Uke Monthly Progress – February 2024

Posted on February 29, 2024 by Aywren

If you take a peek at my practice log, you’ll see that I’ve successfully maintained my practice streak throughout the month of February. However, have I made progress? That’s the question.

The answer is: yes!

But also: stuck-ish.

In last month’s review, I said that I was practicing past my previous stopping point in my EEI book, with the song When the Saints Go Marching In, and that I wanted to progress to Amazing Grace.Not only did I do that, but I moved on through three more songs:

  • Rockin’ Robin
  • Yankee Doodle
  • Simple Gifts

I’m currently practicing Simple Gifts on repeat each day, and could honestly move on from that if I want because I generally play it well. However, I ran across my first big hurtle in uke practice – the B flat barre chord.

I was familiar with the concept of barre chords from my guitar days, and knew this would be a challenge for me. But I thought since uke was much smaller than guitar, I’d be able to push through. And yet…

That B Flat Chord

This chord looks something like this in the chord chart:

Basically, what this means – and what a barre chord is – is that you need to hold down more than one string (the bottom and second to the bottom string) with one finger at the same time. Sometimes, you can just cover all the strings on the entire fret with your finger, but the suggested way for B flat looks like this:

This wouldn’t be an issue except that unlike the picture above, in which the player has nice, long fingers, my fingers are short. I can place my index across the bottom two by themselves, and make it ring nice. But once I start adding the other two fingers, my hand has to twist to reach, and that causes the nice flat hold on my index finger to twist so I can reach them.

I’ve tried distorting my hand in weird ways. I’ve tried covering the entire fret with my finger. I’ve tried just holding the first two strings.

No matter what I’ve tried – and I’ve practiced and experimented for days now – I can’t get all the strings to consistently and reliably ring out. I’m not giving up, but this is a minor (or rather flat) roadblock.

At first, I was really discouraged – and I wonder why in the world EEI put this chord in the middle of Book 1 like this. It’s literally smack in the middle of the printed book where you see the staples come through.

I thought about completely skipping it. I thought maybe I wasn’t cut out for uke.

But then I did some research on YouTube to see if I could find tips that could help me. Turns out, this chord is challenging in general for just about all starting players.

In fact, there are SO MANY videos out there for this one chord by itself. And work arounds for it.

But as noted in the video right above, it sounds like it takes time to develop the finger strength for barre chords, and I might not be there just yet.

At the same time, I don’t want to stagnate my practice routine being stuck on this one chord, especially since, when I turn the page, the next song has no B flat chords to be seen.

The song on which to practice B flat is You Are My Sunshine. I’ve been playing this song fingerstyle just to practice something new while hoping to make a breakthrough on the chord.

Interestingly, I don’t think this song was meant to be fingerstyled at this point because it has a high D note that the book has not introduced yet, but that I was instantly able to figure out. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to play that fret with my pinkie, but I have been.

The tempo for this track is pretty fast, so I haven’t gotten to a point where I think I can play along with the backing track. That’s going to be my next goal, so maybe it’s time to leave behind Simple Gifts and put all my focus into Sunshine and B flat going forward.

By this time next month, I’d love to see myself doing better with B flat, and to move on to the next song – Jamaica Farewell. This seems like a LONG song with a lot of chords (including a new one I’ve yet to learn), and a new strumming pattern.

It also has notation for fingerstyle with eight notes (which the book has not taught – looks like in a few more pages, it will). So, I feel like this will be one of those songs that I’ll spend a lot of time with in the future. Hopefully, it’s a fun one – I haven’t listened to it yet.

Eventually, I know I need to start looking at material outside of the EEI book. I do have enough chords under my belt that I could likely find YouTube videos to play along with. That all comes down to a question of time, though. It might be a good compromise to being stuck on B flat for now, just to have something new to explore and to keep old chords fresh.

I’ll update in a month to tell you what I decided and how it went! Thanks for checking in!