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My Ukulele

 

The one present I specifically asked for this year for my birthday was a ukulele, and my aunt, a musician, did the careful shopping for me. I was thinking of getting one of the 1-2-3 sets from Amazon, where the ukulele probably falls apart on the third use, but she made sure to get me a real one. I’ve had it on my wish list for years, but I couldn’t convince myself that it wasn’t frivolous and silly, especially because I have a guitar that I never use, but when Mom asked me what I wanted it was the first thing I could think of, well, second, behind a pony. I’ve always wanted a pony.

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“There will be no ponies in my house.”

The ukulele is very light and small and has a beautiful tone, so I’m hoping I’ll have some luck sticking to a practice schedule. The danger of feeling like a ne’er-do-well is still very high, but as long as I don’t watch videos of ukulele masters I can try to hold onto the idea that it’s a toy to play with, instead of a serious musical instrument that I have to master or give up immediately.

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Platypus is guarding my ukulele

I found a few YouTube videos for beginners, and I’m learning the chord charts and trying not to be too impatient with my clumsy fingers. I took piano lessons as a kid, so the transition to stringed instruments has been a little bit confusing for me. I had an electric keyboard for a while, trying to revisit my pianos lessons, but when it died I didn’t replace it, because it kept reminding me that I was not a musical genius, and that hurt my feelings.

I just want music to be fun, and a ukulele looks like fun to me. I also thought about a bongo drum for some reason, or maybe a harmonica. But not a tambourine. I hate tambourines. I’d love a Melodica, like the one Jon Batiste has on the Late Show with Steven Colbert. My grandmother had two when I was little, these tiny keyboards that you could pick up and blow into, and pretend you were making real music. But she kept telling me that I was playing it wrong, so maybe that’s a bad example.

melodica

This is a Melodica, and not my picture

I’m not sure if the dogs will be interested in the ukulele or not. Cricket tried to play my guitar years back, but it scared the crap out of her when she strummed the strings with her paw. Wikipedia says that the word Ukulele roughly translates to “jumping flea” in Hawaiian, so hopefully that will keep the dogs away from it.

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“It has fleas?!!!”

I’m still hearing some muted and buzzing strings while I learn how to place my fingers for the chords, but it’s getting better. It’s not music yet, but it’s a step or two closer. I use a keyboard app on my phone to tune the strings at the beginning of each session, because I’ve been warned that the nylon strings of the ukulele go out of tune pretty quickly. I’ll need to buy an instrument case eventually, because I keep returning the ukulele to its original box, and that seems insensitive.

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my phone/tiny keyboard

I don’t have plans to join a ukulele band, if such a thing exists, but I wouldn’t mind playing it around the apartment and having the dogs follow me, like the pied piper. In which case I should probably have just re-learned how to play the recorder, much simpler and less painful for the fingers.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl.

yeshiva girl with dogs.jpeg

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

110 responses »

  1. I took up the recorder last year after decades of not playing the trumpet. The recorder freaks the dogs out but I keep plugging away. It’s fun, and a step on the way to playing out in the open someday.
    Keep at it!

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  2. Someone gave me a ukulele a few years back and it’s been gather dust ever since. I prefer to play my doumbek and harmonia, just not at the same time.

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  3. If only I were musically inclined…..One of our local music shops has a ukulele class every Saturday morning. They get quite a crowd in there. Who knew?! I think it sounds fun. Enjoy, Rachel.

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  4. thecraftingsenior

    Hi Rachel, Another awesome post. I returned to weaving this month, after a stroke in November. I really missed weaving and also felt it would help me regain function in my right arm. I chose Saori weaving for the freedom it brings. And not only have I seen physical benefits from my decision, I’m weaving for the pure joy of weaving. Enjoy your ukulele. No pressure. No fear of failure or mistakes. Belated Birthday Wishes ! Mary 😊

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  5. I started playing music at age 40 – learning the button accordion. A decade later, at 50, I took up old time clawhammer banjo and now I’m learning fiddle. I brings me great joy. From my experience learning music, let me offer some tips. First of all, learning any instrument, the first 3 months are the toughest part of the learning curve. You’ve got to persevere to get your basics down, after which it will be a lot more fun. I recommend keeping your instrument within reach. If you see it you will pick it up and play it. Sounds silly but it’s true.

    People who study human learning suggest that we learn optimally 20 minutes at a time. The best way to practice is in short chunks, even 5 or 10 minutes is good, but stop for a break at 20 minutes. Go for a walk, have a snack, play with the dogs, whatever. Then go back for another short period. When you’re learning an instrument your brain catches up on your practice while you sleep. Sometimes when you practice you just can’t get something but the next day it comes much more easily. Don’t worry if you are struggling with something. It will come. Just do the practice. Also target your practice. Let’s say you’re learning a tune and you can play 75% of it really well but you struggle with 25%. We all want to play the material we’ve mastered, so many players will spend more time on the material they already know and less time on the material they find harder. Instead, reverse that. Spend the bulk of your practice time on the stuff you struggle with. Once you know a few tunes, also take time to play and celebrate those, but that’s not the same as practice for learning.

    Learn some easy tunes first and build your confidence, but also challenge yourself with some harder stuff a bit at a time. Do that in small bites and you’ll be amazed at how well you do.

    Good luck!

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  6. I applaud your doing this! I wish I could play a musical instrument.

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  7. Good luck. Take you time and just enjoy the journey. I play the piano. Took lessons from the time I was in the third grade through high school. I’m no concert pianist, but I enjoy it. I am much better at hymns than anything classical. I go to a local nursing home every Sunday morning and have a sing-a-long with the residents…all old hymns that they can remember even if they don’t remember their name, or remember singing 2 minutes later. They enjoy it and so do I.

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  8. The Ukelele is a good choice. One of my favorite persons plays one well. I have just tucked into your book Yeshiva Girl and am excited to read through to the end. Good job, well done!

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  9. When I was a teenager, I played the ukulele and was in a group of 8 girls – we called ourselves the Twangers and Sangers. Great fun!
    Good luck with your playing – I think it’s a great musical choice!

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  10. I hope you enjoy learning to play your ukulele. I’me sure Cricket and Ellie will love it! I used to play the piano, and my dogs always gathered around, apparently to listen.

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  11. I started playing guitar about 10 years ago. My tips: find a good YouTube teacher, don’t pay for lessons. Force yourself in the beginning to practice 20-30 minutes a day. You need calluses on your fingers and that’s the only way to do it. It will take lots of time, but it will get better. Don’t give up!

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  12. I started playing guitar about 10 years ago. Here are my tips: Find a good YouTube teacher. There is no need to pay for lessons. Practice 20 to 30 minutes a day. You need to build up calluses on your fingertips so they won’t hurt. The only way to do it is to do it is to practice everyday. Each day you will get a little better but it will take time. Don’t give up. You will hit walls but once you keep practicing you will be surprised how much improvement you will get.

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  13. When I was young I was discouraged from taking up the banjo and told to go with something more serious, like the piano or flute. I really wanted to play the banjo. I tried the flute. I don’t play any instrument now. Play your Ukelele with joy and have fun, Rachel.

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  14. Good luck with the ukelele. I tried to learn. I gave up too fast. I should give it another try.

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  15. My husband is a professional guitarist, and he has two ukes, but is trying to sell one of them. He got one just because he needed it for a CD he was doing, for the “Mrs. Brown You Have a Lovely Daugher” song. For Christmas he bought himself a bass ukelele, which actually sounds like an upright bass, and he’s having a ball with it. There ARE ukelele bands; at least, here in Door County, Wis., there’s a group that meets monthly. They’re just strummers, not pickers. The uke may FEEL like a toy, but it’s a real instrument and you can do marvelous things with it. Learning should be fun, and in that respect, it’s OK to think of it as a toy.

    I just hope you have a good time–and that it doesn’t give fleas to your dogs.

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  16. Good luck. I tried to learn the piano once. The music teacher said my fingers were too short. I do oil paintings instead.

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  17. A bit beyond me Rachel
    But good to see it all

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  18. Keep working towards Pied Piper status – that sounds like fun!

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  19. Ukulele bands certainly exist in the UK. 🙂
    Twelve years ago, I won a very nice electric guitar in a magazine competition. It is a Gibson Les Paul copy, made in Japan by Epiphone, but assembled in the US. It came with a beautiful lined hard-case, and I was very excited. I bought an electronic tuning device from Ebay, and a friend gave me an old Marshall practice amp.
    I looked up some basic tutorials on You Tube, but quickly became frustrated at my inability to remember the simplest chords without constantly revisiting the tutorials. It now lives in the loft of course, just a fond memory of a competition win.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  20. Congrats! I just started guitar lessons and I gotta keep pushing myself. It can get discouraging (my husband plays beautifully) but keep pushing. If you practice every day you will notice a difference. I have an online course that I am learning the basics from. Next week is the last week (it was a 6 week course). After that… I have an app on my phone I might try and I have a few books. We’ll see.

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  21. Don’t forget to give Cricket some earplugs for her b’day. ;0

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  22. So glad you got a uke! They are a lot of fun. I just started playing one 5 years ago and enjoy it a lot more than I thought I would (I am a guitarist). It is tuned the same as a guitar but with the capo on the 5th fret. George Harrison loved Ukes and always travelled with 2 apparently. I play it more than the guitar now, I think. I don’t practice, I just sit in a comfy chair and noodle on it. So relaxing! Try going to http://www.ultimate-guitar.com for chords and lyrics for songs. Let me know if you need any help. Have a blast!

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  23. We went to a great concert with Cheryl Wheeler and Lucy Kaplansky(both very fun singers.) Cheryl maintained that anyone can play a ukulele and promptly showed her how when she heard Lucy didn’t play one. My granddaughter also plays one and says it was very quick to learn since she, like you, knows the piano. I just always think of Tiny Tim and Tiptoe Through the Tulips! Have fun.

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  24. Still haven’t mastered my ukulele but I do have it on a little stand and connect with it everyday. I like to think we’re becoming one and learning will go smoothly and organically lol. We can do this!

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  25. Being of a certain age, every time I hear of the ukuleleI I think of Tiny Tim and “Tiptoe Through The Tulips.”

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  26. When I was a kid my dad bought himself a ukulele. Never once did it come out of its box. Not sure if it had once been used when the woodwork set in. Bought our son an organ for Christmas but a day later he broke his hand, so it’s going to be gathering dust for the foreseeable future. At least it’s plastic so the woodworms can’t destroy it.

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  27. I’ve been thinking about getting a ukelele myself. My local music shop offers free weekly lessons. Just seems like it could be fun and creative and portable. Happy strumming! 🙂

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  28. We had a plastic ukulele in our toy collection when I was a kid. I’d mess around with it but am the least musical person ever. 😦

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  29. We met the members of the Ukulele Orchestra and were given a copy of their CD.
    Their rendition of the Dam Busters is a MUST!
    Good luck!

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  30. The wood on your ukulele is very pretty. After you have mastered a song, you will have to record it and post it for us to hear. I have heard the ukulele version of Over the Rainbow, and it is very pretty.

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  31. Might like to watch the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain videos on you tube.

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  32. I’m more of a kazoo man myself although my skills on the Hawaiian nose flute are improving. Of course the uke is a very popular instrument in Hawaii (brought by the Portuguese) and if you haven’t listened to Jake Shimabukuro play, give him a google/youtube – amazing talent!

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  33. Hi! Love your blog, and especially this post. My ukulele is called Lalie, the first song that I played on her. Written by a South African LEGEND in the music industry. I need to tell you a secret, in case you don’t already know it: if you practice your ukulele 5 minutes a day, everyday, instead of an hour once a week, you will have more success sooner. Oh, and the case really helps – I seriously don’t even have to tune every single time I take her out. But if she is left outside of the case, her strings are so out of tune. I reckon it is the weather as well. SOOO excited for you. Enjoy!! Zelda and the Zombie

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  34. Wow, Rachel, I just took up the ukulele too! Mine is a baritone ukulele, and this is not my first rodeo – I played in high school. But high school was a long time ago, so don’t expect much.

    I’ve taken it back up because there’s a group starting at the Senior Center here in San Leandro; I’ve never done a Senior Center thing but I’m 63 so they say I’m qualified.

    Happy playing! And congratulations on a marvelous novel. I read Yeshiva Girl in one sitting, and just submitted my review to Amazon.

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  35. A Renaissance woman! Go for it!

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  36. I hope you have many happy hours/days/months/years of playing, improving, and enjoying your new hobby. Learning something new keeps the brain stimulated. Good for you! ❤

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  37. very interesting blog. I hope you will also follow me back.

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  38. Good luck with your new uke – they are great instruments to play! I recently put up a ‘Twelve Days Of Ukemas’ series on our PLUC website – if you look from Day Two onwards, nearly every one has at least one (usually free) beginners’ resource – do have a dip in to see if any suit you: https://lewishamukulele.wordpress.com/tag/twelve-days-of-ukemas/
    (there are also tons of other handy articles we’ve put on there).
    Happy Strumming! Jeanette

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  39. I wish you much success…w/ the book and the ukulele, both! ❤

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  40. Wow! Good for you!!! My favorite song ever played with the Ukulele is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by IZ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1bFr2SWP1I (apparently 3.8 million people agree with me) Such a sad loss when he died at only 38.

    (Behr’s mom)

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  41. I’ve always wanted a pony too!

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  42. I loved reading this line, so funny and clever: “I had an electric keyboard for a while, trying to revisit my pianos lessons, but when it died I didn’t replace it, because it kept reminding me that I was not a musical genius, and that hurt my feelings.”

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  43. success on this
    musical adventure!
    you might like hearing
    my accomplished
    musical friends 🙂

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  44. I hope you enjoy your ukelele – it is a very happy sounding instrument!

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  45. A couple weeks ago, my husband ordered a paperback copy of your book for me. It is very good. Well thought out and well written. And I enjoyed it.

    It’s going into my permanent home library in the “to reread” section. Thank you for your perspective, leavening humor, and insights.

    Lizl

    Reply
  46. Funny thing! My Auntie Peggy gave me a ukulele when I was a small child – out of the blue, I mean! I never could play it, and nobody encouraged me to learn, but I tried . . . Pip and the boys

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  47. Love the ukulele~♥ Strings always has a crisp and upbeat sound to it that makes me smile.

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  48. Sounds like the year to be learning new things. I have wanted to learn to play a saxophone for years and now that I have hit the half century mark I finally took the step and bought one off Ebay. It was just the body and I have had to buy some extra bits now I need to find a teacher as well as the online route. I still want to learn to play a shamisen as well and maybe a koto, but one thing at a time!! Good luck with the ukelele I hope to see a youtube video of you playing it one day. I do like “somewhere over the rainbow” played on it.

    Reply

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