5 Ways Constraint Helped Me Finish the “Pastorale” ‘Ukulele Transcription

In Episode 6 of “Beethoven of the ‘Ukulele” I play the entire exposition of the Pastorale in one go. You can get the tablature for the first pages of the transcription by signing up for my newsletter. What are you waiting for? Sign up here.

“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” –Orson Welles

Episode 6. 73 to go!

This quote, and many from others that express the same sentiment, really hit home I was working on my first draft of of the Beethoven 6th Symphony Uke transcription. The essence of this idea is that it’s impossible to create anything unless there are constraints, or limits.

When I decided to create the transcription, I subconsciously put limits on the project. I really believe that these limits served me. Here, in no particular order, are five constraints that immediately come to mind. Maybe these will help you establish some limits in your own creative projects:

1. Use a physical, rather than virtual, method of capture.

Even in the digital age, nothing beats good ol’ pen and paper! By the way, this is today’s (July 9, 2019) transcription of the FIFTH Symphony. Yep, I’m working on that one too!

In this age of word processors, notation software, note-taking apps, voice recorders, video recorders and other means of digital capture, it can be tempting to create an entire project “in the box”, as it were. It’s possible for a piece of work to exist entirely as pixels on a screen, stored as ones and zeros on a hard drive or in something called the “cloud”. For me, this has almost never worked. There’s something immediate and intimate about using a pencil or pen on paper to create a physical manifestation of an idea in the world. I feel that this is the best way for me to capture initial ideas. For the next phases of a project (editing, etc.) a computer maybe works a little bit better.

I used the unlined paper in my hardbound journal. This got my brain into a “flow” state a little more easily. The unlined paper made it feel more like drawing and less like simply writing out ‘Ukulele tablature.

Why a pen instead of a pencil? Using a pen forces me to be more careful about what I write, to think about it before I commit it to paper. A pen is also more permanent. Pencil can be erased. With a pen, the only option for correction is to scribble something out completely and start over. Plus, I like how it looks.

2. One page a day, every day.

One page of the score takes up two and a half lines of ‘Ukulele tablature, for this page, anyway.

I gave myself this constraint right when the project started. I knew that if I thought in terms of the entire symphony, the project would be too overwhelming. However, one page a day was doable and progress became measurable. Using this method, it was also possible to project when the transcription would be completed. Looking at my start date of February 13 and considering that there are 79 pages in the score, it was easy for me to calculate when I would be done.

One thing that also helped this along was to think in terms of results, not of time spent. In other words, I didn’t say “I will spend 45 minutes every day on this project.” I made the outcome measurable in terms of something other than time: A page a day, no matter how much time it takes. Most of the pages took around an hour, but some were transcribed very quickly, in twenty minutes or so, and a few took 2-3 hours, but producing a measurable result every day gave the momentum I needed to keep going.

3. Work on the project at a specific time and place.

I sit on one end of the couch. Coco, my faithful Dachshund, camps out on the other side.

I made it a point to have a the project become part of my daily routine: Start the transcription immediately after waking up, taking the dog out and fxing a cup of coffee. I’m sure if I would have said “I’ll get to it whenever it’s convenient” the project never would have happened. The decision was made to devote time to the project at the same time every single day, no matter what.

As important as deciding the “when” was deciding the “where”. I did not worry about choosing a new location every day to do the work, and I did not try out different spots around the house. Every day I sat on the right-hand side of my living-room couch with my Uke, my journal, a pen, and the score of the symphony.

4. Stick to one system.

While it has its limitations, tablature is a remarkably good system for notating music for ‘Ukulele and other fretted instruments.

For the “Pastorale” transcription, I only used tablature, the graphic system of notation often used when working with fretted string instruments. Since the point of the transcription was to translate what I could of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony onto the ‘Ukulele fingerboard, I reasoned that writing out the notes as well was more work that would not provide me with very much more information.

For those of you who only read tablature, please note that I do find knowledge of standard notation invaluable and necessary. Think about it: If I did not know how to read standard notation and understand where the notes are located on the ‘Ukulele fingerboard, I would never have been able to create the transcription in the first place!

When I finally publish the transcription, it will include the standard notation along with the TAB….

5. Stick to one technique.

When it comes to the ‘Ukulele, I’m all thumbs-at least for this project. 🙂

Those of you who play the Uke know that there are almost an infinite number of ways the strings of the instrument can be plucked, each with its own advantages and each with its own difficulties.

For the past eight months or so, I have been experimenting with limiting myself to only plucking the strings with my thumb, so when I started this transcription, it seemed to make the most sense to stick with that technique. This eliminated the guesswork out of whether one technique would work better than another and forced me to concentrate more on how to arrange the notes on the fingerboard.

Will I stick with thumb-only when I eventually perform it? I don’t know, but for right now limiting myself only to thumb has made the process of creating the transcription much more efficient, as this is one less thing I have to worry about.

Well, there you have it. I hope you can apply some of these tips to whatever creative project you’re working with right now.

all the best to you!


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“B” is for “Beethoven”, “Blogging” and “B- Work”

Have you heard the saying “perfect is the enemy of the good”? Well, here’s how it played out for me this week.

The “Pastoralele” ‘Ukulele transcription project is moving right along. This week I filmed a performance of page 5 of the score, for a total of about 2 1/2-3 minutes worth of music so far. This is almost to the point where the exposition of the first movement ends. (An aside: the exposition is the opening section of a sonata-form composition. The first movement of Beethoven’s Pastorale, like the first movement of most symphonies written during this time, is in sonata form. I’ll talk about it more in a future post, but one useful way of thinking about it is that the exposition introduces the “cast of characters”, musically speaking, that play themselves out throughout the rest of the movement.)

I’ve played through the entire transcription several times, slowly, since I completed it at the beginning of May. Each time I play through it, I’m noticing more which sections seem to work well and which ones feel “impossible” and need to be reworked.

Last week, this passage gave me some difficulty:

My first attempt as this passage. Notes enclosed by a diamond indicate harmonics.

I was quite proud of myself for arranging this section with a campanella fingering, where the notes are arranged to overlap each other, creating a harp-like sonority. It turns out it was too difficult for me to play up to tempo. Finally, about two days ago, I made the decision to re-write the passage using a more “linear” approach:

The new, improved, more easily playable version. Notes enclosed by parenthesis are harmonics.

Since I was up against a self-imposed deadline (I’ve decided that a video will be released every Tuesday), I learned the new fingering in about an hour. I filmed it, but stopped when I felt I had done an “acceptable” take on the video. My goal wasn’t perfection. It was to get it out into the world.

There’s a discussion, and a demonstration of the two passages in this week’s video:

“Beethoven of the ‘Ukulele, Episode 5!”

Perfection is a tricky thing. It can paralyze us. I know I’m particularly prone to “perfectionism”, sometimes to the detriment of even getting started. I’ve decided to let that go. Once it’s acceptable, it’s more important to get it out, flaws and all, then it is to wait. Another way to think of it: could you graduate while earning mostly “B-” grades? Would that be better than never graduating because all the grades had to be “A”?

Is there something you’re afraid to put out because it’s not exactly “perfect” yet? Here’s a challenge for you: get it to a “B-“, then ship it!

(If you’re curious, I learned the concept of “B-” work from Brooke Castillo, and Seth Godin often talks about the idea of “shipping” your work.)

Thank you for joining me on this journey. Make sure you’re on my email list if you would like to look at the TAB for my arrangement of Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony, flaws and all!

all the best to you!


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Big Plans For Taking “Beethoven of the ‘Ukulele” into 2020!

Here’s the latest episode of “Beethoven of the ‘Ukulele”. I’m four episodes in, and so that’s a (almost) a “wrap” for June 2019! (I do have one more instructional video planned before the month is over, so stay tuned to my YouTube channel.)

Four episodes now. At least 75 more to go! 🙂

My plan for right now is to release one episode per week until I have presented the complete symphony. Assuming I can keep it up, that means the series will conclude in December of 2020! Each episode will include two pages from the score: It will start with video of the page I performed the previous week and will segue into video of the current page. I will then talk a little bit about a topic that I hope will be interesting to you…

This week I talk a little about equipment and then about a self-improvement concept called “The Gap and The Gain”. (By the way, I was exposed to this concept via a post from author Benjamin Hardy, who I mention in the video. However, the concept originally comes from business coach Dan Sullivan.)

I really want to make sure all of you are enjoying what I discuss. As I get to know everyone a little better I will develop a better sense of what y’all are interested in. You’re invited to get in touch and let me know what you would most be interested in hearing about–questions and comments are always welcome!

As I mentioned last week, another video series that concentrates exclusively on musical topics related to the “Pastorale” ‘Ukulele transcription has started. Here’s the first “how-to” vid:

Again, if there are questions or requests for specific topics, let me know and I’ll be sure to address them!

All the best to you!


P.S. If you haven’t subscribed to my email list yet, take a moment to do so below. It’s the best way to keep up with the project:

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Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Symphony: What is it all about?

Beethoven of the ‘Ukulele: Episode III

Denver–June 18, 2019. Whenever I hear thunder, I think of Beethoven’s Pastorale. During a typical Denver summer, there are a lot of noisy, dark afternoons. In the morning the sun bakes the snowpack on top of the Rockies west of here. The heat loads up the clouds with moisture and they develop into dark thunderheads as they pass eastward over Denver and journey toward the Great Plains.

Yesterday afternoon a storm was brewing as I began to film the third installment of Beethoven of the ‘Ukulele, so I decided to demonstrate a little bit from my transcription of the Pastorale’s fourth movement, which is, for me, maybe the most convincing musical depiction of a thunderstorm ever composed.

My transcription of the first part of the Pastorale symphony, fourth movement.
About 1:45 into this week’s episode, me demonstrating “thunder” from the fourth movement of the Pastorale.

Here’s the interesting thing about Beethoven’s sixth symphony: It’s program music. What that means is it’s not music for its own sake. It’s music that means something other than just itself. You could listen to it without knowing what it’s about, but it’s even more interesting if you know what the composer intended when they wrote it.

Beethoven gives us lots of clues as to what the music of the sixth symphony means. The first clue is in the subtitle of the symphony itself: “Pastorale”. This is derived from the word “pastoral”, which refers to the countryside. Often, it’s specifically associated with shepherds and their flocks. (By the way, maybe you’ve gone to a church that had a pastor. Did you ever wonder where that word came from? Well, pastors are often referred to as the shepherds of their flock [i.e., their congregation]! Mind. Blown.)

Consider that, for purposes of this project anyway, Beethoven is our pastor and we are all members of his ‘Ukulele congregation!

I’m not sure of the reason for this, but when the “e” is added to the end, the word then refers to a musical composition that is associated somehow with the countryside. Many composers before Beethoven wrote pastorales, including Beethoven’s favorite composer, George Frideric Handel.

As you might expect from the subtitles of each of the movements, Beethoven was indeed writing music specifically about the country. The Pastorale symphony has five movements, and each movement has its own programmatic subtitle (I’m giving a loose English translation here):

I. Awakening of joyful feelings upon arriving in the country.

II. Scene by the brook.

III. A merry gathering of village folk.

IV. The storm.

V. Shepherd’s song of thanksgiving after the storm.

So, there you have it: program music.

Progress on the Pastorale(le) project so far:

The goals for this project are quite ambitious. These are the two main objectives right now: 1) To give anyone in the world who wants to learn to play Beethoven’s Pastorale symphony on the ‘Ukulele the opportunity to do so; 2) To learn to play the piece myself.

To those ends, here’s what’s happened this week: 

Episode 3 of Beethoven of the ‘Ukulele posted on YouTube: Includes a performance of pages 2 and 3 of the Pastorale symphony on ‘Ukulele.

Email list: Be a part of Beethoven’s ‘Ukulele Flock! 🙂 Get on the list and you’ll receive a new page of the Pastorale(le) score (in ‘Ukulele TAB!), as well as being the first to know about other cool things happening with the project.

Preparing the score for publication: The process of converting my handwritten tablature into Sibelius (my notation software of choice) has begun. I’ll be sending you this in addition to my handwritten notation.

Social media: Information about the project is being sent out in tiny bits to my social media channels: Instagram (music-only video snippets), Twitter and Facebook. Feel free to visit if you are active on these platforms.

Thanks for your support so far!

all the best to you!


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Beethoven on the ‘Ukulele: One Page at a Time!

In May of 2019, I completed a transcription of Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Symphony for solo ‘Ukulele. This post is the first installment in what will become a series that introduces my transcription to you, one page at a time.

You might be wondering what the heck this is all about, so let me try to explain what I’ve done. Back in February of 2019, I was improvising, as I often do, on the ‘Ukulele, and I fell into this pattern while fingering a C major chord across the seventh fret:

A portion of my journal–February 7, 2019.

You might recognize this as the opening of the fifth and final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68, commonly known as the “Pastorale” symphony. I immediately had a crazy idea: Why not figure out how to play the final movement on the Uke? It seemed like it could work. Now, I often have a lot of crazy ideas that flash through my head. I’m sure you do too. For most of us, most of the time, I think they remain just that – ideas. This, however, became one of those rare ideas that I acted on.

After playing around with this a little while longer, I decided that just learning how to play the final movement was not ambitious enough for me. I decided that it would be better to learn to play the entire symphony. And so that’s what I did. Yes, it was a big project, probably the most ambitious musical project I’ve taken on so far. Beethoven’s Pastorale is around 40 minutes’ worth of music, written for a full orchestra, and the challenge was to adapt it so it would fit onto the ‘Ukulele in a playable way.

The transcription work started on February 13 of 2019. Once it was clear what I was up against, I established a daily routine for myself: Every morning, I would get up, usually around 5 a.m. or so. The first fifteen minutes of the day would be devoted to taking out Coco, my miniature Dachshund, feeding her, making sure my teenage kid was up and starting to get ready for school, and brewing a cup of coffee or tea. As soon as the preliminary “waking up” activities were done, I would get to work. It would take about an hour to transcribe one page of the score, so I made the decision to do just one page every morning. To make things less complicated for myself, I did not use a computer or notation software. I wrote the tablature for my transcription into my journal, a book of blank 8 1/2 x 11″ pages I bought from Michael’s.

Once I get going with something, I tend to stick with it. I’m proud to say that from February 13 to May 2 I completed a page every morning, without missing a single day!

First page of the “Pastorale” transcription, February 13, 2019.
Final page of the transcription, 79 days later! May 2, 2019.

Now that the transcription is done, I have two scary things in front of me. The first is to learn how to play the symphony that I transcribed-to create a convincing performance. The second is to get it out into the world and share it with all of you. My gut tells me that there are at least a thousand people in the world who might want to know how to play this piece, maybe more. So my mission now is to make it available to anyone who wants to learn it. At first I waffled about this, indulging in my fear. In fact, I did this for the entire month of May. What I finally am coming to realize is that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable. I can do it anyway.

Here’s the second installment in my YouTube series. During the first part of the video I perform the first two pages of my transcription. I then talk a little bit about Beethoven’s coffee habits and about some of the comments on the project I’ve received so far:

“Beethoven of the ‘Ukulele” – Episode II

Want to take a deep dive into one of the greatest pieces of music ever written and maybe even learn how to play it yourself? You’re invited along for the ride! Any questions are most welcome. What would you like to know about the project? Are you more interested in learning to play the piece? The process of translating Beethoven to the ‘Ukulele? How to tackle a gigantic project yourself? Something else? Please contact me–I will answer all of your questions! You’re also invited to subscribe to my email list so you can be informed about my latest videos and receive ‘Ukulele tablature from the transcription so you can play it too!

I can’t wait to share this adventure with you!

sending you all my love-


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The first episode about my transcription of Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Symphony!

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