Oh here he goes again... Barry is back with his usual rant about how he finds the suggestion that the 'ukulele is easy' to be unhelpful.. Again..... So what's new here?
Well not a lot I suppose, the media are still trotting it out. But since I did my rant on the subject I did then get a lot of blog comments, social media comments and emails telling me I was just wrong. You know - the usual... People saying, 'I think it is easy, so there' kind of stuff, and there was a LOT of it. Yet, something didn't sit quite right for me. You see, alongside those dismissing my post were several people who emailed me with quite heartfelt messages to say, yes, they agreed with the rant - and passionately. That they were glad someone spoke up for them. They didn't find the ukulele easy when starting and more importantly for me, they found the endless statements that it IS easy to be off putting, counter productive and made them feel useless. I think that is a horrible way for someone to feel, but were they isolated cases? I hatched a plan.
Eagle eyed readers will note that on the left hand panel of this site for the last couple of months has been a poll asking a very simple question with a 'yes or no' answer. Nothing loaded, nothing pushy and I haven't promoted it anywhere. I just put the poll up and left it there to see what would happen (not expecting much to be honest).
The question was:
As simple as that. Then people started clicking their answers..... in their droves.
And the results were actually quite startling. Not only did over 15,000 of you spot the poll and register your vote, but the results were frankly a landslide for the NO camp - that is to say, 98% of respondents did NOT find the ukulele easy when starting out. I was wrong to have worried about the validity of the rant it would seem. (and no, I don't know why Blogger only tally up those percentages to 99% either...!)
Yes, yes, I know polls can be flawed, and can't be relied on totally. And of course this is just a poll of my readers, so not the world at large. But it was a big response (equivalent to the attendance of a couple of the worlds largest ukulele festivals put together), and that is a pretty massive mandate for the NO camp.
Why does any of this matter? Well I think the media, brands and other players (driven by the brands perhaps, or the brands feeding off the media?) are sending the wrong message to new players. I know when questioned on the subject they come back with qualifications like 'ah.. but what we mean is, it's easy compared to many other instruments' or the equally lame, 'yes, but I found it easy, so there...'. The other common defence is, 'but it IS easy to get started with'. You know what though, talking to some beginners I am not sure that is the case either. And the messages that are forever trotted out don't go into that detail. The message that goes out is simply that it IS 'easy' and doesn't come with any qualification. We are simply told that 'it just IS'. And of course that comes with an inference that if you don't find it that way, then there is something wrong with you. You've failed.
So the effect that creates is that it makes people who do struggle (and based on the poll statistics, that's an awfully big percentage of you) feel like they are doing something wrong, feeling useless and (my worst fear) actually giving up because they don't think they can do it. Think about it - everything you read about the ukulele tells you it is EASY, the dealer tells you it is easy, poor quality YouTube tutors tell you it is easy, the TV and newspapers tell you it's easy... and you try it and find that it actually, no it isn't after all. Perhaps your hands ache, your fingertips hurt, you can't stretch to reach some chords, you can't get a steady rhythm, you tangle up in the strings, and many many more things challenge you... I think it's reasonable to expect that some people might probably ditch the instrument because they assume they cannot master it. I mean.. everyone said it was easy, right? And I think that is a crying shame.
Is there a merit to saying it is easy? I've thought long about that argument but can't come up with a rational justification. Perhaps it encourages people to try to play the ukulele? Perhaps. But at the expense of making some people feel useless? No thanks. For me it's used far too much, and usually hand in hand with the myth that 'ukuleles are cheap'. It devalues the instrument, makes out that it isn't serious and ultimately only helps one sector, the sellers, to sell more. Aside from some trusted specialists out there who do care, the ukulele bandwagon has been well and truly jumped on by generic music stores in every country. Do you think that Guitar Center give a damn how YOU get on with your purchase? Don't kid yourselves.
The point I keep trying to make is connected to an assumption that I really don't understand. The assumption that the ukulele owes you some sort of 'right' to be easy. That the 'easy thing' is guaranteed and part of the deal. That's a crazy assumption. It really doesn't. And I do find the assumption that it has to be easy is one of the things that drives people to avoid difficult chords, or to cheat or not develop their playing - almost like they don't want to play anything challenging because it would disprove their view that it is easy! See my point?
So please, please, please media, brands, dealers, players - stop telling people the ukulele is easy with your lazy journalism that simply reaches for the last ukulele article you saw (the one with a picture of Tiny Tim and / or George Formby) and just trots out the same garbage EVERY time. Try actually speaking to a ukulele player, in particular, a beginner - ask them what they thought! It's what I did. In fact, try remembering how it was for you. You know what? Saying that you became accomplished on the ukulele with no trouble at all is NOT a badge of honour that impresses me.
And if you are a beginner reading this and struggling with your ukulele in the early days and weeks. Remember - you are not alone - most other people felt the same way. Stick with it. It can be a challenge for many reasons, but that's nothing unusual, you are NOT failing and it's totally worth persevering.
Be sure to read all my other ukulele rants here - a refuge of sanity in the ukulele madness!
© Barry Maz