All posts tagged ukulele

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?



Although it’s something I’ve known intrinsically for as long as I can remember, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve realized how much music brings people together. Music has the beautiful ability to function as an individual activity or one of social connection.

Last evening was one of those moments when I was taken with the warm and joyful experience of the music-making-in-a-group kind. This one centred around ukuleles, of course, and was part of a celebration of music education (Music Monday), an area that I’m quite passionate about.13164260_10209642044954157_4936648171326008186_n

It began with the screening of a documentary called The Mighty Uke. This quirky little film touches on the history (including the pop culture history) of our tiny hero: the ‘ukulele. I scanned the room regularly to watch the reactions of those in attendance, both young and old(er). There were smiles, definitely laughs, some nods of recognition and even a few teary moments. All were engaged in the wild and wooly stories of the “jumping flea.”

The film set the stage for what came next: making music. Some folks were members of the Royal City Ukulele Ensemble and were very comfortable playing together. Some were relative newbies but were venturing out to test their musical abilities in a safe environment. Some were folks who perhaps had never touched a ukulele before (goodness!) and experienced their first ukulele jam session.

We had six songs to play — songs that registrants had received in the previous weeks and we had yet to try altogether as “The Mighty Uke Jam Ensemble”. I gave them a quick pep talk and the mandatory “Z Chord is your secret weapon” advice and, as we began to play and sing, the magic really began to happen.

There were smiles. Lots of smiles. There was laughter and at the end of each song, acknowledgement of the success of having made the song sound like a song! A group of 30+ participants, at least half of whom did not know each other before that evening, came together and created music. Just like that. And it was perfectly imperfect.

As we finished, there was a great energy in the room. The joy of having made music together, regardless of age or experience level. We came together in some cases as strangers but we left the evening feeling as though we had all connected in those moments to create something as a group. It reminded me of many things, including the fact that ukuleles should be mandatory at all business meetings as an ice-breaker, creativity booster and stress-reliever… (don’t get me started)

But mostly, it reminded me that although I talk about ukuleles in my every day life and get some snickers and eyerolls from those who haven’t yet experienced them firsthand (i.e. the ‘ukulele dark side), I know in my heart the power of this friendly little instrument:


The quiet introvert

The social connector

The charming hipster

The peace maker

The happiness generator

The little instrument that could. And does.


2fb1e5b0647671e5927de0437616201eThe beginning of a new year can be a time to refresh and embark on something new. Although “getting healthy” is often on the resolution list for many, it usually refers to things like weight loss, physical exercise or changing eating habits.

But what if part of getting healthy meant doing something for your overall wellbeing? What if you could turn off the stereo and create your own music? What if the word ‘scale’ could mean something to exercise your brain and fingers rather than something you have to step on and avert your eyes?

If that sounds like something that’s more up your alley, then perhaps taking up an instrument should be on your list for 2015!

Learning music is fabulous for your brain and your body: improved coordination, confidence, memory, language skills, creativity…the list goes on and on. Plus, it’s so good for your overall emotional health.  No matter your age, getting a little music in your life is simply a great idea.

But which instrument to choose?

Give some thought to what you naturally gravitate to. Do you think the versatile piano is appealing? What about the friendly ukulele, which gets you started quickly but can offer a lot of challenge, too? Do you love to sing? Do you want to play with others or on your own? Is there an instrument lying around that you’ve always wanted to pick up? What’s in your budget?

The beauty of learning music is that you’re never too old or too young to get started and the options are endless.

Whatever you choose, be prepared that just like investing in your physical health, investing in a musical journey requires some level of dedication, even if it’s just to learn for fun. It doesn’t need to be endless hours of painful practice or boring lessons – the right mix of instrument, teacher and method can make the process a truly enjoyable one so make sure you do your research.

Then get playing and make 2015 your year of music!




850f810af82a5b99037a16787e93e47cThe quick answer here is that kids can – and should! – get involved in music at any age. The type of music instruction is where the answer varies.  It is dependent on many things, including the personality, ability and age of the child, the expectations of parents, the structure of lessons or classes, etc.

It’s well-known that right from infancy children can benefit from musical experiences. While they may seem light and simple to some, those baby music classes are wonderful for little minds and bodies. As toddlers and preschoolers, children become able to feel rhythms, mimic and memorize vocal melodies, and begin to control their hands to allow more structured music-making, which can often involve full body movement, too.  So many benefits start at this young age, from neurological development to coordination skills and more.

Once kids hit school age, the opportunity for exploring additional musical development comes into play for most children. Instruments like piano can be started at this point, when the child can sit through at least a half hour lesson, and can start to learn basic music literacy and coordination skills on the keyboard. Piano is a wonderful instrument to start at any age.

Ukulele is another instrument well-suited to small hands although the ability to have a certain level of finger dexterity and focus is important. While some kids can pick up a fretted instrument at a very young age, a great time to start is around age 8.  At this point, they can master some of the basics and reap the rewards of being able to make music.

All this to say, there is no magic age that is consistent across the board but the general guidelines above can give you some things to think about.  When in doubt, ask a music teacher!  Each child is an individual and you’ll know your own child best. Have a conversation with a music educator who can help you choose what options might suit your child.

Music making is a wonderful experience that every child deserves.


There can be a place for music making in the lives of each of us. Music making has the ability to meet many needs and each one just as individual as the person it inhabits.

For some of us, the process of mastering a challenging classical piece fires up our neurons and fills us with energy and focus.Hands Playing Piano

For others, the rewards of learning are found in making music within a group, whether a garage band, community orchestra, song circle or a cappella choir, helping us feel part of something meaningful and teaching us to work “in tune” with others, creating cohesive musical sounds.

There can be literal healing in the making of music, such as in the case of Gabrielle Giffords who, after sustaining a gunshot wound to the head, worked to rebuild her ability to speak through singing therapy.

It can be the outlet for working through challenging times, such as coping with a major life event, depression or illness. Songwriting, in particular, has been known to work miracles here.

Some individuals have never believed they could even be musical. In this instance, the opportunity to simply make music at the most basic level is a thrill.

Music builds minds. It also builds hearts, character, culture and connection.  It offers relief and growth, challenge and reward.  And most of all, it’s a language we can all understand.