• My First Uke


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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 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”?