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

Review: Hal Leonard Ukulele Method Book 1

I played through the Hal Leonard Ukulele Method Book 1 (with the audio CD) by Little Rev this morning. The fact that I played through the entire book in one sitting might be a clue to you that this is not a book for intermediate to advanced players (I nevertheless feel rewarded by picking up a strumming technique that was new to me). That said, let’s look at this from the perspective of a new player, the target for this book.

Pros for this Ukulele Method:

  • Covers the basic basics of how to hold the uke, right-hand positioning, tuning (with a track on the CD devoted to this), the staff, treble clef, note names, time signatures, measures, barlines, rhythmic values, etc. – all in 3 pages.
  • Gives the basics of plucking melodies, introducing two or three notes at a time and giving tunes like Ode to Joy or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Oh! Susanna to practice on. Very gradual – perfect for a first time player.
  • Includes traditional notation & tablature for most of the pieces. This is a great feature for beginners.
  • Covers basic strums: brushing with the thumb, down and upstrokes with the forefinger.
  • Introduces the common chord families of C, G, F, d minor and e minor.
  • Like most of these kind of books, a one-page chord chart is included at the back.

Cons for the Ukulele Method:

  • Unfortunately, when you get to playing with chords on page 23, you are pretty much thrown to the wolves. Like many experienced players who go back and write an ukulele method, Little Rev forgets just how hard a G7 chord is to a first time player and makes it one of the first three chords he introduces.
  • The common chord families (C, G and F) are not really the easiest chord sets to start learning with; this method gives them to you and then expects you to make the transitions between those chords fairly quickly. Sink or swim, baby!
  • The author gives the more difficult version of the e minor chord. While I can think of a couple of reasons why this chord may be preferable in the long run (doubles the fifth and offers a pivot to B7), it is one tough chord and is not level appropriate for an introductory method.

Good, but Needs Improvement:

  • Covers a couple of more advanced strums that will give your playing more rhythmic interest. It is hard to describe techniques like these on paper, but between the description and listening to the CD you may be able to figure them out.
  • The strum that was new to me was one he called the ‘Finger and Thumb Strum’ – a type of finger/thumb combination strum involving the sixteenth note before the third beat being played by a downstroke of the forefinger, followed up by a downstroke of the thumb on the third beat. I figured this out, but as someone who reads music notation, I would have preferred a more precise writing out of the rhythm involved. Good strum though.
  • The CD is adequate, but many of the tracks launch into the song without counting off first, which is annoying. Authors of these kinds of products should remember to ALWAYS count off.

Overall, I think this is an excellent introduction to melodic picking, but a less than stellar introduction to chord playing, with some good strum instruction if you can figure it out. New ukers will find the learning curve start out gradual and then jump into ‘alpine mode’ when it gets into chords. If you’re willing to be really patient and put in some hours on the chords to get up to speed on the songs in this book, great. I, however, think a more gradual approach to chord playing will be more rewarding to the learner in the short and long term – allowing players to build muscle memory and finger callouses over time.

M Ryan Taylor

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