A play along is participatory music at its best. I prepare song sheets (lyrics and chords) of songs and lead participants in playing those songs, offering tips and encouragement as we play, sing and have a good time. Play alongs can happen in-person or virtually.
Virtual Play Alongs
I first came across one of Julie Stepanek's ukulele strumalong programs in 2016 (back when things could happen in person) at the Belding Memorial Library in Ashfield, Massachusetts. I enjoyed it so much that it inspired me to buy a ukulele of my own and start learning how to play. Since that time, I attended a variety of in-person ukulele programs at Belding Memorial Library in Ashfield, and Greenfield Public Library in Greenfield, Massachusetts respectively with other instructors, but I found that I enjoyed Julie's program the most.
Once the pandemic hit and shut everything down, I thought I was done with the ukulele for the time being. A few months into the pandemic, I was happy to learn that Julie was doing online programs via Zoom. I tried it out and have been attending regularly ever since. It's been wonderful to be able to play my ukulele from home, as well as to get my mind off of the news for a while and focus on something else during her strumalongs. Julie's style is inclusive and welcoming to beginners and experienced musicians alike. One does not feel discouraged if they aren't a musician to begin with. She chooses songs from a wide array of styles and genres of music encompassing many decades, often from the 1920s to present and it is always interesting, enjoyable and never boring! A good time is had by all who attend her virtual strumalongs.
I first met Julie at her learn to play ukulele program at the Norwood MA public library. She made learning the ukulele simple and straightforward. I traveled to follow her classes at different libraries and eventually purchased my own ukulele and joined some local strumming groups. She is enthusiastic and shows her passion for teaching. When the pandemic started in March Julie adapted her style for virtual learning. She is very sensitive to her students’ needs. I have referred many of my friends to her Zoom classes. When I first decided to learn the ukulele I didn’t realize how much music could change my life.
Julie Stepanek has created and sustained an amazing remote venue for ukulele players of all ages and skill levels since due to Covid 19, she could no longer conduct in-person sessions at public libraries. Julie skillfully and quickly developed an online format with almost no interruption to her usual in-person schedule. She created her own unique and user-friendly template for formatting the music on the screen and consistently seeks feedback from participants about what is most helpful. Whether teaching an introductory program for beginners or hosting a strum along for all skill levels, Julie has successfully engaged a
large community of followers for whom her programs have become among the most treasured hours of participants’ weeks during this long stretch of covid isolation. Julie’s style is encouraging and instructive and authentic. She has that great gift of teaching to all levels at once, so that whether a novice or seasoned uke player, everyone leaves a session not just with the wonderful experience of making music, but with a gem of knowledge about a particular strum or how to navigate from one chord to another or about the background history of the song or composer. I can’t be effusive enough about how Julie has brought together a group of “strangers” who now experience her sessions as an emotionally connecting and intellectually satisfying zoom event. I have taken other online uke courses and attended other strum alongs and without exception, Julie is surpassed by none. She is well-deserving of support that will allow her to continue her programming and expand it to an even greater audience.
I wholeheartedly support Julie Stepanek and her virtual ukulele strum along! These have been a terrific way for me to learn and practice the ukulele without any pressure or stress. The song lists are perfectly varied to provide some simple and some more complicated tunes so we do not get frustrated but remain challenged and growing! The online format was a lifesaver during the covid stay-at-home months and her in-person classes were even more fun! I would recommend these virtual strum alongs for just about anyone who wants to learn to play or practice what they already know!