When I first started to learn guitar (well actually it was the second time, the first time I gave up fairly quickly), I often wondered whether I was actually capable of learning to play.
I’d never learned an instrument before, I didn’t take music at school and I’d never shown a natural ability when musical instruments were present in my life.
This got me thinking whether learning to play an instrument is just something that some people can do and others can’t. Almost like the chosen few are born with a natural ability that just needs a little encouragement to develop.
But, I was young (around 20) and I had something that seems to be a very precious commodity these days: time.
And so I spent hours and hours getting to grips with my guitar and I learned to play. I wasn’t great, my musical knowledge had gaping holes in it but I could play some songs and I even learned to fingerpick quite well.
In short I was a pretty bad guitar player but I had some technical skills.
Over the years, despite the fact that I could play the guitar, the holes in my ability led me to believe that maybe I was right initially. Maybe I couldn’t actually learn to play, maybe I’d always lack those skills that real musicians had. Maybe I’d gone as far as I was able.
Now I’m older and hopefully, a little wiser I’m a firm believer that anyone can learn to play ukulele, or any instrument for that matter. I’ll explain why I believe this is the case but perhaps first I should explain why I’m writing this post.
Why I’ve Written This Post
Too many times in my life I’ve met people and I’ve gotten talking about playing ukulele and this website and other things and they’ve said something along the lines of ‘I could never play an instrument, I have no musical ability‘.
That’s an incredibly sad fact. By believing that we’re incapable of doing something, we’re highly unlikely to try it at all, or even if we do try it, our negative approach will hinder our progress.
Maybe, just maybe this post will encourage one person to try and learn to play and I’d be very happy with that as an outcome.
I’m The Proof
Back to why I think anyone can play ukulele…
Firstly, I’m living proof. I thought it was impossible for me but I managed it. I’ve since realised that the gaps in my playing weren’t down to a lack of natural ability, it was through a lack of structure to my learning.
I hadn’t learned to count rhythms or use my ear, I’d relied on tab and my eyes too much. To this day I’m still correcting some of the things I missed. But I am a significantly better player now than I was then.
The second reason why I believe anyone can learn to play is through reading books like Bounce by Matthew Syed.
In Bounce, Syed explores the stories behind great sports champions, the circumstances that led to their amazing abilities and the countless hours of practice that we don’t see behind great talent. Think of it as an extension to Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers.
What we don’t see when we see talented players is the commitment they put in to get there. This goes for anyone you may know that plays an instrument, they’ve really put some time in behind the scenes.
Musicians With Disabilities
Now it wouldn’t be fair to talk about anyone having the ability to play ukulele without talking about those with a physical disability that is potentially stopping them.
There are plenty of examples of musicians with a disability forging successful careers: Ray Charles, Tony Iommi, Rick Allen and Django Reinhardt to name a few. All of whom had a disability that most would associate with not being able to play a musical instrument, there are many more examples too.
My dad actually wanted to learn to play ukulele and he suffered with severe rheumatoid arthritis. For my dad it was a bridge too far, but he did try. In fact I wrote about it a few years back.
Without doubt there will be some disabilities that are prohibitive like in my dad’s case but there are also many new developments and advancements to help people too.
I’d like to argue the case for what it means to be able to play an instrument too. I believe I can play the ukulele to a decent standard, but there are significantly better players than me out there. It’s difficult to determine what constitutes a person that can play an instrument.
If you can make some form of music with an instrument that makes you happy that’s pretty much it for me.
I recall a story I read from Bono about the legend B.B. King. According to Bono, B.B. King said he was horrible with chords and didn’t play them. Does this mean B.B. King couldn’t play guitar? Of course not.
I’d be really keen to hear your stories about how you came to learn the ukulele and whether you initially thought it might be impossible for you.
One of the reasons I think this is particularly fitting when it comes to ukulele is the uke is often an instrument that people come to very late in their lives and those people will more than likely to have tried another instrument at some point in their lives.
I’m all ears…