Recently I decided that I wanted my kids to see me learn something new. I wanted them to see me struggle with something, be not very good at it, then get better as I spent time working on it. As this idea was brewing, the ukulele somehow got added to the mix. My birthday was coming, and so I started asking my family to get me an ukulele for my birthday present. My wife has no time for shopping, and my kids are, frankly speaking, incompetent. Love 'em to death, can't count on them to buy a musical instrument worth more than two dollars.
So as my birthday approached, loomed, arrived and passed, I altered my approach, and simply asked for permission to buy an ukulele for myself. Permission was granted, and I started looking around and talking with people who know of these things. One of my coworkers, Conor Doran, came through for me. He was (and still is) in the market to buy himself a semi-acoustic ukulele, and knows where all the best shops are. So on May 3rd, 2016 he walked into the office with one for me!
It's an M2 concert-sized ukulele, and I find it to be not only adorable, but to have a most lovely tone. Well, lovely when played properly anyway. I spent 20 or 30 minutes with a chord chart written out by Conor (and modified after a Google search). Then I recorded this little video.
I am no longer sure if the ukulele is the ideal demonstration of learning a new skill for my children. It seems to me that I picked it up ridiculously quickly. I mean, sure, my finger tips hurt like heck, and it takes ages to change between chords, and I can't quite manage to pin the right strings down properly without blocking wrong strings. But I actually manage to get some pretty sounds out of this thing on the first day of playing!
I realized that part of what we are seeing here is hundreds, if not thousands of hours of musical practice on other instruments and with my voice. The lessons I've learned in various choirs and bands, playing trumpet, piano, euphonium, trombone and recorder have carried through. My body is used to the idea that little coordinated muscle movements can lead to sounds that are either pleasant or unpleasant to hear.
I'm going to stick with this, because I have had a repressed desire to learn the guitar ever since I was a teenager. My brother Chris learned, and got to be pretty good. My excuse for not learning was an operation on my left wrist*, which limited my flexibility. When I tried holding a guitar, it was extremely uncomfortable, and I was very much in to being comfortable as a teenager.
The ukulele is a little uncomfortable for me to hold, but it is closer to my body than the neck of a guitar, and it is as light as a feather (from a large, wooden bird). My 20 and 30 minute bouts of playing have not caused any discomfort in my wrist, but my fingertips are taking a beating.
So the video above was made in the afternoon. That evening I had a long walk home after dinner. My walk was along Kwanganlie Beach, with a nice wide boardwalk. As I was walking I decided to practice the ukulele as I went. It is so light that it doesn't even need a strap! I could only remember the fingering for the C and G chords, so that's what I practiced: just getting them to sound clean and clear, and switching between them.
I'm excited to have an instrument which I can use to accompany myself!
*Osteonecrosis of the lunate, you know what I'm talkin' about?