• My First Uke


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Day 34: Learning Style

“Learning Style” is a modern buzz-phrase in education circles.  What is “their” learning style?  How can I adapt my material to “their” learning style?  Just what is a learning style?

I am peripheral to these discussions at work, and in my own practice I teach using visual and auditory methods to get the information from my head to “theirs”.  I can hang with that.

Taking music lessons, at least in this particular instance, is a pretty didactic and auditory experience.  We are given information verbally, we are exposed what it is supposed to sound like.  There was a terrific set of handouts at the first lesson, but as of the second week this changed to just the week’s songs with words and chords.  There is nothing wrong with this.

I am a visual learner, to go farther I can say I am a solitary visual learner.  I learn best when given the chance to stare at information and process it at my own speed before having to  pull it back out and use it.  Given these two things I can learn anything, but without them I find I need to go away from the lesson, work it out on paper somehow, and then return with my new knowledge in good working order.  If you ask me to watch you play something, or read along while it is played, I can turn around and play it back to you (at a beginners level).  Where I run into problems is when information is presented verbally, like music theory and how chord patterns relate to music theory.  I can understand this if given time to absorb and turn it over in my head.  It will be quicker if you give it to me on paper.  I can’t turn either around during class and answer a question that asks me to use this new information.  To put it in education lingo – I haven’t built a mental schema to process that information yet.  More bluntly: this site is under construction, please come back later.

I bet I look like a deer in the headlights when I’m asked something new in class.  I sort of feel like a dumbass (sorry to get so technical).  Ask me something about last week’s homework – I might surprise you with what I’ve figured out.

Now something for my sweetie – who has become obsessed with Julia Nunes

This week I’m supposed to let the instructor know what song I would like to learn to play during the last class.  I’m thinking George Harrison’s “Give me Love”, mainly because I love to sing it.  What do you think, too hard?


Day 26: I have had a lesson.

This is what it’s all been leading up to, hasn’t it?  I had my first ukulele lesson last night.  Much like falling in love it was everything I hoped it would be and a complete and total surprise.

The music school is in a trendy neighborhood, or maybe it’s post-trendy – I don’t keep up with these things very well.  On the street it is only a door with a sign and sandwich board.  You enter the door and descend down the stairs a good 20 feet into the basement of an old retail building.  I had been here before when I bought my ukulele, but the music school occupies the other half or more of the basement.  They have soundproofed the rooms and everything was well lit and clean.  I got checked in and given the standard flyer on what happens if a class is canceled or a teacher is sick, and then I was sent back to the “green” room.  I need to pay attention next time, I wasn’t aware of anything particularly green about the room.  The instructor was already there, he seems to be a nice man about 10-15 years older than me.

I was very nervous.  This is so  new to me and I’m not always  good at change or new things.  I figured my discomfort meant I was doing the right thing.  I showed him my ukulele and he strummed it a bit and declared it a good beginner’s uke.  I had tuned it before coming to class and he didn’t make any adjustments.  As he tuned the other uke’s as they arrived I think I must have done it right.  Go me!

There are 7 people in our class, all adults and all but one with little or no musical training.  This really put me at ease as I naturally had assumed that everybody else would know a lot about music and the ukulele would be their 6th or 8th instrument.  Nope, all rank beginners.  whew.  John (the instructor) had a handout with lots of information, definition sheets and diagrams, songs and scales to practice.  He lost me for a minute when he asked us to write each note on each string at each fret.  I saw his lips moving but my brain just wouldn’t understand his words.  I kept paying attention and sure enough in a moment the lightbulb went off and “ping” I understood what he was asking for.  I love that feeling, that beautiful “I got it” moment.

We all got to try some chords and strumming along with a basic song and before I knew it the class was over.  The pacing was a bit fast, but there is so much to learn and I don’t want to waste a moment so I wouldn’t want it any other way.  I walked away with some assignments and practice for next week, along with the stern admonition that it is better to practice 15 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day, than grinding through an hour just because.  Will do.

This morning I couldn’t wait and I busted out the handout and tried my hand at “I’ll Fly Away”.  I played it reasonably well, good enough that my partner could recognize it while getting out of the shower.  I can’t wait to get home and practice tonight.

Now for something completely different.  On the topic of feeling like the dumbest person in the room I came across this episode of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson where he interviewed Stephen Fry.  At the 1:30 mark Stephen starts talking about just this topic.  I like the way he describes it, and am comforted to know that everybody gets that feeling.

Day 12: Distractions

There are several things in this great world that I love.  First and foremost I love knitting, I love yarn and needles and patterns and knitters, and gosh I just love it all.  I love sunny days in February when I can play in my yard.  I love pizza.  Add to this list the Olympics, I really love the Olympics.  I can watch hours of sports that I know nothing about (“Hello Snowboard Cross, nice to meet you”).  All of these wonderful things have smooshed together this week and stopped me in my tracks.  I am one big ball of distraction.

I went to the Madrona Fiber Festival (Tacoma, WA) last Saturday and talked about the Olympics.  We had an Opening Ceremony pizza party last Friday where our friends came over and knat (that’s a knitting joke).  We shoveled and spread 7 cubic yards of play bark on Monday, and every time I almost tipped over the wheelbarrow – but saved it at the last moment – I yelled “she STUCK the LANDING!”

You see where all this is going?  I haven’t put in enough practice time this week.  I managed an hour and a half over the weekend, but haven’t touched it in three days and have nothing to report.  Soon enough, soon enough.

I have been exploring suggested links and I’m amazed at what is out there.    My favorite resource at the moment is the Moogly-Moo-kuele Songbook, I can’t get over all the great music in there.  I probably spent an hour working on YMCA just because it makes me giggle.  Oh yeah, my “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land” is getting pretty slick.

A lawyer representing Koalas called and demanded that I cease defaming them.  I do not sound like a grunting Koala when I sing.  However, I may indeed look like one.

Day 8: Hearts and Flowers

Well, I am a full week into the world of the ukulele and I feel fine.  Each day I look forward to the time I get to spend practicing, and while I’m not sure I sound any better I think it feels better.

I have worked on a few simple songs, spending the most time on “I’ve been working on the Railroad” & “Tiny Bubbles”.  One thing I have learned for sure is that I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I knew nothing about music.  After logging a few hours with those songs I can almost hear what I’m trying to play. Let’s not talk about how I sound trying to sing along to my playing.

I haven’t had the time to get by the music store to pick up a different beginner book, but I still hope to do that before my class starts in March.  I think there is a store close to work so maybe one day this week I can sneak out at lunch.

My partner has had a little extra video game time now that I am otherwise occupied in the evening after dinner.  Bioshock 2 was released this week and it does a good job of drowning out my twangings and plunkings.

Happy Valentine’s and Kung hey fat choy to all!  Potatoes are baking in the oven and the steaks are soaking up some seasoning.  It’s looking like a good night.

Day 5: Community

Peek-a-boo, you see me! Wait, that’s not how it usually goes. Hello to Humble Uker el Jeffe, Woodshed, Armelle and (blogless?) Ron Hale. Ya’ll know how to make a girl feel welcome.

Community is one of my favorite words.

The word community is derived from the Old French communité which is derived from the Latin communitas (cum, “with/together” + munus, “gift”), a broad term for fellowship or organized society.

Many definitions of the word community talk about geographic proximity, but with the increasing ever-presence of the internet, proximity is losing its power.* When I started seriously thinking about taking up the ukulele I turned to the internet using my superpower (Google-fu) to find resources, reviews, videos, pictures, advice, and above all people who love the instrument. What I saw, as well as passion for the instrument, was inter-connectivity. People who comment on one blog could be found commenting on others, and often have their own. I saw lots of “see you there” and “where’ve you been?” I genuinely like people, and this is lovely to see.

Sharing an interest with others is one of the quickest ways to feel like you have a place in the world. I am happy to tentatively dip my toes in this already robust and interesting community. Thank you for all of your encouragement and keep the suggestions and great blogs coming!

My practice is going well so far. Transitions from one chord to another aren’t smooth, but feel a little less impossible and just the slightest bit faster. I suspect someone has replaced the fingers on my left hand with Italian chicken sausages, but I will persevere. Jake Shimabukuro is in heavy rotation on my iPod and I take too many breaks during the day to watch ukulele YouTube videos. I love the start of something new, I have a crush on the ukulele and the blush of love is exciting.

In honor of community and the in the spirit of crush-drunk love I’ll leave you with this video Ron pointed me to. I love a good end-of-the-night-at-the-pub song.

*next time I pull out phrases like “geographic proximity” and “ever-presence of the internet” please feel free to mock me righteously.

Day 3: A little more on why

While perusing the internet for ukulele goodness I came across this article in today’s online version of the Hamilton Spectator.  It is a boilerplate article about how the ukulele had fallen out of favor, but is growing in popularity once again.  I have seen this article written about knitting a hundred times in the last few years.  “Ukuleles (knitting) isn’t just for weirdos (grandmas) anymore!”  I read along unimpressed until I found the one gem that really spoke to me (quoting Tony Coleman):

“For thousands of years we made music together. We sang together when we worshipped, when we worked and when we celebrated. Then at the beginning of the 20th century, the record player came along and all of a sudden you could have Caruso singing in your living room instead of your brother.”

This encouraged us to be listeners rather than players. He says we’ve gone full circle now and want to participate in music rather than be passive listeners. From this the ukulele became the perfect instrument for musical newbies.

That is it you see, I am no longer satisfied being just a consumer of music.  I want to participate in music.  I want to speak music.  I want to see if I can find a place for myself in music and in music communities.   I want to see if I can replicate the personal renaissance I have had through my work with fiber in this new-to-me medium.  I suppose I also crave the satisfaction of learning a new skill, the joy of seeing my own progress in leaps and bounds.  As I have grown in my knitting and spinning the milestones have grown smaller and farther apart.  I don’t imagine I will ever give it up, fiber work still soothes and satisfies me, but I am ready to take this brain out of its comfort zone and see what it will do.

Progress – ridiculous to even use that word yet.  I plan to practice for 30 minutes to an hour each day (except Friday, that’s movie night).  It’s easiest for me to carve the time out after dinner while my honey does the dishes.  So far so good, 3 days into this grand experiment.  Dusty Strings was out of their top two beginner books when I went in this weekend so I picked up the Ukalaliens Songbook to begin with.  I don’t think it’s the right fit for me, the music is dated or original and neither appeals to me.  This is not a dis of the book, the artwork is lovely and the information seems sound.  I just don’t think we are right for each other.  I want to order something from Amazon that will be here tomorrow, but instead I think I’ll wait and see if Dusty Strings gets any books in this weekend.  I’d rather support them and I need to start building relationships with the local music stores.  In the mean time I’m practicing chords (it was easier, yet less satisfying last night – what’s up with that?).

While I’m on the subject of what I “plan” to do, I should state for the record that my goal is to be able to comfortably play at least a song or two in front of people (not just my partner) in 100 days.  I think that’s May 16th, oddly a personal marker day.  I’ll have to learn something for Dad – anyone have chords for “Sophisticated Lady”?

Day 2: Ouch, my fingers hurt

My new Uke Zebra-George

Last night I worked with Zebra-George (my Uke) for the first time.  Oddly enough I sound nothing at all like Jake Shimabukuro, go figure.

Having done my research I knew what I wanted and I went to the best local instrument store: Dusty Strings.  My self-confidence is pretty darn low about this whole music thing and I was scared to walk down all those stairs and through the door.  That scared-ness evaporated quickly when I saw a wall (room really) of ukeleles and a pleasant young woman who wanted to help me.  Within an hour I had my uke, a gig bag, a tuner, a chord sheet, and a beginners song book.  I had hoped to take part in the Ukalaliens songbook workshop, but it was canceled due to low attendance.  I also signed up for a beginning ukulele class taught by John Leder, now I just have to wait for March when the classes begin.

For most of my crafts and skills I am self-taught.  I have no problem reading and watching as much as I can and then just flailing away until the new skill starts to stick.  Hopefully learning to play will work much the same.  Last night I set up in the bedroom with the uke, tuner, and beginners song book and started to see what was what.  The sales associate at Dusty Strings showed me how the tuner works and I had it sounding pretty good in a few minutes.  I read through the book and worked out which fingers went on which strings for three  basic chords (C, E, F).  Getting my fingers to sit on the strings in the right order, pressing hard enough and without touching other strings, was tricky.  Moving between the chords was trickier.  I quickly realized that I needed to not worry about songs and just work on making the chords sound right each time, and then trying to move my fingers back and forth between them.  I like C, I have that one down pretty well.  See there, I just made my first ukulele joke.  The C chord only requires one finger and it’s right on the edge of the fret board.

I thought the fingers on my right hand would get sore from the strumming, but no!  It’s the fingers of my left hand that are hurting today.  It seems like the repeated action of trying to press my finger tips completely through the neck of my uke has rendered them tender and pink.  Music is beauty and beauty is pain.  I’ll take an Alleve and try again after work tonight.

I hope I don’t build too many bad habits before my class starts.