What happens to you when you learn something? Does it make you feel good? Is it satisfying?


Photo of Cliff in an Aloha shirt chatting with George and Will of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

By Cliff Adams. Are you an optimist? Do you find the positive attitude in whatever misfortune befalls someone? Are you the lemonade maker? Or are you the pessimist? Are you happy because nothing is ever as terrible as you imagined it?

Guess what… if you play ukulele, none of this matters. No matter how good you get, two evil thoughts are real: there is someone better, and you can be better, too. Every person who hears you play can find  fault; only the insensitive ones will make you feel bad about it. The worst are the purists. The reason I call them the worst is because none of them are pure enough. If they criticize your strumming, they might have lax standards about fretboard techniques, and vice versa. If they believe that ukulele is best used for a certain style of music, they probably sort their music collection by style rather than alphabetically or by year created.

I was criticized for my uke playing because I strummed with my thumb rather than my index finger. Yet the person who criticized me often wrapped his thumb around the neck to fret the G string. To him, what he did with his left hand was far less important than what he did with his right hand. I was motivated to improve my index finger strumming. And I kept my better left hand technique.

I read a Down Beat article written by Cecil Taylor, who had studied classical piano but loved jazz. He saw Count Basie playing with flattened fingers as well as with curved fingers. When Taylor spoke to Basie about this non-classical technique, Basie responded by claiming the notes sounded different. How could this be? On a piano, the notes are created by strings vibrating after being struck by a wood and felt hammer driven by levers connected to the keys the fingers played. The tone was many steps removed from the curve (or lack thereof) of the player’s fingers. Taylor went to his piano, played a piece with beautifully curved fingers, then played the same passage using flat fingers much like Basie had used. Taylor heard two different sounds. Neither was right; neither was wrong. Taylor had discovered a craft his perfect artistic technique had overlooked.

Learn all. Learn what the rules are and practice them so they are easy. When you play, and the piece works better when you deliberately break rules, you have created a work of art. Ukulele music is beautiful, cheesy, flowing, bouncy, masterful, sleazy, sad, and fun. Might even be all these at once.

ABOUT Cliff Adams

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