So I’ve been learning the ukulele for fourteen weeks. Had thirteen lessons so far and been to the Friday group in the pub nine times.
I’ve had this ukulele for about five years. Most of that time it’s been in the corner of my living room, gathering dust and cobwebs. And laughing at me. I tried using the book that came with it. Every time I went back to it I seemed to have to relearn what I learnt the time before, which wasn’t much. I tried YouTube tutorials, where someone tells you ‘Well done. You’re ready to move on to day two!’ … but it’s been three weeks and you’re shouting at the screen, ‘I haven’t got it at all’. And it seems some folk have taught themselves but I needed more help.
I know I could not have got anywhere without the lessons. After half an hour my brain’s melting. I don’t think I’ve ever concentrated on anything so much. Neither have I been watched and listened to so closely. Well, perhaps when I was a baby. But it’s good ‘cos what you do wrong – and right – gets noticed. And whether you do it wrong – or right – you have to play it again and again and I repeat this when I practice between lessons. The group is a good experience; I’ve picked up new chords mid-song & practiced fast chord changes. We play a mix of different songs, some I like and some I’m not so keen on. But the whole thing is most entertaining. Lovely people. I even like the pub.
Apparently I’m improving. I can’t really hear this though changing and remembering chords is becoming a little easier. SO many chords and they can be done in different ways. Reckon I know well over twenty now. Until I forget them, that is. I’m even getting slightly better at ‘the dreaded E minor’, as I call it. Last week the addition of a plectrum made my playing louder & somehow better. I was most surprised. Good news for him-downstairs. Several people have said he’s getting a taste of his own medicine. He was at my door the other Sunday, telling me about all the ukuleles he’s seen in Promenade Music and how one of them is two grand. I would like to upgrade but I won’t be going that far.
Because I have framed Squeeze singles on my wall, a copy of Elvis Costello’s autobiography on my shelf & my teacher does lessons in your home, I very quickly ended up with four Squeeze songs and one Costello one. These are harder to play than the easier three/four chord songs for beginners I’ve also been learning and playing.
In my first few lessons I was just concentrating on playing a few limited easy chords and trying to take everything in. My teacher was singing though. I kept thinking ‘I can’t sing. I can’t sing. I won’t be able to sing’. Then I found myself doing the ‘sha la la la’s in Dream Baby and, I think it was the fourth week, sang the whole of Labelled with Love, while doing my best to keep up with my playing. Been listening to that song for forty years so I should know how to sing it. So pleased Squeeze songs aren’t simple and basic. I now have an even greater respect for Glenn Tilbrook than I had before. For writing and performing and making it look and sound effortless and fun. What a guy! How does he do it? And why did he put that random Eb chord in Up the Junction?
I’m also working away at Elvis Costello’s – written by another big favourite of mine, Nick Lowe – (What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding … as proved by this video I accidentally made. Didn’t realise I was filming. Thought I had my phone set up, ready to film. So, this is me talking to myself, and touching the screen a couple of times to stop the camera closing (should probably change the setting for that) even though I didn’t need to as I was already filming.
You may have to turn the volume up. Not for the playing but for what I say.
I still absolutely love this song. Has to be in my top ten. Even this level of frustration doesn’t put me off. I will persevere. I can laugh at myself. Who is this woman in a purple cardigan messing up the same few notes over and over again? Why is she whispering when she’s been making a right racket in other ways? She’s got it! No, it’s gone. She’s a tryer, I’ll say that for her.
So despite my limited progress so far, I’m actually delighted that I can (sort of) play an instrument. Beyond my wildest dreams! Cos I thought it was all over with my failure to get anywhere with the recorder in primary school.
I might have even got over my want-to-give-up-I’m-wasting-my-time-its-impossible phase. The thing is … my ambition far outstrips by abilities at this stage, or my abilities at any stage in the future I suspect. I want to sing/play solo at an event, something I’ve done many times before but only with reading flash & short stories. Flash slams, open mics, anthology launches, events connected to a competition in which I’ve been shortlisted, placed or even, on a couple of glorious occasions in Halifax & Finchley, won. But the ukulele playing AND singing is a whole other level. Maybe someday.
I’m also working on some songs of my own. Lyrics only for now of course. I can do the words part. They’re sort of comedy songs. Yes, I know … #cringecringe. I’d like to be Victoria Wood but with a ukulele instead of a piano.
But Sal, she was a comedy genius. She had talent. Words, music, performance, the lot.
Yeah. True. But I still want to try. One more Impossible Thing? Yeah! Bring it on.
There I go … talking to myself again.
My ukulele teacher is Mike Gradwell. Look no further. Unless you live miles away from Morecambe. In which case, poor you.