adult learning

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I haven’t been writing on the blog much – mostly due to time constraints – but I wanted to touch on the issue of ukulele as a tool for goodness and social connection. The more deeply I dive into the ukulele sphere, the more I see how truly magical it really is.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for music of all kinds in our lives. Whatever instrument you choose, it can bring a whole host of positive benefits to you and those around you. But I’d like to reflect a bit on some of what I’m seeing with the ukulele.

This is an instrument that has had a wild ride along its history line. From something deeply cultural in its Hawaiian roots (that continues today), to its kooky pop culture adventures over the decades, to becoming so much more in present day.  This little four-stringed wonder has been a chameleon, an entertainer, a social connector, a tool for expression, an outlet for creativity, a very wide open door to musical literacy (for kids and grown-ups), and the list goes on. Using Amanda Palmer’s words, it is a wand of thunder. And at the same time, it is a humble friend.

I really believe this instrument can bring forth positive benefits that I have not seen from other instruments at this scale and reach. Just to touch on a few examples of where I’ve personally seen it go:

  • Its accessibility has given people the opportunity to learn to make music in adulthood, many who perhaps never thought they would ever be able to create music. A huge mind and heart opener that builds self-esteem and happiness.
  • It has been a social connector for people who may not have come together in any other venue. It has enabled them to have a communication tool – the universal language of music – that they can use to relate to others.
  • It can go anywhere. Its portability makes it perfect in so many scenarios. Its unassuming and inoffensive nature lets it join (sneak?) in with all kinds of other instruments. It can make friends with most anyone.
  • It has been a connector for families. I’ve had parents and kids register for classes together and enjoy the beauty of sharing music, opening dialogue, strengthening family bonds. They’ve often told me they continue making music together as a family at home.
  • It’s a healer. I’ve seen this instrument go into hospitals, care centres, and homes of people who are dealing with health challenges. It can help lower heart rates and anxiety, alleviate pain and discomfort, and improve brain activity.
  • It is an outlet for expression. I’ve had students of all ages explore the craft of writing with their instrument, helping sort through their life challenges and successes, through the art of songwriting.
  • It’s an opportunity to explore music one would never have known or thought about. We can play a classical piece and talk about the format of the canon in early western music. We can thrash out a Ramones song and feel the rush of letting loose on three punk chords. We can learn a swinging ditty from the 1930s and challenge ourselves with the complexity and beauty of jazz chords.
  • It builds and invites communities. Its humble and approachable nature, mixed with the happy faces of those who play it, is unique in its ability to lure people to learn. Many people attend ukulele performances and leave thinking “I want to learn to play that!” and go out and buy one. I don’t know many other instruments that have this kind of effect. People might see a concert and be moved and entertained, but they rarely go out and buy the instrument they’ve just seen performing. This happens regularly with ukulele.
  • It’s a tool for good mental health. Art and music offer people the chance to escape and find distraction from their busy lives. Ukuleles are a really accessible way to bring this stress-relieving activity into many homes. I’ve had endless people tell me that they look forward to ukulele class/jams as an opportunity to let their stress go and turn their moods around.

I could go on but I will leave it there for now. I would love to hear what you have discovered through this wonderful little instrument. How has it affected your life in big and small ways?



There are moments in our days that are inextricably linked to music. The soundtrack of our lives, if you will. Music can bring back memories, trigger emotions, give us strength, motivate us, calm us, and help us through. music gives soul quote

Recently, the Royal City Ukulele Ensemble — an adult ukulele group that I run — had a powerful experience through music. For the last two years, our weekly classes have taken place in a wonderful retirement and assisted care facility. Residents are welcome to listen to us work through our technique and material each week and every few months we put on a more formal performance for those residents.

We have come to find happiness not only in our own music-making each week but in watching the effects of our music on those residents who might sit for a while and listen, who come bopping down the hall to our more upbeat tunes, or who come religiously and listen to our entire 2 hour class each week.

It is one of those residents who allowed us the opportunity to be a part of something extra special this summer. I will leave you with the link to an article that was written about this story in the retirement community’s newsletter, the Village Voice. May your days be filled with the magic and power of music.



For many people, the thought of learning how to play an instrument is daunting, possibly entirely out of reach. So often I hear “Oh, I’ve never been musical” or “Nah, I’m too old.”

IMG_2958I try my best to turn those folks around. You see, I am a believer that everyone has the ability to make music at some level. Just listen to your heartbeat – your body is already giving you rhythm right from the inside. You just need a little confidence kick and allow yourself to be a kid again, in a sense. Set aside your adult worries of “ugh, I can’t get this fast enough” or “I’m embarrassed that I can’t seem to make sense of it.” As adults, we can be very impatient with ourselves!

Learning how to think about music and read music starts as a kind of mathematical/analytical process, deciphering how many beats are in a measure and that the second space on the treble staff is an A, for example. These are the foundational bits that can actually, in many cases, be easier for adults to grasp.

Then there are the more creative and lyrical parts of music, understanding phrasing and dynamics and how a song speaks to us through sound. It’s a fascinating process that, when approached the right way with the right teacher, can be an exciting and rewarding experience.

But so many adults don’t even give it a chance! Or, they can’t find time for it because there are too many other pressing things in their lives, like fitting in their fitness class or running their kids to dance right after work. I totally get it.

But isn’t music worth making time for, too? I mean, you’re doing something for your soul and your wellbeing (research-proven health and brain benefits!) that I would suggest can be an equally important part of taking care of yourself.

10538621_773477946043734_4452203297728217792_nI have had the pleasure of helping adults learn to make music (on the ukulele and the piano) and let me tell you, it’s an interesting experience because these individuals eventually realize that they are capable of far more than they give themselves credit for.

When they have the patience to work at it, they can, in fact, make music! Yes!

Plus, they’re strengthening their mind with the constant “fireworks” of synapses working overtime to process the strange language of written music and translate it into a set of physical movements that somehow produce sound and song. They’re learning to work with others if they’re playing in a group, watching for cues and staying in tune and in time. They’re connecting with emotional places when a musical line triggers a memory or feeling. We’ve even seen that incredible connection with the inspiring research around the simple act of even listening to music and its effect on elderly dementia. Music lives in a special place in our brains that can remain intact when all else is failing. I think that’s a pretty amazing thing.

Music resonates with us on many levels and across cultural and geographical boundaries – remember Bobby McFerrin’s demonstration of our innate understanding of the pentatonic scale in that TED Talk?

Music making is a unique and truly valuable experience that more adults should open their minds to. I challenge you to consider learning an instrument, no matter your age, no matter the instrument. I can guarantee that if you can connect with a teacher who can support your learning effectively, you will have an amazing experience that you’ll carry with you through a lifetime.