UD#95 Confessions of a Uke-by-Ear Zealot…

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UD#95 Confessions of a Uke-by-Ear Zealot…
from Ukulele in the Dark with Guido Heistek

When I started Ukulele in the Dark in 2012, my first plan was to create “audio only” lessons. No visuals! Hence, the name, “…in the Dark.” I came around to the idea that this would be a tad extreme, thankfully. But, I still wanted to create and share some material that would fill a gap in the way that uke was being taught. I wanted to get away from the traditional “do this, then do that” approach and create lessons that would facilitate experiences for students that would help them to understand the “why” and “how” of playing, not just the “what.”

This meant a focus on listening and playing by ear. I believed that there was far too much description of movements in lessons: “Put your finger here, then sweep across the strings like this…etc.” I believed that if a student was clear on the sound they were trying to make, they would more porous in receiving any technical direction on how to play. They might even figure out what movement was required on their own. Why not?

In short, I guess you could say that I believed that music should be taught from the inside out: from the intention out. Too often music is taught from the movement aspect in. To me, this is like trying to create a music playing machine and it bypasses the student’s musicality. It is like saying this:

 “These people are not musical anyway, so we have to tell them every little movement they have to make because they’ll never figure anything out on their own.”

Kind of cynical, no? And, it’s not true!

I felt so strongly about this “inside out” approach, that when creating my strumming DVD, Hear the Strum, I completely refused to use the words DOWN and UP. These words are practically synonymous with strumming instruction, but I wanted students to learn to let the sounds they want to make guide their movements. My good friend and fellow uke educator Jim D’Ville once joked that I should make a t-shirt to support my cause that read, “DOWN WITH DOWNS AND UPS”.

I am extremely proud of Hear the Strum and I’ve received a lot of great feedback from the strummers it has helped. But naturally, I’ve adapted my teaching style over time. I still try to stick to an intention based approach to strum teaching, but I have found that a few DOWNS and UPS can be really helpful. It takes too much work to be a zealot! I find that many of my strongly held ideas about teaching are loosening up as time goes on. 

I never did make a t-shirt but I did draw some cartoons
about my teaching adventures…

In the end, there is a variety of teaching styles at Ukulele in the Dark. I am still, however, a “learn it by ear” guy. And so, this brings us to what I set out to tell you about today, before I went on my little wander down memory alley.

“How do you fill in the spaces in a chord melody arrangement where there are no melody notes?”

I get asked this question a lot. And, for a while now, I’ve wanted to do a lesson on the topic. The song I plan to use to demonstrate this technique is Brahms’s Lullaby. It’s a perfect choice because it’s simple and it has quite a few gaps in the melody that we need to fill. 

But Wait! Let’s Learn Brahms’s Lullaby by ear!

Instead of jumping right into it, I thought we could do some “by ear” learning to prepare us for the chord melody lesson. Why not take the opportunity?

So here’s my plan. Let’s learn the melody and chords of Brahms’s Lullaby by ear and then, in two weeks, when I create my next newsletter we’ll learn a simple chord melody, and how to dress it up. Waddaya say?

To keep things ultra simple, let’s do the song in the key of C. 

Here is the scale of C major. Practice it a few times. 

This is where all the notes in today’s song will be living!

Here is a recording of me picking the melody of Brahms’s Lullaby and strumming the chords. 

I’ve made a little tab worksheet (below) with the notes and chords blanked out. This will provide some hints as to which strings the notes are played on. The first few notes are included to get you started. See if you can get the rest of the notes filled in, in tablature. 

Please note that the worksheet is for G C E A tuning. 

You can work from memory but if you get stuck please refer to the recording. Start and stop the recording as many times as you like. I recommend that you proceed with one little bit at a time. Even one note at a time is OK. 

If you are not a tab person, feel free to write the melody out in standard notation or in letters if you are more comfortable with that. I’ll have standard notation on the answer sheet. 

For a bonus you can also try to figure out the chords. There are three choices C, F and G7. 

I’ll give you the answer sheet in the next newsletter. 

If you really need the answer sheet before that, you can send me an email at moc.kradehtnielelukunull@ofni and I’ll send it to you. 

I know, pretty cagey, eh? 

I guess I am back to my old ways! 

One last thing. Perhaps you would like to try and create a chord melody for Brahms’s Lullaby on your own. If so, you can find out how to do that, here:


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!