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

Review: Starting Ukulele by Steven Sproat

This review of Starting Ukulele by Steven Sproat is biased by the fact that I come from a music-reading background (my dad was a band director and I’ve been reading music since I was 5-ish), and that I’ve studied Kodaly philosophy in teaching music to children (I’ve finished 2 of my 3 years toward certification at the time of this review), which admonishes a gentle, slow, natural approach with lots of time given to ‘own’ the music. This book grates against the grain of both of those biases.

This book is about learning your chords and strumming patterns. There is actually no sheet music (or tablature for that matter) in this book, just the song’s words (which is a problem if you lose the CD and don’t know the song), chords (diagrams are given), and ‘up and down arrows’ to represent the strum patterns. The book introduces you to the chords at break-neck speed (whole sets of them at a given time); the only rhyme or reason seems to be that these are the most common chords – so learn them, NOW. As an aside, the author states that it may take you months or years to master some of these chords. To me, that is just not good pedagogy, especially for a book aimed at children. ‘Sink or swim, we’re moving right along.’

That said, for an adult or teen who does not want to be coddled, and is ready for a ‘no holds barred’ style of teaching, this book has some great information in it. The chords are certainly useful chords, as are the strumming patterns and left-hand techniques taught. The CD is very useful for practice (though a few of the tracks are very ‘midi’ sounding), and each song is given two tracks – one with the ukulele playing and a second without (so you can shine on your own).

Like most of the methods I’ve seen, this book relies almost solely on old folk songs to teach the material. As far as I’m concerned, that’s great. Others hate that. Don’t be a hater; folk music is at the roots of all other kinds of music – embrace it the same way you’d give a hug to your grandma.

Some of the highlights in the book are a ‘rock n roll’ riffing pattern (technically blues) that is a challenge (but very useful and interesting), a breakdown of the split stroke and a Hawaiian triplet strum, and a short tutorial that introduces you to fingerpicking.

Had the packaging showed teens on the cover and had there not been a few major typos (that will confuse readers) I would have given this book four stars instead of three.

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