Ukulele Uprising

two ukes closer to fineThe “ukulele uprising” referenced in the title of this post is not a march of miniature guitars storming the capitol demonstrating against size-ism. It’s about how a ukulele has played a role in rising up around some interesting themes of learning, cooperation, and inspiration.

I’m about to conclude a fascinating class called the Yoga of Ukulele offered by the very experienced musician and yogi Josh Brill. It has brought home certain themes and introduced new ones that will take more than one post to write about.

My affair with the ukulele is not a new one. I was gifted an authentic Hawaiian ukulele built by one of the first manufacturers, Kamaka, back in the early 1980’s. I never completely learned a song, but I did enjoy playing chords and noodling with songs from a song book. After that summer in Honolulu it mostly just sat in its case collecting dust.

My ukulele uprising began a few years ago with two events. The first was being loaned a second ukulele by a friend from Paris. He handed it to me in the Seattle area at the end of a Core Protocols Bootcamp. The intention was that returning it to him in Paris would be an excuse to visit. I have made it to Berlin in 2019 and hoped to also get to Paris in 2020, but alas the pandemic crimped that plan. The second event was watching this TEDx Talk about learning anything in 20 hours. I’d enjoyed the idea of world class mastery being accessible with 10,000 hours of deliberate practice popularized by Malcolm Gladwell based on the research by Dr. Anders Ericsson. Josh Kaufman’s TEDx talk took out the need for “world class”, and postulated only 20 hours was needed for learning a new skill. He proved it by giving a decent performance of a medley of pop songs on the stage after exactly 20 hours of study and practice in his TEDx talk.

Since that time I’ve put in some effort and learned a bunch of songs. I’ve had a chance to play for friends and small groups. I’ve generally practiced only a few minutes a day with sometimes weeks between playing, but mostly I’ve kept going. The ukulele from Paris helped as I could slip in into my backpack easily using the sack it came in, and carry it on airplanes when I was traveling every week while coaching. I’m no where near mastering the instrument, but it has been fun.

And it has taken effort. Despite the twenty hour promise from Josh Kaufman, I was shocked how hard it was for me to memorize a single song, even one where I already knew all the chords. But learn it I did. And I learned more mostly with the help of Cynthia Lin on YouTube.

More important than songs, I learned something about learning. The lesson has been even more deeply enforced by Josh Brill’s meditative approach. There are two ways to fail to learn. One is to give up before trying, or getting frustrated. The other way is to give up after pushing through the lesson until all the joy and the music vanishes. Even if I learn something with the push through method, it is a Pyrrhic victory. The way to learn is with patience, compassion, and a mindful pace.

Going slow is often necessary to go fast. Hopefully my Ukulele Uprising will also turn into a Blog Uprising.