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School Of Ukulele Construction Blog

school of ukulele

Hello! You are perhaps looking for the school of ukulele? Well, you're almost there. This is my olde construction journal, from 2004-2008, which documented the creation of my interactive website that gives really useful ukulele lessons. If you were directed here, but are just looking for some help playing a ukulele, please visit the school of ukulele.

The best place to keep track of what's new with the site, as of some time in 2012, is our page on Facebook. Also an excellent source of news, information, videos, and images related to our favourite little musical instrument.

If you are here to read about my olde design and development adventures, and misadventures, in creating this innovative website, then by all means, read on!

Thanks for stopping by.



January, 2012 - In the post below this one, I promise to finish up this so-called "construction blog", and move the process onto the "social media".

I just have to post once more, as there's something most interesting I just discovered. At the very bottom of this long page, you can see documented the moment I invented the term "tutolet" to describe the interactive little widgets in this website. There's a screenshot of Google results before, and after, I put the word on the internet for the first time, and it became the first result in Google. Now, 7 years later, UrbanDictionary.com and other sites list the word and credit me for making it up. Holy cats.
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=tutolet
http://www.definition-of.net/tutolet.

Please feel free to "boost" the word by viewing the definitions and clicking their "thumbs-up" icons.

Enjoy the site, and best of luck with your ukulele!!!



January, 2012 - Wow, has it really been 3 and a half years since I updated this construction blog? Has it really been 7 years since it went online? Do people still view this page? The answer to all these questions, and more, is yes. Yes, I have updated the site over that time. More exercises, stuff about sheet music, an interactive chord chart, edits, updates, and expansions to what's there - in fact, while there were 45 pages the last time I put up a page count - there are now 81 pages. And to a large extent, the site covers all the things you need to know to move into playing songs out of song books. There's even a tool now that will allow you to play songs from song books for other intstruments on your ukulele.

And you see that funny little gap in the top navigation, at the bottom of the grey area? Fixed that too.

Traffic to the site continues to grow. I see that in May of 2008 I was amazed that the site was getting almost 500 visitors a day - It is now getting over 1000 unique visitors a day. That quite amazes me. There are over 10,000 page views every day. Which means, every ten seconds, on average, someone, somewhere in the world accesses one of the pages. I find that quite astounding. I suppose it does convince me that the experiment was a success.

Most astoundingly of all, since mid-2007, ukeschool.com has had 1,085,000 unique visitors, and over 11 million page views.

I will continue to update the site - but I will not continue to update this "construction blog". That would just take up too much of the time I WOULD use to update the actual site - to absolutely no benefit. What I am going to do, before long, and would serve as a suitable replacement to this silly page - will be to use "social media" for any number of things, including bothering to talk about when I do update the site. That seems so much more useful and versatile than putting an .rss feed on this page, and mucking about with that.

Enjoy the site, and best of luck with your ukulele!!!



September, 2008 - I was at the "A Taste Of The Danforth" festival here in Toronto a few weeks ago and I saw some funky little ukuleles being sold out on the street. They were very precise-looking multi-coloured ukes, and I got one with a very nice satin blue finish. It came with a case and had flimsy black strings. The thing is a nightmare. I've had to tune it a few hundred times before it would settle. That gave me plenty of chance to think about how best to tune, quickly and with fewer errors, and how to explain that in simple language to the fine folks who visit my website!

I've had a section that allows students to tune their ukulele to a Special Custom Pantented Tuning Gizmo for some time now. It is good for learning about the strings, the pegs, and what the thing is supposed to sound like when it's in tune. But in the absense of a Gizmo, how does one do it? I've needed to build that lesson for a spell... and now here it is! A whole new addition to the Basic Ukulele Lessons. I intend for this to be a peice to be bitten off in one day, like a lesson of it's own. Enough to make you think, not enough to wear you out too bad.

I've noted that most of the traffic comes for the beginner's tuning lesson that was there before. I hope this new stuff will be similarily useful.



May, 2008 - Traffic to the site has grown quite a bit! It would appear that almost 500 unique visitors come to the site every day! Cool! Seeing the popularity of the site, and having had a moment or two to spend, has inspired me to add in a bit of new stuff and to fix up a bunch of the things that people have written to tell me they found confusing over the years.

The most useful new thing is a Basic Ukulele Lesson. This brief section introduces a new chord, so the student will have three chords in the key of C. The fingerings and easiest ways to change between the chords are explored - good stuff to know, for any other chords later on - and a couple of really simple songs are presented in a no-rush kinda way.

As I mentioned in my last post, way back when, I have some more media I've assembled, that I will be working on deploying and integrating into the site. It would appear that by far the most popular, or heavily traveled, part of the site is the Beginner's Lessons, so I'll be using some vids in there to show some stuff that just has words now - before too long I hope!



Sept 27, 2005 - Long time, no see. I finally have a first draft of Ukulele Finger Picking course, a "fingerpicking 101", if you will. Just two fingers, just two strings, but it starts with some really basic exercises, gives a brief introduction to the song Wipe Out (HaHAHahahaha.... Wipe Out!!), and then has some less simple Finger Picking Exercises.

I want to make some little videos of some of these excercises, so for people who have trouble with just diagrams and written descriptions, there will be actual footage of me playing the thing, to help show them how it's done. Hope to get to that soon.



May 10, 2005 - Apologies for my absence. I've been quite busy working. The PayPal button I put up a couple of months ago has managed to generate a few donations - which has bought me the time to work on some new stuff!

There is now a second song in the jam-along class, We'll Meet Again. It is fun to jam along with a great big swing band.

I'm also doing some finger picking exercises - haven't posted them yet, because I feel like I should at least develop them to the point where they allow the student to actually play something fun. But it's nice to have more stuff underway!!



Mar 12, 2005 - Apologies for my absence. I've been quite busy working. In the spirit of that, I have added a paypal 'donate' button to the site. I hope that I can get some donations from happy students, and be able to get some time away from work to build some more ukeschool.

I've also been in contact with my good friend the Koog, who is working on the little charicature of me that will become the interactive animated mascot of the site. He is doing a wonderful job!

On the subject of happy students, I have been getting some emails from them! I've been tracking the traffic for the site, and it appears people do come. This month, I have had between 20 and 50 unique visitors per day. On average, each visitor stays for almost ten minutes, and views more than 10 pages! Not bad for so far.

I have plans for some more songs, (some of which I have the audio for!), some cool stuff about desert-island tuning, some page upon which to collect and display a series of the interactive chord charts, and a few technique videos. Oh, and I have to put some 'showing off' somewhere in there, according to a few of the happy students.

Hope to have some new stuff built soon, but we'll have to see... Wish me luck,


Feb 09, 2005 - I've been away from the construction blog for a while. I have been working, on work, but also on the crazy interactive chord charts, and struggling to get the first song available to the public - at some point I had to decided there was enough polish on this one and put it up. Inchworm for ukulele is my first song. At this point, it's not too bad, so I'll put it there, move on, and tweak it as I see fit and find the time.

I've put up some little movies of Ruby having fun with here ukulele. One is a great little clip of her throwing a cheap ukulele on the floor! There's a nice little movie of her stumbling on a lick in the Music for Babies section, some great footage of her figuring out how to play at 11 weeks, and again figuring out some strumming, picking, and fretting techniques at 6 months

I've also put in some simple comparison tutolets that allow the ukulele student to clearly hear the difference between cheap vs expensive ukuleles, guitars and ukuleles, and between a ukulele that is in tune and one that is almost in tune.

Feb 09 2005 File Count -     HTML : 45    JPEG : 57    SWF : 14


Jan 30, 2005 - I have just made some very satisfying progress. I have exhaused so many words about this crazy interactive self-directed multimedia learning stuff that I intend to use. And now, finally, I have some! And I am just so please with how it has turned out. The building of the "phrase trainer" has been intertwined with the creation of this site so far - 37 pages of html were produced by the time I got the first one working. I think it looks really nice. I'd been entirely focussed on how it should drive, how it should sit on the page, I gave little concern to what it was that got me wanting to build it in the first place...

What it is, is a remarkably pure distillation of a technological trick I used to learn to play the pedal steel in an unusually short period of time. Which in turn, is based on a trick that I leaned studying the methods of Jerry Byrd, the greatest steel guitarist ever. Jerry used to send me these tapes that had him playing the steel on the left channel and his funky band on the other channed. The idea was, you could listen to him play the stuff, read the charts he sent you, and then tune him out, by flipping the balance on the tape player all the way to the band side, and you'd be playing with his band. It was great, but it had the technological limitations of cassette tapes - he played an 'e' note at the beginning of each song, so you could be sorta in tune no matter how your tape player behaved.

When I was studying pedal steel, I used 'band-in-a-box' to create band tracks that I could practice to, and it was nice because it could easily loop 4, 8, 16, 124 bars, whatever, not like a cassette tape. I could lift the really cool licks off of a CD, program band-in-a-box to be the band for just the section that should take weeks to get down, and just drill over it and over it and over it. It's like cheating - until something like band-in-a-box, how could one have the benefit of that sort of thing, unless, perhaps, they had a tirelessly patient teacher who would accomany them at will? Don't know, but it got me far fast.

So what I built, and I'm really quite thrilled with it, is a little phrase trainer. So far, it just does one chord, 4 bars, that's it. But that's exactly what I've brought the student to do at that point. They can tune the uke, hold the uke, hold in one chord, and now they can just strum along while a jug band plays slackjawededly in the background. With the click of a button, they can turn on and off me on the uke or the band - just like Jerry's tapes. It guides them across the chart as it plays the song. I cannot think of a non-web-deployed equivalent of this - books and CD's? Can't turn on and off parts of the music... The patient teacher?

I'm also pleased with how simple simple simple it is. I think when I first pictured it, which was actually long before I thought I'd have a real UkeSchool.com of my own, it was a byzantine thing with knobs and lights and flashing controllers and widgets and labels and words and stuff... I've mulled it over with an overriding desire to have it simple, simple, simple, and I think I got it - it's just three buttons, and toggle buttons at that, beside a little musical score/chart. Have I talked about it enough? Go have a look. It's on the page about strumming a ukulele.




Jan 23, 2005 - I've been changing text editors again. Up until now for this site, I had been using good old notepad. Notepad for me is an orthopaedic response to the injuries I sustained using Emacs. All those hot keys, carpal tunnel, don't mix! ControlXS. Heavens, just having to reach for the mouse, pull down the 'File' menu, and pick save, seems so incredibly stupid, but boy the extra motions periodically really make a difference to the wear and tear. I can't afford any repetitive stress injuries, when all I can make money doing involves typing text or plucking strings. So I am trying good old Ultra-Edit32. Takes me back to 2000, when I first tried to quit Emacs.

Anyways, I've made a bit of progress on the ukulele lessons for beginners. I outlined the various levels of study at the School of Ukulele on the page titled How to Play Ukulele, but really have only done a bit of the beginner's level.

The first, and possibly most important subject I broach with regard to how to play a ukulele is How to Tune a Ukulele. I begin with a discussion of some of the preliminary things one must understand when tuning a uke, such as what the strings are called, figuring out which peg drives which string, and learning which way you need to turn it to move the pitch up and down. Then I introduce the uke tuner, and teach the student who knows nothing about ukuleles or tuning how to tune using this simple tool. Because there was so much to ramble on about on the subject, I added a second page about tuning with the ukulele tuner.

And finally, I have made a page about how to hold a ukulele, which features a lovely picture of fame ukulelist Tiny Tim holding a ukulele properly. (I provide there a link to Tiny's 'official' website, which is maintained by the record company that owns the rights to his work). I also describe, in words, some of the finer points of how to hold onto it, and some exercises for the student to try to 'firm up their grip' and ensure that they are holding it properly, so that they won't have to fudge with lifting it up while they are trying to play.

Here comes the updated File Count:

Jan 23 2005 File Count -     HTML : 35    JPEG : 47    SWF : 2


Jan 15, 2005 - I've had a quick run through the about the ukulele section. I think that it should have enough in place now that I can move on to another section - and that's exciting, because it means I can now get on to building some ukulele lessons!

First on the agenda was a page about the types of ukuleles, which discusses the 4 basic sizes of ukuleles, as well as a couple of novel types, including one made from a real live (dead) armadillo. Then, I draw comparisons on a page called cheap ukuleles vs expensive ukuleles. Turns out I have a lot of nice things to say about cheap ukuleles! And, not surprisingly, a thing or two nice to say about expensive ukuleles.

Then there are a couple of pages that talk about ukuleles and guitars. The first is a page comaring the two, ukulele vs guitar, where I acknowlege that there are some benefits to a guitar, but mostly I espouse the glorious advantages of the humble ukulele. Also, I have a page designed for guitarists wishing to learn the ukulele, ukulele for guitarists, that outlines the major similarities and differences between the two instruments, including how to translate between guitar and ukulele, and the tricky semi-difficult things for guitar players to be mindful of, that are not necessarily obvious, when making the move from guitar to ukulele.

I made a special page for a special spelling - it is sometimes spelled ukelele. So I made this page, just for people who are looking for ukelele lessons, ukelele chords, or a ukelele teacher.

And finally, I added a quick little page about the history of the ukulele, which, in the end, links off to another fellow's page, 'cause it's really good.

Jan 15 2005 File Count -     HTML : 27    JPEG : 45    SWF : 1


Jan 10, 2005 - A bunch more pages roughed in. Firstly, a very general overview page about the online school of ukulele itself. I've been building so that there is a single linear thread that the student can follow from one page to the next, all the way throughout the site. The page about the online school of ukulele is the first page, (after the home page), in this thread.

Next is a page about the ukulele lessons themselves. I've tried to put forth good reasons for using web-deployed, interactive, ukulele lessons if one wishes to learn to play the ukulele.

Following the page about ukulele lessons is a page about the various levels of study encountered in the uke lessons. I have decided on four levels of study, primary, basic, advanced, and extreme. Next is a page to promote myself as a virtual ukulele teacher. And what good would talking about myself as a ukulele teacher, if I didn't talk some about the students and what is required of them for learning ukulele, even if they have the opportunity to learn ukulele quicky or learn ukulele easily.

To round out the 'about ukeSchool' section, I've made trivial little pages for the parts of the school that will not be the first to be constructed - Enjoy music for babies at Baby Uke School, where you'll learn that not only can you play a ukulele for your baby, but you can hand her a ukulele, and no-one gets hurt!

Also a place holder for the Tuning Lab, where we will explore the math and physics of sound, music, and stringed instruments in gory detail. And I solicit students for real-life, in-person uke lessons, as well.

I've also started the section of the school that is all about the ukulele itself. This page will link to a bunch of other pages that talk about various facets of the ukulele.

Jan 10 2005 File Count -     HTML : 17    JPEG : 28    SWF : 1


Jan 07, 2005 -UkeSchool.com is the home for my school of ukulele! Came on line just yesterday. I've updated the flash header so that it points into that address. I've uploaded a few pages, too, I'll just take a moment to talk about those.

The first page, the home page, the index file, for Uke School, is a little sparse at the moment. Needs some pictures or something. but it does serve as a simple entry point for Uke School.


Jan 03, 2005 - I'm back at building uke school after the xmas holidays. I've already received an e-mail, asking about when the lessons will be online! As of today, I have only this blog page, the main entry page, and one page about the school. Lots of html and photoshop and flash and stuff just to get to that point.

My word, ' tutolet', has been picked up by Google. (see here for screen captures of Google picking up a brand new word for the first time!).

Today, I built the first prototype of the uke tuner which will be on the top of each page of the uke school. It is relatively simple, and does not have the 'help' button built yet, but I tried it out, and it was great! I tuned my uke up, and it was quicker and easier than using an electronic tuner! When I played afterwards, it sounded great. I'm glad that it worked - it took a while to dream it up and build it, I'd've been sad if it'd've sucked.


Dec 20, 2004 - Hello World! This 'construction blog' entry is the first web content of Pineapple Pete's Uke School. I will now lay out what exactly it is I think I'm doing, trying to build an online school of ukulele.

First and foremost, this is an experiment and research project in web deployed interactive education. I have always been fascinated by, (and have occasionally been lucky enough to be employed in the field of), using the interactive capabilities of modern computers, or 'web surfing appliances', if you will, to effectively impart understanding.

There are a number of reasons why web deployed interactive material can serve the community in ways that books cannot. A web site is available to a fantastic number of people, instantly. The cost of delivery is trivial compared with publishing and distributing the same amount of knowledge through books. While books can have diagrams or pictures to accompany text, or even a CD of examples if it's music, or language, it is still not interactive.

Which brings me to my 'word'. Every now and again, I come up with some idea that I think is worth something, and I want to give a name to it, so that if it catches on, I'll in some way be considered as the 'father' of the idea, for being the first to use the word. Who used the word 'blog' for the first time? or 'applet'? My word is actually derived in much the same manner as the word applet. It is:

Tutolet.

(I ran a search on Google today, Dec 20, 2004, and there is no such word!)

A tutolet is a small, interactive, tutorial application within a larger tutorial.

Or, in plane english, it's something you fiddle with to figger stuff out.

Clearly, at a Ukulele School, the tutolets will be used to teach you how to play the ukulele. If I were to write a book about how to play the ukulele, it would have reams of text, and pictures of hands, and diagrams of how to play things (charts or tabs), and maybe a CD in the back of the book to let you listen to the things that are diagrammed out on the pages. But because I can harness the power of tutolets, I can put all sorts of crazy, interactive stuff between the text.

Let's imagine we're teaching some intro to a song, 4 bars that are a bit tricky. The tutolet, being flexible, could give the student a number of choices how to see the song charted - tabs, chord chars, staff - whatever they prefer. Sometimes, a real video of hands, or a snapshot of the 'sound wave' can be helpful, and so could be made available. On a page, that would be ungainly and huge, but because the student can 'select' - yea, 'interact' - they need only see the format they wish. They can listen to the intro, as played on a ukulele, as an audio player for a four bar excerpt is practical on a web page - not so in a book. Or a CD, for that matter. Just to make the learning experience complete - they can then turn off the audio of the uke and have just the audio of a real (synthesized) backing band, that cycles through the 4 bars, allowing them to practice in a fun and challenging way (and the best way for getting good!) that books - well, no way. Until interactive web deployed learning materials, and my pals, tutolets, the only way to get that kind of education cycle musically was from real people. And they are so much more expensive to visit than websites.

I'm really unfamiliar these days with writing this much, but this is good exercise, as I will have to start writing neat, concise stuff for the actual school soon.

There's actually a lot I want to accomplish with this project. Not just to coin a word. I had considered writing a book or two of ukulele songs. But, in keeping with what I was rambling about before, I am much more interested in creating things that will actually teach ukulele stuff that's really really hard to pull off of a static page than in figuring out how to get a publishing and distributing deal for a book. Besides, there are tons of uke books.

I do have lots of really really kickin' uke arrangements to share with the world. And I really really love ukuleles for what they are - they are a tiny, fun, convenient, functional, happy-causing accompaniment instrument. While true that they are not as versatile as guitars, I think that they are versatile enough to pursue as serious tools of entertainment. A guitar is not as versatile as a 12-piece band, but plenty of people can be most entertaining with one in their hands. The same is true of the ukulele. And I want to help people figure out how.

Furthermore, this is a business idea. I plan to attract visitors. I plan to share all sortsa great stuff with them. Then, I hope to charge them $20 (or some amount like that) for a month's 'enrollment' - access to the bulk of the lessons and arrangements. The cool stuff. The fun stuff. Many books worth of material, with many hours worth 'interactive' stuff - from videos of 'howto' to hardcore mathematical analyses of chord progressions and tuning temperments to backing tracks in a whole range of tempos, grooves, and styles to practice along with. I truly intend to provide better value for the money than books and teachers - can I do that? how far can $20 a month take you with books and teachers? That's part of why I think I can reasonably charge money for access to what I am going to build.

And another thing. This is a portfolio piece. I have a lot of things I have made scattered about the web that I can point to as portfolio pieces. But it has been a long time since any of the stuff of an educational bent, that I am not hosting on my personal website, has been available publicly. As I build, I have in my mind that this, like all websites I build, could stand as evidence of my competence in a number of fields. I'm trying to make it cool from a design and graphical standpoint. This is not my forte, and most of the work I have done either looks more 'spartan' or has some more artistic with a hand in it. It was sort of fun working out a 'look and feel' for the site, and I hope I can use it to show off that I'm not some third-rate hack in that field of endevour. I also want to show off my 'pedagogical' abilities - while not formally trained in teaching, I sure know a thing or two about leading people down easy-to-navigate pathways to competence and understanding. A couple of my role models are Paul Pimsleur and Joe Wright - just try to find another web page with both of their names on it!! And of course, I want to show my ability not just to invent the term tutolet, but to whip up some reallly reallly innovative, powerful, useful and cool examples of the species. And to show that I can undertake a project, from conception to launch to growth to an important place in the online community.

Here, now that I am becoming fatigued of writing, are the top 10 reasons I am going to build this here interactive online ukulele school:

#10 - To make me famous as the guy who invented tutolets.
#9 - Make a million bucks teaching students from all over the world
#8 - To place high on Google for a variety of ukulele phrases
#7 - To pad out my flash portfolio
#6 - Promote the ukulele, and music in general, to make the world a happier place
#5 - Give me a forum to discuss the physics of fretted, stringed instruments
#4 - To spread the gospel about giving ukuleles to babies
#3 - Point my career towards more educational applications of web technology
#2 - Refine the state of the art in interactive education
#1 - Share my ukulele techniques, licks, and arrangements with the world

no such word, just yet...
No such word as tutolet, Dec 20, 2004.

The word 'tutolet' appeared on Google the following day. This is a link to this page from my home page. This page was listed sometime over christmas. the first documented case of a word appearing on Google.   Now, the word just has to come to mean something...

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