfect pitch and then real nit-picking from the masses will ensue when listening to music – especially live performances. Damned transhumanists. 😉

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    1. I am going to have to Google “Google glasses” for context. Lol. But, if you look at how tech is taking over every aspect of our lives, it’s both exciting and a bit scary.
      If you imagine some catastrophe taking out the internet, very few of us would have practical skills. Of course, that dwould be unlikely, but a good illustration of how real our dependence on technology is. We’re coming up with uses for it almost faster than it can keep up with the demand.
      So you say ‘what if your tuner dies’. Then you have your phone. It’s hard to use those examples with the younger generation, because the odds of all your portable tech dying at once is so astronomically small. It makes it harder to come up with reasons to learn the analog way of doing things. It’s like ‘to impress people. Shut up and just do it.’ Lol.

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      1. I see how tech is taking over, but its the nature of things, as unnatural as that sounds. I’m actually a big fan of transhumanism, but I also grew up playing tabletop RPGs like Shadowrun and reading William Gibson and this old magazine called Mondo 2000. Google glasses are essentially “smart” glasses powered by Google. When you wear them, they give you all sorts of information about things that you’re looking at – like an HUD. I was thinking about how connecting a hearing aid of sorts to it, via Bluetooth or something, would allow us to discern absolute pitch, and how that would make people criticize music. I’ve seen musicians and some hardcore fans complain about various musicians using a metronome or click track during their recording, and pointing out when a note is a slight degree off, and nonsense like that. As much as I love tech, coupled with finicky personalities, it can take the humanity out of art.

        But, I guess to get back on topic somewhat – I can do relative tuning by ear, although I don’t do it much. I’ve come to rely on my tuner. Its a habit I should really break out of, but I’ve never focused on it. I really look at musical structure and technique more right now. Someday though… I’ll be able to play this thing. Its that journey of 1,000 miles.

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      2. Oh, I’m all about the tech, you know, but I’ve also read and watched some stories about worlds that had electricity taken away, which gives it all some perspective. We’ve already lived through several examples of the right tech in the wrong hands, so it’s a double-edged sword, especially in the context that when we have tech to think for us, basic brain functions end up underdeveloped. Tech of itself is great stuff, but our utter dependance is a bit scary.
        Back on topic, I can’t tune by ear, yet, but I can hear ‘out of tune’, so it’s just a matter of time and practice…when I finally decide to practice it. At first, I didn’t bother thinking about it much. I figured better to use a tuner and get used to what the notes sound like, but now? I can’t help but feel tuning by ear, reading music, and memorizing a few scales are far more useful than all this theory. I’m having trouble focusing on the coursera lecture 4. I just feel like, understanding bare bones of structure, I no longer care about theory for the moment. It’s just not the most sensible use of my time right now, so I’m fighting through it, but can’t concentrate. tuning by ear, though – that’s a multitasking skill to learn. If nothing else, it would be a sort of ear training.

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      3. I’ve read about the reliance on tech essentially dumbing us down in the past. The one I remember most is about our recent reliance on GPS and how people who depend on it experience a decline in their sense of direction. There’s definitely a problem with parts of our brains not developing because we use crutches. There was something else I read a while ago that essentially said that humans from hundreds of years ago were “smarter” than we are now because they had to be more aware of and responsive to a lot more danger than we do today, so their senses were basically sharper and thought processes were more honed towards decisiveness and quick assessment. I think there might be some validity to that. It might or might not fall under a philosophical analogue for 1st World Problems though. 😉

        Anyway… memorizing a few scales actually IS theory. 😉 Its a basic level of it, but everything is build on a foundation of some type. Once you have those locked in your head, then analysis and deconstruction and all that stuff will happen. I started just learning patterns for the major, minor and blues scales. Then I learned which tones were chord tones, and how that let me figure out a progression – most of which I did via scale degrees, not note names, because the scale degrees also helped me figure out what the function for each of those notes is.

        I don’t know if you’re familiar with Jack Flacco. He’s a blogger and a writer as well. He’s about to publish his 3rd novel. I actually got to know him via his blog, much like how I follow yours. He posted something about the war against the machine, and the other night I read through blogs that I haven’t been able to until recently and ended up blabbering about artificial intelligence and how its going to be the end of humanity. Its just funny how this fatalistic tech stuff is going around right now.

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      4. I think it’s going around in large part due to the degenerating intellect in our surroundings: politics, television…there’s no arguing that the media is just getting irrepressibly stupid. The fatalistic view likely stems from that.
        Still, basic science. Your daughter, for example, because of technology is not going to have to develop her brain in the same way that you did. It’s not a judgement call; we can’t say if that’s better or worse until we see it, but your GPS example is a good one. I don’t own one, and I’ve watched my roomie follow the GPS off exits just to get right back on the road he was already on. He says I argue with his GPS. I do use the one on my phone occasionally, but it’s not how I default. I actually get really aggravated at people for not knowing the names of streets they drive every day.
        And yes, scales are theory, but it depends on how you approach them. Scales are a shortcut to figuring out which notes sound good together. You can figure that out without ever knowing a single scale, but theory tells me all those notes that sound good together are part of the same scale. Therefore, learning scales is a shortcut with less trial and error. If not for understanding that, I would probably have zero interest in them. Learning a few will just save time, really, so I can’t say that I have a very theoretical approach to them, so I feel it barely counts in this case. I’m only interested in them at all except for a specific purpose. Lol.

        I’ll have to look him up. I have to admit that I’m better about writing blogs than reading them. Lol.

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