UD#87 Build It, Then You’ll Know

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UD#87 Build It, Then You’ll Know
from Ukulele in the Dark with Guido Heistek


I was very resistant to learning music theory when I was in my teens.  I thought that my time would be better spent learning to play my guitar. Besides, so many great players didn’t know theory.  I remember trying to make this case to one of my music teachers, and he said, “THAT’S JUST LAZINESS!” So much for getting him to buy in.

My anti-theory stance continued until I went to music school, and I became very afraid of flunking. I spent hours in the computer lab working with music theory programs, learning scales and chords. I also started working really hard at ear training, transcription and sight singing.

These days, I make most of my living teaching music, and my theory knowledge is one of my foundations. I apply what I learned in music school to almost everything I do in my music teaching life. What a gift!

“How am I going to use this?”

Often, when I’m teaching something new and challenging, the student wants to know exactly how they will use it in the future. An honest answer would probably be, “I don’t know.” But, I find myself trying to come up with a list of exciting things that will motivate them to move forward. It doesn’t always work. It reminds me of when I used to ask the same question to my math teacher in high school. How bored I felt with his answer! The list of things that I could use math for did nothing to make me more interested in learning math.

Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith and make a decision to learn something. Usually, you’ll find out later how you will apply it. That can only happen after you know how to do it!

“…the moment you need a technique is not a good time to start working on it.”

My friend Ralph Shaw once tried to show me how to play a triplet strum. I didn’t find it intuitive at all. “Yeah, most guitars players find this one pretty weird,” Ralph teased. It took me years of working on the strum to get close to comfortable enough to use it in anything. Really, literally, years. I use to practice the strum on the outside of my leg while I was watching hockey or I’d grab five minutes practice between lessons. I still don’t consider myself very good at the triplet strum, but I am comfortable enough to use it from time to time.

Once you’ve worked up a technique, you will see how it finds its way into your playing. You won’t know exactly how that is going to happen. Maybe that’s part of the fun. Sometimes, it takes years and then, finally, there it is!

One thing for sure, the moment you need a technique is not a good time to start working on it. The work needs to be done in preparation.

Well, that’s all for today’s newsletter. Here’s a little video of me playing an old standard, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” In it, I make use of the triplet strum I was talking about earlier. See if you can spot it in the video. I plan to show you how to do a triplet strum next lesson. See you then!

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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