Learning Ukulele with Curt

Just What is Jazz?

Jazz Ukulele?

Jazz Ukulele? – Just what is Jazz Ukulele?

Jazz, is the style where the repertoire/songs are drawn from and encompases a wide range of musical styles. Ukulele, is the instrument that you are performing this Jazz on. It's actually that simple.

And with that description behind us we can draw on a rich resources of material from the jazz guitarists point of view as well as the not so vast field of ukulele artists focusing on jazz.

Checkout what the National Museum of American History says bout: What is Jazz?:

Jazz is a kind of music in which improvisation is typically an important part. In most jazz performances, players play solos which they make up on the spot, which requires considerable skill. There is tremendous variety in jazz, but most jazz is very rhythmic, has a forward momentum called "swing," and uses "bent" or "blue" notes.

Don't Get Around Much Anymore: the Muse and Magic of JAZZ UKULELE MAVEN CURT SHELLER by Lil' Rev

by Lil' Rev Published: Summer, 2019, UKulele Magazine

Check out the complete article at: www.ukulelemag.com/stories/jazz-ukulele-curt-sheller

Don't Get Around Much Anymore: the Muse and Magic of JAZZ UKULELE MAVEN CURT SHELLER by Lil' Rev • Published: Summer, 2019, UKulele Magazine

Just What is Jazz?

Personally for me – jazz is improvisational music. Whether it's a simple re-phrasing of a standard melody or full blown improvisation. It's all about spontaneously creating music - spontaneous composition or at times spontaneously combustion.

Most people will say they don't like "Jazz," based on previous pre-conceptions of what it is or bad performances from what they perceived as Jazz. However, play them some excellent music without telling them it's Jazz and they'll most likely like it.

I fell in love with the improvisational aspect of that style of music and creating my versions of classic songs. In my mid twenties I hooked up with Paul Byrne a teacher in Phoenixville, PA USA who was teaching out of Jaworski's Music Centre ( Founded 1958 and now closed ). Then I really started to come into my own when I started studying with the great Chuck Anderson . I studied with Chuck for over 30 years and is still a valuable resource and mentor. Both Paul and especially Chuck studied with and the great Dennis Sandole You can't do any better than to fall into that lineage.

Here's WikipediA's take on it.

Jazz — a music genre that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States from a confluence of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th century American popular music. It's West African pedigree is evident in its use of blue notes, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation, and the swung note. (from WidipediA)

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Hooked on Jazz!

I got turned on and hooked on playing jazz guitar in my early 20's by Paul Byrne and have been playing and a serious student of all things jazz guitar and music ever since.

Like a lot of guitar players my age, it all started around 1963-64. It was rock 'n' roll and the British Invasion that got me into wanting to play guitar. Discovering Jazz in my 20's opened up the possibilities of the guitar. Re-discovering the ukulele in 2003, I naturally started exploring developing my jazz repertoire on the ukulele.

There's a lot of mystic surrounding learning playing Jazz on guitar or ukulele. But it's not as hard as you might think. Is it musically more complicated than rock or country - definitely more is required, but well worth the effort, just think of it as an artist with a bigger box of crayons, more color possibilities.

In addition to studying jazz guitar for the past 40 plus years. I've been a private music teacher for the majority of those years with up 70 students a week at times of all ages, levels, styles, and instruments.

My background and training as a graphic artist and some computer and web programming chops. It allows me to present my material concisely, well researched, tested, and in an organized and professional manner. All that with making it easy and accessible to apply to ukulele.

Here are a few of the elements that would be typically covered in a well rounded musical education — Actually ANY Music Study Program

Just like jazz guitar, jazz on ukulele is an advanced form of ukulele and is not usually your first introduction to the ukulele. After the fundamentals of the ukulele are covered, here is what would be typically involved in learning jazz ukulele.

Organization is essential when learning to play any music on the ukulele or any instrument. A real jazz guitar or jazz ukulele teacher would help. Here is my organization of the subjects and material that you would cover in a balanced jazz ukulele program of study. For all my students" lessons are customized to their particular experience and goals.

Mechanical Technique

Technique is the physical control and coordination needed to play an instrument or sing. It involves position, the efficiency of motion and effort, and exercises to develop specific skills. For ukulele, it's improving your right and left hand. You'll never be any better than your ability to execute what you want to play. Developing the necessary motor skills are where all the work comes in.

Ear Training

Hearing music, the intervals, chords, root movement. Getting your fingers to follow your ear.

Chords & Chord Progressions

Chord construction, core, and derived chords.

A “Jazz” chord is simply a 4-part chord used in a wide variety of contemporary music. Widely associated with “jazz” players, anyone can use these cool chords. Playing background chords in support of a singer or soloist.

Common chord progressions.


The principles of Music - This is how it all works.


Rhythm, intertwined into all aspects of music and a subject all to its own. Rhythm is an integral part of strumming patterns.


This is one of the most recognizable parts of a song or composition. The melody along with the lyrics part of a song that you can copyright.

The great jazz guitarist Joe Pass said: I'll paraphrase here, "Learn melodies, nobody goes down the street whistling chords progressions."

Reading Music

No – NOT Reading TAB – actually learning to read music. It's the lingua franca of musicians around the world and opens you up to a world of music beyond the ukulele. And, anything that alienates ukulele players from the other musicians can't be a good thing. It's akin to wanting to be a painter and buying paint by number sets. Now granted some of the results will look and sound good - but you sound like everyone else that paints by numbers.

Repertoire and Songs

Developing a jazz ukulele repertoire.


Swing, Bossa, Latin, Jazz Waltz, Ballads and more… Studying rhythm, which is at the core of all styles is the way to go.

Stability of Tempo

Basically playing in time.

Harmonic, Melodic and Rhythmic Analysis

Harmonic Analysis is used to determine the harmonic function of chords within a chord progression or song. A chord progression is a sequence of chords; each chord has a root and is a particular type. The relationship of a chord's to a scale determines its function within that scale's tonality.

Musical Devices

Such as Scales , Arpeggios , Interval Development and Sequences , Scale and Chord Inversion, Voice Leading, Bass Lines, Accompaniment, etc...


The essential scales for ALL jazz musicians. - Traditional, Contemporary and Modal scales that are all part of a jazz musicians bag of tricks.

As you can see, it's quite a list. Don't despair! Like the proverbial journey of 1000 miles (1609.344 km), it can get done one step at a time. The biggest problem is organizing those steps. Of all ukulele and guitar-based forms, jazz is the most difficult to go it alone. That's one reason there are more Jazz majors in college now than at any other time in history.

My personal development and belief support the private teacher model. I was lucky enough in my jazz development to study jazz guitar and all things music with Chuck Anderson. I continue to use Chuck as a valuable resource regarding all aspects of my music career.

There is a great need for customized, dedicated personal teaching. The old European model of master and apprentice works well in this field. It, of course, needs some modern updating. But by and large, this model is more useful than the collegiate model. I would not recommend one try and go it alone when learning the more advanced topics that are part of the jazz repertoire .

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Just browsing over both books, they look fantastic! I'm a guitarist and uke player for over 25 years and was thinking about writing a ukulele book but you've already written what I think are the best, most comprehensive and thorough books I've ever seen for the instrument. I just might end up buying every book you've written and I'll be giving my highest recommendation for your books to my friends and students. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such great books!Peter Rhee

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