You might not know Mel Bay's guitar music, but most of the guitarists, and quite a few of the ukulele players, you know of have likely studied from his material at one time or another. His name is synonymous with teaching the guitar and several other instruments. Though the method named for him is most associated with the guitar, it does translate well to the ukulele and there are several publications available to those who want to make use of this master instructor's methods to learn this versatile Hawaiian instrument.
Like the Mel Bay techniques for leaning the guitar, his ukulele methods are comprehensive. They cover both the right and left hand and ensure that the student learns proper technique, in addition to enjoying the process of learning to play. The company maintains web resources and printed resources are also available to help students learn how to play the ukulele like the pros.
Why it Works
Mel Bay's methods of teaching developed, quite simply, because he had a hard time finding guitarists who were musically literate and technically proficient. To help them bring their playing to another level, he devised a method that provided a way for them to learn about musical notation, theory for stringed instrument players and to do it by playing. Most classical methods concentrate on teaching the student by constant repetition of a very simple technique. For instance, a classical instructor may have their student play the same single note over and over until they get the exact right tone. His methods allow students to start playing quickly and they notice their progress more because of it. This helps keep the process of learning interesting, but also ensures that they do learn proper technique.
On the Ukulele
The ukulele has a lot in common with the guitar, but it is also worlds apart, in some regards. His method presents challenges in that it allows students to learn the proper way to fret chords and to fingerpick passages, but it allows them to do so in a way that isn't frustrating or discouraging, as progress is quickly noticed. By learning a song, a student is able to hear the changes in their playing as they adapt to the techniques they're being taught and as they become more comfortable with the instrument. The chord passages they learn end up serving as the foundations for future learning.
Mel Bay's materials remain among the most popular in the world. Bay himself died in 1997 and the company was taken over by his son. In addition to teaching students about the guitar and ukulele, his materials are available for instruments including the violin, the banjo and much more. What's important with the method is not the instrument but the means by which it's taught. The fact that Mel Bay products allow students to learn in a way that is enjoyable and that produces results in a reasonable amount of time has made them consistently popular with beginning and advanced players.
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