In 2017, I got to design a course to teach older adults how to play the ukulele, thanks to a grant from Aroha Philanthropies, awarded to the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council in partnership with the Arts Alliance Of Northern New Hampshire. I had fallen in love with the instrument in part because of the community of players. The ukulele seems to inspire social connection. In recent years, ukulele groups have become popular across North America, and every group I have interacted with is warm and inviting. I project those qualities onto the instrument, and it’s fitting. The ukulele is small and easy to hold, and it doesn’t take much skill to start producing pleasant sounds.
When I became aware of a grant to bring arts programming with an emphasis on social engagement to older adults in Northern New Hampshire, there was no question in my mind that the ukulele would be a perfect fit. In the fall of 2017, I presented the 8 part course to students in Littleton, NH. The students came with diverse backgrounds and abilities, but most of the challenge came from managing expectations.
Children are in a constant state of learning, so being presented with new concepts that may take a little time to grasp is normal, expected. As adults, we have passed the stage of learning, and we have degrees and careers to prove it. When we are presented with something new that can take time to accomplish, it can feel frustrating. We are grownups and we should know how to do things. An objective glance should quickly disprove that idea, but it’s hard to shake the emotion. On many occasions, students would say, “I can play these chords alright, but this one just isn’t happening. I don’t know if I’ll ever get it.”
My go to response:
“How long have you been playing the ukulele?”
“I think you’re doing very well and you’re on the right track. Be patient.”
The ukulele is indeed easy to learn, but it’s not without its challenges, and it is certainly not easy to master. However, the basics are relatively simple, and by the end of the course, students had learned a handful of songs to perform at the culminating event, where they shared their experience of the course.
The program was successful, and I returned to Northern New Hampshire in the fall of 2018, this time to offer three classes in two locations, Lebanon, NH, and Haverhill, NH. I also got to work with groups outside of the program, including an introductory class for students of all ages and a sort of “part 2” class for students from the 2017 Littleton group. Teaching has always been an essential part of my life, but these ukulele courses have been truly rewarding. Hanging out in a room full of people who are excited and passionate about music is my happy place. The ukulele is uniquely able to facilitate communities of musicians of all levels, from those who don’t really think of themselves as musicians, to the seasoned professionals. We learn from each other, we encourage each other, and we are better because of it.
I develop connections with students over the two months we have together in these courses. We can still keep in touch online, and I offer lessons via Skype, but I can’t be there in the way I was. Unless…
I’ve been thinking about developing an online ukulele course for some time, and based on a lot of positive feedback, I’m finally diving in. I’m hunkered down in New Mexico as I write this, compiling and arranging materials I’ve created over the years, tempering them with all the lessons I’ve learned as a private instructor, and especially from the ukulele courses I developed for New Hampshire. I am excited to share this with you.
If you’d like an update when the class is ready, you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject Ukulele Course.