Friday, February 8, 2019

Adventure 4/50, and Always Be Learning: We took ukulele lessons!

In December Wil and I were in a guitar store and while he was testing and shopping, I wandered over and looked at ukuleles. I was especially taken by the Fender ukes because they look like tiny Fender guitars. And that's just funny.

image from
Santa must have been listening (he's ALWAYS WATCHING...), because I received a lovely Fender uke on Christmas morning.

One problem -- there seemed to be something wrong with it. There was an odd rattle, like it had a loose wire vibrating inside. And no matter what we tried -- restringing, retuning, etc. -- the rattle stayed. So Santa's elves at took it back, and we went back to our local guitar store and bought me a beautiful Kala KA-T tenor ukulele:

It's a little bigger, but the sound is really rich and lovely.

But perhaps I should back up a little.

I've never played a musical instrument. When I was a kid, every student in 4th grade (aged 8 or 9) learned how to play the recorder. Except the year I was in 4th grade the school funding levy failed, so there was no money for music programs. And I just never learned anything else.

Fast forward 40 years ... and it seems like every kid is playing a ukulele and riding a unicycle. So my interest was piqued. And of course, there's this guy, George Formby:

One of the biggest movie stars of the mid 20th century, when George Formby died in the 1960s over 100,000 people took to the streets to watch his funeral procession. But for me, it's his strumming of the ukulele (and, often, the banjolele), paired with his gently saucy tunes. Much to Wil's dismay, I can listen to George for hours.

Originally I had thought I would maybe follow some online lessons... but a friend told me that another friend had taken classes through our local music store, Dusty Strings, and as luck would have it, a set of beginning uke classes was about to start in a week. So we signed up and hoped for the best. Having felt a bit burned by our pottery "class", I resolved to stick with the 5 weeks regardless. I also swapped "take ukulele lessons" in for one of my original "always be learning" 101 in 1001 goals projects.

Imagine 11 anxious adults, 1 eager child, an instructor and her friend, all strumming away. Yet, somehow, by the end of the first 1-hour class, we were doing a completely legitimate version of the first half of Rainbow Connection and I was so happy I was in tears. Seriously.

The class thinned a little, and we had some people shift from the lunch to the evening class, but we kept working away at chords, strumming patterns, and even a bit of plucking. And every week there's a moment when I realize that I'm playing a musical instrument and I am filled with joy and my eyes fill with happy tears. Oh, and we've even started turning up in aloha shirts!

class pic courtesy Susan Howell
We have learned all sorts of songs, and though I still struggle to make all the different chord shapes, I am still really enjoying it. So much so, that we just signed up to take the next 5-week set. So while I'm calling this "thing" done as far as the 101 things in 1001 days project goes, I will be continuing my studies!

Now, I'm a long way off from being able to play even a simplified version of a George Formby song -- that split strum he does is just ridiculous! -- but I'm hoping that by the end of the year I'll be able to lean how to play a very simple version of "Window Cleaner".

It's turned out nice again, hasn't it?


  1. Do you have any issues being left-handed?

  2. I was advised to learn to play right-handed, which makes sense since I think it's the left hand that works hardest with the chords. So I had to adjust my mental picture of what "me strumming a guitar" looks like. But so far, so good!

  3. Well done! What a great activity for you to learn. I’m so glad you enjoy it.