UD#76 Performing Without Practicing?

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UD#76 Performing Without Practicing?
Ukulele in the Dark with Guido Heistek


I remember Liberace performing on TV when I was a kid. We loved to watch him. It’s funny to think of him playing piano so well with so many diamond rings on! He once turned to the camera between songs and held up his hands, wiggling his bejewelled fingers, and said,  “Look what you get when you practice!”

This became a catch phrase around our house for years.


Today, I want to talk about a student of mine. For the purpose of this article let’s call her Emily. Emily came to me as an experienced beginner. She made it very clear from the first lesson that she was not going to practice. She wanted to learn the ukulele but, she didn’t want to practice.

At first, it seemed like an impossible situation. How could someone learn to play ukulele without practicing? To make things even more challenging she could only come for a one-hour session every two weeks. I said OK, but I wondered if it would work. In the end, Emily turned out to be a great inspiration to me.

Many of my lessons involve loading the student up with homework. Obviously, that approach wasn’t going to work in this case. So, we had to do something in the lesson that would “stick” -something that we could pick up in two weeks time with no practice in between.


We decided that we would work completely by ear. Also, we chose to keep it simple and focus on only one thing.


We settled on learning an instrumental version of “When September Ends” by Green Day, a song that I shared with you in an earlier newsletter. We worked on the arrangement every other week, for one hour, for about five months.

Emily would come in for her lesson, not really remembering much about her previous lesson, and we would slowly go over the same material again until she remembered it. Then, we would add a little bit more. I think it took about two months for her to learn the first section. But, she kept at it. I was amazed she didn’t give up. After about five months she could play the whole song by ear with no written notes. Wow.

Here’s the topper. Emily performed the song with me at this year’s student recital. There were some hiccups and glitches. It wasn’t perfect. But to accomplish what she did, to me, was a true triumph.


How many times have I received this phone call?

“I can’t come for my lesson today, Guido, because I haven’t practiced and I need more time.”

So many times I have never heard from that student again! Sometimes I wonder if they’re still playing at all.


I like to share Emily’s story with students who are down on themselves and wish they had the will power to practice more. Emily was clear and accepted what she was willing to do, and not do. She stuck to the plan, and worked diligently within her limits. She worked hard in her lessons, but not at home. And in the end there was a payoff. And she’s still playing her uke. And, I half suspect she even practices at home a little. Maybe.


That’s all for now,


P.S. I am regularly adding new lessons to Ukulele in the Dark. Please subscribe to my mailing list below to receive every lesson right when it comes out. Be sure not to miss a thing!


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