What I'm Up To: First Time Ukulele for 55+ Seniors

I answered a call to do some volunteer work to teach ukulele for a group of seniors, "no experience required". That's good because I've only ever taught my niece and children are like cats... hard to get them to do something they don't already want to do.

So what's it going to be like? I imagine a small group of people... 9 loaner ukuleles from the library... many of these people will never have held an instrument before. It will be my job to have them leave with a sense of possibility: that there is the potential for them to make music and they already have everything they need to make it (just add a uke).

First Time Ukulele

Having never run a class, I'm not certain whether I would need to stretch this across two 1-hour sessions but these are the sorts of things I might wish to cover in a First-Time-Ukulele class

  1. How to hold the ukulele without a strap
  2. Tuning: G-C-E-A
  3. Right Hand: The Thumb Brush Stroke
  4. Your first chord: C7 (dominant 7)
  5. Your second chord: Almost F
  6. Your first 2-chord song

Office Hours

In order to make accomodations for people who are more advanced, I'm thinking that I'd like to follow the class with a short break followed by a general session of "office hours"... 30-60 minutes of individual Q&A at any skill level. Others may be present but I will take questions from only one person at a time.

Future: Recommendations and A Progression of Classes

It is my hope that over time, serious students will purchase their own ukuleles and do their own studies at home. As such, I should prepare:

  • recommendations for a first ukulele purchase (and other helpful equipment such as music stands)
  • recommended websites and videos for beginners and intermediates
  • recommended books

If there is enough of a critical mass of students that bring their own ukuleles, I would like to structure a progression of courses over 4 sessions that would take students deeper into being able to play songs and rudimentary music theory.

Wax On, Wax Off: The Arpeggio Meditation by Daniel Ward

Ukulele Magazine recently featured an article written by Daniel Ward on practicing arpeggios slowly and another article expanding on it.  I've incorporated meditative fingerpicking into my daily practice first thing to get focused on breathing and listening. 

I have also adapted the practice for the key of G Major:


Fingerpicking practice, breathing, and listening. Arranged by Francis Luong (Franco)

G                                 Gmaj7
    Gtr I

  Em7                                 Em6

  Cmaj7                               D7sus4            D7

  G                                   Cm

The Good, the Bad, and PowerTab

I decided to try assembling a tab using powertab which is pretty old these days and hasn't been maintained.  I don't suspect I'll continue using it.  Print output has severe issues with title alignment on Windows 10.

My inelegant workaround is ASCII output, which permits me to adjust the text.  I just don't think I have the patience to PDF, screenshot, and crop after using that dreadful interface.  

screenshot and crop from PDF

screenshot and crop from PDF

A Thousand Years by Christina Perri - Ukulele PDF

One of the songs I've been working on the last couple weeks has been "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri. I love me some ballads in 6/8.

What's nice about this tune is that I've had to learn it on the Bass Guitar in the past to play with Mama's Black Sheep when I used to play bass more and they let me come out and play.

What's nice was that the song was already really familiar to me and I like it a lot despite a source that is guaranteed to revoke anyone's man-card: the movies from Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Series.

Screw the source... it's a good song. And getting it down on Ukulele was even more enjoyable than learning it on bass because the chords have really nice musical lines.

Below are Youtube Links to recordings of this song by my beloved friends from Mama's Black Sheep and the original recording by Christina Perri.  Have a listen to both and tell me which one you think is better.  

The Mama's Black Sheep version is publised on the depicted "Live at the Bevy CD/DVD set" and you can buy it at their Sheep Shop.

90-day Look Back - 2017 1Q

90 days ago, I declared my key projects: Franco Now: October 8, 2016

This post is a look-back at what I actually did with my time.

Key Projects


I did really great at making Ukulele my #1 priority in my non-work hours clocking 60-120 minutes of practice and study a day. I bought two Hawaiian-made Ukuleles: one from Kanile'a and one from Kamaka. Very exciting.

Practice/Study includes the following areas:

  • Right Hand Techniques: Strumming, Fingerstyle, Dynamics, Rhythm
  • Left Hand Techniques: Chord shapes, Hammer-on/Pull-off
  • Chord progressions
  • Solo Instrumentals
  • Harmony and Theory
  • Swing

Practice materials and songbooks include:

Also, a nice resource is being a regular at the NVUS Ukulele Meetup.


The project is organized around memorizing 50 songs by heart but there is no formal restriction on how easy/hard the songs are nor whether they are vocal or solo instrumental.

Vocal songs involve more to memorize and risk that song will not fit my vocal range and ability and may need to be transposed or scrapped.

Solo instrumentals take longer to practice but are really gratifying and are not subject to my feeble and unpracticed vocals.

As of 1/2017, I now have about 15 songs that I have played through 5 times or more without a lead sheet. This is my crude measure of a song being roughly ready.

Other Projects

Nearly everything else was not given much time. I haven't done any sketching or lettering for a couple months now. I might like to add that back in but will continue strong with the Uke while it calls to me.

WDS Local DC has been slow to start but I booked 3 dates for 1Q 2017 and we will see how those go.

Clojure and functional programming is done during work hours only and is given a LOT of time since I am paid to do it.

Practices and Experiements

Follow the Sun

#FollowTheSun has changed given the winter. Presently, we shutdown for bed around 9-930 and go full lights-out at 10pm or thereabouts. Wake up time is around 730a.

Cash Mostly

#CashMostly is going strong and will likely be a permanent part of how I manage money. I was chatting it over with a friend and he asked me what good it does at all for me. I replied with a question: what good does it do to give money with every single swipe to a small set of corporations that seem hell-bent on lobbying the Federal government without any scruples? I'd rather not play their game. Choose my rules. Determine when my convenience is really important and take on a bit of diligence as a practice against always choosing convenience at the expense of everything.

Exercise and Movement

I gave myself a break from running after finishing the Army 10 Miler. Now it's time to start training in earnest for the Rock and Roll Half Marathon. My next race.

Winter has been more sedentary than I would like but I get out for a run a couple times a week.

Time Theming

I've gotten used to ignoring my daily themes. This is probably a sign of imbalance or a need to reconsider priorities.

Time with Friends

Mixed bag here. I've done a great job of scheduling phone time with friends afar. And I've done a really poor job of keeping in touch with friends in-person. I pretty much saw my local friends about once during 4Q (except the ones I work with).

Weekend morning hikes help with this. And perhaps some board/card game days would also help.


I read the following books to completion during 4Q 2016:

I did not read what I set out to read... instead just whatever was interesting enough to keep my attention.

I am presently reading Time Enough for Love (also by Robert A. Heinlein). I don't know what will be next.


I am collecting great quotes from the things that I read in a new section of my website: Aphorisms

Project Update: #Uke50ByHeart

Following WDS 2016, I decided a couple of things. Primarily, that I don't have singular focus and that I am not sure what I would be willing to focus on at the exclusion of all else. I've been a guy with too many hobbies for a while: Dance, Photography, Bass Guitar.

One of the small-but-powerful ideas I took away from WDS came from the artist Judy Paul from Austin, whom I had the chance to go for a couple runs with while out in Portland. She had been a graphic designer and, when she decided to buckle down and start shipping art, began with 50 pieces themed on trees. (check out her instagram... it'll really spice up your feed)

So I decided that it's okay to settle on projects that have this structure: "I will ship X number of some creation". And the first project supports something that has been in progress for a year now. I've been learning to play ukulele since summer 2015.

Structure and Accounting

To put a serious structure around Ukulele, I have committed to this 50 songs by heart project with the goal that I can take my Uke anywhere and just start playing songs. I started this back in late August or so. And I have noticed since that this is the sort of project that can drag on and on.

So in order to ensure it won't drag on forever, I have this fancy spreadsheet to track what songs are on the list and how I am doing. I don't have a specific timeline for completion but I think I am just around the corner from working out a system.

  • I will practice a song without the sheet music before me first and only if I forget a chord or lyrics, I will immediately use sheet music and consider it cheat sheet practice. If I can complete the song, it counts as a "play by heart".
  • I am collecting information on when I mark a song active and when I consider it ready.
  • When I have played it 5 times by heart, I will remove the song from active and consider it "ready".
  • Over time, I hope to establish a sense of velocity and be able to estimate a finish date.

Doing It In Public - Youtube

As part of the process of doing this project, I am documenting my progress with recordings and publishing videos of me playing songs.  Over time, I hope to have a progression of videos where I suck at the beginning and I slowly morph into a Ukulele Master.  

In case you were worried that I'm going to get a big head, let me assure you its already much too late for that.  And also, the results of my videos are really quite humbling.  I am learning how to sing in addition to how to play and doing both at the same time is quite a challenge.

It took quite a number of tries to get this rough version of "Georgia On My Mind" down. In truth, I really hadn't practiced it quite enough and I was mostly trying to test the recording setup.

This video of me performing "All of Me" is my second attempt to publish anything. It's my 4th or 5th attempt at recording anything at all. (They're not all keepers and shouldn't be. Some things need to be created and tossed in the wastebin.)

I like this recording much better and it features "The Birthday Uke" which my family helped pay for and is my first K-brand Hawaiian Uke.

No Clear Timeline, But...

So there you have it. Project is in progress. There is no clear timeline but I think I am doing a better job of working out a practice regime that will allow me to complete the project in my lifetime. :)