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“In order to learn to play music, you have to first listen to it.”

So said Jim D’Ville as I attended his workshop at the Wine Country Uke Fest. “Well of course, that’s obvious.” I thought to myself, “Geez, even I knew that.” Or so I thought anyway. Turns out I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that at all. I would even go so far as to say that if that was the one and only thing I learned from Jim’s workshop, it would have been completely worth the price of admission. In one hour Jim D’Ville changed the way I practice, and hopefully one day learn to play, my ukulele.

Jim made me think about, and more importantly, listen to, the music I was trying to play. Instead of staring at sheets of cryptic chord diagrams without the slightest idea what they meant and dutifully changing chords wherever those sheets directed me, Jim made me listen to and BE the music. He sounded a little like Yoda actually.

Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us… and binds us. You must feel the Force (music) around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock… everywhere! – paraphrased from a 900-year old Jedi master.

Anyway, not to get too spacey, Jim breaks down your favorite music into simple numeric sequences, the chord progression. These simple strings of numbers are so much easier to remember than weird strings of letters and numbers and symbols. They are hidden inside all your favorite music and hold the key to the tension, resolution and drama that the music imparts. It makes the DaVinci code look like child’s play.

The bonus is that with Jim’s method you can easily play your music in any key. I used to think that I was a horrendous singer, but I’ve discovered that I was almost always trying to sing in the wrong key. By transposing my music to a better key for my voice, I’ve found I’m just bad, not horrendous. Score!

Anyway, more on this later. Smile when you play that!™

Jim D’ville is a very talented ukulele player and teacher from Oregon. He plays in a band called Caravan Gogh that includes ukulele, cello, mandolin and bass. He has a great website “Play Ukulele by Ear” with lots of info to help you become a better ukulele player. I highly recommend his book The Natural Way to Music.