A few years ago, a dear friend put a small green ukulele in my hands. She taught me a few chords, showed me what she knew, and sent me off with the basic directive to have fun. To play. To make music, no matter how stilted or clunky it might be. She’d armed me with a ukulele: joy was bound to be the baseline.
Now, I’d tried to play guitar as a young girl. It didn’t take. I never had any luck with melodic instruments. I could play a pitiful bit of penny whistle, and I could get along well enough on bodhran. Nothing that might allow me to accompany myself as I sang (admittedly poorly, but that’s another story. nevermind. anyway…). I just wasn’t a musical sort of person. But when that uke hit my hands, everything changed. Maybe it was the size – it’s so tiny and adorable! Maybe it’s that there are only four strings with which to contend – good news for my child-sized appendages! Maybe it’s that my introduction to it was couched in friendship and good energy – Cat is pretty amazing that way. Whatever the reason/s, I was hooked. I played every day, through sore fingers and bad chord transitions and lingering doubts that I could actually learn an instrument.
I’m lucky to have started my ukulele journey in an age where there’s a wealth of information at my fingertips. I have only to do a search for chords and I’m hit with a multitude. Naturally I wanted to start with songs I’d like to sing (see previous parentheses), so I sought out Jonathan Coulton‘s works. This was both the worst and best choice I could have made. If you’re not familiar with his music, know that he’s delightfully nerdy and geeky and also an excellent guitarist. Also, he uses all of the chords. All of them. Many of them don’t translate to the four-stringed, differently tuned ukulele. Didn’t matter. I was determined. There are songs, these several years on, I’ve still not mastered. They remain a great exercise in flexibility and agility. Those I’ve managed to lock down, though, make me feel mighty*.
I’ve had the great fortune to glean further knowledge from talented folk like Rick and Donna Nestler, two of the most generous people and accomplished musicians I know. I continue to be inspired by my original mentor, who makes a point of teaching (and handing out ukuleles) to all and sundry, and has rightfully made quite the name for herself in both the cosplay and nerd-music-sphere. I share that where I can. My own abilities are still nascent, but I’ve a weekly ukulele lesson with my nephew every Thursday. Spoiler: he’s amazing and quick to learn. I’m having a hard time keeping him in new material. Taught another friend the basics when we were hanging out a couple of weeks past. Now, she’s hooked.
And why not? Sure, there are incredibly accomplished ukulele players. It’s an instrument like any other, and can be mastered and coaxed to give forth amazing music. But it’s also an instrument of sheer happiness. It’s super portable, affordable, and its very basics can be learned in an hour. If it sounds like I’m apologizing for loving it so, it’s because I’ve had to defend my stance to more than one person. I have been patted on the shoulder by a musician as he asserted his instrument was more legitimate then my wee, adorable uke. Likewise his musicianship.
Even if that was the case, so what? This wee, adorable uke allows me to make my own music. It has spurred me to get up and perform in front of audiences, both in a group and as a soloist. It has me seeking out challenging songs, new techniques. It has allowed to me play alongside musicians I idolize, and has opened my eyes to their generosity and acceptance. It brings me delight.
So yes. It’s wee. It’s the most adorable of instruments. It’s also freaking mighty, and when I play it, I am too.
*there may be a video forthcoming. maybe. 🙂