Learning Paths

Learning Paths

Learn more about how the Rock Class 101 site works and where to start if you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player.

How Does Rock Class 101 Work?

Rock Class 101 is an online lessons community for the ukulele enthusiast. We are comprised of a variety of skill levels, ranging from very beginner to seasoned players that have been playing for 20+ years. What makes Rock Class 101 different from other learning sites is that we focus on providing you a solid foundation for developing your musicianship.

We do this via a carefully crafted curriculum that can be categorized into three sections: Courses, Concept Lessons, and Songs. Another big differentiator is that we run a site member challenge every month and each month the theme is different. Challenges are a fun way to keep learning exciting and a great way to interact with other members. I’d encourage you to watch the video to the right to learn more and to see all 3 categories in action.

Take The Tour – Video Overview

In this video, you will get a thorough overview of how the site works. We'll look at how the lessons are laid out in the three categories: Courses, Concept Lessons, and Songs. We'll also learn how to access all of the assets that are included with premium membership, such as viewing the part 2 lesson videos and learning how to use the on-screen tab viewer. Last but not least, we'll take a look at the heartbeat of Rock Class 101: Our Community Forums.

I've included a jump guide below if you'd like to skip ahead to a specific section.

Section Overview Time
Introduction 0:00
Courses Overview 0:49
Concept Lessons & Ukulele Songs Overview 3:30
How To Download & Print Tabs 4:59
How To Watch the Part 2 Lesson Videos 5:38
How To Use the On-Screen Tab Viewer 6:07
How To Download Backing Tracks & Jam Tracks 9:29
Concept Lessons & Ukulele Songs Recap 10:17
Sorting Lessons by Difficulty Levels & Sub-Genres + Searching For Lessons 10:42
Community Forums & Monthly Site Member Challenge Overview 16:12
Wrap Up 18:44
NEW: Learn How to Bookmark Your Favorite Lessons
NEW: How to Access Mini Lessons

Introducing Learning Paths

One of the most common questions I get asked is: "Where do I start?". And it's an excellent question! The analogy that I love to use is playing an instrument is sort of like walking into a gym. When you walk in, you're greeted by a room full of machines. Which one do you start with, and how do you use it, and how much should you use it?

There are so many facets to playing ukulele and overall musicianship, that it raises just as many questions as our gym analogy. In this guide, we will categorize a player into 3 skill levels: Beginner, intermediate, and advanced. For each level, we will define a starting point, create a detailed list of what to work on, and summarize what to have under your belt before advancing to the next level.

I've titled this guide Learning Paths and the video to the right introduces you to it. This video will exclusively cover the beginner player and will expand on the ideas listed below as it relates to creating a successful plan for learning.

I'd highly suggest to read through the entire guide. Regardless of what level you would currently categorize yourself as, this guide will provide a great insight into what to work on as you continue your journey in learning the ukulele. I also want to point out that you should not feel bound to working on only the suggestions I list for each level. For example, if you are a beginner player, but are interested in learning music theory (which I categorize as an advanced level topic), please do not hold off on studying it. Feel free to customize this guide to suit your learning interests.

Establishing Proper Practice Etiquette

Can you guess what our first lesson was at music college? You're reading it right now! That’s how important proper practice is. If you're like me, practicing always seemed dull and felt like a task. But, the truth was that I didn't know how to practice. I didn't have a plan on what to work on. And I didn't realize that I could get things down faster if I structured my practicing schedule.

So that leads us to our first step in this guide: How to Practice the Correct Way to Get Results. In this article and video lesson, I share the 3 steps for proper practice that were taught to me by one of the greatest musicians I have ever met, Randy Hoexter. I'd highly encourage you to read through the article and watch the video. As you work through the rest of this guide, think about how you can apply the 3 steps to the material you are about to embark on.

The Beginner Player

Defining The Beginner Player

I hesitate to put a time frame for any of these levels, because the truth is everyone progresses at a different rate. But generally, we could categorize a beginner as someone who has played 0-2 years. Beginners have a decent knowledge of the basics including: Cowboy chords (the basic chords at the beginning of the neck: think C, G, Am for example), simple strum patterns, and simple fingerpicking patterns.

Typically, a beginner feels limited in what they can play. In other words, they usually gravitate towards playing a popular song that uses only a handful of chords involving a basic strumming pattern. The problem that happens, is that they get bored and/or the ukulele part requires singing to accompany it; and not everyone wants to sing. So they end up getting stuck in this routine of learning new songs, but the technique and skill required to play it, never progresses. So what do you do and where do you go from here?

Building a Strong Foundation

The best place to start, and especially if you are brand new to the ukulele, is our comprehensive Beginner's Course: The Definitive Beginner’s Guide To Ukulele. This course contains 27 lessons that are intended to take you from the very beginning, i.e. learning to hold the ukulele, to playing your first songs! And the songs that you learn at the end of the course, are not like the songs we described above.

You will learn songs that involve: fingerpicking throughout the entire span of the neck, strumming unique sounding chords, and learning to add a backbeat to your rhythm playing (a.k.a. chunking). I highly recommend the course to the seasoned beginner too, as it will provide a recap of the fundamentals.

These fundamentals include the ability to:

Read tablature
Understand rhythmic notation
Establish proper left hand form and right hand form when fingerpicking and strumming
Proper execution of techniques such as: hammer-ons and pull-offs
The ability to put it all together to perform your first song

Upon completing the course, you'll want to start diving into our Beginner Series Songs. Don't be afraid to dip into the level 1 songs, as they will provide a greater challenge to you; pushing you to get to that next level of playing by presenting pieces that require more technique and skill to perform.

A few examples from level 1 that I recommend starting with are:

Fingerpicking Etude no. 1 Makes use of the entire span of the neck and includes barre chords
Norwegian Wood by The Beatles Uses stretch chords which help to increase left hand reach
SpongeBob SquarePants Theme Uses complex rhythms: Eighth note triplets and has a swung eighth note feel

The Proficient Beginner Player

Before graduating to the next level, the beginner player must feel proficient in all of the fundamentals contained in the Beginner's Course. In addition to that, he or she should aim to have a repertoire of 5 to 10 songs completely memorized. A strong practice routine should also be established. For example, if you have one hour of practice time per day, you could devote:

1/3 of the time to developing technique
1/3 of the time to practicing timing
1/3 of the time to learning songs

This practice schedule should be switched up every so often to focus on other areas of musicianship. Keep in mind that there is no "timeframe" in which you are boxed into the label of being a beginner. Below, I have embedded 2 videos of two of our members who have been playing for a handful of months, but are doing an amazing job!

Tessa performing "Our First Song" from our July 2017 site member challenge. At this point, Tessa had been playing for only 2 months!

Kay performing "Waimanalo Blues" from our August 2017 site member challenge. At this point, Kay had been playing for only 3 months!

The Intermediate Player

Defining The Intermediate Player

The intermediate player is generally someone who has played between 2-5 years. At this point in your playing career, you've branched into solo (Chord Melody) ukulele playing and have picked up an interest in playing with other musicians.

This is an exciting level to be at, because the foundation you have established allows you to progress at a much more rapid pace! Plus, the material that you will work on in this level is constantly challenging you by introducing new concepts. So what does the material look like that the intermediate player is working on?

Building a Strong Foundation

First off, you'll want to make sure you've established a great handle on understanding rhythmic notation. In other words, you should not rely on playing only by ear, but have the ability to understand the rhythms that you are playing. This also includes the ability to count along while you are playing.

This is an incredible skill to have as it encompasses 1/3 of music. If we were to define music in its simplest terms, it consists of three parts: Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm. Rhythm is synonymous with timing. I cannot state it enough: Timing is an invaluable skill to develop and the intermediate player knows that a metronome is your best friend.

With these ideas in mind, you'll want to continue developing your fingerpicking dexterity and technique. The best place to start for this is our fingerpicking course: Fingerpicking Concepts: An Intro to Fingerstyle. This course teaches you three approaches for fingerpicking: Using only the thumb, using 3 fingers, and using 4 fingers. With all of our courses, we set out to not only teach you the techniques and/or theory aspects, but also show you how to apply them. In the case of our Fingerpicking Course, you will be applying all 3 approaches to these fingerpicking pieces:

Thumb Etude Played entirely with the thumb
Fingerpicking Etude no. 5 Uses a 3 finger approach for Travis Picking
Fingerpicking Etude no. 1 Uses a 4 finger approach

The big take away from this course, is that you'll gain the ability to determine, on your own, which fingerpicking approach to use depending on the content of the material you are playing. In turn, you'll begin to develop your own style for fingerpicking.

You can continue your fingerpicking study by diving into the Level 1 and 2 Songs. Here are 3 songs to consider starting off with:

Ode to Joy Can be played with either a 3 or 4 finger approach
Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen Emphasizes playing with feeling and dynamics
Hedwig's Theme (Harry Potter) Contains an assortment of fingerpicking techniques

One of the greatest things about playing music is that it provides an opportunity to connect with others through jamming. By now, you've probably jammed with a few friends, and it might have looked something like this: One person prints out a lyrics sheet with chords above it for a popular song, take for example "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz (here's an example of a chord/lyric sheet). Everyone gets a copy of the sheet and they all play the same basic chords while singing along. As an intermediate player, you're ready for what's next. You're ready to add to the music.

And that's why we've created Concept Lessons. This series is devoted to teaching you how to add harmonies, melodies, and solos to enhance a musical performance. Let's go back to our example song: "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz. In Concept Lesson EP002, you will learn how to play higher voiced chord harmonies and a solo over the same chord progression used in Jason's song. And by doing this, you're really playing, you're creating color and adding layers to the music!

The Concept Lessons series also includes songs with full band backing tracks: Ukulele + U-Bass + Drums. This is great for those of us who aren't fortunate enough to know other musicians to play with. You'll still be able to rock out and have a jam session at home! I'd recommend to start with Paint It Blacker - EP007, this is a rock ukulele lesson in the style of The Rolling Stones.

The Proficient Intermediate Player

Before advancing to the next level, the intermediate player should have a good handle on:

Chord Knowledge Basic and barre chords (memorized) [Covered in the Beginner's Course]
Technique Application of hammer-ons and pull-offs, slides, vibrato, harmonics, etc. [Covered throughout various lessons]
Fingerstyle Ability Dexterity and fluidity in multiple approaches to fingerpicking [Covered in the Fingerpicking Course]
Rhythm Thorough understanding of timing and rhythmic values
Musical Feel An understanding of how to perform the piece to match the correct feel

Overall, the intermediate player is an accomplished player. In the advanced level, you will continue to push the boundaries of your playing by performing harder pieces, introducing advanced techniques, and beginning the journey to understanding what you are playing via music theory.

Below, I have embedded 2 videos of two of our members performing intermediate level songs. Both members did an outstanding job!

Brett performing the "Game of Thrones" Theme from our June 2017 site member challenge.

The Advanced Player

Defining The Advanced Player

The advanced player is generally someone who has played for 5+ years. As an accomplished player, their focus is on continuing their overall development. This includes: Expanding your fingerpicking ability by incorporating advanced techniques into your playing, becoming a versatile player by branching off into multi-genres, and developing your knowledge of the fretboard.

The latter is extremely important, as an understanding of Music Theory (as it relates to harmony) will provide the advanced player an explanation of why the things they play on the fretboard work. It also opens the doors to learning how to songwrite, how to improvise, and how to create your own harmonies, melodies, and solos. Let's take a look at how the advanced player will develop their musicianship.

Building a Strong Foundation

Continuing your fingerpicking development, you should focus on Level 3 and 4 Songs. These songs will push your playing limits by developing your speed, advancing your chord knowledge, and introducing new playing techniques. Let's take a look at some songs to see how this unfolds:

(Ghost) Riders In The Sky Develop your strumming and fingerpicking speed
In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning Introduces advanced jazz chord playing (7th chords)
Tennessee Waltz Introduces triplet picking
Mr. Sandman Introduces tapped harmonics (artificial harmonics)
Thinking Out Loud Learn how to tap a backbeat while playing a melody note simultaneously
The Pink Panther Theme Incorporates percussive rhythmic hits on the body of the ukulele

Furthermore, you'll want to increase your versatility as a musician by learning multi-genre pieces. Here are a few examples:

Canon in D Classical fingerstyle piece
Ukulele Boogie An upbeat, bluesy tune that utilizes the entire neck for melodic runs
Spanish Ukulele Latin fingerstyle piece
Magic Ukulele Waltz Vintage-esque piece from ukulele virtuoso, Roy Smeck

An often overlooked aspect of music is the study of music itself, i.e. Music Theory. Music theory is not a system of laws to rigidly restrict your musical decisions. It’s merely the facts about harmony (“These notes make this chord – Here's how I could combine them on the fretboard” and so on…).

Theory helps you interpret what you’re hearing the same way grammar helps you communicate in language. Knowledge of grammar doesn’t negate your ability to use slang or intentionally use colorful language, it merely allows you to recognize it and be in better command of what you’re trying to say.

So harmony, like spelling and grammar is a series of facts that allow you to see a bigger picture. It should not choose your words for you.

It’s been said that being too educated in an art form will tend to make you think and create within accepted parameters. My thought is, when you understand the fact that certain chords fit into a certain key or that certain notes make up a certain scale or chord, you can just as easily find the ones that don’t fit and use them, but this time with intention. As one of my former teachers told me, “you need to know the rules before you break them”.

With that said, the best place to begin learning these rules is via our course: An Introduction to Music Theory & Jamming. This course will provide a fundamental understanding of the basics of Music Theory and a thorough introduction to Harmony. Furthermore, this course sets out to bridge the gap between understanding Music Theory and applying it.

In the intermediate level above, we discussed the value that our Concept Lessons series brings. This value involved teaching you how to add harmonies, melodies, and solos to enhance a musical performance. In this course, we're going to dissect lessons from the Concept Lessons series so that you can learn exactly how they were written and how they work.

Your understanding of these concepts will develop by focusing on advancing two areas of playing: Rhythm and Lead. The rhythm section will teach you methods for creating harmony. You will learn how to play chords in different positions (via the CAGED Method) and how to alter them to create a colorful sound. The lead section will teach you two approaches for soloing over rhythm. Approach one will be scale based (as heard in Concept Lesson EP006), while approach two will cover playing changes (as heard in Concept Lesson EP005).

The big takeaway from this course is that you will begin to learn how to create your own harmonies, melodies, and solos. Furthermore, if you wish to learn how to write your own songs or arrangements, specifically in regards to Chord Melody, then you will want to check out our ukulele songwriting course: How to Write a Song on the Ukulele: A Beginner’s Guide to Chord Melody.

The Proficient Advanced Player

The advanced player is well-versed in multiple aspects of musicianship, including: A high performance level (fingerpicking, strumming, technique, and playing expressions are very developed), the ability to perform different styles (multi-genres), and knowledge/application of Music Theory. At this level, the mysteries of the ukulele begin to disappear as your knowledge of the fretboard and music theory continually develop.

I believe one of the biggest goals in music is to be able to sit down in a jam situation and not feel limited or lost. To have the ability to create on the spot, to improvise, to be able to take the music to a place where you can feel the creative possibilities expand! Because, at the end of the day, music is created to be shared; and the joy you feel when you perform for someone and you see them smile, that makes all the years of dedication, practice, and hard work worth it.

Below, I have embedded 2 videos of two of our members performing advanced level songs. Both members did an excellent job!

Brian performing "Fur Elise" from our May 2017 site member challenge.

Alain performing "Canon in D" from our May 2017 site member challenge.