A month or so ago, after being inspired by a choir member who plays, I bought a tenor ukulele – a lovely mahogony Kala with a beautiful mellow and sweet sound. I have never been able, or sufficiently motivated, to learn to play guitar, although I have always liked the idea of being able to accompany yourself on an instrument while singing. But whenever I tried to play guitar, I found most of the chords too difficult and never persevered long enough to strengthen my hands.
The ukulele, happily, is much easier than a guitar to learn to play. Not only is it smaller, both in width and the distance between the frets, but it only has four strings and its tuning means that there are many simple chords, several with only one or two fingers. I have found it very easy and tremendously enjoyable to pick up and play. In fact, the hardest part about the ukulele for me (apart from most of the four fingered chords which I still find difficult – E! Bm!) is learning to strum and finger pick, which are all new to me. I have played violin, and a little flute and piano when I was younger, but nothing strummable. It’s particularly hard to keep up a strumming pattern and sing at the same time (something which I haven’t mastered, yet continue to inflict on all within earshot).
I’m getting nice rough finger pads on my left hand, and hopefully soon the side of my index finger will toughen up a bit so I can do bar chords, where you press the entire length of your finger against the neck of the instrument. I find them incredibly difficult for some reason, despite the small size of the ukulele, but presumably one day my fingers will learn to stretch that far.
I am so tempted to head up to Cairns in July for the Ukulele Festival (if I combine a parental visit with the festival it doesn’t sound quite so frivolous). Check out James Hill, who’s attending and doing some workshops – not your stereotypical ukulele.