Two-Chord Christmas Songbook by M Ryan Taylor | Play Ukulele Now : an online course by Dan Scanlan

Review: Alfred’s Teach Yourself to Play Ukulele

I played through Alfred’s Teach Yourself to Play Ukulele by Morty & Ron Manus the other day. Here are my thoughts on this method.

  • Plus: Has a good 5-page introductory section that gives you a short history of the ukulele, an ukulele diagram, how to hold the instrument (falls short here by only illustrating standing position) & a felt pick, covers tuning and basic music theory.
  • Neutral: It may be a little overkill to show four diagrams, one for each of the strings, and then a fifth chord diagram to show the final construction of the chord each time a new chord is introduced, but it certainly leaves no room for doubt.
  • Plus: This method starts you off in the Key of F, which is a much better choice for easing into chord playing than the Key of C. The first chords introduced are C7 and F, requiring only 1 and 2 fingers respectively. I like this more gradual approach for the beginner.
  • Shortfall: This book never introduces tablature, which is a common and seriously important teaching tool.
  • Neutral: Like many of the methods I’ve looked at, this book uses common, public domain songs like Down in the Valley, Go Tell Aunt Rhody, Cockles and Mussels & Clementine (the first four tunes of the book), all notated in Treble Clef (some books just give you the words and chords with no melodic indication).
  • Shortfall: Unfortunately, the book offers no instruction on how to pluck these melodies out, so if you don’t know the tunes, good luck to you.
  • Plus: Continues to offer pertinent bits of theory that are introduced in the songs it uses: Time Signatures, Pickup Measures, Triplets, etc.
  • Shortfall: Quite a few of the tunes are pitched so low that they are not practical to be sung (Careless Love, Lolly-Too-Dum, When the Saints Go Marching In, Hava Nagila & Alexander’s Ragtime Band). This is just carelessness on the part of the authors, there are plenty of tunes out there to choose from to demonstrate the keys they are teaching without needing to pitch things in keys only suitable for a Bass Profundo.
  • Plus: Introduces the basic waltz strum (Streets of Laredo), the blues shuffle (Frankie and Johnny), the bluegrass strum (Lolly-Too-Dum), a calypso style strum (Mary Ann), and a march strum (Yankee Doodle Boy).
  • Plus: It also includes a chart of 15 basic strum types at the back of the book; though these are not reinforced with songs to use them on, this is a valuable quick-reference guide.
  • Plus: The back of the book offers a number of other mini-tutorials and guides that are a nice bonus; How to Play by Ear using Three Magic Chords, How to Determine the Key of a Song, How to Transpose (use this info to move up the keys that were too low in this book – would be good practice), a Ukulele Fingerboard Chart, and a 7-page Chord Dictionary (much larger than many books of this type).

This book does offer a more gradual approach to chord playing that will give your fingers a little more time to aclimate and develop callouses naturally – though like most slim volumes, it tends to rush it a bit. The guides at the back of the book are a great bonus to the other instruction – very cool. Unfortunately, this method offers no instruction in melodic picking and does not introduce tablature – I consider these major setbacks. If, however, you are only interested in singing and strumming, this may be a good method for you.

M Ryan Taylor

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