Today’s Ukulele Annoyance…

…is when you learn a song based on a tutorial, only to not be able to find a single other version of the song anywhere on the internet that uses the same chords on that instrument to play along with.

This has happened to me more than once, actually, and, for the record, it’s extremely annoying.

On the one hand, I get what these instructors are trying to do: they’re transposing songs into the simplest chords imaginable to make them beginner-friendly. The problem with this is that when you go to play along with the song, you can not find a version that sounds right to play along with, because every other version of the song uses a completely different set of chords than the ones you’ve been practicing for days and weeks on end. This means you either A) have to learn all new chords, or B) have to attempt to ignore that you’re hearing one chord and playing another one.  Both of these things basically completely suck.

I’ve been working on Wagon Wheel, and I’ve got it down enough that I can work on a play along and start trying to properly memorize the lyrics, except, I can’t do those things, because there is literally no version of this song anywhere for me to play with that uses the same chords that the lesson taught me, which means what I’m hearing and what I’m playing sound way more off from one another than they actually are.

Playing along to the original track is kind of a big deal. It’s one of the main steps I’ve been taking in learning a new song, so not being able to find a version that plays from beginning to end in the way I’ve been taught is not just a handicap, it’s moving in reverse. This is how I know that I’m keeping time, that what I’m playing sounds right.  (Yeah yeah, I know, metronome. Short version: no, and shut up.  Playing with a metronome and playing with the original recording are not the same thing and one does not replace the other.)

So, tonight I’m feeling pretty frustrated to find I’ve been taught a song one way, and now can not find a single version of the song in the same key to try and play along with. This leaves me with the dilemma of either a) learning how to play the song with different chords (also known as starting from scratch after weeks of practice) or b) fighting my annoyance and playing along to a song in a totally different key.

Now, to the credit of the lesson, it did mention that it will sound ‘off to the original recording, but will sound like itself solo’. So, I knew it was transposed. I assumed it was transposed for the ukulele. I did not realize it was transposed just for the sole purpose of putting it in the easy to play key of C. Here’s the thing: the majority of uke tutorials do not use the key of C for this song. Some use A, others use G. There is apparently one tutorial in C, anywhere. At all. And it’s not a play along. The progression in A is a bit complicated because of the E chord (not an easy one on uke for beginners), but the version in G is NOT, so there is no reason to teach the song in C, G, Am & F to make it even easier (granted it IS about as easy a progression as is humanly possible to play), but playing it in G just plain isn’t that hard and there are PLENTY of other songs you can teach an absolute beginner without transposing this one to make it something ultra-simple. In the long run, since I now can’t find a version I can effectively play along with, I feel like I’ve completely wasted a good chunk of my life practicing a chord progression that is essentially useless if I can’t use it to play along to the original track.

And yes, I know there are plenty of people out there who will disagree with me. You are as entitled to your opinion as I am entitled to think you are wrong and believe you have actually made matters more complicated in your desire to simplify them.

I really haven’t decided yet how to tackle this, but I honestly think the only way that makes sense is to learn the chord progression that more than half of the tutorials on the internet use. It’s fine to decide to transpose a song, but I really think it’s a disservice to someone learning to take a simple song and make it simpler if they’re not going to be able to find a version of the song that plays from beginning to end to play along with in the same key.  There are a bazillion songs in the world, and many that do use C, G, Am and F in their original state, so there’s no reason this particular tune has to be transformed to suit. Look up ukulele tutorials using C, G, Am & F. You will find OODLES. You will find play alongs for them, too. And, if you want to transpose the song this way, then do your students a favor, and play it through from beginning to end, so they can actually play the entire song along with someone in the same key you’re teaching it to them in. If you just play a 20 second riff, and they are not going to be able to find the song played the same way anywhere else, you are essentially dropping them in the middle of a body of water without a paddle.

Maybe some beginners are okay with just accepting ‘the version I’m playing sounds nothing like the song I’m playing with’. I, however, am not okay with doing things in a way that makes no practical sense.

So, while I thought I was very close to having a fourth song under my belt, as soon as I memorized all of the lyrics, the reality is that I’ve wasted a huge chunk of time practicing a chord progression that is just plain unusable if I want to learn in the way that is most efficient for me. That’s frustrating as hell.  It means throwing a bunch of practice time out the window and starting over. And, I have to do that, because some instructor just plain ‘felt like it’.

After fighting power chords on guitar for three days, I was looking forward to making some very forward progress, so finding myself right back at the drawing board because of something this nonsensical is really frustrating.  I don’t want to learn watered-down versions of songs; I want to learn songs. Full songs, from beginning to end, in the key they are most commonly played in. Maybe I’ll decide I can’t sing in that key, or maybe I’ll decide that I want to play it in a different key, but that is MY choice to make, and you are doing me a gross disservice when you rob me of the original chord progression in a lesson for the sake of…no fucking reason.

Now that I’m really quite frustrated with having my time wasted with the ‘for dummies’ version of a song I actually really enjoy, I am calling it a night knowing that, come tomorrow, I will have to practice the new chord progression for at least several days before I’ll be ready to play along with the original track, when by now I should be quite adept at doing so, if only I had been given accurate information from the start.

Until Next Time, completely fed up with instructors who transpose songs for no reason, and apparently see no value in being able to play along with the song in the key they’re teaching it in.  Illogical bastards.

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4 thoughts on “Today’s Ukulele Annoyance…

  1. Ah, I hadn’t read this post before I commented on your one for 27th! Yes, I agree with you entirely about the annoyance of versions of songs put in ‘easy’ keys just for the sake of it.

    I recently attended a uke festival & their songbook looked quite interesting – until I read through & saw most songs had been put in C. Like you, I wanted to play along with actual versions of the songs, particularly ones I didn’t know, so I had a good idea how they went before I was at the weekend event. Quite a few of the songs we either play in our group – so I knew worked fine for the uke – or had clearly been taken from one of the main uke song sheet sites & transposed. Given they all had the chord diagrams printed on each page, I didn’t see the point.

    You are eventually going to want to learn as many different chords as possible, so it seems daft not to try out different keys as soon as possible. As you’ve pointed out, many times the chords are ones you know anyway or you only have one or two new chords to learn for each song, which is an easier way of building your knowledge & ability to play different chord progressions.

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    1. For sake of expedience, I’ll just reply briefly to my thoughts on all 3 of your comments here. I’m on the run today, so will possibly be uncommonly brief.

      Re: transposing. Sometimes, since the uke and guitar have a different sonic range, transposing is useful to maintain the atmosphere, if not the precise tone of the original. In retrospect, this is likely what those early lessons were getting at with transposing as par for the course. When playing with other instruments, definitely don’t transpose, but playing solo is a different matter, and it seems some songs just don’t work in the original key as well as they do transposed. In any case, there are definitely two different uker camps on this subject, and I haven’t married myself to either one yet. I do typically transpose, because it was one of the first things I was taught, and also because it’s way easier to sing along in C or G than it is in A or E, in most cases for me, for now.

      I didn’t know wagon wheel had baggage like that. I heard a cover of it first and didn’t know it was a cover until the lesson popped up recently. The version I love is by Against me! And playing it in C, like the lesson prescribes is a bit to peppy. I’m not attempting A, partially because of the E chord, partially because singing in G or C is easier, and I have enough to remember.

      While there may not be rules for strum patterns, there are distinctly original strum patterns. Playing while singing is hard enough without having to learn the same song twice, so I choose to learn in the pattern on the original recording, which is pretty clear if you listen. I don’t see a reason to learn a watered down version unless something about the original isn’t working acoustically. I changed the pattern for the Flaming Lips song I know because of that, but there’s really no reason to in this case, so the ‘super easy’ rendition of wagon wheel seems almost crippling in how oversimplified it is across the board. There’s just no reason to break that song down that much; it’s not hard to play in G, and it’s not hard to strum, so I don’t see a purpose to the training wheels version, which has a different tonal mood. At least, that’s my opinion, fwiw.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That makes much more sense now – thanks for taking the trouble to explain in more detail. Yes distinctive strumming patterns are important in carrying across the feel of the song.

        I agree with you that, to ensure you’re doing a good version, it’s often necessary to do your detective work, track down the original / good cover in the style you with to recreate & analyse those instead of assuming that the versions you’ve found online will be correct. So many mistakes get carried forward as they are copied across songbooks! Then obviously put your own stamp on it.

        (For example, one of my uking colleagues has a pet peeve about Folsom Prison Blues, as every uke book gets the lyrics wrong to one of the verses…)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s kind of annoying. I mean everyone adds their own flavor and there’s nothing wrong with that when you’re playing, but it’s not how you should teach others. I believe in always learning from the original. If you want to adapt it to suit you from there, go for it, but that’s the student’s choice to make, not the teacher’s. All the teacher should be doing is transposing as needed, so when you come across a song like wagon wheel, which no two people seem to agree on anything on, a self-teaching student has to watch clips of a dozen videos to figure out which bits are most common and piece them together on their own to find the way that’s closest to the original. It seems like a lot of unnecessary hoops to jump through just to find a good starting point.

    Mostly, I spend a lot of time glaring at YouTube like ‘make the words in your brain come out of your mouth.’ Because so many of the instructors either say one thing, then do another, or just don’t mention that their version only works solo, that you won’t be able to play along with the original track that way, and playing with the original track is the best way to gauge your progress, especially if you don’t have a group to play with.

    Liked by 1 person

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