There are very few instruments in the world that offer a sound so simple and yet so transcendent as a ukulele. With a few plucks, and a chord or two, a listener can be instantly transported to a tropical paradise. It is an instrument that can produce a range of sounds that fit several different music styles and presents such a unique aesthetic that just invites interest. You could ask a crowd of people how many guitarists or pianists are among them, and get several hands raised; ask for a ukuleleist, and there may only be one. With the proper training, you could be that one.
Enter Ukulele Buddy, a home study course developed by JP Allen, a music teacher and performer with over two decades of experience. Along fellow instructor Mitch Chang, Allen leads viewers through short, directed tutorials that take viewers from their first strums to being able to emulate songs from the radio or internet. Allen preaches very specific approaches to teaching and learning how to play music, and have fun with it.
Allen’s philosophy stems from the idea of “Deliberate Practice”, which he has created in response to studies he had gathered on the subject of how people learn and get better at something. To him, you won’t learn a skill just by putting in frequent and marathon practice sessions, but by engaging in tightly focused practice that drills the essentials of playing “the uke.” And by making the lessons fun and approachable, he ensures that each lesson is not dull and fruitless, but productive and useful.
Let’s take a deeper look into what Ukulele Buddy can offer prospective students.
A Uke For Any Age
Being a light instrument that is not cumbersome to hold or handle, the ukulele would seem to be an ideal instrument for students of any age to learn. The key for Allen seems to be the short form lessons. By promising results to students who adhere to an extremely reasonable time commitment—three times a week, at seven minutes per lesson—Allen is enabling short attention spans and time crunched adults alike to get the most bang for their buck.
Still, learning an instrument of any kind takes a certain level of dedication that may be difficult for young children or older adults. Allen does not specifically list an age range on these lessons, though does allude to the fact that children would likely learn best with the lessons at their own pace and in the company of an adult. As for older learners, one skim through the testimonials displayed on the program’s home page would indicate that the program is popular with older students.
Regardless of the age the responds to the call of the uke, the program is specially intended for those who are beginners with the instrument, or even those with no musical experience at all. Though Allen and Chang might show students some crafty tips and tricks, the course is not meant to exist as a be-all-end-all program. By providing a program that allows interested to dip their toes into the act of learning an instrument, they set the table for not only a relationship with such a unique instrument, but a life-long appreciation for the magic of music.
How You Get Your Uke On
Boasting over ten hours of lessons, Allen and Chang lead the viewers through lessons that lay the groundwork of uke essentials. Approximately thirty foundational lessons teach techniques like forming and switching chords — which is sometimes easier said than done on the smaller necks of ukuleles— and onto more intensive lessons on mastering strum patterns. The lesson totals quickly balloon to over seventy, however, and special lessons that focus on the different musical contexts is which the ukelele can be used, such as in twelve-bar blues and reggae.
A certain amount of care needs to be put into pedagogical methods when teaching an instrument. Lessons need to be focused and informative, but also open enough that one lesson will flow seamlessly into another. And as all learners are not always fully engaged when taught in a strictly linear manner, fun but relevant detours can help students invest in their learning. Allen accomplishes this with Ukulele Buddy by including song e-books into the course package that allows students to incorporate what they have learned in the lessons to play popular songs.
Speaking of the songbooks, these exhaustively complied collections show the extra care that has gone into compiling this program. Featuring simplified ukulele based tablature—sheet style music which indicates which frets on the neck should be pressed to play the chords and notes of a particular song—these digital booklets extend the learning process even more. To top it all off, the collections also include a chord chart which will remind the player of the most common chords on the uke, as well as a metronome which will serve to ensure that no bad strumming habits are developed over time.
By collecting all of these various helpful resources together in one complete package, Allen and Chang are ensuring that they are able to provide a full and comprehensive course of the ukulele. Allen even boasts that a course of this nature could cost thousands of dollars elsewhere. And yet here he is giving any and all uke enthusiasts the chance to enjoy this level of careful and fun instruction from the comfort of their home, and for a fraction of the price. It’s quite impressive when all of these components are taken into account.
Choose the Way You Want to Strum Along
The program offers two formats with which students can enjoy the lessons. Let’s take a look at what’s on offer between the two.
• The Online Version: Buying the online version of the course instantly grants the student total and lifetime access to all of the lessons and bonus features (extra lessons and song e-books.) Once purchased, the user is able to log-in to their account where they can watch and/or download any of the course content as desired. The asking price for this option is $67.
• The DVD version: The entire course of video lessons are offered across a set of several DVDs—the program website does not advertise how many discs are in the set. The advertised bonus of this option is that in addition to the physical region free DVDs, the entire online version is automatically accessible for users as well. Free shipping to anywhere is included with the order, which is offered for a price of $97.
Between these two options, the online version seems to be the no-brainer, as it grants immediate access to everything the course offers, and at a cheaper price to boot. Though the DVD option might be ideal in classroom setting for better group learning, or for older adults that feel hesitant to access to lessons on the online portal. Still, the $30 price difference will likely seem to be a bridge too far most learners, especially those who are comfortable navigating their account online.
This Buddy Gives Their Guarantee
A guarantee can be a double edged sword when selling a product. On one hand, it signifies that a creator has ultimate confidence in the product that they are selling. On the other hand, it may signify that there is a “catch” to what is being sold. A prospective customer may think to themselves, “Why would I need a guarantee on this product, is there something wrong with it?” For his part, Allen seems to be in the camp of the former rather than the latter. He is clearly proud and confident in his teaching philosophy.
The admirable part of this guarantee is that he puts the benefit of the consumer in every aspect. If a customer is not happy with the product, not only is their payment refunded within one year, but they get to keep the complete product as well. This is an extremely generous, if somewhat puzzling business decision, but it serves the notion that Allen and Chang stand by their methods. It also speaks to their love of teaching and music education overall. They are just happy that people want to have fun learning an instrument like the ukulele.
Where These Lessons Might Fall Out of Tune
In much the same way that a simple acoustic song makes up for the lack of bells and whistles or expensive studio production with charm and care, Ukulele Buddy serves the same purpose when providing music instruction. Clearly, both Allen and Chang are passionate about the instrument and that fun that can be had by learning it. Still, some polish could be applied to the overall presentation and execution of the production which would likely enhance the core vision of the program.
For example, the website, though bristling with the energy and passion of its founder, feels somewhat outdated for the current day. The layout runs like a long scroll that feels more like a list of ideas than a cohesive and eye-catching website. The link to log-in to the online account portal also seems needlessly nondescript. And since the page provides the customer’s first impression of the product, the overall layout may serve to confuse both potential and paying customers.
In terms of the lessons themselves, though they are informative and well structured, the production style could use some extra care. The visuals are solid enough, though the steady shots during the lessons are sometimes marred by unsteady camera. And as far as the audio levels are concerned, the instruments ring clear during the instruction while some of the verbal instructions and diminished by movement triggered pops and thuds in the audio presentation. These are of course minor details, but increased attention to these minor details can really ensure that the engaging lessons are free from interruption.
An investment into a more cohesive and stylish web presence would definitely benefit the overall presentation, but where Ukulele Buddy could even shine brighter would be with the creation of a dedicated smart phone app. Though the lesson videos are advertised as compatible on computers, phones, and tablets, a dedicated app with such an ear-catching name would likely be a popular download. Though there are already some music instruction apps on the App Store and Google platforms, there are not many that are dedicated solely to the ukulele, and even less that feature the scope and passion that Allen and Chang provide in their lessons.
Final Notes of This Song
The overwhelming vibe of the Ukulele Buddy program is one of pure positivity. JP Allen and Mitch Chang may be talented teachers and musicians, but the message in their approach is clear: They want to bring fun and informative music education to anyone that is interested in exploring the magical and crowd pleasing possibilities of the uke. They guarantee confidence for those who engage with their lessons, and they are confident in their no strings attached guarantee that those who do will be more than happy with the results.