Bernadette Etcheverry Discusses Her Rise to YouTube Fame and the Rewards of Teaching
By Greg Cahill
Ask ukulele teacher Bernadette Etcheverry, the creator of Bernadette Teaches Music, her popular ukulele tutorial YouTube channel, to describe her experience and she doesn’t mince words: “The feeling is indescribable. I never thought my lessons would reach so many people and that these people would be all over the world. I am just really grateful for the opportunity to be a ukulele and music teacher and I hope to continue serving the ukulele community in any way I can.”
Blessed with an fun-loving, effervescent personality and delivering scads of encouragement, Bernadette addresses the channel’s 155,000 subscribers from her home in Imperial Valley, California, about two hours east of San Diego and close to the border to Mexico.
Before becoming a YouTube sensation, she worked as a full-time music teacher. “I was a middle-school band director for a year and then accepted an elementary music teaching position in Okinawa, Japan, where I worked for approximately three years,” she says. “Once my YouTube channel started gaining momentum, I decided to go full time with it.”
Ukulele asked Bernadette to discuss her role as a teacher, the popular 30-Day Uke Challenge, future plans for the channel and her own love for the instrument.
Tell me about your own history with the ukulele. When did you start playing?
I am actually a saxophone player! I always dreamed of playing piano or guitar, so one of my music-major friends back in college, around 2007-ish, gifted me a ukulele. I never really played it because I was a full-time student and working for the university. The ukulele became a part of my daily life when I moved to Okinawa, Japan. I was working as an elementary school teacher and I wanted my students to play an instrument starting from first grade. The ukulele was perfect for them because it was small, fun to play, and a great teaching tool.
So you recognized its value as a teaching tool.
Yes, I was attracted to the ukulele because of what a wonderful teaching tool it is, but also because I believe that everyone has a musician inside of them waiting to come out. Most of the people I teach are beginners who have never played a musical instrument before. Some of my students are people who tried playing another instrument and couldn’t continue because it was too difficult or the threshold for feeling successful with the instrument was too high. With ukulele, you can feel successful from the first day. It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you come from in your musical journey. This charismatic little instrument does not discriminate. Everyone is welcome.
“I believe that everyone has a musician inside of them waiting to come out.”
Why do you think ukulele inspires such passion from amateur players?
The ukulele is a great gateway into the musical world. The ukulele has welcomed amateurs into a world of music that they didn’t know how to enter. From my conversations with my beginning students, many people who had always dreamed of being musicians never knew how to get started until they found the ukulele.
How did your YouTube channel come about?
I started my YouTube channel as a New Year’s resolution in January 2017.
It’s grown quickly. How do you feel about that success?
Sometimes I can’t believe that it has grown to the level it has. I teach on YouTube exactly the same way that I used to teach in the classroom, so for me it’s crazy that over 100,000 people want to watch my ukulele lessons. This is a teacher’s dream come true. I am also very happy to see our online community growing because it means that people are finding value in the videos I make for them.
You recently finished a 30-day ukulele course. How did you plan the course in terms of the arc of the lessons?
I really enjoy creating lesson plans and designing courses for my YouTube community. Every time I create content for my channel, I see it from the perspective of a teacher. My channel is a classroom and my subscribers are my students. The course is my way of answering as many of the questions I get on YouTube while also guiding people through a sequence of lessons that feed into one another. It also helps that I have a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and while I was completing my master’s degree, I took as many video editing courses as I could. I had no idea that one day all of that learning would come together on YouTube, I was just taking courses on the things I enjoyed learning!
What are the challenges of teaching online?
I miss the one-on-one interaction I used to have in the classroom with my students. I really loved being in person with my students, seeing their progress, playing along with them, and helping guide each of my students through their own musical journey. Other than that, teaching online is a gift and I am so fortunate to have my students all over the world.
What do you hope players will take away from the course?
The 30-Day Uke Course is a follow up to last year’s 30-Day Uke Challenge. Last year’s challenge was for absolute beginners who never played an instrument before. In the first days of the challenge, people learn how to hold the ukulele and how to tune the instrument and by Day 30 they are playing Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” After completing the course, many people asked for a follow-up challenge. That’s why I made the 30-Day Uke Course. The 30-Day Uke Course takes people who are no longer beginners and gives them a preview of different fields within music that they can venture into. The course touches some of these topics: key signatures, the circle of fifths, chord melody, left-hand muting, 12-bar blues, and fingerstyle-playing techniques.
Tell me about the feedback you get.
I get lots of feedback everyday in the way of YouTube comments, Instagram direct messages, and in-person conversations. Many times people tell me that a video helped them or made them laugh; other times people say, “I bought this ukulele because of you and I love it! I bought a second one for my spouse!” Other times people will say, “Can you do another ukulele challenge on chord melodies?” Most of the time people say, “You said for me to ‘look up’ during a video. How did you know I wasn’t looking at you?!” That one is my favorite. I also have critics and they have helped me a lot. I used to take everything so personally and I used to get offended or hurt by their comments, but now I have a different mindset. I think, “What can I learn from this comment?” Other times I think, “This person is really frustrated and might need more help.” Now I have grown thicker skin and have stopped trying to please everyone. Now when I make a video, instead of thinking, “I hope they like it” I think, “This video will help my community.”
What else did you learn by offering the lessons?
I learned that people love challenging themselves to learn something new! I also learned that people seem to enjoy my printable resources as much as they enjoy the videos. My tutorials are free on YouTube and they come with a printable resource. People love this because they can take the course at their own pace and they can use the printable resource to practice any time of day.
Are you surprised at the success of the lessons?
Absolutely! When I did the first 30-Day Uke Challenge last year, I had no idea if anyone was going to participate. I really took a leap of faith with that one because something inside me told me that I should do it. After the course had started, I started getting messages from people telling me they had always dreamed of playing the ukulele, but didn’t know where to start or what sequence of videos to watch to help them learn. My course was exactly what they were looking for.
What’s next for your Bernadette Teaches Music YouTube channel?
In a few months, we will do a holiday songs challenge, and in the New Year we will do a follow-up to our love songs challenge. These two challenges will be much shorter than the 30-day challenges and will be much easier as well.
Bernadette’s Tips for Uke Beginners
BREATHE. Breathe while you play. Take deep breaths in and out. If you’re struggling with a chord position, strumming pattern, or part of a song, stop and breathe—most of my students tense up when they are struggling with a part of the music and stop breathing.
FOCUS. Many times you start learning how to play one song and move on to the next before you finish the one you started. This leaves you with ten unfinished songs. Focus and work on one song before moving onto the next.
MEMORIZE. Memorize your music. When you are staring at sheet music, your attention is on it. When you memorize music, you can take a step back and listen to your playing, and find new ways to interpret the song, move to a chord more effortlessly, or add something fresh to our technique.