Why was I so nervous?
The world would not end – even my tiny corner of it would not be endangered – if I could not learn to play a ukulele.
But I approached my first uke class with extreme jitters.
I had been pondering the ukulele for a long time. I wanted to play an instrument that was portable, which cannot be said for the one instrument I knew how to play, my piano. Wind instruments were out; I don’t have enough wind. Violin family? No appeal. Guitar? Too big. Banjo? My favorite to listen to, but too hard to learn.
So, the uke.
As I was developing this thought, I was in a secondhand book shop when a young man came in quietly, privately strumming a ukulele. He knew only one chord, but such a sweet chord. Later I passed a cluster of high-schoolers sitting on the steps of the theater downtown. One played a ukulele, such a homey, friendly tone.
The universe was telling me to try the ukulele.
I hadn’t realized that the little ukulele is a Very Big Thing. Ukulele groups are popping up all over. Uke virtuosos give lessons on the Internet. Classical music has been arranged for ukulele. The uke has traveled far beyond the plinky-plink associated with Hawaii or Tiny Tim. I was participating in a cultural phenomenon, if only in my head.
How could I learn to play?
Just then, our adult education program offered a beginners’ ukulele class.
I did not sign up.
I’m an expert procrastinator when it comes to trying something new and, therefore, a little scary.
A friend took the class. She had fun. And she learned to play.
When the class was offered again, I forced myself to join. I borrowed my friend’s extra uke. I said I would return it when I felt comfortable enough to buy my own, or when I discovered that my attempts were hopeless and I could not learn to play.
I was not the only nervous student that first night. In the parking lot before class, I pulled up next to an SUV. As I left my car, the driver of the SUV got out carrying a ukulele. She had been waiting for somebody — anybody — with a ukulele. She was too nervous to go in alone.
Why were we so nervous? We’re grown-ups, after all. And that, I realized, is the problem. As grown-ups, we’re supposed to know how to do stuff. It’s hard to admit that we don’t. We fear feeling foolish as we stumble trying to learn.
Children must constantly learn new skills, in the presence of other children, and aren’t afraid to try. To grown-ups, learning is especially daunting when there are other grown-ups as witnesses.
As grown-ups, we can live a whole successful life without ever learning to do something new. It’s tempting.
It takes courage to say, “Here I am. I know nothing about this. Teach me. I voluntarily submit to making mistakes and feeling stupid.”
Our teacher was a kind, patient young woman who wanted us to be comfortable. She taught us three chords. We advanced, almost boldly, from “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to “Hot Cross Buns.” Nobody was called on to solo. We relaxed a little.
I did not need as much courage to attend Lesson Two. I bought a ukulele. I learned to play, not well, but well enough. You don’t have to be an expert strummer to enjoy playing the ukulele.
I joined a newly forming ukulele club. At first, we played together just for fun. Now we’re receiving invitations to perform in public. With strangers watching.
I am so nervous.