Slowly but Surely with the Ukulele

Quite unexpectedly, the ukulele has become quite an effective form of stress relief. Learning to play an instrument, even something as “simple” and basic as the ukulele, is proving to be a challenge for me. A good challenge! I haven’t at all been frustrated, since that first night. I just keep strumming away, over and over again.

The nights I pick up this tiny and light tool, I start with an hour or so of chord drills. And in those first five minutes, it is always rough. The instructions do not move quickly enough from my brain to my fingers. After ten minutes, I’m getting from D to G and then to F and back again easily enough; it’s starting to feel routine. I always start from the beginning, the easiest chord drills, and strive to tack on and master one more each time.

When I feel good about all of that, usually after an hour or ninety minutes, I begin working on a song. My initial goal for Project Ukulele was to master “Moon River” – the project was basically inspired by that touching scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, after all. My learning-the-ukulele song has been Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, though. We briefly practiced it at the end of the Dabble introductory class, and I know the song so well I don’t need to worry about lyrics and chords, just chords. That level of familiarity makes it easier for me to “feel” the chord changes and strumming patterns, too. I work on that for, easily, another hour or so and then retire for the evening.

When I started this project, I really did think I would pick this up pretty quickly and after three months, I’d be able to pull out a song upon request. It’s a lot more work than that, and I’m surprisingly pleased with this. Being able to sit down and focus on something for two to three hours at a time has brought a lot of little interesting aspects to my life.

First, this time has proven invaluable to my brain. I am obviously using a different part of my brain than I use during the day, and though I am no scientist, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a plethora of research about how letting my brain rest, while still actively using another part of it, makes my entire brain stronger. I feel well rested and sharper during my work day, and calmer and more relaxed in the evening.

I am also becoming an even more patient person. It has not always been a strength of mine, but in the last five years or so has become something I have actively strive for – to be patient with people and with things (i.e. the train). It’s becoming more and more just an initial reaction, to just wait a moment and let things work out or fall into place. This is something I always got from dance and working out, and I’m surprised that something physically inactive brings the same benefit to my day.

That said, the ukulele is indeed a poor replacement for ballet class. And now that I’m mobile again (albeit weak and slow), I need to get back in the gym and the studio. I’m not keen about sacrificing much of my ukulele time for that, though. I really feel like I need both in my life now and finding a new balance will be key to this. So, I’ll do as I always do and come up with a schedule for the next few weeks – to allocate reasonable time to both while still finding time to watch The Daily Show (and the Olympics!)

Preview: I cannot officially start it until I wrap up Summer of Austen – two projects seems to be about the limit right now – but the next project will focus on learning some basic programming. I’m looking at a few different approaches, probably a combination of a few methods. I think this will be a fun one to blog about, too! I am finding that I like it, a lot, for many of the same reasons I like the ukulele and kayaking: stress relief, new skills, and accomplishment.

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