Starting to struggle – need a song

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    I am starting to struggle a lot of late and I am stuck. My frustration level is starting to go up and I need to find a way forward and have some sort of success.

    My challenges:
    1. I am older and have some pain in my hands – especially if I am trying to do a lot of picking (arpeggio stuff)
    2. I had virtually no music background when I picked up the Ukulele last September.
    3. This is the big one – I do not get large blocks of time to practice.

    What is frustrating me:

    I have a busy schedule. I work a lot and I have a very active family live. I practice almost every day over lunch for a 30-40 minutes but since I am at work I usually end up at a park and my internet access on my phone is poor. So I try to print some stuff off or pick out a part to practice.

    I can never make it through one of your songs. I have learned like the very first bits of Riptide, Dont Stop Believing, She Talks To Angels and Brown Eyed Girl. There are a number of others that I have tried but didnt get very far.

    I cant make it very far because I almost always reach a part of the lesson that is hard enough that I have to practice. I work at it for as long as I can and make progress but when my time is up I have to quit at which point I promptly forget a lot of bits and have to start over when I practice again. By the time I get a part down, I have started over so many times that any enjoyment that I might get from playing it is toast.

    The reason I have so much problem is a lot of the lessons embellish the song so much. Lets take Dont Stop believing for an example. I need to play a string, play a chord, slap the uke and pluck the chord. Sound great when you do it. Sound like crap when I do because I forget a slap / pluck / strum / whatever. The thing is, the underlying song does not need all the embellishment to sound great. Riptide is another example, the first parts of the song is fairly easy for me. A – G – C – A then walk up the A string and do some stuff and then repeat a couple of times. I can to those parts well and it sounds good. Then along comes the next part of the song and it I just gave up. There was so much going on that I stopped trying because it would take me forever.

    Right now, as a Uke player, I can play all kinds of chords without a lot of struggle. I can to any number of stum patterns. I dont have much problem moving up the fret board but do have to practice songs that do. Hammer-ons are no problem as are pull offs. Same with sliding. I can chuck well and finger pick as long as I dont have to go to fast.

    I feel like and have enough skill level to play some nice sounding solo songs. The really frustrating thing here is I hardly know any songs. I know a song that I think sounds kind of nice that I learned from Ukulele Underground (I cant remember the name of it tho). I can play the standard version of ‘Can’t help falling in love’ in my sleep. I have a couple ‘Steve-ised’ versions of songs where I combined the 2 different tutorials on youtube to make a version I like. I have a version of Rainbow Connection that I really enjoy playing but doesnt sound like Rainbow Connection anymore. (I cant sing so I dont sing and I end up shortening up parts where the same chord is played over and over and over). Overall I know fewer that 10 songs, most are fairly simple, and only about half of them I enjoy playing. I need more songs. I cant stand 99% of the song lessons found on youtube because if you dont sing with them, the song has been distilled down into something that is virtually impossible to Identify without vocals. Almost every tutorial of a Twenty One Pilots song for example.

    Dear lord, I am babbling. Lots of verbiage to ask the question ‘Any chance you could do 2 versions of a couple of songs?’ One that is not as embellished and focuses on chords \ strumming \ simple picking. A simplified version of the song that still retains the character of the more complicated version? Using Dont Stop Believing as and example – it seems like there is a core there that could sound great without the Strum / Pluck all strings / Slap / Pluck / strums. Maybe not.

    Perhaps there are some songs you could recommend that might be a little less complicated but still sound good when played as a solo.

    I have to say, the slaps sound great when you do them on your amplified uke – the affect seems to have so much less of an impact when I do it on my un-amplified acoustic uke when I try it at the park. 🙂

    -Steve J


    Hi Steve,

    It sounds like you may be trying to tackle some songs that are currently above your playing ability. Now there’s nothing wrong with this and the advice that I usually offer is to give it a shot, even if it is beyond your playing ability. Because even if you don’t learn the entire piece, you’ll get better in the process.

    Now on the flip side, your goal is to be able to play a song from start to finish and specifically a solo fingerstyle piece. This was the exact reason that we introduced Courses into the site. I wanted to be able to provide a foundation in technique and theory that would help you conquer the performance tunes. So if I was you, I would set aside some of your practice time to developing technique.

    Start by working through our Fingerpicking Course. This will help your right hand with dexterity and help your left hand dive beyond chord based playing. I would couple that with taking a look at our Beginner Level songs. A great one to start with is “Aura Lee“. It’s got a great melody, it was used in an Elvis song, and it’s got great potential for being the first song you add to your repertoire. I’ve got two more beginner levels tunes coming out soon, one of which is the theme to The Addams Family.

    Have you seen our September site member challenge? This month is perfect for you to participate in as it hits directly at what you are wanting to work on. Take a look at it and I hope you join the challenge. If you need any help with figuring out what to do, just let me know 🙂




    I just checked out Aura Lee and was able to play through it. I will go through it a few more times till I can remember it.

    I have not focused as much on the beginning level songs because they are not overly interesting for me. I will set aside some time and go through the finger picking lessons. Will check back after I do that.


    You may want to check out the Beginner’s Course too, there’s a lot of great content in it.

    I’ll be focusing on adding more beginner tunes over the next few months. There will be two new ones coming in the next month for sure 🙂


    I totally agree. The songs are very hard and I think it puts a lot of people off because you class them as beginners songs.For someone like yourself a musician they are very basic. I personally think that if people could play these songs they would not need the instruction you provide. I think you need some songs that actual beginners could play and sound nice. Anyway a bit of customer feedback for you. And another bit of feedback is that you do a great job and so thorough.


    Thanks for the feedback Phil! The songs that Steve is trying to tackle fall into levels 1 through 4. Those levels are not beginner-friendly. This is why I introduced the “beginner series” level. Songs in that category are beginner-friendly. For someone just starting out, the best place to start is our Beginner’s Course. There are 27 lessons in the course and it takes you from A to Z. It’s written to set you up for success and getting to the point where you can play your first songs.

    Building a solid foundation in your playing is important before trying to jump into harder songs. Which brings up a point that I touched upon in a recent forum post. One of the most common questions I get asked is: Where to start? I’m planning to create what I’ll call: Learning Paths. Which will be guided step-by-step plans for where to start in regards to beginner, intermediate, and advanced players. It’s much needed as we currently have over 215 lessons. I’ll begin working on this project this coming week.


    Hi Steve,

    I feel your frustration (I’m old (82) and achy and thoroughly enjoy playing the ukulele. And this site with the videos and ability to slow things down for awhile and the tutorials has been perfect for me. Often what I have had to do is take one bar at a time of the song I like (right now it’s Amazing Grace) and play it over and over (until my wife starts screaming) and then put it down for awhile til she calms down and maybe play a simple arpeggio I’ve memorized (she likes arpeggios). Then back at it later when she goes to Curvesor grocery shopping.

    I really didn’t think it would require 1000 repetitions to get something comfortably under my fingers and into my head….But it does. But I don’t mind because when it finally becomes mine I’m lovin it.

    I tell anybody that will listen, what my Dad told me seventy five years ago: “If you stick with it long enough it will give up it’s secrets.”

    Keep on keepin on….


    Thanks for the feedback everyone.

    I have been working through the finger picking course. Have completed it up through the 3 finger version of Etude. I can play it start to finish and it doesn’t sound to bad. I am not up to full ‘Andrew’ speed but it sounds ok. Maybe I won’t ever reach full speed but will keep trying. I have come up with a condensed version that I use to practice.

    On the subject of difficulty, I think one of my original questions may have gotten lost in my babbling.

    Yes, I was trying to learn songs that are in that higher difficulty level. There is a reason for that, I am struggling to find songs tagged as ‘beginner’ that are interesting to me. I went through Aura Lee pretty quick. Yes it’s easy to play but it’s not very interesting (to me) and I don’t get much in the way of enjoyment from playing it.

    So I was hoping to find versions of level 1-4 songs that were still interesting takes on the original song but targeted for someone like me. I want to be challenged but not broken by the song. If I could find a 4-5 songs like that, that stress different techniques, then I could play them. Right now it seems like I am always practicing but never playing.

    Let me try to restate using an example – the song Hallelujah. I can play a version of Hallelujah I found on YouTube with my eyes closed. It’s simple ( version from Learn and Play dude) and has some finger picking and sounds kinda ok.

    But there are more versions that are more difficult. (I am actually thinking about trying your version without the intro.) I want a version that is more that the beginner version but not going to make me want to give up after trying it for days. Hopefully one that my family would be willing to sit through. (Right now the fastest way for me to clear the room is to pick up my Uke)


    Oh – forgot to ask – don’t suppose you have a version of City Of New Orleans. I have sheet music for 2 versions – one is super simple and boring and one sounds awesome but trying to figure it out well beyond me at the moment.


    Hi Steve,

    Can you post a video of you playing so I can get a feel for where you’re at? That way, I can suggest some songs for you to work on. In the meantime, I’m planning to add more beginner level songs in the next few months which you guys are beginning to see as I added the “Lullaby Medley” last week and tomorrow will be the theme to “The Addams Family” (link will be active on 9/29).

    I’ll add your request for “City Of New Orleans” to my list and feel free to email me more requests 🙂


    Just made a quick video at my desk at work. Its been a very long day and I am a little loopy and my attention span is flagging so I was struggling. Will try again tomorrow from home and see if my fingers will work correctly. Mental acuity seems to me in short supply this evening.

    Here is the youtube video from this evening. Will try something tomorrow when my brain is working again.

    And yes, I am VERY left handed. Left handed, left footed, left politically and can only play using left handed strings. (special order from Argentina – made out of Alpaca fur)

    • This reply was modified 6 years, 7 months ago by biggoomba.

    Thanks for posting this video Steve! I made a video to give you some ideas on what to work on in regards to you your playing technique and song suggestions. Let me know if you have any questions 🙂



    Awesome Andrew, thanks a bunch. Its funny you mention my picking and how I am attacking it because my 13 year old daughter was telling me the same thing just a couple days ago. I think its a bad habit that I have gotten in to because I dont have finger nails and it feels like I have to claw in there fairly hard to get the string to ring out. I end up being really inconsistent in my plucking. Sometimes I catch strings really heavy and sometimes I barely catch them at all. Not sure what to do about not having fingernails long enough to catch the string ( yes – gross habit of biting them off but I havent been able to stop for 40 years so doubt that will change ever). I have actually considered fake nails trimmed short. I experimented with fingerpicks but that failed.

    I will work on picking and different strum styles. Will start in on Ode to Joy and the beatles song too. Will start with Ode.

    And thank you for taking the time to record a video with some feedback. I really appreciate it. For me, if I never get the opportunity to have someone with knowledge and skill to provide feedback, then I just end up guessing about what I need to work on and when I get it wrong, I flounder and fail make any progress. Having a few things to work one allows me to focus and get some traction. So thank you for that. I have been through a number of ‘learning the ukulele’ websites and have never had someone take the time and give some personalized direction.


    My pleasure Steve! While nails produce a beautiful tone, the same is true without them; And they are not required to produce volume. Keep me in the loop with how you’re doing, I’m happy to help!


    Re: practising/learning new songs. Although the reference in this video is about “The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar”, the concepts are valid for Ukulele too:
    º No Tempo Practice —

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