If we celebrate birthdays, why not one for Mother Earth? Every April 22nd, people all over the world celebrate Earth Day in different ways. While I was living on Maui, I started using music to gather community and raise awareness for sustainability through concerts and jam sessions. It’s a combination of entertainment and education. The last one was my piano class joining forces with the ukulele class (video below). This year, Earth Day falls on Sunday 22nd April 2018, and I’m determined to do something special.
On Saturday 21st April 2018 afternoon, I will be giving five different workshops for complete beginners on the ukulele to get them ready for their first jam session.
On 25th April 2018 evening, my ukulele club in Boston will sing and play songs to do with saving the planet and the environment in our weekly Wednesday jam session.
To learn any musical instrument, you need regular practice until you can safely say that you can “play” it. For time-challenged adults living in this age of instant gratification, getting the discipline to practice is difficult. You’d first have to find the time and the space, free of distractions and interruptions, and then have the stamina to sit by yourself and practice.
Not so for the ukulele. It’s one of the few instruments that you can practice in a group setting and still have fun. I call it a social instrument. Not only do you play with others you also learn from others. I clocked in my hours playing in ukulele clubs in Maui, London, Boston, and Amsterdam. Before long, I’ve learned all kinds of chords and shortcuts, all varieties of strums, riffs, and songs I’ve never heard of as well as old favourites I forgot I once loved. Most of all, I made new friends in my travels.
How much training do you need before you can join others in group practice? I don’t believe you need expensive private lessons or a formal one-semester college class, especially if you’re a busy person. But you do need to get a solid foundation to get started. Teaching yourself through books, CDs, DVDs, and online videos can be confusing at first because there is so much out there. Wrong habits can be hard to break!
The foundation you need includes the basics of how to tune your instrument, how to hold it without slipping or hurting yourself, how to play the basic three chords and switch between them, and how to do the basic strums. Once you get a firm grip on this, you’re ready to play your first songs: the one-chord “Frere Jacques”, two-chord nursery rhymes and “Eleanor Rigby”, and a plethora of three-chord songs like “You Are My Sunshine”.
By popular request, I’m offering a crash course on the basics to get you started or refreshed on what you already know. My aim is to get more people to experience the ukulele and join our regular weekly thematic jam sessions.
Since I left Maui in June 2016, I’ve been giving free one-hour sessions to complete beginners, lending them my ukulele and showing them the basics of tuning, fingering, and strumming. I did this to refine my forthcoming book on the ukulele for beginners. At the end of the hour, the reaction is usually that of “where do I get my own ukulele? I want to play” or some excuse like “I don’t have time now but it’s definitely something I’ll think about when I do.”
What I love about ukulele jam sessions is that it’s flexible. You have the right but not the obligation to participate whenever and wherever you want. It’s very different from joining a choir or orchestra. You don’t need to subscribe for a season and attend every session. It’s more like a sports club: you attend the sessions you have the time for. Drop in. Skip a session. For time-challenged individuals, flexibility is key.
Sat. April 21st @ 1 pm: Earth Day Ukulele Workshops Eventbrite Registration: $10 per workshop. Choose any that suits you. Rent an uke for $5 and then decide if you want to buy one and learn the ukulele.
Wed. April 25th @ 7 pm: Earth Day Ukulele Jam – free: 15 songs
More information on ukulele workshops and jam sessions, songbooks, events, and blogposts. All sessions are held at the Walter Baker Artist Lofts, former administrative building of the oldest chocolate factory in America. The common room on the ground floor is a corner room with high ceilings and plenty of natural light. Address: 1231 Adams Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02124. Nearest T-station: Milton (Red Line).