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How I Swayed My Way to Ukulele: Tips for Beginners

I originally purchased my ukulele to sing “Happy Birthday” to my mom on her birthday/Mother’s Day Weekend trip to Hawaii, but I didn’t realize how attached I’d become to the instrument.

Girl with Ukulele in London

On May 6th, 2016 I dragged my stepdad over to our local music store and convinced him to buy me a mahogany Makala soprano ukulele. I was over the moon. From the second we walked out of the store, ukulele in hand, I was online learning chords and plucking out tunes. By the time we landed in Hawaii that Saturday, I already knew how to play “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on my new ukulele.

I was very fortunate to finally get myself a ukulele as it actually helped me in school. For my AP World History final in my sophomore year, we had to create and perform a historical parody for a song of our choice. Since the assignment was worth 100 extra credit points, I knew I had to go above and beyond for this project. I composed a parody of “Riptide” that focused on European imperialism in Hawaii, with help from Wikipedia. I was the only student with live accompaniment and I had brought my ukulele with me to school that day for the final. What ended up happening, to my luck, was my teacher liked it so much he said that if I fixed some minor inaccuracies he would give me an extra 100 points. Now that’s what I call salvaging a grade.

Over the next two years, I would bring my ukulele to school with me on a nice day and just play for people either in my classes or out milling in the quad. My skill greatly improved and I was soon able to play a multitude of songs by just viewing the chords on my phone, with little to no practice beforehand.

Fast forward to the summer before the start of this year (my last year of high school), and you could find me on the streets of Downtown Napa with an empty Starbucks cup and a ukulele in my hand. I sometimes brought my guitar along as well, but I almost always busked with my ukulele. Playing on the streets gave me a lot of confidence that helped me expand my performance skills, and also earn a decent amount of money on the side.

Girl and Mom Ukulele in LondonOne of my favorite busking memories with my ukulele is actually the first time I ever did it. I had just moved down the road from an ice cream shop and was barely starting my makeshift setlist when a man and his wife approached me. The man introduced himself and complimented me on my playing. He said he was related to a mayor and we just talked for a little bit. The man gave me $5 and started to walk away, when he suddenly turned around and came back. He told me that if I could sing and play down to his friends hanging out in the yacht on the river, he would give me $20. As someone who will never back down from money, I ended up furiously strumming and practically yelling “Riptide” down to this boat full of complete strangers. To say the least, I came home with $25 more in my pocket than when I left.

The ukulele opened up a lot of opportunities for me as a musician; between its small size and easy chords, even the sky wasn’t the limit as I could literally take it as a carry-on for my flights as well.

My only regret is that I didn’t get my ukulele sooner.

To those of you who want to learn something new, regardless of your previous instrumental skills, the ukulele is--in my opinion--the perfect instrument for everyone. It is portable, versatile, and it’s not too hard to pick up. I’m only an intern here at ArtistWorks, but if you want the best guidance for learning how to play, I’d personally recommend the ArtistWorks Ukulele School with Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel. They are both talented, patient, and will help you through any rough spots you run into with your playing.