Recently I re shared the list of ten things for ukulele players that sits at the top of my Beginners Tips page HERE. And something strange happened. One entry on that list seemed to cause the most consternation with ukulele fans. The one at number 8, in which I say that the ukulele is not magical - the music is.
OK, permit me the image of a magician (for those in the USA not knowing this guy, I have something more US centric below!) - but I've seen people genuinely taking issue with the statement. Claiming that the ukulele is indeed the instrument that has special powers, that has 'that certain something'. Really? I still contend that what is actually moving you is the fact that you are making music. I'm no scientist but I am fairly sure that it is well proven that even listening to music affects the brain in positive ways. Surely that happiness you are feeling is from the music not the tool with which you use to make the music?
Before I picked up the ukulele about ten years ago, I had been playing the guitar (badly) for about 20 years before that. And I loved it. I still do. I picked up the ukulele and I love that too. You see it's acceptable to like both. I play a bit of piano, terribly, but when I tinker with one occasionally something drops out that uplifts me and makes me smile. To suggest that the ukulele is 'the only one' the 'magical one' that really brings the most pleasure would be suggesting to me that the 20 years I had previous with guitar were not really up to matching it. And they were. I enjoy the guitar immensely. It's the music I have enjoyed.
Of course a common response to my statement was 'but it is magical to me'. A statement that is, on the face of it somewhat hard to challenge because it is so personal. And I'm happy it makes you feel that way, but who is to say that there is not another instrument out there that may do the same thing for you? Let's look at it another way. If you think that the ukulele is the absolute key to magical musical happiness, then think of an instrument that you have never even played in your life. Be it a violin, a trumpet, a harp, a flugelhorn, anything really. Those instruments also have their players that love them dearly and there must be a reason for that.. Because they bring them pleasure. It is also completely impossible for you to know (having never played one) whether you would get as much enjoyment from them, or even more, than you do from the ukulele. It's entirely possible because it is the MUSIC you are experiencing.
And if the ukulele is really the answer to all things 'happy' and 'magical' in the world of music, then why isn't every single musician on the planet playing one? Here's the reality check - they aren't. In fact the ukulele is still by far a minority instrument worldwide. Despite a boom in sales, I think you will find that more people by a large margin play the guitar.
Please don't get me wrong, I love the ukulele. I think it is accessible, portable and huge amounts of fun. Heck, I have spent the last few years of my life dedicated to this website and not one about flugelhorns or violins for a reason. It's a great instrument. But please don't mistake the 'fun' of the 'community' or the relative 'ease of play' (or even the relatively low costs involved in getting started on the instrument) as reasons to suggest it is some sort of magic wand that no other instrument can match. To do so would be to suggest that everyone on the planet who takes pleasure from the guitar, the piano, the violin is in some way missing out or is sub-standard. Frankly I think that smacks of tribalism and is not a particularly nice trait. In fact, that is exactly why I titled this piece 'The Magic Ukulele Problem'. I think it is a passion that actually gets taken too seriously and too far at times. And as a person who plays a few instruments and frequents discussions that are not ukulele centric, I do sometimes find myself looking at the ukulele community and thinking.. well... that it's a bit kooky. Sorry. But I do.
Nor, of course am I saying that the ukulele is a lesser instrument and I am not writing this as a means of dumbing it down. I am however writing this as a means of trying to calm the evangelical nature of ukulele passions down a little for a very simple reason. The ukulele, like so many other devices invented by mankind for the purpose, is a tool. A tool with which to make music. Some people choose only one tool in their lifetime and get pleasure from it. It may be the ukulele, it may not. Some choose several and take pleasure from them all in different ways. It's all good!
Passion for any hobby is a great thing. It's perfectly understandable and quite uplifting to note in itself. But let's be realising about things?
At risk of repeating myself, it is actually the music that is uplifting you and making you happy, content and pleased. Be proud of that. It's a wonderful thing you are part of and if you choose the ukulele to gain that happiness, I am immensely thrilled for you. Just bear in mind I get immensely thrilled by people who are passionate and take pleasure from other instruments too. That's because my immense passion lies with music. In all its forms.
Keep playing - whatever device you choose!
© Barry Maz