I have been a student, aficionado, and advocate of the Guitar, Bass, Banjo, Ukulele, and Mandolin for many years. I have encouraged many a “wish-I-could –play” wannabes to set aside their excuses and apprehension about playing a stringed instrument and to simply, and fairly, give it try. To that pursuit I would like to debunk the most common three misconceptions that I have heard over the years.
#1 My fingers are too fat!
This one tops my list. I can tell you from experience that I know or have met musicians of every size and shape and certainly some were hefty souls, but I can also tell you that I haven’t met anyone handicapped by the size of their fingers. The novice needs to understand that after learning proper fretting technique that the size of their fingers will not impede their playing. Think about it, if it were true there would only be trim or skinny mandolin players. Check out Israel Kamakawiwo'ole on you tube with his tiny Ukulele, this should put this point in perspective for you.
#2 My fingers lack coordination
• 1. skill in performing tasks, especially with the hands: "her dexterity with chopsticks" synonyms: deftness, adeptness, adroitness, agility, nimbleness
You may have at one time or another tried to make a chord or play a simple melody on an instrument perhaps only to find that even though your brain was telling your fingers to move in a specific way, they just would not. This is because you have not developed the dexterity necessary to complete the task.
The good news is this is very easy to develop (yes for you too!)
Think of it like this, if you went to the Gym to lift weights for the first time, you would not expect yourself to start with heavy weights, your muscles would have to adapt to the task but soon you would be increasing the weight load as you built strength. The muscles in your hands are the same way; of course you can’t make the chords right now, but as you practice basic exercises (that you will be able to do right away), everything thing else will fall in place. So stop blaming your fingers!
Only the ignorance of technique can stop you!
Here is a good video for finger exercising
#3 I don’t have any musical ability
Maybe you don’t have any musical ability, maybe you do. But the truth is you don’t need much in the way of natural ability to master enough skill to accompany yourself as you sing or hum your favorite tunes. This is especially true of the ukulele. My main instrument is guitar and I have always considered my playing more about rhythm than anything else. In other words, if you can snap your fingers or stomp you foot to the beat of a song, you only have to turn that into a “flicking of your wrist” as you brush the strings (strumming). I do this pretty well and when the mood strikes me right I can play my guitar like I’m ringing a bell but sometimes I can’t tell you what key I’m in! As you develop and discover your musical self you may become a virtuoso or maybe only a hack but a least you didn’t let excuses keep you from trying! Good luck!
The late Steve Jobs had a famous phrase “Content is King.” , and while no one can disagree to that, as I was putting together my gig set the other night, it dawned on me. “How useful would this content be if I didn’t have it organized at all. Now by no means am I some crazy IBM database scientist, but I do want to share with you my system, and maybe after you’ve read, I can get some tips from you about yours.
So back to Jobs, er apple…. In my ITunes app I have a Playlist called “Band”, this where I keep the music file to every song I can ever remember playing with any band. In almost all cases I have a matching Backtrack file, often in the standard key and also a ½ step down version. When I click on the song file I get a lyrics tab, and you guessed it, I have a copy of the words and chord chart to those songs which are attached to the file. Now whenever I have to brush up on songs for a particular project, there is nothing to search for because everything is organized in one place. That library is forever growing.
I also use separate sub Lists that are specific to certain tasks. For instance, I have a friend named Al that always plays with the same guys and every once in a while I will have need of them or they of me, so I keep a list called “Al Band”. This list has every song I have ever played with them, usually they are going to ask for songs from this list so I am always ready, and if they hit me with a new tune I just add it to the list. Other example lists that compartmentalize my songs are “Country Band” “Jam Tracks” and a file for my current project called “My Band”. Because I have the original song and a back track minus lead guitar (my instrument) and Vocals (if I’m singing) for every song on my bands list, I can open the folder and run down the list and rehearse with my virtual band while preparing for my real one. Whenever I need the lyrics or chord charts for myself or other members, I print them right out of my playlist. In this way I find that I spend my time practicing instead of searching, surfing, clicking etc.
Reprinted with permission from Modtone effects.
You might have noticed that most inexpensive banjos have guitar type keys and most expensive banjos have planetary keys. And you may have wondered why. If so, read on…
I will first address the inexpensive banjo with guitar keys. This part is simple, inexpensive guitar keys are in abundant supply, Manufactures use these to keep the cost of the instrument low.
Your more expensive banjos with have planetary keys. Banjo players who seek to improve their tuning experience will often ask advice about swapping their banjo keys for high end guitar keys because of the higher gear ratio of the guitar keys.
My main instrument is guitar and I grew up with the distinct notion that the higher the gear ratio of your tuning keys, the better the keys. For novices, the gear ratio for a tuning key refers to the amount of full turns of the key that it takes for the string post to make 1 complete revolution. The more turns it takes, the more precisely you can tune. Therefore, in theory, a 12:1 gear ratio, common for Guitar, would be better than say a 4:1 gear ratio which is common for a planetary banjo key. So then, this knowledge may lead you to more questions like “why not put guitar keys on your banjo” and “if I did, is that an upgrade?”
First you should realize that it is not all about the Gear Ratio for all pickers. Banjo players, especially bluegrass players, are by nature a traditionalist lot. Most of them will agree , as my grandpa would say, “Planetary keys just look right on my banjo” this of course might simply be because banjo keys originated as friction pegs that stuck straight out the back just like Planetary keys do. But there is more to it than that. I think most banjo players would agree with my grandpa about a few other aspects were he here today. He once told me “I have no problem tuning fast and accurate with planetary keys” He explained that because he used many different tunings, he could switch tunings faster, which he could do in nano seconds it always seemed. The other thing he pointed out was that he frequently broke strings and the lower gear ratio of his keys also made it faster to change strings and get back in tune. All of these aspects were important to him.
You should realize that there is no “right/wrong’ scenario here. It is all a matter of personal preference and what is important to you. If you prefer guitar keys, by all means, use them, if you’re a traditionalist and or are happy with your keys, let them alone.