Everybody’s got a crazy notion of their own – George Formby
The May chapter of “The Happiness Project” is entitled “Be serious about play”. In it, Gretchen Rubin describes how she does various things that are off her usual beaten track that bring her happiness. I’d always thought about many things that I could do that are off my usual beaten track that would bring me happiness, like learn a new language, rock climb, do felting, but somehow the time was never right. Another thing I’d always wanted to do was to learn a new instrument. But lately I’ve thought, if not now, when? So I bought myself a ukulele, being inspired by the beautiful Brudda Iz.
I won’t go into too much technical detail about the ukulele. You can read a fantastic article my dear and inspirational friend Ross wrote here. What I will say about it is that it’s been a long time since something has given me such immeasurable happiness as the ukulele. As Jake Shimabukuro said at his Ted talk, “what the world needs now is ukulele…if everyone played the ukulele, this world would be a much happier place.” I would say that first and foremost what the world needs is singing, but I would add and ukulele too.
I’ve asked myself in these two weeks that I’ve been playing, why has this humble instrument captured my imagination so much? First of all, it’s such a lovely little instrument to accompany the voice and the beauty of it is is that, just like the voice, it comes in four basic registers – soprano, alto, tenor and baritone – so you can choose which you’d like to play to fit your voice.
Another thing is that it’s so portable. I’d be hard fixed to take my piano with me hiking but last Sunday I packed my uke in my backpack and played a couple of tunes to the group with no worries. When I go on El Camino one of these days, the uke is coming with me as well.
They’re not too expensive either so they won’t break the bank if you decide you want to play one then change your mind (although I’ve yet to hear of someone who has changed his/her mind!). You can get a pretty decent beginner’s one for €50, which is a bit more expensive than an decent recorder when you think about it.
But I think that of all its wonders, the uke is fantastic as it gives you instant gratification and you progress relatively quickly if you practice regularly – even with my two left hands, I could play a couple of songs within an hour of picking it up (albeit, very badly, and still very badly, but I’ll get there eventually!). I even started playing 12 bar blues yesterday (also very badly, but I’ll get there eventually!). I feel that playing the ukulele is similar to singing in that way – anyone can do it, you just have to take that first leap of faith and you’ll see lots of progress if you practice regularly.
For some inspiration, have a listen to the God of the Uke, Jake Shimabukuro, in action at Ted. I find it amazing what one man and four strings can do:
And here’s a look at what you yourself can do if you take an enormous leap of faith:
Happy singing and happy strumming!