Arranging a Song: What’s That?!

That last workshop of our Musicians Toolbelt Workshop Series is fast approaching! Arranging: Make It Your Own will take place Saturday, May 18, 2019, 1:00-3:00pm at Artichoke Music. Not sure what I mean by “arranging”? Read on …

What does it mean to arrange a song?

Songs are like people: we all look very different, and present ourselves in different ways to the world, but underneath, we are made of the same elements. To continue the metaphor, you might say that the “bones” of a song are the structure and patterns of chords, melody and lyrics; that is, what the song is made of. The “skin” of a song is the arrangement of time, tempo, and organization; or, how a song is presented to the world. To arrange a song is to take the fundamental elements of it and figure out how you want to present them in a musical setting.

Why learn about song arrangements?

  1. Own your musical learning. Contrary to what we might believe, we are not solely at the whim of our teachers or songbooks or online chord charts! You can own more of your learning process when you can recognize and create arrangements.
  2. Deepen your understanding of the elements of music. When you pick apart someone else’s arrangement or create your own, you get to interact with the elements of music directly. For example, when you choose a strum pattern, you have to feel the rhythm of song more profoundly; when you choose the key, you have to be more aware of how the melody travels throughout the song. All of these challenges deepen your musical understanding.
  3. Arranging allows you to make a song your own. As you learn more music, you can take and borrow what you like best from different genres and artists and start to create your own musical voice with your song arrangements. Are you more of a folkie? Do you like songs with a more bluesy feel? Do you prefer the sound of picking to strumming? All of these preferences will impact your choices of arrangement, and help you develop your own personal style of playing.
  4. Collaboration. If you want to play a song with other musicians, they may look to you to guide them through it! You’ll need to know how you want to start the song, navigate through verses and choruses, and then bring it to a neat and tidy end.
  5. Learning about arrangements makes you a better musician. Learning to recognize and create song arrangements forces you to engage in the ultimate musical skill: listening. Whether you are working with your own song or someone else’s, arranging a song will make you listen to it – and to yourself – in a way you never have before, and that is what learning music is all about.

what you can learn

Our upcoming Arranging Workshop will cover the following topics:

  • Recognizing Arrangements. We’ll listen to original recordings and look at song charts to learn about arrangement choices others have made. What’s the rhythm? How did they start and end the song? How did these choices help the song be fun to listen to?
  • Arrangement Choices. We’ll discuss different decisions you’ll need to make when arranging your song. Handouts will be provided to help you understand the different elements of an arrangement to consider, what effect your decisions have, and what options you have when working within the parameters of someone else’s song.
  • Arrangement Workshop. After reviewing all the tools at your disposal, you’ll have a couple opportunities during the workshop to work on arranging a song yourself. Walk away with a song ready for you to practice, to memorize, and/or to bring to your next jam!

I hope you can join us at: Arranging: Make It Your Own – Saturday, May 18, 2019, 1:00-3:00pm – Artichoke Music – 2007 SE Powell Blvd, Portland OR.

Spring 2019 Classes Open for Registration!

Welcome to Spring, everyone! I hope you all have enjoyed / are enjoying your Spring Break, and are looking forward to getting back to playing ukulele with us. Classes begin again the week of April 15 and run 8 weeks through the week of June 3. Registration is now open! Click on class titles below for more information about each class:

Southeast Portland classes

All SE Portland classes held at Lincoln St Methodist Church: 5145 SE Lincoln St., Portland OR 97215

Southwest Portland Classes

All SW Portland classes held at West Hills UU Fellowship: 8470 SW Oleson Rd, Portland OR 97223

This Term’s Musical Theme

Anyone who has taken Ukulele Sing & Strum knows that each term, we study a different genre of music. This term we are returning to THE BLUES!

Spring Classes with Song by Song. Announcing our musical theme: The Blues! Register now:

Typically, we cover the 12-Bar Blues in Ukulele 2 (and those enrolled in Ukulele 2 this term will, indeed, do so). However, I’m excited to bring this theme to Sing & Strum classes, as well as Ukulele for Kids and Ukulele Ensemble. These classes will look at the 12-Bar Blues, as well, in addition to other songs and techniques representative of the tradition.

When we think of the Blues, perhaps we think of mainstream examples, like the music of B.B. King or Billie Holliday. But did you know that Elvis Presley’s Hounddog was originally a blues song? Any fans of the Grateful Dead? An enormous amount of their repertoire were old blues songs. Eric Clapton? Same deal. Throughout the 20th century, rock’n’roll music kept borrowing (or just outright taking…) from the Blues. Think of rock as the musical teenage child of the Blues and you’ve got the idea.

In most classes this term, we’ll learn traditional songs that illustrate the original form of the Blues. Then we’ll look at more modern songs that are clearly inspired by the Blues, but don’t necessarily sound like Blues songs. Sprinkled throughout, we’ll also learn some unique Blues techniques, including the “Blues shuffle”, the impressive-sounding “trickle-down close”, and other “fills” that you can insert into any song to give it more of a Blues feel.

I hope you can join us for this expedition into new musical territory! If you have any questions at all – about the Blues, about classes, about anything – please don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know! Email me at:

Hope to see you in class soon!

Why Learn How to Make My Own Song Chart?

A little background

As I’ve been preparing for my upcoming workshop Charting: Make Your Own Songbook (the first of three in this spring’s Musician’s Toolbox Workshop Series), I’ve found myself remembering my first songbook:

Closed journal on a table
Originally a Christmas gift from an older cousin …
Open songbook page with blurred image of song lyrics and notes
Lyrics, chords, tablature notes … I wrote it all down.

When I was about 15 years old, I learned to play the guitar. I had a book I kept of all the songs I learned to play, complete with handwritten lyrics, chords and other notes. Like the writer who learns by reading, I learned to play by watching and listening intently to my favorite musicians to figure out what they were doing. I wrote it all down, played and played, and made these songs my own, all recorded in what I still consider to be a meaningful artifact from a deeply informative part of my music education.

As a music teacher, I share a lot of my own knowledge with students, picking and arranging songs for us to play together in classes and jams. However, I believe students need opportunities to use the knowledge to expand their musical understanding further. That is precisely what this upcoming Song Charting workshop is all about.

What is a song chart?

I’m quite sure plenty of you looked at the title of this workshop and wondered: What is a song chart, exactly?  Once again, let us refer to the songbook of my youth:

Open page of songbook with handwritten song lyrics, chords and notes
An early song of mine from my angsty young 20s … as I started writing my own songs, I made song charts for them at the back of my original songbook.

Simply put, a song chart is a written record of a song in lyrics and chords (I don’t usually include a melody in my song charts, but it may be included). It can be as simple as a chord progression at the top and some lyric cues below, or as detailed as having pictures of the chords you need, complete lyrics, and extra arrangement notes on the side. It’s your personal cheat sheet, if you will, for whatever song you want to remember how to play.

A song chart is just for you, and therefore, making a song chart is a personal task, with options and opportunities to preserve what you know and love while also deepening your musical understanding.

WHy learn to make your own song chart?

Now that I have confessed my sense of sentimentality, let’s recall that there are numerous resources online that have charted songs for you already. I regularly refer to these resources when making my own song charts; but I believe it’s not enough to just print out whatever you find online. Why? Hear me out:

  1. Writing something down helps you learn what you’re playing. Just like writing in a journal helps us make sense of our thoughts, writing down a song helps us make sense of a song’s patterns and organization, not to mention learn all the lyrics. Though I have no evidence to back this up, I would argue that however long it takes you to chart out your song, it would take you twice as long for you to learn it by just playing it over and over again from someone else’s chart.
  2. Online charts are not always correct. The people posting song charts online are only human, and sometimes don’t get certain parts right. This doesn’t preclude you from using online charts as a resource in making your own song charts but you’ll always want to double check with your own ears.
  3. Charting allows you to make a song your own. When you make a song chart, you can choose the key best suited to your voice or chording fingers, decide which verses to include, and play with the song’s arrangement. When a song is best suited to your own singing and playing, it’s easier to practice and it brings out the best musician in you.
  4. Making a song chart makes you a better musician. Taking all three of these points together, creating a written record of a song you want to play forces you to engage in the ultimate musical skill: listening. Whether you are writing it down by ear, or adapting someone else’s song chart for your own use, song charting will make you listen to a song – and to yourself – in a way you never have before, and that is what learning music is all about.

Goodness knows you don’t have to have sparkles on the front of your songbook like I did. A three-ring binder and some blank paper will do to start. Give it a try and see what you find. Whether you’re stumped, or inspired, or a little of both, learn more about how to make a song chart at our upcoming workshop, Charting – Make Your Own Songbook: Saturday, March 16, 1:00-3:00pm at Artichoke Music. Or consider purchasing the Musician’s Toolbox Workshop Package, which includes workshops on Charting, Transposing, and Arranging.

Musician’s Toolbox Workshop Series graphic

How Do I Know If I Need New Strings?

Is your ukulele trying to tell you something?

With our Change Your Ukulele Strings Workshop just around the corner, I’ve been getting the same question from a lot of students: How do I know when it’s time to change my strings? There are several different things to be looking and listening for, as well as other situations in which a string change might be appropriate even if your instrument isn’t necessarily begging for them.

What to look for

Periodically, take a close look at your strings, especially around the areas where they hit the frets. You may notice divets in the strings, which indicate they are getting worn down. This is the most common visual indicator, but you may your strings look generally ragged and strained as you look up and down the fretboard more generally.

What to listen for

The most likely way you’ll be able to tell when it’s time to change your strings is the way your playing will start to sound different. Here are some things you might notice:

  • A change in tone. Worn strings have lost their full-bodied tone and have more of a flat, plunky sound.
  • A change in tuning. If you’ve tuned your open strings, but the chords you play still sound out of tune, or you have to constantly retune as you play, that’s a good indicator your strings have lost the ability to hold their tuning consistently.

Other considerations

Just because you’re not noticing any big changes to warrant a strings change, there are still several reasons why you might do so, either as a matter of personal preference and/or in anticipation of those changes mentioned above that you want to avoid from the outset.

  • As a general rule, you can choose to change your strings every certain number of weeks or months. This allows you to keep that full-bodied sound going all the time and prevents the hassles of dealing with constant retuning and generally bad-sounding strings. How often you change them depends on how often you play. Professional performers change them as often as every several weeks. For the enthusiastic hobbyist, every several months should suffice. For those on a budget or just not as invested in the whole string-changing thing, I recommend a minimum of every 6 months to a year.
  • Sometimes you might decide you want to try for a different sound on your instrument. In this case, you might decide to change your strings earlier than you otherwise would, because you want to try a different string material. The most popular, quality-sounding strings out there are called Nylgut, fluorocarbon, and titanium, with wound strings used for lower toned strings on tenor and bass ukuleles. (We’ll discuss these options more in depth at our workshop.) I don’t generally recommend straight nylon strings, because I find they just sound plasticky, but they are also a popular option. Steel strings that you often find on guitars are not appropriate for ukuleles.
  • This one is obvious, but just to be sure: if a string on your instrument breaks, it’s probably a good idea to change them all, as they are most likely wearing down by that point.
  • Likewise, if you can’t remember when you last changed your strings, or you have no recollection of ever changing your strings … IT’S TIME TO CHANGE YOUR STRINGS.

Final thoughts

As you can see, there’s no one way to determine when it’s time to change your strings. It’s a personal call. If you’re in the Portland, Oregon region and would like to join us for our upcoming Change Your Ukulele Strings Workshop, click here to register. I’m in the process of working on a video tutorial of the workshop for those further field… Thanks for your patience!

Winter Weather Cancellation Policy

With the recent snow and ice that has been seen in the Portland, Oregon region, and the uncertainty just how much more is in store for us, I wanted to take a moment to clarify Song by Song™’s Winter Weather Cancellation Policy. While this policy mostly applies to weekly classes, consider it also valid for workshops and retreats, unless where noted.

First of all, it’s important to clarify that other music schools in town often refer to the call made by Portland Public Schools (PPS) each day, and follow accordingly. That is, if PPS cancels school, their classes are cancelled. We do consider PPS decisions, but because most of our classes are offered in the evening, and Portland weather is so fickle as to drastically change over the course of the day, we do not automatically cancel classes is PPS has canceled school for the day. However, if PPS does not cancel the school day, but cancels afternoon / evening activities, we will cancel classes for that day. This does not apply to workshops and retreats, as they take place on the weekends.

In general, if any afternoon / evening class is to be cancelled, I try to make that decision around 12:00noon, to give you all plenty of notice. For workshops and retreats taking place on weekend mornings and afternoons, I try to make that decision by midnight the night before. Notice of any event cancellation will come by email, and be posted on our website and via social media. Please make a point of checking any and all of these modes of communication to make sure you get the word.

Sometimes, such advance notice is not always possible. If any unexpected weather rolls into the region, may be cancelled up until 1 hour before class begins. Please keep a close eye on your email and social media for confirmation one way or another.

If weekly classes are cancelled, all efforts will be made to add a class the week after the end of the term. This is subject to the teacher and site availability. If not possible, another date will be determined for a make-up class. If a workshop or retreat is cancelled due to weather, all efforts will be made to reschedule the event. Registrations and payments made for the original event will be honored at the rescheduled event, and refunds will be offered to those who are not able to attend the rescheduled event. In the rare case that an event is not able to be rescheduled, all registrations will be refunded.

When any event is cancelled, participants are encouraged to make a personal call as to whether it is safe for them to travel to the event. As we know, Portland neighborhoods can vary greatly in winter weather impact. Please be safe! If class is not cancelled but you feel it is not safe for you to leave your home, all efforts will be made to catch you up on material, whether through video tutorials or, occasionally, a mini-private lesson before or after the next class you do attend. No pro-rated refunds will be given. If a workshop or retreat is not cancelled but you feel it is not safe for you to leave your home, 50% of your registration fee will be refunded to you.

Thank you for taking a moment to review this policy. Any updates to this policy will be announced on this blog. Please direct any questions or comments to me at

November “Best Hits” Workshops – Registration Open Now!

The votes are in and we have our winners! Thanks for picking the topics for our “Best Hits” workshops coming up in November 2018. Registration is now open for all workshops, including a Workshop Pass that admits you to all three for a discount. Hope to see you there!

“best hits” workshops

All workshops take place at:

Lincoln Street United Methodist Church

5145 SE Lincoln St, Portland, OR

Click below to register!

70s / 80s Pop – Sunday, November 4, 1:00-4:00pm

Music of the Beatles – Saturday, November 10, 1:00-4:00pm “On the Road Again”  Traveling Songs – Saturday, November 17, 1:00-4:00pm


Workshop Pass – Attend All Three!

Questions about any of these workshops? Let us know:

Workshops return in November: Vote for your “Best Hits”

Ad for survey of workshops in November

As I prepare to return to teaching, what better way to get back into the swing of things than with some of our “best hits”?! We’ve learned a LOT of music these past several years as we’ve tackled a different genre of music each term. Let’s revisit our favorites! What are you excited to play? Vote for your favorites from the following:

  • 70s/80s pop
  • The Beatles
  • Classic Country
  • Motown
  • Music from the Movies
  • On the Road Again (Traveling Songs)
  • 60s Folk Revival

Be sure to fill out this survey to let me know what music you’d like to revisit, or learn for the first time.  You do not need to have learned the music the first time around, I’ll have packets aplenty.

Finally, all workshops will take place at our SE Portland location: Lincoln St Methodist Church, 5145 SE Lincoln St. Save these dates for these workshops, *times subject to change*:

  • Sunday, November 4, 1:00-3:00pm
  • Saturday, November 10, 1:00-3:00pm
  • Saturday, November 17, 10:00am-Noon

Check back soon to learn what the winners are and how to register!


Welcome to our new addition!

Mother, father, and baby sitting on a couch and smiling at homeclose-up of baby Oscar

We are so pleased to announce the birth of our son, Oscar, on September 7, 2018! These first several weeks have been a roller coaster, but we are all happy and healthy and finding our way as a new family of three. As announced earlier, we are taking a break in September and October, but plan to return in November with a series of workshops and in January with regular classes again. We look forward to seeing you then!

Need some recommendations in the meantime? Check out these other ukulele opportunities in Portland!

Classes on hold for Fall 2018 – How to cope with the withdrawal?

With a baby due in early September 2018, I’ll be taking a break from classes this fall. The plan is to return with some workshops in November and December, then resume regular classes in January 2019. That said, keep checking back, or sign up for our monthly newsletter, to get the latest news and updates, as that plan could change!

In the meantime, what’s a ukulele player in Portland to do? Not to fear, we live in a ukulele-rich city with a LOT of opportunities to keep up your playing:

  • For beginners / intermediate, check out Chuck Cheesman’s classes at the Multnomah Arts Center (p71 in this brochure)
  • For those looking for a challenge, check out Tracy Kim’s Jazz & Blues for Ukulele class at Artichoke Music.
  • For kids, I’ve had a heck of a time finding class offerings, but it looks like there are some private lesson options at Ethos in N PDX and Vibe Studio in SE PDX. I’m not personally familiar with either of them, but have heard good things from those who have gone.
What you can do …
  • Remember to make practice a regular part of daily / weekly routine.
  • If you’re like me and like the accountability of a group jam or class, but have some specific material you want to work on, start a practice group with your friends from class. If you’re open to it, let me know about it and if any students I know and trust are looking for a group, I can point them in your direction.
  • Keep an eye out for upcoming performances by local and touring ukulele artists, where you can get inspired
  • Join an online learning community – I personally recommend following Cynthia Lin, whose style is similar to mine; and James Hill’s The Ukulele Way for instrumental ukulele instruction.

No matter what you do, follow whatever brings you joy in making music – good luck, and let me know what you find!