Music Education, Play The Ukulele!

Setting Reasonable Goals

It’s not like I thought designing a course would be easy. When Jamie and I first decided to create a beginner’s class for ukulele, I knew I was in for a lot of work. Audio is my main focus, technologically, but I frequently dabble in video. Usually goofy little clips I edit on my phone. In this course, I’m assembling months worth of lessons into one package. That’s a lot of video. When I realized how much video, exactly, I panicked.

I encourage my students to take things slowly, to learn the three chord song before the twelve chord song. It never hurts to keep long-term goals in mind, but if you’re trying to reach that goal on the first day, you’ll only find disappointment. You’ll want to give up.

So when I set out to make a video series with slick edits and animated graphical elements and it didn’t look like the Michel Gondry-esque vision I had, and I realized my ten-year-old computer couldn’t handle even a fraction of all that video, I wanted to give up.

I didn’t give up though. I wouldn’t be writing this if I had. I’d be sweeping all the evidence of the project into a bag of rocks, renting a boat, and in the dead of night dropping said bag into the ocean.

Instead, I forced myself to step back and assess where I was and what I needed to progress. I had to examine my goals and adjust my expectations. While I am a creative person with big ideas, my experience in the field of video production is limited. That’s okay. I can still create a compelling course. I know I’m a good teacher. And I can convey everything I need to, and more, for these lessons to teach people how to play the ukulele. It may not have all the flash, the extra sparkles, or the cartoon gnome that introduces new concepts. A one-man Industrial Light & Magic I am not. No one is, and it’s unfair to ourselves when we set such unattainable standards.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard students who have been playing for less than a month mutter to themselves, “well, I guess this is a chord I’ll just never be able to play.” The excellence we hear on records, or see on YouTube, takes a lot of time and patience, and yet we often only see the result of hard work. As many times as I remind my students of this, I fall under the same delusions. Thankfully, my wife and business partner, Jamie, is there to remind me.

So I’m back on track. I’m filming, I’ve got a new computer on the way that can handle the editing, and I’m excited to share with you my excitement for the ukulele. And who knows, maybe by the end of it I’ll have figured out how to animate Pierre A. Diddle, the Drumming Dragon.

p.s. If you’re interested in some free tips, tunes for the ukulele or our joining our beta class when it’s ready, head here. Come join the Ukulele Village!

p.p.s. We’re giving away some lessons on Facebook if you’re interested!

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Ukulele class, Haverhill, NH I Tiny Village Music
Music Education, Play The Ukulele!, Ukulele Performance

Ukulele Wherever You Are

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.

Ukulele class, Haverhill, NH I Tiny Village Music

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?”

“Two weeks.”

“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 tinyvillagemusic@gmail.com with the subject Ukulele Course.

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Thanks for visiting!

Thanks for visiting Tiny Village Music! We teach a variety of musical instruments, including voice, online, on your schedule and in a convenient location – your own home! Our teachers are professional musicians with extensive teaching experience. Owners Ross Malcolm Boyd and Jamie Feinberg also offer workshops & performances as they travel the country, with offerings in songwriting, musical theater, music technology and more. We specialize in creating custom lessons to fit your goals and interests.

We recently spent about six weeks in New Hampshire, where we taught a group ukulele class for older adults (for free, thanks to grant funding!) and offered performances for families, preschoolers, older adults and for general audiences. We plan to update our blog periodically with tips and information you might like to check out. Let us know what you’d like to see here, and we hope to hear from you soon!