How (and Why) to Choose Ukulele Song Books

There are some great uke books out there. And some not so great ones. Here are the criteria I use to choose.

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Hello

And for those of you who are here live and for those of you watching in the future, this is Danno Sullivan. My website is Play It Daily Ukulele dot com and this Facebook live program today, the idea is to talk about books, ukulele books, because there’s so much good learning material available. So that’s kind of the plan. And let me tell you why I’m doing it.

I teach people to play ukulele and online lessons and in real world classes all the time. And I love teaching people play ukulele because I think the world needs more ukulele players. But I’m coming to this realization that there are so many resources available for people to learn to play ukulele that I feel like the least important thing that I do in some ways is to provide the hands on how to skills.

If you want to play a D-chord, put your fingers here, it’s so quick and easy to look that stuff up. Now, that said, the hard thing about looking material up yourself is that as much good stuff as there is out there, there’s also bad stuff out there.

So I do have my online classes that are available, but I’m starting to feel more and more that what I have special to provide to the ukulele world is … Almost coaching more than teaching.

And I say that because ukulele, I feel like, is becoming more and more a social event as well as just kind of a solitary music thing. It’s not the gloomy rock and roll teenager locked away in his room practicing shredding guitar. It seems like almost everybody that I know who likes to play ukulele also likes to play ukulele in a group.

Why books?

So that said, my hope today is to keep this short and pithy about 10 minutes or so and talk about books that will help you learn to play ukulele in this world of video. I still feel that books have kind of a certain special something. Maybe it’s just the fact that they’re portable. The fact that the information is so condensed, you know, you can flip back and forth to the parts that you need.

So I just have a soft spot in my heart for books in general. And I think that ukulele books can be extremely valuable. In an email I sent out a couple of days ago, I gave some exact recommendations for three different books for three different levels of ukulele players, beginner, intermediate and advancing. And what I thought I would try to talk about today is not specific books so much as kind of what to look for in a book.

I think a lot of people wind up ordering books online nowadays, and that makes it a little tricky sometimes to know what you’re getting ahead of time. So I’ve got a quick list of about 10 points that I think will help if you’re looking for new books to help you learn to play ukulele. All right.

So Danno’s tip number one, watch this:

So this is not a book that I’m saying I’m recommending. This is a book I just want you to look at, because it sort of represents a couple of the points on my list.

TIp 1

The first thing you want to look for in a book, obviously, is the knowledge new to you? Is there something new in this book that is going to be beneficial to you?

Now only you know that. So you’ve got to look through the table of contents, the index, the front and back cover, et cetera. So that’s nothing shocking. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know there. But the next comment that I had on my list is you want something, in my opinion, that is not like this book.

See this ukulele scale finder book? It’s a Hal Leonard book, Hal Leonard, you know, they’ve been publishing music forever and there’s nothing wrong with them, but this is bland corporate

un-interesting musical information. That this is just the Corn Flakes, of ukulele books, you want something with a little more spiff to it than that.

Yeah, Jim, that it’s a scale book, too, and I’m going to comment on that in just a second. But my point right now is just,

If you can avoid Hal Leonard and there’s one or two other publishers, you know, that material is in there, the content is in there, but I it’s just dry. This is a chemistry class for ukulele.

So completely related to that, you want a book, you may not know this, this book prides itself on giving you all the scales that you need in every key, in all the different modes.

And my friends, you don’t need that. If you see a book that promises you over thirteen hundred anything in ukulele, you’ll see this for scales, you’ll see chord dictionaries and you don’t need it. The reason why I’m not going to go into great long technical detail here, but the reason why you don’t need it is because if you’ve learned the scales on one page, well, the scales on the next page are exactly the same. They’re just moved up a fret. That’s how you get thirteen hundred different scales. Well, they’re the same scales just over and over and over.

So if you’ve learned what you’ve learned them all and you can save your money on the scale finder and on the chord dictionary, you know, give me a thumbs up for that tip. I just gave you some solid gold money right there.

Tip 2

The next thing that I have to say for you is you want to be thinking about your level of playing. This is a book that I actually do recommend for beginners called Ukulele from Scratch. And the author is Bruce Emori. And the reason I like this is because it’s billed as a beginner ukulele book, but they put in a little bit of extra kind of advanced information than most ukulele books, the corporate ukulele books would avoid entirely because they have labeled their books beginner. They don’t want to do anything that’s not beginner.

But this guy has the approach that I like to take too. I just opened it up at random to some fingerpicking stuff that’s not typical beginner material. But the fact is it will make your beginner playing much more interesting if you can learn some of these things. And the context makes a lot of sense.

So what I’m saying about this that I think is helpful is look for the level where you are plus a little bit. You may not find those in the same book. You may need to get a book that’s one grade harder than you think you’re ready for and force yourself to work your way through it a little bit.

But a book like this one sort of does the job for you.

Tip 17

Tip number, what are we up to 17? I think we are 18 to 18. Look for books with specific, specific information.

This is starting to get us further and further away from those bland Hal Léonard corporate books. Now, this is by I don’t know if you can see it.

This is from Mel Bay, which is another corporate publisher.

But even within those bland corporate world, you’ll be able to find specific topic books. This is a good example, fingerstyle. So it’s not just fingerstyle, it’s not just solos, and it’s not just ukulele. It’s all three of those things.

And in my experience, the more specific the book subject, the more valuable the information is going to be, and not just valuable in the generic way, but this means it’s written by somebody who really has some specific knowledge to share and usually that knowledge comes out by being expressed in the book in interesting ways, and the information is solid, concrete hands on stuff that you can apply. It’s not the pabulum of those other corporate books.

Jim says his first book was a book from the 1980s. Well, just hang on for a second, Jim, because we’re moving into the past here in a second.

Another very specific topic book

This is another example of just a very specific topic book.

And I present this to you, not because you would necessarily be interested in the ukulele solo recipe, but just really had a wonderful time for ukulele learning, because the fact that we have these books available to us now that there are such specific topics, I have friends who are piano players and friends who are guitar players and man, they can dig deep, deep, deep, deep, deep into such specific topics and categories of information.

It’s so far away from Camptown Ladies sing this song.

And so a book like this is sort of — we’re lucky because these are starting to come out now for ukulele. This is a new phenomenon. So the ukulele solo recipe, how to arrange ukulele solos — far out. That’s what I want. Maybe I don’t want that specific information, but I want that kind of specificity. Somebody chime in and give me the correct pronunciation for that word.

So anyway, those are out there, that’s what you want to be looking out for. It may be if you’re at the beginning end of the spectrum that, you know, a beginner book is as specific as you need. So don’t be put off from the general by me telling you that you need something specific. Depending on your case, General, may actually be specific.

Tip 36

So another topic, this is tip number thirty six of four hundred and twelve today, the more specific, the better.

something that’s so specific that it goes around the bend to becoming bland.

But here’s a book that’s an example of something that’s so specific that it goes around the bend to becoming bland. Again, I’m a huge fan of blues music. I’m a huge fan of Robert Johnson. If you don’t know his music, good God A’mighty, look it up and be prepared to have your mind blown.

But this book is an example of a book that I wish I could have flipped through before I found it. Before it it the. I bought it with using the previous to oh, this is so specific, this is exactly what I want. But, you know, blue songs typically have the same three chords. And what makes them interesting is the the way the individual plays them or in the case of the book, the way the teacher presents it and says basically all of those Robert Johnson songs that sound so varied and so fabulous when he plays them, but boil down to the most basic three chord structure. So there’s not a whole lot of value in a book like that.

A joke

Oh, this is an absolute solid gold to get get your fingers on the thumbs up. Make sure when you buy a ukulele book that it’s a ukulele book, you can’t just use any how to book. This one’s very helpful if you’re actually knitting your own dog.

Not very helpful if you’re trying to learn ukulele.

A great tip for finding ukulele books is to get to know some of the great reliable author and ask for their reactions to the dog book.

Reliable authors

There are a few names that start to show up over and over and the ukulele world. And again, it’s we’re not to the point that the guitar world is, for example, where there’s so much material that some of the best teachers in the world are printing books. But there are some good names. This is a Fred Sokolow I’ll buy anything by Fred Sokolow. This is one of the books that I recommended in my email the other day, ukulele board roadmaps.

Fred Sokolow is a guitar player, so and he’s been around forever and plays in all styles. So his knowledge is vast and deep. But in the last five years or so, we started to produce ukulele books. And as you know, there’s quite a big overlap and ukulele knowledge and guitar knowledge. But it’s not. Point to point one hundred percent, there’s enough variety that it’s much better for us to have a ukulele book than trying to translate from a guitar book. And so to have somebody like Fred Sokolow, who knows both worlds so well, doing that, translating for us. His books are extremely valuable. Some of them are a little vague. But I don’t think you can go wrong with any of his books.

The coauthor on this is Jim Beloff, and that’s another name that you can just reliably buy his books without — sight unseen. If you see The Beloff name, he goes by. Jumpin’Jim and I give that man credit for the ukulele revival as we know it today, you know, in the 70s and 80s, nobody was playing ukulele, and this guy, Jim Beloff, was playing ukulele, publishing ukulele how to books and ukulele songbooks just single handedly. And, you know, if you were somebody trying to find information before the Internet and before ukulele became popular like they have again, Jim Belove just was single handedly keeping it alive for us. So his stuff is one hundred percent reliable.

Tip 838

We’re up to eight hundred and thirty now. It doesn’t feel like, but they’re just flying by air. And this is kind of the last couple of my tips right here.

So speaking of Jim Beloff and speaking of songbooks.

This is a guy that’s doing new books, but new books of old songs, and I’ve only found two, I don’t know if he’s got more. I don’t even know how to say his name. Ukulelezaza. That’s how you say it. Ukulelezaza. I found these online. I bought them sight unseen. And what these are just nice arrangements. These are rare to come by where somebody’s laid out the song for you and tablature form with chord names and melody right now.

So he’s got two books.

That I think are very fun to listen to. Very fun to work with, and they include DVDs that are fun to listen to, so.

Moving back from the specific books here and just talking about the general concept of some books, this is my favorite way of learning ukulele.

You need somebody showing you the skills or a teacher or a class or video course however you choose to do it.

Yes, you’ve got to have some skills. But once you have the most basic skills under your belt, then the best thing you can do, in my opinion, is to find some songbooks, find those Jumpin’ Jim books or these the Ukulelezaza books or any of the billions of song books and

Like learning a language

Just sit down and start working your way through the songs.

It’s like learning a foreign language. You if you learn a little bit of Spanish, you can sit down with a children’s book in Spanish and kind of start to work your way through it.

And in a way that’s better than taking a class or one of those listen and learn tourism courses, because a children’s book is already using real world verb tenses, let’s say, or past tense verb tenses. Once there was a little dog wandering. No, in French class in high school. We didn’t learn past tense verbs until the third year.

So learning music via a songbook is sort of like that, where it exposes you to really advanced stuff really early on, but in such a simple, natural way that you start to absorb information in a very natural way. And by absorbing that information, even without a teacher telling you why it’s important, you glean a deep understanding that’s probably better in most ways than a teacher telling you why it’s important. So as many instructional books as we have now in the ukulele world, there are even more songbooks.

That’s a good thing.

And you don’t have to have a ukulele specific songbook. You can use any song, you can work from a piano songbook, you can work from a guitar songbook, whatever you have, whatever works, they’re all exactly the same.

They show you the music, they show you the chord name, if you’re lucky, and they show you the lyrics. You know, if you can read music just a little bit, then a piano book is actually better than most ukulele books because you get more information.

Final tip

So one last thing in the world of song books and we’ll be done today.

Jim mentioned his book from the 80s. Check this out. This is from the nineteen fifties.

I scavenges these things wherever I go, I’m on the lookout for old sheet music, these old ukulele books. And the further back they go, the better I like them. This one’s from the nineteen fifties and this is nice. Again, this is rare to find this kind of stuff.

This example shows that you get the melody of the song, you get not just the chords, but this actual really kind of unusual solo arrangement of chords just far out. I just love it so much. My point is that these old ukulele books from previous waves are yours to be grabbed at estate sales, garage sales, flea markets and such. You can usually pick them up a dime a dozen.

And what do you say in England? I know you don’t see a dime a dozen and a penny for it doesn’t or something. Sorry.

So especially if you’re like me and you love the old songs, it’s really fun to. To find them in print form and try to work out different ways to play them.

Wrapping up

I want to leave it at that today. My goal is to be doing these live calls I want to try to do a couple of week because, one, it’s fun to like I said, I’m starting to feel like, you know, I’m being pulled away from the static classes where I feel like I’m sort of just another guy teaching ukulele and trying to provide. Some some sort of a social aspect, this is nice to be able to chat, even just via text, but I know there are other ways where we can encourage each other and each other on and provide more than just hands on ukulele skills, as important as those are.

So do me a favor. I’m going to log off now from the video, but I’ll be on the Facebook thing. If this is helpful to you, leave me a little comment and just say, yes, I liked it because here’s what I’d like to see instead or anything that strikes your mind, because like I said, I want to be doing more of these and I want it to be as helpful to you as possible. So, man, I just love it when people from around the world. So thanks, friends, for showing up and we’ll do another one. So I’ll send out an email and be sure to post it here again.

Talk to you later.

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