Getting the most out of Ukulele Festivals

Going to ukulele festivals is great.  You get to see many different performers and improve your playing technique by doing workshops over several days and in convenient close proximity to one another.  It can be a very inspiring experience but also overwhelming when you have so much choice and new information to absorb.  So how can you get the most out of a ukulele festival?

These days many towns and cities all over the world have their own Ukulele festivals that reflect the culture of that particular region and are great to include on an interstate or overseas trip.  If you cannot for whatever reason travel far to attend a festival, make the most of those in your hometown or nearby locations.  Those easily accessible by car or train can be visited on a day trip if you are unable to stay for the whole festival.

Many festivals offer a discount if you buy advance tickets to several performances.  This is good value if you are able to attend most events over the whole of the festival, but not so good if you can only visit on one day.  In the latter case you would be better to buy individual tickets for the events that you are able to attend.  Many festivals also have plenty of free performances or inexpensive ones that you can go to straight off the street and these are great value.

When faced with a smorgasbord of ukulele workshops it can be difficult to decide which ones would be most beneficial.  I use a process of elimination in deciding which workshops to pick.  If I have done a workshop before then that is automatically rejected.  Secondly I give priority to workshops by overseas performers, as they might not be back to Australia for several years.  Thirdly, I choose a workshop with a subject that I have not done before, that will improve my skill and sounds like fun.  If you are a beginner it would probably be best to start with the types of workshops that cover new chords and various strumming techniques before moving on to more complex subjects, otherwise you may feel lost and frustrated.  You want the experience to be enjoyable.

I find that it is better not to do one workshop straight after another, as it is difficult to assimilate a great amount of new material over a short period of time.  Better to learn a few new things well than to struggle with a large amount of new techniques and possibly get things wrong or forget them altogether.  So choose workshops that are not held consecutively.  A break makes a lot of difference in the prevention of mental fatigue that can hinder your ability to concentrate and retain information.

Take a note pad and write quick notes when you are able during the workshop.  This may sound basic but if there is a lot to learn you may not remember everything correctly.  When given the chance, ask questions to clarify anything that you find confusing.  As soon as possible after you have completed a workshop, sit down and go over what you have learnt to commit the new techniques to your long-term memory.  I found after a blues workshop, the sketchy notes that I had taken allowed me to work out the blues chords, progressions and turnarounds.  It also helps if you attend a workshop with a friend so that you can compare notes and fill in any gaps that you each may have.

Having the opportunity to meet ukulele players from interstate and overseas is another great benefit of festivals.  Often these performers sell their CDs directly to their audience or in the festival market hall.  If you can, have a chat with some of them and buy a CD or a teaching DVD, as these are less expensive at festivals, often hard to find locally and are a great way of hearing more of the performers music and learning something new.  In 2014 a friend and I had the pleasure of having a chat with Jim D’Ville in the market hall of the Melbourne Ukulele festival.  We had been unable to attend his workshop and he generously gave us, and those nearby, a mini talk about his technique of playing by ear.  We wanted to find out more and bought his DVD lessons.  So talk and listen to other players.  It will make your experience that much more interesting and entertaining.

Even if you can attend only one day of a festival you should be able to enjoy many performances, add to your ukulele playing techniques and have a great time.  They are a fantastic community resource.


Bayside Ukes member


Ryo Montgomery

Ukulele performer Ryo Montgomery will be appearing at the Melbourne Ukulele Festival in October.  Check out their website for more information.  There is a feature article about Ryo and his father in todays Age newspaper (link below).

The Best Ukulele Player in the World – The Age Sept 16

Making Time For Your Ukulele

It is springtime down under, and in Melbourne, as opposed to the far north of Australia, we have the benefit of enjoying the four seasons, sometimes even in one day.  In spring there is a lot to do in the garden so my ukulele has been rather neglected lately.  Life can get busy for various reasons and this got me thinking about how to make sure that you give time to your ukulele no matter what the circumstances.

As I help to run a Ukulele Group I need to prepare for the next session.  I always devote some time for this at least one day in advance and on the Tuesday afternoon before we meet in the evening.  These times are set aside for song preparation and ukulele practice.  Making a regular appointment with your ukulele is a good method to ensure that you do not forget to put in some practice.  You would not miss an appointment made with a professional service provider or a friend without a very good reason and you should treat your ukulele with the same respect.  This is easy to justify, as playing an instrument is good for you as well as fun.

Another way to keep up your practice is to always keep your ukulele handy so that you can pick it up when you have a free moment.  Just be careful if you have a puppy or small child in the vicinity or you might find that it disappears or gains tooth marks.  In these cases it is probably best to have an inexpensive instrument lying around.  It is amazing how a few minutes here and there can add up to a lot of playing time.

If you live in a noisy environment where there are a lot of demands on your time, it is a good idea to have some sort of bolt hole where you can play undisturbed or take your opportunity when no one is around.  If you are really lucky you may have a dedicated music room or maybe it is time to clean out that junk room, attic or basement and claim it for your own.  You could also use the garage or garden shed if your home is too crowded. On a fine day playing under a shady tree would do or you could go to the local park (provided they don’t have those draconian laws against playing musical instruments in a public place).  Find a quiet place where you won’t disturb anyone, not that the ukulele is very loud.  If no one can track you down, you will have no more interruptions.

Playing with others provides good motivation.  Having a “study buddy” is a great help when you are doing a course at university and this will work for the ukulele.  If you regularly play with another person it will give you incentive to keep up your practice, as you won’t want to let someone else down.  You could alternate playing at each other’s homes to lessen complaints from other housemates or family members.  Just an hour’s practice together a week should be enough to make a big difference.

As the saying goes “if you want something done always ask a busy person”, so you should be able to find some time to give to your uke.  Now that my garden is tidy, I am looking forward to many fine spring and summer days when I can spend any free moments outside and play my ukulele.


Bayside Ukes Member