Ukulele nervous


Janice Lindsay

By Janice Lindsay

Why was I so nervous?

The world would not come to an end – even my tiny corner would not be endangered – if I could not learn how to play the ukulele.

But I approached my first class with jitters.

I had been pondering the ukulele for a long time. I thought it might be fun to play an instrument that I could carry. A piano, on which I’ve had instruction, lacks portability. Wind instruments were out; I don’t have enough wind. Violin family? It held no appeal. Guitar? Too big. Banjo? Probably too hard to learn.

Voila: Ukulele.

Just as I had developed this thought, I was volunteering in the library’s book shop one afternoon when a young man came in carrying a ukulele. He strummed. He knew only one chord, but such a sweet chord.

Later I walked by a group of high-schoolers sitting on the steps of the theater downtown. One of them played a ukulele, such a homey, friendly tone.

The universe was telling me to try the ukulele.

I hadn’t realized, during my ruminations, that the little ukulele is currently very big. Ukulele groups, even bands, pop up all over. Ukulele virtuosos play on the Internet. Classical music is arranged for ukulele. The ukulele has traveled far beyond the plinky-plink we associate with Hawaii. I was participating in a cultural phenomenon, if only in my head.

How could I learn to play?

Then our adult education program offered a beginners’ class for ukulele.

I did not sign up. I’m a practiced procrastinator when it comes to trying something new and, for that reason, a little scary.

A friend took the class. She had fun, and now she plays the ukulele.

When the class was offered again, I forced myself to get my name on the list.

I borrowed my friend’s extra ukulele. I told her I will return it when I find that I’m  comfortable enough to buy my own, or discover that there’s no way I can learn to play it.

I was not the only nervous student that first night. In the parking lot before class, I pulled up next to an SUV whose female driver got out of her car carrying a ukulele. It seemed that she had been waiting for me, or for somebody, anybody, with a ukulele. She exclaimed about how nervous she was.

Most of the people in the class were nervous.

Why were we so nervous?

We’re grown-ups, after all.

And that, I realized, is the problem.

We’re grownups. We’re supposed to know how to do stuff. It’s hard to admit that we don’t. And we fear feeling foolish should we stumble while learning.

When we were children, we always learned new skills in the presence of other children and we weren’t afraid to give something a try. But as grown-ups, we can live a whole successful life and never learn a totally new skill. For us, learning is especially daunting when there are other grown-ups around.

As grown-ups, it takes courage to say, “Here I am. I know nothing about this subject. Teach me. I voluntarily submit to the feeling-foolish of trial and (gasp) error.”

Our ukulele teacher is a kind patient young woman who wants us all to be comfortable. We learned three chords and advanced bravely, if haltingly, from “Mary Had a Little Lamb” all the way to “Hot Cross Buns.” Nobody was called upon to solo. We relaxed a little. We learned together. We felt foolish together.

It will not take so much courage to attend Lesson Two.