If I have learned anything over the course of the last year, it’s that we should always be willing to adapt and evolve. Absolutely nothing about this season we are traveling through has been predictable or ordinary. Being stuck in our homes, cut off from the rest of the world with nowhere to go has been, to say the least, soul sucking. I’ve often felt like my brain has atrophied to a pile of goo.
But, it hasn’t ALL been bad. In order to avoid crumbling completely, many people have turned to learning new skills. Creativity, ingenuity, and fresh perspectives have been forged in our attempts survive. Some learned to bake bread, took on major remodeling projects, planted gardens, started podcasts, and read piles of books. My project? I decided to teach myself to play a new instrument.
Yeah, I know it’s a bit of a quirky girl cliche, but I decided to pick up the ukulele. It seemed the most attainable instrument to play as a new hobby. Justification? Purchasing a uke is fairly inexpensive, it only has four strings to master, free music is available all over the internet, and there are tons of tutorials out there. I started off by picking up a cheap, crappy uke at TJ Maxx last summer. I didn’t really want to invest a lot of money if I didn’t like playing it. After spending a few days with it though, I decided that it would be fun to keep putting in the time and effort to learn. I figured it could be useful tool to use with my students, it travels easily, and I could write cute little songs if I wanna go full quirky girl.
I searched a lot of ukuleles on Amazon. I wanted to find a decent beginner instrument with a decent sound. I settled on the Ranch Concert Ukulele. I put the gig set on my Amazon wish list and hoped that someone would purchase it for me for my birthday or Christmas. As it turned out, I received one from my in laws and was also given one as a gift from a sweet family at school. I was really excited to have one readily available in BOTH places. I picked up a set of Hal Leonard Essential Elements books, plus a few fun books, and set out learning to play. I also found watching chord videos on YouTube to be helpful as I was just starting out.
One lazy Saturday in January, my husband, Jeff, and I were stuck in a YouTube click hole. We were watching ukulele videos, when we stumbled across a live stream from ukulele master, Cynthia Lin. That afternoon, Lin was hosting a community uke jam where players were encouraged to play along with her and her partner Ukulenny. I quickly grabbed my uke and fumbled through a few songs with them. The music they played was beautiful, and it was a lot of fun to know that I was bonding with people around the world, playing along together.
What was most intriguing though, was what Cynthia Lin mentioned at the end of the live stream. She spent time encouraging her followers to participate in #100DaysOfUkulele. Starting the following day,January 31, 2021, uke fans were encouraged to create a video of themselves playing and post it to social media daily for the next hundred days. It was part of a larger project, called the 100 Day Project, which encourages artists of all kinds of mediums to share their art in the social community. Lin said, just five minutes of practice a day could improve your skills, simply by being disciplined.
Though the project sounded fun, it seemed scary and overwhelming to me. That’s a lot of days to commit to and I was just barely learning to play with confidence. It was a nice thought, but not really for players of my skill level. Later that evening, Jeff asked me if I was going to do it. I explained the reason why I thought it was too much, but he really pushed me to try it. He said that he would join me with a project of his own, writing 100 poems. And so, on a whim we forged on… creating something each evening together.
I definitely felt embarrassed in the beginning. I fumbled my way through SO many songs. I also felt rather scared sharing my singing voice on such a public forum. I mean, yes, I teach choir for a living, but I only share my voice with my students. I really feared judgement from other music educators and content creators. After a couple of weeks, I was able to relax a bit and feel less anxious about putting myself out there.
Obviously, as a beginner, I didn’t know a lot of chords and struggled with strumming patterns. I had to watch my fingers a lot to make sure I didn’t miss the strings. Slowly, over the course of time, I was able to transition between chords more quickly, without looking, and add many more chords to my knowledge arsenal. Strumming is still a struggle for me, but I have become a lot better.
Choosing a song to play each day was a lot of fun. Most of the time, I selected a song much like I do my clothing… based on my mood or something significant about the day (holidays, the weather, etc.). I had some friends who were into watching the project enough to make special requests too. Honestly, their support helped me keep going. Disney favorites, showtunes, 80’s hits, you name it… I was able to tackle a whole lot of my favorites… provided they didn’t have too difficult of chord structure. (Brian Wilson, why you gotta make your songs so hard?)
Though I struggled to find the time to play on a few days, most of the time I was really excited to have time to create something each day. I even took a uke with me on vacation and played on the beach! The 100 days honestly flew by as Jeff and I kept each other accountable to staying on track. In the end, we were both able to create an art project that we are proud to take ownership of.
I am by no means, a ukulele master, but I have gained a lot of confidence in myself. I felt brave enough to accompany my students on a song at our spring concert. I am no longer ashamed to sing and strum in my yard… even when neighbors call out to me in silly ways. I have gained a confidence in playing that will give me joy… and I plan to spend long days over summer vacation playing for fun. I know that it’s a skill I will keep enjoying and I hope to be able to create something even better with it in the future. Now, I just need a professional instrument and an inspirational trip to Hawaii.
What I gained through the 100 Day Project is absolutely invaluable to me. First of all, I gained so much confidence in my chord knowledge, speed, and strumming patterns. Obviously, I have a long way to go, but this gave me a huge push. I also found a community of uke players who are encouraging and inspiring. It really was such a confidence boost to have fellow players commenting positively on my posts. Plus, midway through the project, I was approached by Vanphy Ukuleles through my social channel, and gifted a tenor uke. (Yay, more ukes!) This was so much fun and I really can’t wait to do it again next year.
Check out Jeff’s 100 Days of Poetry
Watch my highlight reel of songs… or if you’re feeling REALLY ambitious, watch the whole 100 days! I’d love if you would give it a like and subscribe to my channel. Maybe with more of a following I will feel compelled to create more content in that space.
Be brave. Put yourself out there. Be willing to try new things. Watch how far you’ll grow.