Frère Jacques: Everybody Begins Here

Frère Jacques de Beaulieu
This is Frère Jacques de Beaulieu. He's probably not the guy, but he does look tired.

Everybody I've ever taught (I think) has started with Frère Jacques. In less than 30 minutes, you can learn to play tablature and once you can read tabs, you can play all fretted instruments.

  • Ukulele
  • Baritone Ukulele
  • Guitar
  • Mandolin
  • Banjo
  • Balailaka
  • Bass
  • Lute
  • And dozens more

In fancy-pants music education, some look down upon tablature due to its limitations -- as if there is a musical notation system without weakness. The strength of tablature is it allows you to play multiple instruments with the least amount of uptime in learning to read. It's main weakness is its inability to tell you how long to hold a note. Systems to address that weakness have resulted in more confusion. I think it's easiest in this program to give you both standard notation and tablature. It would be a great idea to learn to read both systems.

What's expected prior to tackling this song:

  • You can tune your ukulele.
  • You know how to hold it properly.
  • You know where your left thumb goes.

Let's get started. Grab your sheet music.

Look at the Ukulele Melody line. The four lines represent your strings. The line on the top is the string closest to the ground when you're holding your ukulele. It's upside down ... I know ... kinda dumb. The lute players of the 16th century started the other way around, but by the 17th century it was all done the way we still do it today. Your brain will fight it for a week or two and then you'll never think about it again.

The numbers on the line tell you what fret to hold down. In the the lyrics I tell you what finger to use to hold down the string. Pluck with your right thumb.

Go slow. Play measures 5 and 6 at half speed until you get the hang of it, and then play the whole piece at speed. Usually you play the first part slower so you can play the fast part reasonably well.

After you've been successful playing the melody line, learn to make an A chord and strum and sing the song. Then find a friend and each of you can play a different part. You don't have to sing unless you want when somebody is playing the melody. In this program, you'll play each song in many different ways and I'll always encourage you to play with other people. You'll likely end up quitting music if you don't play with others on a regular basis.

Here's a video focused on this first tune in the program. It's long, but it'll help you.

After playing Frère Jacques in two different ways, you're ready to move onto playing the C major scale.

If you need clarification about this post, please email me.